Are You Trustworthy?

There's a lot of rhetoric that surrounds the conversation of "great customer service". I've seen a hundred posts about what makes a company stand out and I've even written a few of those. A couple of weeks ago, a customer that I talk to on a regular basis told me that she trusted me. It resonated with me - what is knowledge about a product unless you're communicating with trust backing up your words.

What makes someone trustworthy? Are we immediately to be fighting against the stigma of negative customer service experiences that we've all had? What can we do to immediately create trust between us and our customers?

Know and Be Upfront About Limitations

If a potential customer calls me and says they need seven thousand lines on a live conference, I am honest about our limitations in that area. This practice doesn't mean that you have to turn the business away but you need to make sure you’re setting the expectations. "Well, no, I'm sorry, we can't do that but here are some other options that might work for you," is a perfect response. Just because you're letting the customer know what they can expect doesn't mean you can't find out more about their needs and try to work a solution into what you can do for them.

Demonstrate Knowledge about Your Products

One of my favorite discussions to have with a customer is to make suggestions that I think are useful for their needs. When someone calls with questions, the expectation is that I will know what I’m talking about and be able to help them navigate the full scope of our products. Doing this allows me to assist a customer in choosing what is going to work best for them. Simply understanding how your product bills, special rates, and additional features goes a huge way in establishing trust with customers.

Communicate Consistent Messages

Consistency is a huge key to being trustworthy to a customer. Chain restaurants are often designed and laid out in the same way so that no matter where you are, you are in a familiar setting. McDonalds is a great example of consistent layout, design, and menu. We have adopted the same philosophy here. No matter who you call and speak to, you will get the same answer for all of your questions. It’s a more challenging approach because we don’t use scripts and much of our success in consistency comes down to our hiring process, but it can be done. Delivering a consistent message on rates, technology, and even limitations will plant and grow the seeds of trust between you and your clients.

The truth about being trustworthy (heh) is that you have to earn it. You may not immediately get that relationship with a customer, but from the first time you interact with them, you should be doing everything you can to gain that trust. What do you do to foster trust between your staff and clients?

Four Inexpensive Tools for Customer Service

If you're considering reevaluating your customer service strategy your main focus is figuring out where you can improve. A business' customer service strategy is not just about what information you're giving customers.

If you want to change your customer service philosophy, here are four inexpensive tools you can implement right away to make a change. I can give the seal of approval on all of these because we use them right here at AccuConference.

Knowledge

One of the most important parts of customer service is that your employees are familiar with your product and your company. When a customer calls in with a question or a concern, your goal is to make sure this is the only call that has to be made. Getting it right the first time makes a big impact on your customers and step one is educating your employees.

Trust

One of the best things you can do is trust your employees and this starts at the very beginning of a hiring process. We have a very specific hiring process that helps us to determine candidates that have the same philosophies and feelings about customer service that we have as a company, and because of this my managers trust me to handle some things on my own and to take a concern to a higher level when I need to.

Voice

This is AccuConference and we are not the droids you’re looking for. (Hah!) We don't use scripting. Sure, we have standard responses to things, but they aren't the product of a script, they are the product of our experience. This is a big difference. Not being on a script gives us the chance to develop a rapport with customers and let them get to know us.

No Bait, Just Fish

An advertisement, whether it is a commercial, a print ad, or even a tweet sets a tone and an expectation with your customers. If you can't deliver on a promise made in an advertisement, then you're suddenly in a position where your first interaction with a potential customer may be viewed as a deception. This isn't a good way to start a relationship and can take a lot of extra work to repair. This is why when someone sets up an account with us they find a low rate, all of our features, and our undivided attention.

How do you approach customer service?

Things You Shouldn’t Say to a Customer

Sometimes we can say things that can be taken the wrong way. When helping a customer, what we say can be the difference between resolving an issue the customer is having or making the customer furious and escalating it. There are words that can have a certain tone or connotation that we may not recognize when we say them.

Blog writer, Keith Agnew, lists words that he believes can kill your credibility. And he makes a valid point with one word in particular. When you start a sentence with the word “actually”, it can potentially have a condescending tone. That’s something you want to avoid when speaking with customers. For example, if you have a customer who believes they have paid their balance in full when they really short paid their bill, you may be tempted to start your rebuttal with “Actually…”. You’re probably just stating a fact, but the customer might think you are being patronizing. Instead, empathize with the customer’s frustration and start your sentence off with something like “I’m sorry for the confusion…” or “Let me see what happened…”. You’ll end up saving the customer the irritated feeling of not being heard and you still get your point across.

