7 Powerful Customer Service Phone Tips
The phone is one of the oldest and most personal customer service channels. Its unique nature calls for a unique approach.
While a phone call can feel like you’re talking directly to someone, it lacks the visual feedback of face to face contact. What’s more, you’re not able to reread what was said – as in, say, live chat support.
Let’s keep these unique qualities in mind as we go through these 7 customer service phone tips.
1Stand up calling
One of the best tips I've received for handling important calls, was to stand up and walk around. On your feet you're naturally more energetic than when seated. It's a simple matter of heart rate and blood flow.
Unfortunately, most people working in call centers are seated all day long. When you get one on the phone, they sound like they could fall asleep any time.
Tip: Stand up to sound more energetic on the phone.
When we’re listening to someone face to face, politeness forces us to focus our eyes on the other person. But on the phone we lack visual feedback.
This, combined with a world of distractions at your fingertips, makes wandering thoughts a real danger. We tend to overestimate our multitasking skills, so we think we can push in a quick email check and... *blank* What is she talking about again?
Worse, when you lose track, you're not able to read over the transcript to pick things up again.
One tip for maintaining full focus while calling is to close your eyes, limiting your sensory input almost exclusively to your hearing. Be the Daredevil of phone support.
Tip: Close your eyes to focus fully on what the other person is saying.
3The smile effect
Smiling isn’t only nice on the eye, it’s nice on the ear as well. You voice sounds differently when you speak with a smile. A study by the University of Portsmouth showed that people can hear whether a person on the other end of the line is smiling.
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A laughing voice sounds warmer, making the customer feel welcome. By putting on a smile when you pick up the phone you’ll notice your calls become more friendly.
Tip: Smile to get a warm and welcoming voice.
4The “Happy to see you!” technique
Phone service reps are generally taught to pick up the phone with warmth and enthusiasm. “Hi! This is Bob, how may I help you?!”
While it beats a depressed “Hello…?”, the problem of scripted enthusiasm is that it lacks authenticity. When you don’t know who you’re talking to, what are you so damn happy about?
In The Charisma Myth, Olivia Fox Cabane suggests instead to pick up the phone in a neutral-happy manner. With positive energy, but not as if you were having the day of your life.
Only when the customer says her name and you know her, do you take out the warmth and enthusiasm. “Oh hi Ellen, how are you?!” This creates the impression that her call actually made you happy – making the customer feel good about herself.
Don’t pull this trick when you don’t know the customer yet, as that would be even less authentic than the standard approach.
Tip: Save true warmth and enthusiasm until you hear the customer’s name.
Dale Carnegie famously said that “a person's name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.” People love to hear you pronounce their name – every time you do you forge a personal connection.
This is easily overdone to the point of awkwardness when you’re meeting face to face, but on the phone it’s easier to pull off the Name Shower. It has the extra benefit of recapturing the attention of your talking partner.
We already saw how easily one gets distracted when on the phone. This is the same for the customer. But whenever you use the customer’s name, you recapture her attention. Perhaps it’s a remnant from our high school days, but it’s still effective.
Tip: Use the other person’s name to recapture attention.
The lack of visual feedback or chance to reread what was said makes phone less intelligible than other channels for support. To counter this, make use of structured explaining.
Processing fluency increases with clear structure. When remembering a phone number, for example, it’s easier to remember 06-1684-8617 than to remember 0616848617.
Matt Abraham suggests sticking to structures like What – So What – Now What, or Problem – Solution – Benefits. He explains it in the video below:
While written out customer service scripts can make you sound robotic and impersonal, sticking to a framework brings the same benefits without the downsides. To take a sales example:
Are you looking to save money on your energy bills? (problem) Well, sign up with our company! (solution) You will see a dramatic reduction in your expenses (benefit).
Tip: Talk with structure to increase processing fluency.
Verbal nods are those tiny utterances you make when listening to someone else speaking. “Ah”, “I see”, “right”. These come naturally for most people, but in phone conversations it pays to intensify them.
Due to the lack of visual feedback the speaker could start doubting whether the other side is still listening. “Are you still there?!” To prevent this, the skillful phone rep fills his listening with verbal nods.
Tip: Throw in the occasional “ah, yes”, to let the other side know you're still there.
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