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Healthcare Call Centers

Tips to Deal with Angry Callers

Prepare How to Best Handle Abusive Callers

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

People today, it seems, are more demanding and less tolerant than they once were. They want immediate answers and have little patience to wait. And this unfortunate trend may be even more pronounced when speaking to someone over the telephone. This is the reality of angry callers that our medical call centers must deal with.

Here are some strategies to address this troubling issue:

Tips For Management

Determining an appropriate response to angry callers starts with call center leadership. Implement these ideas for your call center or organization to support your frontline people when they encounter a difficult phone call:

Have a Plan

Develop a written strategy for how agents should best respond to and deal with angry callers. This goes beyond well-sounding platitudes and should offer practical, actionable steps. This includes recommendations for how agents should react to volatile callers and the options you recommend for them to deal with the aftermath.

Communicate the Plan

Share your strategy with your staff. Teach it during their initial training, reinforce it in ongoing instruction, and make it readily available to all parties: your frontline staff, your supervisors, and your managers.

Support Your Staff

Let your staff know that you care how they are treated. The off-repeated adage that “the customer is always right” isn’t always true. Sometimes callers are wrong, unreasonable, or mean. Let your agents know that you have their back.

Offer Options

In most instances, when an agent hangs up from one phone call, there’s another one waiting in queue. The goal, in normal situations, is for the agent to immediately go to the next call. But after an extremely difficult interaction, they may not be at their best to assist the next caller right away.

Give them options to take in extreme cases. Else they risk turning one bad call into a string of bad calls. One idea is allowing them to take themselves out of rotation for a moment to regain their composure. Extreme cases may warrant taking an early break. Just place appropriate guidelines on when these steps are applicable.

Tips For Agents

I hope your call center has provided instruction and tools to help you deal with angry callers who won’t calm down. Always follow their policy.

But if you’re in a position without the needed direction, here are some ideas you can use to better cope with abusive callers. Exercise care, however, to use these sparingly, especially as you move down the list.

Also, your organization may have given you variations on these techniques, so follow their processes. And don’t be alarmed if your call center prohibits one or more of these options, particularly the last one. Know that they have a good reason for doing so. Respect it and follow their wishes.

Lower Your Voice

It’s in our nature to raise our voice in response to someone who raises theirs. This just escalates the situation. Instead do the opposite. Talk more softly. They’re apt to do the same. And even if they don’t, it will calm you.

Take Five

Sometimes a five-second respite at the conclusion of a phone call can help. Close your eyes, inhale slowly, exhale slowly, and quiet your emotions. Do a shoulder roll to release tension.

Press Hold

When a caller escalates out of control, place them on hold under the guise of needing to check something. Maybe you actually do, and you’ll be able to accomplish it more effectively if they aren’t venting their anger in the process. But even if you don’t need to check something, use this time to refocus yourself. Hopefully, they’ll calm down a bit as well. Just make sure you politely and patiently explain to them that you will place them on hold before pressing that button.

Pass Off the Call

Do you have a supervisor or manager who can help you deal with difficult callers? Sometimes your coworker sitting next to you can serve as an ad hoc “supervisor” to take a difficult caller that you’re not connecting with. Of course, be willing to do the same when they have a difficult conversation of their own.

Know That It’s Not Personal

Most angry callers are mad at your organization, and they take it out on you as its representative. Know that their frustration isn’t personally directed at you. This understanding puts a buffer between their emotions and your self-esteem. Though this is easier to say than to do, acknowledging that their anger isn’t personal may help you take an emotional step back from a volatile situation.

But Sometimes It Is Personal

Sometimes, however, an angry caller becomes abusive and attacks you personally. They may call you a name, question your intelligence, or worse. These direct attacks sting. It becomes personal. You can’t separate yourself from their emotion because they just verbally assaulted you.

If this occurs and none of the above options help, you’re justified in telling the caller that their behavior is inappropriate. Explain that you want to help, but until they calm down you won’t be able to. If they persist, warn them that you’ll need to disconnect their call. If they don’t soften their demeanor, hang up on them.

Conclusion

Though you can do little to change how abusive callers treat you, you do have control over how you respond. Follow these ideas to help you successfully move forward.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of TAS Trader, covering the telephone answering service industry. Check out his books How to Start a Telephone Answering Service and Sticky Customer Service.