Another phrase you shouldn’t use would be “We can’t do that”. Even if you can’t do what the customer is asking for, giving them a flat no isn’t going to solve anything. The customer knows that you can’t perform miracles, but they do like it when you’re able to come up with a solution that fits their needs. I had a customer who needed to have an international call and wanted to use our International Toll-Free Service on their account. There was a problem though. They had a custom conference line with a custom greeting and they would lose the greeting if I added the service to their account. Instead of telling the customer “We can’t do that”, I started my sentence with “The only problem with doing that is…” and explained to them the reason why we couldn’t keep the custom greeting if they switched. I then suggested that they could still have their international call and keep their custom greeting if the moderator outdials to their international participant. Instead of telling the customer we couldn’t do something, I provided a reason why what they wanted wouldn’t work and offered a reasonable solution.

There’s a list of things that you shouldn’t say to a customer when you are trying to help fix their problem. People have even written books about customer service etiquette. Which tells me that those who recognize the importance of what they say and how they say it will have a better chance with understanding their customers’ needs. What words are on your list of things that you shouldn’t say to a customer?

The Fake Smile

Only those who know you, recognize it. It is a disguise to protect you and mask your true reaction. It is frequently used when facing a loss; whether it is a job, a promotion, a loved one, your youthful appearance or even your hair.

Recently, I had a fake smile day. I found myself dreaming most of it and not getting much done. I am a "Doer" not a "Thinker", so checking off a list at the end of the day has always been important. This day, I allowed myself to dream. Dream of what could have been, should have been and what I still want to be. I allowed my dreams rather than my actions to be a better part of the day. It made me cherish existence a little more when I was able to snap back to reality.

I started my day with a fake smile and somewhere along the way. I felt the smile and allowed it to be real. I set this feeling free. It is a not a great day, but I challenge myself to make it a good day, because I realize that life is a gift and a dream can make it even better. If you can use the fake smile long enough, it may evolve into you actually feeling like smiling. And if you take some time to dream, you may find a reason to smile.

Follow Your Instincts in Customer Service

A few weeks ago, something interesting and terrifying happened while refilling my gas tank. When I looked down, there was a puddle of gasoline under my SUV and gas was dripping down the wheel well. Since defects in gas tanks are actually pretty rare I suspected that it had to be overflow from when I was filling up.

Still, something didn't feel right. Even as I told myself that it was simply an overflow issue, I didn't fully accept it as the answer. After driving a block and half, I realized my miles to empty display had dropped nearly ten miles. I decided to take the vehicle to the dealership and lo and behold, there was a crack in part of my tank that needed to be replaced.

Cracks and defects in the gas tank are rare in vehicles. Who knows what could have happened if I had continued to drive around slowly dripping gas? I went with my instinct that something was horribly wrong, and I was completely right.

Instincts are a huge factor in why and how we do something. No matter if you want to call it your intuition, sixth sense, or your gut feeling, we do put a lot of importance on our instincts. They are a piece of us and driven by our personality and our makeup, so there are different instinctual reactions for everyone. Using your personal instinctual reactions at certain time when dealing with customers can be a boost to how you provide service for them.

Jump in When It's Right

If your instinct is telling you that your customer needs help, don't be afraid to go with your gut and jump in. Recently, I was walking a customer through some of the steps and after some of his questions indicated he needed a little extra help, I offered to put his invitation together for him. I want my customers to learn how to do things and I'm highly dedicated to not just answering their questions, but educating them on how everything works. There is a time and a place for education, but there is also a time for taking care of it so the customer doesn't have to.

Step Away When It's Not

It is possible to be unable to adequately communicate with a customer. As a customer, you think you're asking all of the right questions. As the operator, you feel like you're answering them, but you're both getting frustrated. Letting the customer talk to someone else doesn't mean that you're passing the buck, it means that you’re going to send the customer to someone that might have a better approach. We all learn differently, we all have ways that we are comfortable, and there might come a time when you are not able to speak to the customer in the way they need. Don't be afraid to step away from a client if your instinct is telling you that the conversation is going downhill fast.

In Malcolm Gladwell's Blink, he talks about how our spontaneous decisions can sometimes be better than the ones where we agonize over every little detail. Once we become an "expert", according to Gladwell, we can "thin slice" and use limited information to make a decision. This cuts out a lot of the information that can sometimes cause us to over think a solution. Instincts are a powerful tool in making a decision.

