By Becca Rowe, Junior Marketing Communications Associate

First impressions are everything in business, and when it comes to customer service over the telephone, ­there’s no difference. Often a caller’s first impression of a company is formed by the customer service they receive upon calling in, so it’s imperative that customer service representatives (CSRs) do their best to provide exceptional service every time.

As we stated in a recent blog post, building strong customer service is vital to a company’s ability to thrive in any competitive market. Efficiency is key. Customers want to feel like their issues are getting taken care of in an effective manner and without extra effort on their part. In recent years, contact centers have put a strong focus on reducing the hold times that customers are forced to endure to have their questions answered, developing the “soft skills” of CSRs to prepare them in empathizing with customers, empowering their employees to meet and exceed customer expectations, and lastly, an emphasis on the security of the information that is being transmitted throughout the call center during these phone calls.

Despite emerging trends in customer service, such as the rise of texting and online communications methods such as instant messaging and chatbots, customers still prefer to communicate with businesses via telephone. A 2016 Call Intelligence Index indicates that 65% of customers still prefer to contact a business by phone, while only 24% are content with only a web form for product purchases or service subscriptions. Communication over the phone isn’t going away any time soon and therefore should provide further impetus to companies to reinforce effective, efficient, and secure customer service. To attain this excellence in telephone customer service, we’ve outlined five areas businesses should focus.

> Download Now: Contact Center Data Security Report

Prioritizing Efficiency

When a customer calls a business, whether they have a question or concern, they expect to be treated in a cordial and efficient manner. An easy way for a business to achieve this efficiency is to be prepared to provide easy ways for customers to get their questions answered.  A succinct conversation with a customer and a speedy resolution results in a positive customer service experience. Logging detailed notes during the phone call is an excellent first step to improving the efficiency within your call center and of the calls themselves—that way if customers must call in a second or a third time for an ongoing issue, they don’t have to repeat themselves. Efficiency can also be achieved through thorough preparation and control of the direction of the conversation. The best way to achieve this efficiency is through informative training for call center employees. This training should be small and modular based, while also remaining an ongoing process to ensure employees are learning the most recent practices in the field. By setting realistic expectations for the service being delivered, triaging the customer requests, and understanding customer expectations for different communication channels being offered, a business can achieve a greater level of efficiency within their call center.

Reducing Hold Times

A recent study by Clutch found that 57% of people rank long hold times as their top issue when calling a business. Lengthy hold times can seriously deteriorate a company’s customer service experience and therefore their reputation as a whole. For that reason, many companies have turned to alternative methods to reduce hold times by putting the onus back on the company. One way in which companies have done this is by calling customers back when they reach the front of the phone queue, or by allowing customers to schedule a call back. Doing so allows customers to free up their time to accomplish tasks they otherwise wouldn’t be able to if they were glued to a phone waiting to speak to an agent.

Soft Skills

Employees must have the emotional intelligence and empathy to deal with angry customers and remain polite, even when doing so may be extremely difficult. An important part of providing excellent customer service is for CSRs to maintain a consistently cordial and upbeat attitude throughout the entire call, despite any frustrations that the customer may voice over the telephone. At the same time, while many organizations might find it tempting to direct customers to automated methods such as chatbots, rather than a live person, doing so takes away the personal touch that many customers are seeking when they are calling in for answers. When speaking with difficult callers, the important part for CSRs is to listen to each concern being voiced by the customer, while keeping a calm demeanor and repeating that information back to them once they’ve finished. Staying away from the hold button will also benefit your customer experience and show the customer that you care about their experience and value their time.

Empowering Employees

A happy workforce results in happy customers and creating a positive environment for your employees will extend to creating a positive customer experience. You can attain a satisfied workforce and a positive environment through the rewarding of speedy calls and a quality customer service.

Offering a common goal or mission for the contact center organization to work towards also goes a long way in motivating the team and keeping them motivated for when morale can get low. Reminding the team of the importance they play in helping solving customer issues, and painting what might be seen as a monotonous and difficult job in a new light, can open the eyes of employees and help provide more of a purpose to their day-to-day tasks. For example, CSRs working in a retail contact center might feel like they’re only helping customers process returns or put orders through, which on the surface, doesn’t sound very exciting. However, an alternative way to look at it would be to view it from the lens of helping these customers make someone’s birthday or holiday by finding the perfect gift, pamper themselves with the perfect purchase, or even make them feel better through a little bit of retail therapy.

Going hand in hand with a unified mission, is delivering training programs that have the ability to create experts on the phone. Customer service reps won’t provide exceptional service if they aren’t trained with the skills and knowledge, and they need to make smart decisions on the phone. A call center agent that has received training in the company’s process, security protocols, and goals, will feel comfortable, confident and empowered during their customer interactions. Therefore, they won’t hesitate to answer questions or fix a problem because they are endowed with the knowledge of the products and services inside and out, and value the customer.


Download Now: State of Security in Contact Centers Report

Focusing on Security

A company that is static and unwilling to change their behaviors and practices in regard to the protection of customer information is a company that is an easy target for a data breach. Call recordings pose a major threat to be breached, often containing sensitive information like payment card data and other PII. Cyber criminals continue to evolve their methods and look for ways to beat your security, so your business needs to evolve as well. Contact centers and their agents have to be on the watch for criminal activity as the threats continue to grow.

For contact centers processing payments over the phone, DTMF masking solutions, like Semafone’s Cardprotect, can help deter and thwart any attempts made by criminals to try and access payment data.  Cardprotect enables callers to input their credit card numbers over their telephone keypad, while the solution masks the dial tones, and the agent is able to remain in constant communication with the caller and provide any trouble shooting if required. At the same time, CSRs are free to complete call wrap up tasks while the customer inputs their payment information, helping to reduce average handling times (AHT), and increasing overall efficiency. In the end, not only will your customers appreciate the seamless payment process, but they’ll feel confident about the safety of their credit card information and have a better respect for the business that is handling it.

5 Key Ways Companies Can Provide Excellent Telephone Customer Service

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