Learn more in Peter Lyle DeHaan’s book, How to Start a Telephone Answering Service.

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News Writing and Publishing

Sticky Customer Service

Do you lose customers about as fast as you gain them?

It doesn’t have to be that way. The Sticky Customer Service book will show you how.

Sticky Customer Service book, by Peter Lyle DeHaan

Customer service isn’t a once-and-done effort. It takes ongoing work to truly meet your customers’ expectations. In Sticky Customer Service, unearth practical, action-oriented insights to help you turn customer service from an embarrassing weakness into a business strength.

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan's book Sticky Customer Service

With over three decades of business and entrepreneurial experience, Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, offers his prescriptions to serve customers better and stop driving them away.

You’ll discover:

  • The three key areas where customer service occurs and why they must work together.
  • How to avoid common errors that too many business’s make.
  • Why delighting customers is not the best approach and sets up future failure.

Based on a lifetime of real-world examples, the Sticky Customer Service book reveals customer service gone wrong and customer service done well.

Customer service is not a set-it-and-forget-it initiative. Never lose sight of this. Sticky Customer Service will keep you moving forward and on track.

Uncover helpful customer service tips through this compelling read, encouraging you to do better and celebrating what you do best. Learn how to meet your customers’ expectations every chance you get.

Get Sticky Customer Service and turn customer retention into a strength.

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Business

The Perfect Answer: The Ideal Way to Answer Your Phone and Make a Great Impression

By Peter Lyle DeHaan , PhD

How often have you called a company and wondered if you reached the right number? All too often, busy people answer calls hurriedly, haphazardly, or incompletely. Or perhaps the receptionist seems out of breath after spitting out a lengthy, tongue-twisting greeting.

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Also, it’s vital that an organization answers every call the same way.

There are three parts to the ideal phrase to answer the phone:

1. Greeting

The greeting is simply “Good morning,” Good afternoon,” or “Good evening.” During the holiday season, “Happy holidays,” or “Season’s greetings” may be used. The greeting lets the caller know someone has answered and that it’s time to listen.

If the caller lacks focus or needs to adjust his or her ears to catch your phrasing, pace, or accent, the greeting gives time for this to happen, but the phrase is also not critical if it’s missed. Lastly, the greeting serves to set a positive tone for the call.

2. Company Identity

The company identity is simply the name of your organization, such as, “Acme Industries.” It lets callers know who they have reached, thereby confirming they dialed correctly. In general, state the company name as people outside your organization typically say it.

Therefore, you should generally drop legal suffixes, such as Inc, LLC, and Ltd, or other formal elements that would confuse the caller rather than clarify. For the same reason, don’t shorten or abbreviate the company name, either. Saying “AI” when everyone knows you as “Acme Industries” serves no useful purpose.

3. Your Name

The final element is your first name. This adds a valuable personal touch. It’s much easier for a caller to get mad at an anonymous voice, than a real person with a name. Using your name also allows you to build a rapport and establish a personal connection with the caller.

As the last word of the perfect answer phrase, it is also the one most easily remembered by the caller. Omitting your name implies a lack of personal interest. Ending with your name signals confidence and competence, which are critical in problem-solving and customer service situations.

Avoid Unnecessary Addendums

It’s all too common for people to tack on the ridiculous phrase, “How may I direct your call?” A direct response to this senseless question is “quickly and accurately.” This is not effective communication; drop pointless embellishments.

Putting these elements together results in the perfect answer:

“Good morning, Acme Industries, this is Fred.”

Customer Service Success Tip” Call your organization to see what happens. Then instruct your staff on the right way to answer your phone. Make sure everyone follows it.

Read more in Peter’s new book, Sticky Customer Service, to uncover helpful customer service tips, encouraging you to do better and celebrating what you do best.

Peter Lyle DeHaan is an entrepreneur and businessman who has managed, owned, and started multiple businesses over his career. Recurring themes included customer service, sales and marketing, and leadership and management. He shares his lifetime of business experience and personal insights through his books and posts.

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Business

A Shocking Experience

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

When I call a contact center, I pay special attention to what happens. I can’t help it. Over the years I have evaluated and critiqued enough calls that it has become a habit, even though I no longer need to do so. Fortunately, this tendency provides anecdotal fodder for articles and the occasional righteous rant.