Do you trust your instincts?

Information Gap

I put my fingers in my ears and sing La La La La to keep from getting information I do not want to know. Or, I just hold out my hand and repeatedly say stop it, stop it, stop it, in hopes of drowning out sounds. I use these tactics when I do not want to hear an ending of a movie or am in a haunted house. Probably not the most mature response, but it works when you are on the spot. Effective, sometimes funny, but not the right etiquette for work.

Over a phone conversation, it’s hard to gauge interest and engagement. You cannot tell if your clients have their fingers in their ears or their mouth partly open trying to find a point to interrupt. Are you answering their question or are you giving your answers?

Good way to test it is to stop talking and listen. If they have called, then they have something to say. If it is more than one request, then have a means to write it down without interrupting them. Once they finish speaking (there will be silence for a couple of seconds), I go over the points or questions and answer them one by one, making sure that they have received a complete understanding and a clear answer before moving to the next one.

Did that answer your question? Does this help to understand how it works? Is this the service you were looking for? Do you have any questions on what we just reviewed? I find this a more of an effective way then interrupting or answering before you know the question.

As Judge Judy says, "You have one mouth and two ears for a reason". We are all experts in our fields. To be better influences, determining what they know versus what they need takes the power of listening.

Breaking Down the Technical Barriers of Customer Service


I work in a business that has a lot of words for a lot of different things. When you call in ask for a "webinar" we might be talking about a couple of different things. It's my job to break down your needs and ask the right questions so we get you the kind of service that you need. It's not a perfect system because there is a barrier between knowledge. I've been in this industry for a little over five years and honestly, there are still terms that come up that I haven't heard before and have to get clarification.

When hitting communication barriers created by technology phrases, it's not always easy to figure out a way to break down how to explain it to customers, but here are some things that we do here that are really helpful.

Break Things Down into Physical Terms

If I can't adequately communicate what I mean by a conference "line" I will break it down in terms of rooms. If you can provide something physical a customer can picture in his or her mind, you might click a bulb in their heads. It's much easier to imagine a room that is assigned to each person than to try to explain what I mean by "conference line". Something tangible that a person can wrap their mind around can break the technical confusion.

Gauge Your Customers Understanding

In about the first thirty seconds of a conversation with a customer, I can get a pretty good read on their level of familiarity with conferencing. Many times a customer will freely admit they have limited or no experience with any kind of conference technology, but sometimes, it's a matter of just understanding how they are wording and saying things that give you the best clues to how you need to break things down for them.

Repeat It Back in a Different Way

Don't be afraid to clarify with a customer. Part of what our responsibility is to the customer is making sure that we understand what they need so that we can direct them in the best possible way. Make notes as you talk to them and then repeat it back to them in a slightly different way. "Let me make sure I understand, you need a conference call where you can collect the participant's names and companies? Oh, then you need an operator answered call. Okay, we can take care of that for you."

Show, Don't Tell

When going over what a particular product or service can do, always offer to show it to them. Set up a demo with them and then give them access to go in and play around. I always encourage our new customers to go online and click around. Make yourself available to them if they have additional questions or needs so that you can talk them through.

When a customer doesn't understand the technical terms, it's our job to help them through it. Even if we might be speaking a different "language" with our customers, we can still get to the bottom of what they need and help them along the way. How do you help your customers get through the information.

Turn It Up

I have a mirror on my desk with the saying, “Smile! They can hear it in your voice.” I keep it near my phone as a reminder of my duty to try and make the person on the other end of the line feel just a little better.

Your environment and the people you interact with plays a large part in how you look back and say it was a “Happay, Happay” Jack day or a “Hey, I ‘m Like Aretha Franklin, I don’t get no R-S-P-E-C-T” Si day (This is a Duck Dynasty reference, for those of you that are not part of the 11 plus million viewers). The reality is that you are the one in control. Smiling can change your mood and the whole day for you, your colleagues and your customers.

When a smile is not enough then music helps me. If I have a tedious job, turning on a little Josh Weathers and with a few raised eyebrows and some twirls with my pointer finger, a project is turned into a concert. Or, if I need to clean my house, then a turning up the volume with some Rolling Stones gets me bopping through the house, making it feel more like a dance rather than a chore. If I need to paint (as in a room not a Picasso) then Andrea Bocelli helps my one hand maestro my way through the project. Whatever your genre, try it.

Turn it up and smile.

