An agent who does not sound involved in their work can make a customer feel like a burden. Here are some top tips to help agents maintain an authentic tone throughout the day.
Respond to personal information when a customer offers it
You don’t need to find out where your customer went to school or if they like tennis, but you should take any chance you get to connect with them. This begins with using their name and making sure they know yours.
Acknowledge any information they give you, even if it is not relevant to the call – if they tell you that they are going to take their dog for a walk later, respond to that. You don’t have to derail the conversation, but tell them that you have a dog too, or that you wish you did.
The small personal insights customers give you are often the things they care about the most, and if you don’t engage it suggests that you only care about their spending power.
Don’t allow agents to rush into the solution
Here’s a common situation. You are speaking with a customer who has an issue you have heard a hundred times before. So the first time they pause for breath, you jump in and tell them exactly how you can help. Problem solved and you managed to shorten the conversation by thirty seconds. Hurrah for you?
Well, maybe not. This is classic ‘incompetent competence’ because resolving the issue was not the full story. Remember, you’re not only serving your customer’s practical needs but their emotional needs too. They want you to hear them out and to signal that you have understood them – in other words, to show a genuine interest. Racing ahead of the customer signals that you are only really interested in getting them off the phone.
Make sure to listen attentively, and then repeat a summary of their situation back to them to be sure you understood it fully. Only then should you deliver a solution.
Vary the words and phrases that are used
It’s only too easy to develop a few ‘go to’ expressions, but too much repetition can make agents appear false, especially if they use the same word several times in a single conversation. Your customers will notice this and get the impression that you are simply going through the motions.
If you have trouble changing up your vocabulary on the spot, keep a printed list of positive words (excellent, brilliant, wonderful) and phrases (That won’t be a problem, I can help you, I know just what to do…) on your desk for reference.
Allow a short pause between calls
There are plenty of calls that go well and leave you with a smile, just as there are calls that are not as positive as you would have liked. In either situation, it is important that you return your phone manner to a professionally neutral middle-space once the call is over so you are ready for whatever comes next.
Take a moment to compose yourself. It might not seem so bad to go into one call while still having a laugh from the previous one, but that depends entirely on what the next call is going to be. Someone who is contacting you to lodge a complaint will probably not get a good first impression if you chuckle during your greeting.
[Some telephone systems provide a wrap-up timer to give agents time between calls – Editor]
Don’t allow agents to jump to conclusions
Sometimes it might seem that a customer is making a big noise over a small issue, but it is not up to you to decide if their emotional response is justified. Snap judgements about the person you are talking to can easily influence your tone of voice and signal to them that you aren’t taking them seriously.
Keep in mind that if the customer is upset, there may well be more to the situation than you know. Perhaps they have been overcharged by £10, but don’t make the mistake of thinking that £10 is not very much money; it might be to them.
Avoid using Average Handling Time as an agent measure
It’s tricky to sound involved in a conversation when you have one eye on a stopwatch, yet some contact centres demand just that – by using AHT as a measure of success. Rapid interactions mean agents cannot prioritise quality and must work instead on a ‘conveyor belt’ approach.
This leaves no time to develop rapport or to deliver those additional nuggets of information that can prevent unnecessary calls further down the line. What’s more, a customer who takes time out of their day to contact your company has a reasonable expectation of being listened to patiently and having their queries addressed.
As a contact centre agent, you are the voice of your company, and that voice should be confident, calm and engaged. So, throw out the stopwatch and take the time to focus on your customer’s needs.
Humanise your customers
It can sometimes be hard to remember that a caller is more than just a voice and a profile on the company database. Reminding yourself that you are dealing with real people will naturally help you to treat your customers with an appropriate level of care and courtesy.
Your business can help by:
- Sharing the positive feedback you receive as often as possible
- Including images of customers in training materials
- Sending round a monthly recap of some A+ calls and how they helped the customer
- Asking staff to remember the last time they rang a call centre and if they were happy with the service they received
Use verbal nods to indicate that you are listening
You’ll naturally want to sound as polished and professional as possible when speaking to a customer. You may even have spent time and effort editing out the ‘ums’ and ‘ahs’ that form a part of your normal speech.
Without eye contact and body language to demonstrate your engagement, it can be tricky to signal to a caller that you are still listening, and that’s where the verbal nods – the ‘ok’ and ‘uh-huh’ type responses – are most useful.
Not only do they allow you to maintain your involvement in the conversation, they reassure the customer that the line hasn’t gone dead, which is vital to holding a comfortable conversation.
By adopting simple behaviours like these, you can quickly and easily improve the tone of your calls in a way that benefits your customer, your company and you.
With thanks to Jack Barton, a new writer for Call Centre Helper