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

One call I made, years ago, indeed, shocking, not for any deficiency or appalling behavior, but because it was so good. Sadly, I have become so conditioned to sub-par and ineffective phone support, that I am surprised when professionalism and efficacy actually occur how—disheartening.

This whole realization was quite shocking to me. I have spent most of my adult life passionately working in and diligently promoting an industry from which I have begrudgingly acquiesced to accept mediocrity.

Here’s my saga. A few weeks ago before that, I received a subscription invoice for a magazine I had never heard of nor received. This is not unexpected; it seems to happen often. I politely wrote “please cancel” on the invoice and returned it in their pre-paid envelope, hoping to be done with the whole affair.

A few days later, the magazine arrived. I looked at it and realized that it might be worth reading. I enjoyed it and wished I hadn’t canceled it. (In retrospect, it is likely that, on a whim, I did request it, but I have no recollection of doing so.)

I pondered what to do. It wasn’t fair that the publisher had sent me the magazine in good faith but wasn’t going to be paid for it. I also wanted to ensure that I received future issues without interruption. Frankly, I wondered if I had the fortitude to contact the publisher in order to attempt to resolve it.

Notice that I said, “attempt to resolve it.” Overall recent experience had so numbed my expectations that I was doubtful of a successful outcome. How many phone calls would I need to make? How many times would I be transferred to the wrong person or department?

Would I be cut off or hung up on? Would I be told to call another number and then another, only to be referred back to the first? Would I be able to understand and effectively communicate with the agent? Would they comprehend the situation and know what to do?

Could I end up making matters worse?

These questions permeated my mind, and they were all based on frustrating and fruitless experience. I gathered my resolve, actually blocking out time to focus on this formidable task.

Thankfully, things got off to a good start when I quickly located a clearly labeled “subscription number” number in the magazine. It was a toll-free call, which was another bonus. Even so, I took a deep breath before I dialed the number.

I began counting rings (an old habit). One ring, two… and it was answered! The agent was both pleasant and professional. She seemed happy to talk to me.

She was easily understandable, speaking the same dialect of English like me. I explained my dilemma and she immediately grasped it. No transfer, no pondering, no delays. “I can take care of it,” she said confidently. And she did.

Pleasantly and effectively resolving an issue on the first call isn’t hard to do, but in my experience, it is shockingly rare.

Read more in Peter’s new book, Sticky Customer Service, to uncover helpful customer service tips, encouraging you to do better and celebrating what you do best.

Peter Lyle DeHaan is an entrepreneur and businessman who has managed, owned, and started multiple businesses over his career. Recurring themes included customer service, sales and marketing, and leadership and management. He shares his lifetime of business experience and personal insights through his books and posts.

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Business

The Myth of Self-Service

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

The idea of self-service has existed in many industries for years and even decades. This includes self-serve gas pumps, checking your own groceries, buying airline tickets online, and banking.

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Gas Stations

First, let’s consider gas stations. Unless you are a 30-something driver or younger, you probably remember the days of full-service gas stations. In fact, they were called service stations, because service was what they were all about.

These service stations almost always had one mechanic—or more—on duty. For smaller stations, the mechanic was often the one who filled your car with gas.

Here’s how it worked: When you pulled into the station, a strategically placed air hose pneumatically activated a mechanical bell. This alerted the attendant that a customer had arrived, and he would scurry out to greet you.

Staying in your car, you would roll down your window and make your request, “Fill it up, please.” Often you and the attendant were on a first-name basis. As he was filling your tank, he would wash your front windshield and sometimes the back.

Next, he would offer to check your oil. (Unless it had just been changed or recently checked—which he remembered.) That’s not all. He would glance at your tires, and if one appeared under-inflated, he would whisk a tire gauge out of his pocket and check the pressure, putting in more air if it was warranted.

He would also make recommendations based on other observations, such as, “Looks like you’re ready for new front tires,” “That muffler doesn’t sound too good,” or “We better at a look at those brakes soon.”

Yes, this was a full-service operation, deftly suggesting up-sells (“Do you want to try Premium today”) and cross-sell opportunities (“When do you want your oil changed”)—though this wasn’t what it was called; it was just good customer service.

