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.

12 Ways to Get Motivated Right Now

This thing that we refer to as a “bad” day is really a personal choice to let the blues rule the day. It’s human nature to feel a little down sometimes but it still remains something that we can control.

When that day stretches into a few days or a week, there could be a bigger problem. We can see the light at the end of the tunnel, but it’s hard to keep from getting lost in the darkness. You’ve been there, I’ve been there – so what do you do? Here are 12 ways that I refocus to get motivated.

Talk to my mom.
(Also acceptable: talking to Dad) My mom gives the best advice and I love being able to sit down with her and just talk about things. Sometimes, my mom holds my hand and tells me those wonderful mom things like, “You’re so special”. Other times, my mom tells me to get over myself – which is usually exactly what I need to hear.
 
Make a playlist.
Grab yourself some new songs from iTunes or Amazon and make yourself a list of songs that make you tap your feet and get excited. Listen to those when you’re trying to get unstuck on a task.

Stop for a few minutes.
Put down your pen or iPad and step away from the keyboard. Give yourself a clean five minute break.

Do something else
.
Stuck on a task? Put it down and come back to it later.

Make a list.
When all your upcoming tasks are swirling in your head, it can feel a little overwhelming, so write them down. Cross them out as you get them done. You’ll feel better.

Change the way I’m trying to complete a task.
Trying to write a blog post on your computer and it’s just not working? Grab a pen and a notebook and try going that route. You’d be surprised how often I can be found jotting down notes or whole posts on a piece of paper.

Look at something positive.
Go back and remind yourself of something that was challenging, but you were able to get through and come out on top. That can sometimes help you remember that you’ve been down this road before – and you made it through. Find something inspirational to read.

Ask for help.
Seriously, there’s nothing wrong with this. I think we’d all be a little less frayed like a knot and spend less time rubbing our faces if we could just do this.

15 Minute Facebook break (No, seriously)
Just do something to make your mind not think about work related things. Scroll your news feed and talk to a couple of people. Give yourself a little mental break.

Change your location.
Sitting in the office trying to write a blog post? Grab your purse and go get some coffee. Change the scenery and get busy.

Go for a drive.
Now, don’t just walk out in the middle of your day at the office – that’s going to have an opposite effect, I suppose. Instead, take a little detour on your way home, or if you have the luxury to make your own schedule, just put some things on hold and get in the car. Roll down the windows, turn up the radio, and let go.

Turn off your electronic devices.
Give yourself at least 30 minutes every day without a notification or email notice. The really bad thing about email notifications is that we feel pressured to respond right away. It’s totally acceptable to read a book and relax when you’re at home – the email will wait.

Hey, we all get the blues. I’m not immune to it, none of us really are – so what kind of things do you do to get yourself feeling, well, like yourself again?


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

Types of Presentations

Once you've been asked to present at a conference or event the first question you need to ask yourself is:  What kind of presentation can I do?

While making your outline, you also have to figure out what you want your audience to do after your presentation is over. Are you just trying to give them useful information? Is it one of those cases where you are trying to make a sale? There are four different types of presentations you can give and their purpose is to invoke different reactions.

Informative Speeches

These are the most common types of presentations and are used to present research. A student who is defending a thesis or a non-profit group that did a research study will use informative speeches to present their findings.

Demonstrative Speeches

These will show you how to do something. In introduction to communication classes, these speeches are usually How to Make Cakes kinds of speeches and include different pictures and steps to the process.

Persuasive Speeches

This kind of speech is trying to change the way you think about a subject or issue. If you’ve come to a health conference you may find yourself listening to why you should change your eating habits or stop drinking.

Inspirational Speeches

These speeches are designed to make your audience move. Also considered a “motivational” speech, this is designed to encourage participants to go after their goals, whatever they may be. Inspirational speeches will tell stories and the hope is that the audience will feel an emotional connection to the topic. These are also a great way to get the audience's attention.

Think about Apple CEO Steve Jobs and the presentations he gave when he introduced a new product. He gives you information, he shows you how to use a new product, tells you how you can use the product to solve a problem, makes you understand why you need it, and closes by letting you touch and feel the product. He lets the entirety of his speech stand for decision making and then by letting you get your hands on the new iSomething, you see why the new product will help you.

In truth, the best presentations will embody a little bit of each one of these kinds, but you can take a specific type to help move you along the right path.

Ready to try out one of these presentations in front of your co-workers? Sign up with AccuConference and one of our event planners will help you take these presentation types to a whole new level.


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

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:

To Better Assist You, Please Hold

I am amazed how often our customers are surprised to reach a real person on the first ring when calling AccuConference.

In this automatic world we live in, the "To better assist you, press 1 for billing, press 2 for account information, press 3 for sales, etc." is fooling no one. If you have to think about what button you fall into, your needs have already been minimized. It is especially cumbersome when you have to press * to repeat the options again.

Technology upgraded and offered us voice recognition "to better assist you." Well my mother was born and raised in Portugal. She does not have the ability to form the T-H (THA) sound. Voice recognition technology "assists" her into eventually yelling, with her heavy accent, the number TREE, TREE, TREE and then hearing "We’re sorry, but we did not recognize your response."