Active Listening Skills for Customer Service - Updated

Update:  After putting my head together with some of the other operators, we determined a couple of other things that can improve your active listening skills. 

When we bring on a new employee, the first thing they learn is customer service, and the most important skill we focus on is listening. Customer service is about being an active listener. You can't just "hear" what people are saying, you have to really be grabbing onto the words and turning them over in your head.

What does it take to be an active listener? There are a lot of rules to active listening but we break these skills down into basic steps. These steps have improved our customer service responses and our communication.

(NEW) Clarify The Message

One of the best tools when speaking to a customer is the ability to clarify the message they are trying to send.  You never want to make assumptions when trying to decide what a customer wants. Most of the time you will get that assumption wrong and have to go back to the customer. It's always better when you're not clear to make sure you understand. A lot of times a customer uses words or phrases that might not be what you would use. You can just repeat it back to them in another way. "It sounds like you need..." or "Let me make sure I understand..." are great ways to start.

(NEW) Test Your Listening Skills

The Active Empathetic Listening (AEL) measure has eleven key items that test how well you sense, process, and respond when you listen to someone else. Sensing is the way you indicate you are taking in the information, processing is how well you construct the narrative delivered, and responding is how you ask questions to make sure you understand.  Take the AEL test and find out where you stand as a great listener and how you can improve. 

Focus on Understanding

Engage in communication with the goal of "understanding" instead of "understood". When your customer is speaking, it's best to focus on what the customer is saying, rather than trying to get a head start on how you're going to respond. Once someone in a conversation goes on the defensive, you are less likely to come to a resolution.

Give Your Undivided Attention to the Person Speaking

This may seem like common sense but devices like cell phones and the constant access to email are roadblocks to active listening. When a customer calls, disengage from the emails you’re working on, the spreadsheet you are clicking through, or the text message that might be waiting on you. Engage fully in the conversation that is present and not the one that is waiting for you to type a response.

Play Pretend

The more I can act like I'm face to face with a customer, the better our conversation goes. Imagine the customer across from you and nod when you understand. Responding to the customer as you would if you were face to face, you will be an even better listener. I will smile while I speak and even nod my head as the customer tells me what’s going on. It makes me feel like I truly understand the customer's needs.

It's not always easy to listen and even more so when we are immediately trying to figure out what we are going to say or have too many things going on at once. If we can just stop for a moment and become a more active listener, it will improve our communication with everyone.


Looking for ways to improve your speaking abilities? Here are four more resources:

When Bad Customer Service is Good

I’m sure the title of this blog might throw you off a bit, but trust me when I say I’m not making this up. A few days ago my husband and I were having a nice conversation about customer service. He and I get into conversations about this a lot, since I work in it, enjoy it, and he would rather… well, do anything else. One of the things we ended up talking about was his favorite place to pick up items – the local QuikTrip.

Why? Because it’s efficient with none of the frilly customer service niceness we have come to expect. It’s easy for me to think that because I expect a cheerful person who wants to chit chat while doing my transactions, and for him a "need anything else – want a bag – here’s your receipt – have a nice night" conversation is perfect.

In this case, for someone like my husband, what I would consider to be bad customer service is actually good for him.

So how do you figure out when a little bit of "bad" customer service might be good for the customer?

Learn How To Read People. When I worked in the rental car industry, I got really good at reading people. I could tell when someone walked in and wanted me to hand them keys, walk them to their car, and wish them a fond farewell. I could spot the customers who might be willing to listen to a little idle chit chat and a sales pitch. I knew the boundaries and when to respect them.

Here are three great blogs offering some simple tips for reading people:

Respond Appropriately to the Issue. When someone calls me with an issue like feedback playing into their conference, it's not the time to chat them up and make that connection. This customer wants me to identify and (when I can) correct the problem. Something interrupting their conference call is the main issue and my job is to fix it.

Follow Up When You Get a Chance. Being intimidated by the customer who wants to handle their business and move on isn't the way to handle things. Sure, you can respect their need to get their business conducted quickly, but at some point, you should check in with them. A simple email or phone call later on that day to simply check in to make sure you solved their problem and that the don’t have any more issues keeps the relationship open.

What works for me when it comes to customer service, doesn't work for everyone, and I know that. I want a chatty person on the other end of the phone who will laugh at my jokes and chat with me as we work through a problem.

For others, it is not what they expect or what they want. You just have to know your customers and not all of them will be the same. Get good at reading them and you’ll know just how to provide what they perceive to be great customer service.