Today, with self-service, we are left on our own to keep our car in good operating condition and we only see our mechanic when something is wrong.

In an apparent effort to save on labor or cut overhead, some stations began offering “self-service” pumps. In order to entice the public to pump their own fuel, the self-serve gas was priced lower.

Most people weren’t too interested, at least until the price of gas jumped and the discount increased along with it. Still, some people swore they would never fill their own tanks, but over time they were forced to do so as full-service pumps became scarcer.

The truth is, most people didn’t want to self-serve, but they reluctantly did so to save money or were forced to when it became the only option. Today, self-serve gas pumps are an expected way of life, but that merely happened because it became the only option.

Food

Then there is the grocery store. I’ll admit that I don’t often find myself there—and when I do, it’s only to buy a couple of things—but I do gravitate towards the self-checkout. For a few items, it can be faster—providing everything works correctly.

Self-checkout can also be irritating, repeatedly barking out annoying instructions and getting obstinate if it thinks you did something wrong.

Given a choice between a next-in-line cashier and self-service, I will always opt for a person. I find it to be faster and less frustrating. I can’t imagine the time-consuming task of doing a large order via self-checkout.

However, when the cashier lines are long, which can often be the case, I gladly duck into the self-checkout and hope for the best. In this case, self-service wins out when full-service lines (that is, queues) grow too long. It’s not that it’s preferred, but merely the least objectionable.

Travel

Nowadays, everyone books airline tickets online. It doesn’t save me time, but it does afford the opportunity to check every conceivable option, finding the ideal balance between cost and convenience.

Maybe I scrutinize my options too closely, but I would gladly spend an hour researching flights, times, and airports if it will save me from a long layover, an extra night in a hotel, or a couple of hundred dollars on a fare.

Still, the days of calling a travel agent, giving her my travel itinerary in a few seconds, and having tickets arrive the next day provide an appealing invitation to return to full-service.

Banking

The banking industry is full of choices. I can select from two full-service options and three self-serve options. For transactions warranting full-service, I can go to the nearest branch or phone their call center.

For self-serve, I can use an ATM, bank-by-phone (using an IVR system), or access my account via the Internet.

The option I select is primarily a result of what I need to accomplish, but my focus is on speed and convenience. It’s nice to have options: self-service for some things, full-service for others.

The Self-Serve Bust

The dot-com boom in the late 1990s brought the prospect of self-service to an unwise conclusion. In simplistic terms, their generic business plan (aside from burning through mass quantities of investor cash) was that they would create a scalable website, which could be quickly ramped up as demand for their product or service grew.

Customer service would not be an issue (or so they thought) as they would offer self-service options that were likewise scalable. There would be no massive call centers to build and no agents to hire.

Basically, there would be no people to help their customers; computers would do all that via the Internet. It didn’t work. The few dot-coms that survived did so because they realized they needed to offer more options than just self-service.

Call Centers to the Rescue

Even with this history and varying degrees of success, it doesn’t imply that self-service is the way to go, especially when responsive call centers can surpass the generally mediocre effectiveness of self-service. Yes, there are times when self-service is the answer; there are also times when it is not.

When properly implemented (which means it must be user-friendly, accessible, and reliable), people will opt for self-service only if it can increase timeliness, save money, be more effective, or is more available. If it can’t do at least one of these things, people will only do self-service if they have to—complaining about it all the while.

In reality, most people don’t really prefer self-service. What they want is full-service that is friendly, accessible, and reliable. In our global economy, that often means they want a call center—a good call center.

Self-service is generally not selected because it is the superior option, but because it is the least objectionable one. So what is the ideal solution? It’s a full-service call center, not with self-service options, but with people.

Think about it: who would prefer to spend an hour on the Internet, scrolling through FAQs or waiting for an automated response to an email query, if they could just pick up the phone and quickly get a response?

This means a call center done right. What does that look like? Ideally, it is:

  • Calls answered quickly
  • No busy signals
  • First-call resolution
  • No transfer
  • No queue or short queue (or a creative, entertaining on-hold program with accurate traffic updates)
  • Trained, knowledgeable, personable, and polite representatives
  • Correct responses
  • Consistent experience

With that, why would anyone want self-service? Why would they ever switch to a different company? A call center, done right, will beat self-service every time.