When a customer reaches out by phone, having an automated system that does not guide them properly can make the first, second, third…impression one that is remembered, but remembered poorly.

With most automated systems, if you continuously press 0 enough you may get lucky and get an operator to assist. But, those systems are catching on to this workaround and now you hear, "We’re sorry, but that is not a number we recognize." And worse, is when you choose a number that is not recognized and you hear the words "Goodbye"!

Unless you are the only game in town, then keeping the human spirit as your greeting is still a priority. At least it is here. When the company started in 2002, answering the phone on the first ring with a real human was a top priority, and it still is. At AccuConference, we answer the phone without making you wait.

This post was written by Debbie Vaught, an account manager here at AccuConference. 

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.

Problem Solving in Customer Service

Not long ago, I received a phone call from a customer who was very frustrated that something hadn't gone the way she planned on her conference call. Her participants had been on mute, they were not able to speak, and she could not figure out how the conference had ended up in that setting. As she spoke, I ran through all of the possible things that could have caused the issue. By the time she was done telling me what happened I had a pretty good idea of what caused the issues on her conference call.

That didn't mean that I was about to take over the conversation and tell her exactly what I suspected. I   have a very specific thought process when I'm problem solving with customers and always follow three basic rules.

Remember that the company is guilty until proven innocent. We frequently get calls from customers who have typed in the wrong code. This prevents them from joining their conference and they will call us to see what we can do to help. When we get one of those calls from customers, the first thing we check is within our own system. We check our side to make sure everything is good to go first. This kind of information will help us diagnose the problem the customer is having and we are the cause until we can find out otherwise.

Don't talk down to customers. Once we have determined that everything is okay from our side, it's time to ask the customer some more questions. It's an imperative part of problem solving, but the golden rule here is to not talk down to the customer. When one of our clients is having a problem, it's getting in the way of them conducting business, and they need our help, not a tone that would make a customer feel that I’m secretly saying "I told you so". It’s much more important that we offer solutions to the customer than to prove the customer wrong.

Don't blame the customer. This is a fine line with the customer because you, as the company representative, know that the system wasn't at fault and you're relieved, but it's important to remember that until you hang up the phone, you have to help the customer. It's important that I tell the customer how to prevent the same problem, and not what they should have done to not have a problem in the first place.

Problem solving with a customer can become a he said / she said event if you allow it. I've found that when it comes to a problem, most customers don't want to get upset, they just want you to tell them what is wrong and either fix it – or tell them how to fix it.

How do you approach problem solving with customers?

Customers Expect Speedy Service

Let’s face it – we live in a 'want it now and don’t want to wait' kind of world. Look around you the next time you’re out or while you’re holiday shopping. Black Friday sales started at eight and ten PM Thanksgiving night and one of the biggest reasons for this is that people didn’t want to wait for the sales to start in the early morning hours. Look around at any store and you’ll see the development of the ideas of meeting customer’s on-demand expectations. From self-check isles to overnight shipping, you can see that the world feeds our need to have things right away.

Take a look to evaluate how you’re operating things at your company and see if you’re meeting the right here, right now expectations of your customers.

  • Take a look at your customer service. While not everyone can eliminate phone trees and hold times, there are ways to make things easier for customers. It could be that you hire more people when your call volume is highest or train existing employees to handle accounting or minor technical calls.
  • Evaluate the products that you offer and see if there are any new offerings you can make that customers might expect you to have. For example, if your company sells roofing shingles, you should consider selling roofing nails on your website. Customers to come to your website will consider the convenience of having the ability to buy all of the supplies they need a bonus.
  • How long does it take a customer to find things on your site? Do they have to make a million clicks to get to the contact information or your pricing? If a potential client has to spend too long on your website to find the information they are looking for, you’ll find yourself with a lot of missed opportunities.

When it comes to giving a customer what they need, it goes beyond simply creating and selling and product. You have to provide those services in a way that is both informative and an efficient use of their time.

How do you make sure that you’re meeting the on-demand desires with potential customers?

Delivering Promises to Customers

A few weekends ago, I wanted to order some sandwiches for deliver to my house. I assumed that since there were two locations of a chain within a reasonable drive to my location, that surely they could keep their “freakishly fast” promise. After being denied at both locations, I decided to look and see exactly how far they were from my house.

The two sandwiches places were mapped out to be five miles away and searching around the sandwich site, I didn't see anything that restricted delivery mileage and it seemed it should have that information.

Your website is the portal to your business and what you offer to customers. So does your website deliver the truth to customers?

Are there old promotions hanging out on different pages? Take an hour and go through your landing pages to make sure that you are still honoring the offers on the site. Trust me, if there’s a deal available online, a customer is going to find it and ask for it. If you find anything that’s old or out of date you should change it or update it.

Are the terms and conditions clear? If a promotion requires new customers to send you a picture of them talking into a banana like a telephone, then make sure you put that on the website. If a customer understands the things that have to be done to have a special deal they can make their own decisions, then it builds transparency between you and the customer.

Most customers can understand why or why not a company can do something as long as they don’t try to hide the reasons and requirements behind it. How do you make your websites and promotions transparent for customers?