Building rapport with customers is all about creating a common bond of trust, particularly over the phone.
So, you must learn to empathise with your customers, have a genuine interest in their situation and make them feel valued.
This is so important to providing good service and increasing sales.
So, here are some of our tips on how to build customer rapport, along with pieces of advice from our readers.
1. Get Their Name First
Debbie, one of our readers, suggests asking “for the customer’s name first, rather than reference number, address, etc.”
“It is easy to get the details we need after we have their name. This makes the customer feel like an individual and advisors feel as if they are speaking with a person, not a caller.”
Also, it is equally important to get the customer’s name right, as Carolyn Blunt, from Ember Real Results, says that “many people accidentally call me Caroline and when they do that they completely lose rapport with me.”
“This is because as it seems as though they haven’t paid enough attention or haven’t cared enough to get that right.”
So, Carolyn instead suggests another rule, that “if the customer has an unusual name, write it down phonetically when the customer is saying it, instead of reading it off the CRM system.”
2. Speak With a Smile
In Tony’s contact centre, advisors are asked to “always start the call with a smile – the customer will notice this in your voice.”
Jeanette Coulthard agrees, saying that “it creates a warmth in your voice which a customer or prospective customer can hear. It makes it far less likely that the customer will be rude to you.”
“Think how hard it is to refuse to take a call when someone rings up sounding sunny and warm.”
“Even if you want to refuse the call you are more likely to listen to someone who sounds like they are smiling than someone who sounds like they are just going through the motions.”
It is also good for the advisor as well, as smiling has been proven to release endorphins in the brain and consequently lift the smiler’s mood.
And if an advisor’s mood improves, they will be more likely to be invested in the rapport-building process.
3. See It From the Customer’s Perspective
Showing empathy is often a crucial part of building rapport, as it helps to create trust and mutual understanding, while it enables advisors to show the customer that they are the priority.
But some advisors will find this more difficult to do than others.
So, Gareth, one of our readers, suggests encouraging “advisors to imagine themselves in the customer’s shoes. Or, if they are really struggling to display empathy, ask them to imagine the customer as a close friend or family member.”
4. Share Their Priorities
Michael, another one of our readers, says that “every customer, particularly in an emergency situation, will have a list of priorities.”
“Making them also your priorities and addressing them in the right order (mirroring them) will reassure them that you know what they want and are taking care of them.”
This follows a key principle in any customer service field: people like other people who are similar to themselves.
This is why Carolyn Blunt says advisors “need to be really focused on what the customer is saying to us and what clues and signals there might be about how we can say similar things to demonstrate commonality.”
A trick that many contact centres use to find a shortcut to this common ground, is to ask advisors to make a note of any interests that they discover the customer has in the Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system.
Then, if the same customer were to ever call back, the next advisor will have this information, which they can subtly use in their next conversation with the customer, to build rapport.
5. Allow Them to ‘Get It All Out’
Angry customers are the most difficult callers to build rapport with, but it’s not impossible, as long as the advisor lets them “get it all out” first.
Jennifer, a frequent visitor to our site, recommends this, saying: “when the customer is angry, allow them to vent without interruption. Use this time to figure out what you can do to fix their issue.”
If they interrupt, the advisor will only be making the customer more irate.
So, it is perhaps best to wait, and when the angry customer finally takes a breath, an empathy statement could be used to highlight that the situation has been recognised and understood.
Also, if the advisor uses this time to figure out what needs to be done to fix the issue, it is easier for them to present solutions to the customer instead of problems.
[For more on this topic, read our article: Dealing with Angry Customers]
6. Repeat Back
In many contact centres, advisors are encouraged to use reflective listening.
This – according to Sarah-Jane, whose contact centre does so – is where the advisor “repeats sentences or important details back to the customer, saying ‘Okay, just to recap…’”
“This reassures them that you are paying attention.”
While mirroring these words, it is also important to mirror the customer’s tone, as Carolyn Blunt says, “sometimes it’s about stopping and just moving on, thinking about how to match and mirror the customer’s mood and use similar words, phrases and tone.”