Customer Service Success Tip: Balance self-serve economy with full-service results.

Read more in Peter’s new book, Sticky Customer Service, to uncover helpful customer service tips, encouraging you to do better and celebrating what you do best.

Peter Lyle DeHaan is an entrepreneur and businessman who has managed, owned, and started multiple businesses over his career. Recurring themes included customer service, sales and marketing, and leadership and management. He shares his lifetime of business experience and personal insights through his books and posts.

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Business

False Assumptions

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

When people ask what I do for a living, I reply that “I publish magazines and websites for the call center industry.” Their responses are varied, as well as interesting. For some people, their eyes immediately glaze over, and they change the subject.

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Others key in on the word “publish,” offering to submit their writing, regardless of suitability. Incredibly, I have been asked to publish short stories, poems, and even song lyrics in my trade magazines!

Another group focuses on the word “website” and enthusiastically shares their latest triumph, as in, “Yea, I’m uniquely tapping Java to develop scalable websites guaranteed to revolutionize the vertical widget industry.” That’s when I change the subject.

The Call Center Industry

For those who zero in on the phrase “call center,” their queries predictably fall into one of four areas. The first is an unthinking reaction from those who wish to blame me for the dinnertime interruptions they receive via the telephone. This provides a chance to engage in some one-on-one industry PR work.

Unsolicited Calls

First, I agree with them that unsolicited calls are annoying. Then I assure them that I don’t encourage the calling of people who wish not to be contacted. These pronouncements surprise them. From that vantage, I can then attempt to educate them about the laws and their rights. Soon they’re nodding in agreement—though perhaps just to get me to stop talking.

Voice Mail

The second category of responses is from those who associate a particular call center technology with the industry. They may interject, saying, “Well, I just keep pressing zero until I get a real person,” or “Why do I have to enter my account number and then give it again when the person answers?” Again, I have an opportunity to educate.

Do Not Call

The next group wants to grill me about the “Do-Not-Call” (DNC) legislation. This response is especially prevalent after a deluge of automated political calls being made as a prelude to elections.

My inquisitors snicker with resigned acquiescence as I share that the politicians exempted themselves from the calling restrictions that they foisted upon everyone else. I am able to explain “existing business relationships” and inform them that they can request to be added to the company’s internal “do not call” list. At this point, I’m not sure that they’re listening, perhaps they just want to vent—and I am the handy target.

Accents

The fourth response is the most common and perplexing. They make a statement along the lines of “I never can understand those people in other countries.”

“How do you know that the agent was in another country?” I probe. “Did you ask them?”

“Well, no, but I can tell ’cause they have an accent,” is their emphatic retort.

Their false assumption has snared them. They think that if an agent has an accent, they must be offshore; conversely, an agent with no discernible accent must be in the United States. Ergo only offshore agents have hard to understand accents.

I have conversed with heavily accented agents who are US-based—some I understood and others were a struggle. Conversely, I have talked to accented offshore agents—some I acceptably communicated with, while others were a futile effort.

However, I have never talked with an offshore agent without an accent—apparently, if someone has no accent, I subconsciously assume that they’re US-based!

Read more in Peter’s new book, Sticky Customer Service, to uncover helpful customer service tips, encouraging you to do better and celebrating what you do best.

Peter Lyle DeHaan is an entrepreneur and businessman who has managed, owned, and started multiple businesses over his career. Recurring themes included customer service, sales and marketing, and leadership and management. He shares his lifetime of business experience and personal insights through his books and posts.

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Business

Dealing with Cancellations

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

How does your company handle cancellations? Do you allow anyone to process terminations, quickly and without hassle? Or do you have a specific “cancellation” strategy, with a team assigned and trained to follow an exact protocol? Either approach has its strengths and limitations; both fall short of the customer’s best interest.

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

I once signed up for a credit card simply because of its rewards package. Although I built up a great number of points, I never redeemed them. Over time, my priorities changed and I realized I would never use them.

I called to see what else they could offer. Was there another reward incentive I could switch to? Could I get cash back? How about merchandise? Are there other options they could offer?

The answers were “no,” “no,” “no,” and “no.”

“I guess my only option is to cancel the card,” I ventured.

“Is that what you want to do?” the agent replied matter-of-factly.

