We all know the perils of bad telephone customer service.
The likelihood of being transferred, misunderstood or put on hold has created a stereotype around phone customer service. Because good service is the exception rather than the rule, we tend to think of bad telephone customer support as unavoidable, and begrudgingly accept it as a fact of life. There’s no reason why this should be the case, and no reason why your business can’t do it better. So, just why is good telephone customer service so important in business?
Simple changes and basic training can make a dramatic difference to your customer service team, and lead to more positive outcomes. By upending this expectation of bad telephone customer service, your business can become a positive outlier – building a reputation that keeps customers coming back.
Bad telephone customer service is damaging to business
Telephone customer service is something we all rely on at some point, and should be an edifying experience. Yet in an age when many of us would prefer to speak with a real person over a digital equivalent, bad phone customer service is still all too common.
Here are just a few reasons why this continues to be such an issue, and the knock-on effect this has on businesses:
- It’s the norm – Due to a litany of poor past experiences, many people dread phone customer service interactions. As most people only contact customer support when something is wrong, this puts you in a poor position from the get go, and can be difficult to overcome.
- Wasted time – Due to spikes in demand, a lack of investment and other factors, it can take hours to get through and get problems solved – time that both parties would rather spend doing something positive.
- It demands immediacy – As it often requires the caller’s active attention, any problem submitted to phone customer service has to be resolved in real time. This is compared to email, chatbots and other less time-sensitive services, where you can submit a non-urgent query and receive a later response.
- Bounced around – As problems become better understood – and fail to be rectified – they often get forwarded through multiple operatives with different areas of expertise. This is a frustrating and time consuming process for both parties, and one that often points to structural failings.
- Language barrier – Cost pressures often mean that phone customer service is outsourced to offshore call centres. While this can work perfectly well, it can also lead to misunderstandings and time wasted on repetition, particularly over a low quality line.
- Quality barrier – The extremely low quality of traditional landline connections (as compared to modern VoIP calls) can make it hard to understand each other, leading to communication breakdowns.
- Lack of resolution – Operatives can be poorly trained and lack experience due to high turnover, leading to long waiting times, customer frustration and a lack of results.
- Unhappy staff – A combination of the above factors, along with issues such as low pay and a lack of breaks, can lead to unhappy staff and worsening performance.
All of these factors combine to create poor customer service interactions, leaving people unhappy, unsatisfied, and having wasted their time. This absence of customer satisfaction doesn’t just lead to missed conversions, but threatens to reduce brand loyalty, and impact on the image of your brand. Poor customer service leads to poor word of mouth, with long term effects that can be difficult to counter.
How to provide good telephone customer service
Thankfully, there is a growing recognition of the importance of phone customer service. As mentioned, people are increasingly looking for a human connection in customer service as things become more and more digitised. On the business side, there is also a growing trend for businesses being marketed on their reputation for good customer service. Companies such as PlusNet and Octopus Energy have integrated their customer service awards with their marketing, and made it a core part of their brand identity.
Improving your phone customer service starts with an honest appraisal of feedback, both from your employees and customers. Sourcing opinions will help you to identify the most obvious weaknesses in your approach to phone customer service, whether that’s communication issues, a lack of product knowledge, or technological impediments. Oftentimes, it may be that staff feel unable to perform their roles effectively due to working conditions, and this needs to be addressed first.
The next step is to put the structures in place to provide a template for good support, and make staff more comfortable and assured in their work. A handbook can be useful to lay out processes for dealing with common complaints, and the point at which queries should be forwarded or elevated to someone with more specific knowledge and experience. This will help to create a uniformity of approach, and accelerate the resolution of common queries, reducing both lost time and the frustration of long calls.
If you are happy with your processes and phone support infrastructure, the last logical step is to invest in phone customer support training. Customer service skills training will provide you with a theoretical knowledge of how to behave when speaking with customers, and challenge patterns of behaviour that sometimes lead to customer service personnel losing composure, or otherwise impede the support process. Crucially however, customer service training courses also provide practical training, with demonstrations and exercises to apply this knowledge in realistic scenarios.
Customer complaints and confrontation training meanwhile focuses more on de-escalation, and how to resolve difficult customer service encounters. This is particularly useful for areas such as technical support, returns and refunds, where there is likely to be regular frustration on the part of customers. This kind of training not only helps service personnel to avoid conflict, but to build a rapport with the customer, resolve their issues in a satisfying manner, and maximise the value of that customer service interaction. Crucially, it also teaches you when and how to acquiesce – and when you just need to say no.
By resigning yourself to bad telephone customer service, or even just excluding it as an area for improvement, you could be needlessly discarding customers. A good phone customer service experience can not only retain customers, but also leave enough of an impression to generate positive word of mouth, and boost your brand’s image.
Improving your phone customer service requires an investment of time and money, both in your processes and your staff. Unlike most investments, though, the returns can be immediate. Better trained staff will resolve issues faster and make both parties happier – making your phone customer service more efficient, and reflecting a business that cares about its customers.