“The only time that you don’t do that is when the customer is aggressive. But if the customer is really bubbly and enthusiastic about a holiday that they are going on or a wedding that they are going to, then that enthusiasm should be mirrored.”
“So, listen out for the words and phrases that are being used, and if the customer has the same accent as the advisor, they should play to that.
“Equally, if the accent is not the same, make sure colloquial language is not used.”
7. Make Their Problem Your Problem
According to Veronica, who is one of our readers, advisors must take “ownership of the enquiry, especially if it is a complaint.”
“It’s important to have a one-to-one relationship with your customer so that they have a point of contact that they can come back to.”
So, when a customer voices their issue, it is important acknowledge it and signal that their concern has been understood, so the customer feels as though the problem has been “lifted from them”.
Advisors can use statements such as: “I realise that this situation is difficult, but let’s try and find a solution,” to do this.
Such a statement begins with personal recognition using “I”, while also finishes with “we” to create a notion of teamwork, which can boost rapport.
It is also good in terms of turning a negative to positive, is more authentic than saying “I understand” and creates a sense of action, to show that the matter is important to the advisor and company.
[For more examples, read our article: The Top 12 Acknowledgement Statements for Customer Service]
8. Understand the Customer’s Emotional Drivers
When we discussed how to improve your emotional connection with customers, we concluded that customers will have two very different emotional drivers behind calling the contact centre.
These drivers are: movement away from pain or discomfort and movement towards pleasure. Normally one will be the dominant force.
When a customer seems worried, negative or agitated, their dominant driver will be to move away from pain, and, if the advisor recognises this, it is best to use empathy statements. While if a customer is more upbeat, having called for a feeling of contentment, relief or peace of mind, their dominant driver will be movement towards pleasure. So, if the advisor recognises this, it is best to stay enthusiastic.
If the advisor can tell which is the dominant driver behind the call and alter their style accordingly, they will increase their emotional connection with the customer and consequently build rapport.
9. Use Positive Scripting
While many are against the use of scripts in contact centres, as they are often seen as a barrier to natural conversation, letting advisors know what they should not be saying and providing them with a list of positive alternatives can be beneficial.
This aids the rapport-building process, turning negative language, which can cause the customer to worry, into positivity that can instead trigger optimism.
So, show advisors how to turn negatives into positives by using examples like those below:
This helps to evoke positive emotions. And if advisors can speak naturally but refer to the list when they feel the urge to use a “negative” phrase, rapport can be built.
[For more on this topic, read our piece: How to Create a Positive Scripting Experience in Your Contact Centre]
10. Minimise Dead Air Time and Use “Stock Book Phrases”
Dead air time can damage rapport, as it takes the natural flow away from the conversation.
According to Carolyn Blunt, it is most common for dead air time to occur “when an advisor thinks that ‘I don’t know what to say to that’”, instead of due to knowledge gaps or slow systems.
Carolyn uses the example of when she “was listening in to a call from an organisation who booked hotels for people over the phone, and the customer said to the advisor: ‘I’m taking all my friends away and we are going to York for the weekend to have a divorce party’.”
“The advisor could not think of anything to say in response. After all, should they be giving congratulations or commiserations?”
“So, have a list of stock book phrases for advisors to revert to, as the worst thing is often to just say nothing.”
In the example that Carolyn gave, perhaps the advisor could have given a “stock book” response, such as “well, that’s a first,” to move forward in the conversation.
[For more of these example, read our article: Best Tips, Phrases and Words to Use for Building Rapport]
Some More Tips From Our Readers
11. Be Flexible With Formality
We address our customers in the way that they introduce themselves. The screen may show them as Christopher Jones, but if the customer calls himself Chris, we will address him in the same way.
Some customers prefer to keep things more formal and may introduce themselves as Mr Jones. It depends on the business.
Thanks to Stephen
12. Remember the value of an apology
For those who deal with complaints all the time – a simple, genuine apology at the appropriate time can defuse a difficult customer and break down the barriers to allow space to build rapport.