“Let me think about it,” I evaded, seeking to delay the decision.

It took a while, but eventually, all uses for that card were switched to another. I called again, this time to cancel. I was transferred to the cancellation department. This agent feigned shock at my intent and tried to dissuade me. She offered a lower rate, better terms, and more flexibility on the rewards package. Her arguments would have retained me as a cardholder, if not for the fact that they were offered too late. I canceled the card.

This scenario has repeated itself on numerous occasions: with my cell phone provider, satellite and cable service, long-distance, and local phone service. Each time, the agents answering the phone are not empowered to take steps to retain me as a customer.

Each time I make careful plans, arranging for service from their competitor. When I call back to terminate my service; the cancellation department would step in and suddenly sweeten the deal.

Often they offer the concessions that I wanted—and which I suspected were available all along—but not presented by their front line staff.

They express their regrets over my decision and ask me to call back if I change my mind. If only their solutions had been offered earlier in the process. Then they could have retained my patronage and saved me the aggravation of switching.

The solution seems obvious. Just pretend you are going to cancel so that you can get to the “cancellation” department on the initial call and obtain their best deal. I tried that and it went like this:

“I want to cancel my service.”

“Oh, I’m sorry to hear that. Let me see what I can do.” I wait, expecting to be transferred. After a few seconds, the agent announces, “Okay, your service has been canceled. Is there anything else I can help you with?”

I am too embarrassed to ask that it be reinstated, so I thank the agent and hang up.

In the first examples, the staff was trained and empowered to retain me as a customer was interjected too late into the process; my decision had been made, the alternative in place, and my call was a mere formality to end the process.

In the latter scenario, the agent was empowered, but apathetic and untrained. She was highly efficient but completely ineffective.

There has to be a better way.

Customer Service Success Tip: Train and empower employees at your company to interact with unhappy customers while there is still a reasonable chance to keep them.

Read more in Peter’s new book, Sticky Customer Service, to uncover helpful customer service tips, encouraging you to do better and celebrating what you do best.

Peter Lyle DeHaan is an entrepreneur and businessman who has managed, owned, and started multiple businesses over his career. Recurring themes included customer service, sales and marketing, and leadership and management. He shares his lifetime of business experience and personal insights through his books and posts.

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Business

Guilty Until Proven Innocent

Key Lessons in Customer Service

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

When my internet service goes down, I seldom call customer service to report it. I simply don’t have the time to waste with my provider’s nonsensical troubleshooting process. Instead, I usually wait in hope that someone else will report the outage and achieve a timely resolution.

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

This hasn’t always been my approach. When I first had internet service, I would dutifully call customer service at the first sign of an outage.

However, their agents’ poor customer service skills and the time-consuming nature of their queries left me feeling angry and frustrated.

The agents acted as though the problem was my fault and proceeded on the assumption that a correction would be found by reprogramming my computer or repeatedly resetting my modem. And after several years of service working, asking if I installed the modem correctly is ludicrous.

In essence, they operate on the assumption that I and my computer are guilty until proven innocent. Feeling remorse over forcing me to invest up to an hour of my time before a trouble ticket can be taken is seemingly beyond their comprehension.

Even more astounding is that apologizing for an outage is apparently not part of their protocol.

To compound the situation, in the process of “troubleshooting” they instruct me to make all manner of changes, which would result in leaving me unable to connect to the Internet once access is restored.

Never once have they given any instruction on returning my computer to its original configuration. They even neglect to suggest that I make note of the original settings so that I can later restore them. Fortunately, I am wise to their foolish ways.

In a monopoly environment, this indifferent attitude would be understandable, albeit untenable. However, I have options and will select the provider that irritates me the least.

Notice that I did not say that I seek a provider with excellent service, or who delights the customer, or that has the first-call resolution. My customer service expectations are so low that I merely desire to minimize my annoyance.

I will not even suggest that my phone company pursue customer service best-practices. They can go a long way towards improvement by merely adopting a few commonsense ideas.

Take Responsibility

The people I talk to act as though their network is impervious and the blame lies with me. Even if the customer is at fault, agents should back into that conclusion, assuming that there is a network problem until a contrary conclusion can be correctly ascertained.

