We are all customers. Every one of us will have found ourselves in a position where we have had to call a customer service hotline for various reasons. If the experience with the customer service agent isn’t what we’d hoped for, we’re left feeling dissatisfied or, occasionally, fuming. And when that happens, we vent. Some of us might take to social media and write 1-star Yelp reviews or tweet directly to the company for the world to see, but mostly, we will simply take our business somewhere else.
In many organisations, the call or contact centre serves as the front line for dealing with customers, but all too often, these organisations don’t invest the time and resources it takes to properly empower their employees to provide outstanding customer service. To help combat this, we’ve compiled a list of best practices all call and contact centres can use to create an excellent customer service team.
The Power of Voice Inside the Contact Centre
Customer service over the phone is different from any other. It lacks the level of interaction offered by face-to-face service, but is still a great deal more personal than email, social media and even live chat. Telephone agents have to make a customer feel valued and understood without the additional help of physical gesture or expression, using only tone of voice. Calming down an irate customer over the phone takes skill and patience. Any irritation on the part of a service agent will show through and make matters worse.
And yet it sometimes seems that many organisations have invested far more in automating their contact centres than on training their staff. Some have cut out the telephone option altogether. This is short-sighted: not only are people likely to buy more if they are having a real live interaction with another person, but the Harvard Business Review recently published an article stating that “access to a readily-available human can reverse the negative effects of customer anxiety.”
So we have to ask ourselves, are we doing as much as we can? Poor customer care is expensive – according to a German study, companies in Europe are giving away 13 billion euros each year to their competitors due to their lack of appreciation for customers, long waiting times, and impolite or incompetent service staff. Ouch!
Knowing how much the human touch matters, we’ve summarised some of the practices that should underpin any organisation’s telephone customer service.
Be There for Your Customers
We’ve established that your customer service agents are a vital component of your overall customer experience. Long waiting times, annoying hold music, and repeated transfers of the caller from one agent to another because of an inaccurate option menu, are definitely not the way to a customer’s heart. Availability matters too. We’re living in a 24/7, always-switched-on society, so don’t assume that emerging trends such as chatbots (or, worse, an answering machine) will cut it outside working hours—it won’t! Read more about how you can catalyse a customer service transformation inside your contact centre.
Train Your Frontline Troops
You’re asking a lot from your employees, so make sure you are supporting them properly. Working in a contact centre and striving to provide stellar customer service over the phone is not easy, particularly over the phone. With no face-to-face contact, customers sometimes find it easier to detach the voice from the person and express their annoyance without any boundaries. Employees need to be equipped to handle challenging phone-calls in a friendly and professional manner, which means investing in their personal development.
Taking this a step further, we all know that the customer is not always right. Protecting employees from abuse is vital for staff engagement, and ultimately, retention. Ensure that you have clear policies on handling these situations and that your staff know you support them. Organisations with a highly engaged workforce outperform their competitors by 147% in earnings. It really is simple maths: happy employees + better work performance = higher customer satisfaction = more revenue. Everyone’s a winner.
Respect the (Data) Security of Your Customers
Since the GDPR came into play, most companies are aware of the need for data privacy, but security is equally important when it comes to customer service, and even more so in the contact centre. If you have ever made a payment over the phone, you might be familiar with the mild sense of doubt that sometimes creeps up while you read out your credit card details. What if the stranger on the other end of the line has bad intentions? Or if the line is tapped? Most of us take the decision to trust the system and assume that there is no thief about to go on a shopping spree or booking an exotic holiday with our hard-earned cash. Are you sure that your customers can rely on your people and systems?
Asking customers to read payment card details out loud is, quite simply, bad practice. As well as raising doubts in the customer’s mind, you’ll leave yourself with all sorts of difficulties when it comes to compliance with the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS). This is particularly true if you record your calls, which most contact centres do. PCI DSS prohibits the recording of sensitive card information altogether. What’s more, new guidance on this regulation, specifically for telephone payments, advises that the old system of “pause-and-resume”, whereby call recording is paused while card numbers are read out loud, is inherently risky. You’d do far better to use a system like Cardprotect that avoids the need for customers to read out their numbers in the first place. Customers understand that you are protecting their data, which does wonders for their levels of trust.
… and Your Team
Remember that a system that is secure for your customers is also protecting your agents. Too many contact centres still use a “clean room” approach, removing mobile phones, pens and pencils, and regularly searching their employees before they are let loose onto the phones. Not only does this communicate to your team that you think they are all potential thieves, but it interferes with their lives. For example, many customer service agents work part-time because they have caring responsibilities for a child or other relative and find it stressful to be separated from their mobiles in case of an emergency. Having the right security technology in place can remove all of these issues.
Follow Up with Customers
Don’t ghost your customer. They may not be on the line any more, but check in with them from time to time. Give them a ring or send them and email to find out if their issue has been resolved or to thank them for their business – show them you care. A personal call to offer information about all the other wonderful products and services they might be interested in can be a powerful thing. Acquiring a new customer is about 5 – 25 times more expensive than selling to an already existing one, and you have the right team for the job.