Thanks to Stephen
13. Be Adaptable
Advisors should be able to adapt their approach – there is no reason to think that all customers should be approached using the same style.
Use personal experience to build rapport so that the caller feels you are putting yourself in their shoes.
Thanks to Clair
14. Pace and Lead
This technique is extremely useful when someone is in an over-excited state. Start by showing urgency, confidence and concern in your speech patterns and manner to match and reassure them.
Then gradually begin to calm and slow up your speech patterns. As long as the customer feels things are happening and that you’re in rapport, they will follow you down and become calmer in response.
Thanks to Michael
15. Take a Personal Interest
Rapport can be built by showing a personal interest in the customer.
For example, if a customer says they have been in hospital, ask them how the recovery is going.
If you were speaking to somebody face-to-face and they said that they had just come out of hospital, it would be courteous to check how they are.
Thanks to Lisa
16. Be Aware of Intonation
Go up at the end of the sentence for questions, go down at the end for command (discourage further debate).
Thanks to Michael
17. Start off With Something Positive
If the customer has spent some time explaining a frustrating problem, then beginning a response with a short, direct statement of intent can gain the customer’s confidence.
Something like “OK, we can fix this…” or “Right, let’s get this problem sorted for you…” will reassure the customer that the advisor is taking ownership of the problem.
Thanks to Matt
18. Be Respectful
Make sure advisors talk to customers with respect and in common language.
Never talk down to the customer or talk over them.
Thanks to Nicola
19. Keep Focused
Stay one hundred percent focused on the customer and don’t let colleagues or other things in the office distract you.
If the customer doesn’t have your full attention, they will always pick up on it.
Thanks to Laura
20. End on a High
Always ask the customer if there is anything else you can do for them before you end the call. This shows that your priority is giving good service, not just getting the call over with.
Thanks to Matt
21. Don’t Leave Customers Waiting
Be careful when putting people on hold or transferring calls. This can damage rapport as wait times always seem longer when you are lingering in dead space.
Remember to avoid keeping the customer waiting, advisors should keep the customer informed as to what they are doing and what they are going to do.
Thanks to Clair and Julia
22. Let Advisors See Their Feedback
Get any post-call survey results, especially spoken or written comments, back to the advisor that took the call in real time.
There is nothing better at bridging the gap between what the advisor does on the call and what the customer felt about it.
Thanks to Alan
23. Beware of Inappropriate Jokes
Everyone must be careful with humour. Sometimes there is too high a risk of a jokey comment being misunderstood, just like sarcasm in emails.
Thanks to Mark
24. Don’t Rush
Sometimes agents can identify an issue they have seen regularly and then rush to rectify the problem quickly. But it’s always best to focus on building rapport first.
Thanks to Marcus
25. Learn to Unhook After Tough Calls
Leave the last call behind and start afresh every time. Every customer is different.
Deep breathing is therapeutic, so maybe teach advisors to take a few moments to shut their eyes and do so, to reduce their stress response.
Thanks to Jardine
26. Use Feel, Felt, Found
Teach new advisors to use phrases that include the words feel, felt and found. An example of this can be found in the graphic below.
This helps to show empathy and reassure the customer.
Thanks to Erik
[We picked up this tip from Erik on a site visit to his contact centre. To find out more from this visit, read our article: 17 Things You Can Learn from the AO Contact Centre]
27. Try Standing up During the Call
If an advisor can stand around and maybe even walk around and stand up straight while on the phone, it is likely that they will sound more powerful.
There have been many studies to suggest that good posture can boost rapport and productivity.
Thanks to Nick
What are your tips for building rapport?
Please leave them in the comments box below.
For more advice on this topic, you can read some of the following articles:
- How do I – Build Rapport With Callers?
- Top Tips for Building Rapport on the Telephone
- Rapport-Building Tips
- What Are the Best Words and Phrases for Building Rapport? – in 140 Characters
- The Secret to Building Real Rapport