Isolate the Problem

The final troubleshooting tests they perform is to connect to my modem. This should be the very first test. If they can connect and run diagnostics, then the problem resides on the consumer’s end. If they can’t access the modem, there is no need to harass the customer with needless tests and counterproductive reprogramming.

Apologize

Is it that difficult to say “I’m sorry that you are experiencing problems?” Even more germane would be to say “I’m sorry that I hopelessly messed up your computer configuration and have no idea how to put it back to the way it was.” Of course, if they followed the two prior suggestions, the first apology would suffice, and the second would be unnecessary.

Use Customer Relationship Management Software

If they had a functional Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system, the agents could readily determine that every time I call it was because of an outage and never once have I called because of a problem on my end. They should be able know that I have a history of being credible and not wasting their time—even though they have a history of wasting mine.

Customer Service Success Tip: Train technical customer service staff to respect customers’ time and not assume they’re at fault or stupid.

Read more in Peter’s new book, Sticky Customer Service, to uncover helpful customer service tips, encouraging you to do better and celebrating what you do best.

Peter Lyle DeHaan is an entrepreneur and businessman who has managed, owned, and started multiple businesses over his career. Recurring themes included customer service, sales and marketing, and leadership and management. He shares his lifetime of business experience and personal insights through his books and posts.

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Business

“One Moment Please, While I Disconnect Your Call”

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

The track record of receptionists successfully transferring calls is not good. In fact, based on my experience, successful call transfers actually occur less than half the time. The most common result is being disconnected.

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

The receptionist attempts to transfer your call, but there is no ringing and no music on hold. As you listen to silence, there is that growing realization that your call will soon come to a premature end.

The return to dial tone or the automated instruction to “hang up and try your call again,” confirms that you have been summarily disconnected. Although this could be the result of technical problems, it is much more likely the consequence of human error.

When a disconnected caller calls back, how has their mood changed? The happy caller has likely become irritated, the irritated caller has become irate, and the irate caller has become abusive. None of these outcomes are necessary, and the additional stress to agents is unwarranted.

You can tip the odds in your favor, by following some common sense, but often overlooked, steps:

Training

The proper transfer procedure must be covered in training. Additionally, the trainee should be able to experience the transfer from three different perspectives: the caller who is being transferred, the receptionist doing the transfer, and the person receiving the transfer.

All too often, receptionists are deprived of experiencing the call transfer process from the standpoint of either the caller or the recipient. But doing so gives them a better understanding of how errors affect others and provide a means for some much-needed empathy.

Practice

To master a skill, it must be practiced until it becomes rote. Ample practice should occur prior to attempting it with a real caller. Plus, for receptionists not frequently transferring calls, ongoing practice is wise.

Consistency

Most telephone systems provide multiple ways to transfer calls. Pick the most universally applicable method and teach it to all employees. Get the trainers to concur that this standard method will be taught and no others.

Finally, discourage receptionists from using different approaches, seeking shortcuts, or sharing alternative methods with others.

Methodology

Decide on one philosophy for transferring calls. A blind transfer is the quickest, but least professional. With it, the receptionist dials the number, connects the caller, and hangs up before the call is answered. Although common, it is not even close to a “best-practice.”

In an announced transfer, the receptionist dials the number, tells the recipient about the call, connects the caller, and then hangs up. A confirmed transfer is one step beyond an announced transfer, in which the receptionist stays connected long enough to ensure that the recipient can address the caller’s needs.

Verification

Transfer lists need to be periodically checked. Not just read, but actually dialed. Over time, lists become outdated; frequent verification is the only sure way to make sure that receptionists have accurate information. During a slower time of the day or week is an ideal time to assign an employee to the task of testing each number on the transfer list.

Less you write this off as too time-consuming or not cost-effective, consider the cost of dealing with an irate or abusive caller who calls back after being cut off. Even worse, what if they never call back?

First-Call Resolution

If you pursue the first-call resolution, the need to transfer callers is greatly reduced. Perhaps that is the best prescription of all.

Customer Service Success Tip: Implement consistent call-transfer training. Have agents practice. Verify transfer lists and call directories. Even better, pursue first-call resolution, and remove the need to transfer callers.

Read more in Peter’s new book, Sticky Customer Service, to uncover helpful customer service tips, encouraging you to do better and celebrating what you do best.

Peter Lyle DeHaan is an entrepreneur and businessman who has managed, owned, and started multiple businesses over his career. Recurring themes included customer service, sales and marketing, and leadership and management. He shares his lifetime of business experience and personal insights through his books and posts.

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Business

A Contrast in Customer Service Outcomes

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

In Customer Service is a Strategy, Not a Slogan, I put forward the question: Do you actually provide quality customer service or just brag about it? I then offered a comparison study, based on personal experience in the area of automotive repair. Here is another consideration from the retail sector.

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Customer Service Failure

Several years ago, my wife and I went to rent a movie with a two-for-one coupon in hand and the residual amount from a gift certificate on the account. Our expectation was that we would each pick a movie and pay for them using the coupon and credit balance. However, we were wrong.

The first sign of trouble came in the checkout line when the clerk could not pull us up in their computer. “We got new computers,” he said curtly as he continued typing in vain. After much too long, he impatiently demanded, “When were you last here?” Our answer irritated him. “Well, that’s your problem,” he announced. “We gotta put ya in again.”

Next, as he scanned the DVDs, I handed him the coupon. “We don’t accept these,” he declared disdainfully. Dumbfounded, I asked why. “It’s for Acme Video Hits and we’re Acme Video Plus, now.”

I pointed to the in-store sign displaying the name Acme Video Hits.

“We got bought out and they voided all the coupons. It happened three months ago,” he explained, as though this was common knowledge about which only ignorant people were unaware; “We haven’t changed our signs yet.” He typed some more. “That will be seven dollars.”

“You charged us the price for current releases,” I informed him, pointing to a sign for 99-cent rentals of older movies.

“But you got DVDs,” he said with a slight roll of the eyes. “Ninety-nine cents is only for VHS.” (Yes, this was a long time ago.) He paused and, saving me from another query, added, “They changed that, too.”

An unfruitful discussion ensued; eventually, he gave up and summoned the manager when I inquired about our credit balance, which had been lost during either the acquisition or computer upgrade.

Then the manager appeared and summarized anew the critical information that we had pieced together from the unwitting clerk. He stated the company line and confirmed the price of seven dollars. However, he soon relented and eventually offered to partially accept our coupon, zero out the balance on our unverifiable account, and only charge us three dollars.

Sensing this was the best we could reasonably do, I accepted his offer and thanked him. He smiled broadly and shook my hand, no doubt assuring himself of a successfully resolved conflict and a customer retained.

My wife and I, however, left with a far different perspective. The uncaring clerk had simply dug too big of a hole for his boss to climb out of; the damage had been done and it was irreparable.

Customer Service Success

It wasn’t until another movie rental chain opened a local outlet that we again rented a movie. We walked in and hesitantly approached the counter. Michelle smiled broadly and genuinely welcomed us.

Upon learning we were first-time customers, she explained how everything worked, including the store layout, membership, prices, and specials. Her pleasant and easy-going demeanor was refreshing and put us at ease.

As we began browsing, clerks would momentarily appear, helpfully restating a tidbit of information, providing direction, or offering assistance, then moving away as quickly and stealthy as they appeared. This was not like my usual retail experience.

When it came time to pay, Michelle, reiterated the value of membership and reinforced the specials. She even did a successful up-sell—which seldom works with me—to pre-pay for several movies, thereby earning a discount; this was quite a feat considering my prior experience with having a credit balance.

However, when one has a compelling offer that is presented with infectious enthusiasm, it is easy to be successful.

What amazed me most about Michelle, however, was that through all of this, she was training two employees. She had the ability to give them subtle cues and brief instructions in the midst of serving us, without leaving us feeling slighted or inconvenienced.

Given these two examples, where would you like to work? Where would you like to shop?

Customer Service Success Tip: Successful customer service starts and ends with frontline staff. Make sure you have the right people in place. Train them thoroughly and empower them to do what’s needed to best serve customers.

Read more in Peter’s new book, Sticky Customer Service, to uncover helpful customer service tips, encouraging you to do better and celebrating what you do best.

Peter Lyle DeHaan is an entrepreneur and businessman who has managed, owned, and started multiple businesses over his career. Recurring themes included customer service, sales and marketing, and leadership and management. He shares his lifetime of business experience and personal insights through his books and posts.