Customer Service Excellence is what every organization, large or small, is aiming to achieve. We are now all highly aware that delivering an excellent experience to all of our customers will play a large part in keeping our Customers coming back. Every telephone call is an opportunity to win or to lose Customers. Here we give some of the essential Telephone skills, techniques and best practices that will help ensure that extra positive experience for our Customers.

Begin with a Confident Welcome
First impressions count and that first impression takes 10 seconds on a telephone call! In Customer Service this means the Customer will decide "I like this person", or "I do not want to deal with this person" very quickly. Our goal in Customer Service is to capture this call positively and to set the right tone for the call from the beginning.

We want to sound confident and welcoming. The telephone skills and techniques for doing this are …

1. Positive Posture – sit up straight in your chair and lean forward to take the call. Don’t slouch, as this will deaden your voice tone. Positive posture not only helps give you a richer voice tone, but it helps make you feel more confident.

2. Greet the Customer as if you are delighted they called. Smiling on the phone really does work!

3. Get the Customer’s name and use it. Everyone likes to be treated personally, like a human being. We do this by giving our own name and by using the Customer’s name. It is important to judge which form of the name or title is most appropriate. There are rules on this, but they differ from culture to culture. For example, in Ireland we use the first name in a business-to-business setting, and we use the family or surname in a business-to-home setting. It is worthwhile to investigate the social or business norms in your specific area or culture as being inappropriate can create a negative rather than a positive impression.

4. Give a positive, definite first response. For example, ”Certainly, I’ll be happy to help”; or “No problem, I can do that for you”. A positive first response will have a reassuring effect on your Customer.

5. Listen and use Verbal Nods to encourage the Customer as they speak. For example, ”I see; Sure; I understand; I appreciate that”. This may seem very obvious, but it is amazing how many people do NOT use verbal nods on a phone, especially in difficult call situations. Check if you do by recording a call and playing it back. If there are no verbal nods, the call will sound cold and officious.

Questions, Good Ways of asking vs. Bad
In Customer Service we often have to ask a series of questions to establish our Customer’s needs. On the telephone, we do not have the softening effect of body language and our questions can often sound unintentionally aggressive. Something simple like, ”What’s your name?” can be very aggressive at the beginning of a call. ”Could you tell me your name, please?” sounds so much better.

Always soften the beginning of the question and let your voice-tone go up at the end of the question. That way you sound chirpy and the Customer will be happy to answer. Remember to acknowledge the response by confirming back or a verbal nod - ”That’s great, your number is…”

Offer a Customer Friendly Solution or Explanation
Having established our Customer’s needs, we move to the phase of the telephone call where we are offering a solution, or giving information or an explanation to the Customer. As we transition to this phase, we often acknowledge the Customer’s issue by summarising it, and then move to introducing how we plan to address this. ”Thank you for that, Mrs Jones, you need a … What I will do now is …”.

Here are some tips and techniques for offering information or an explanation to a Customer on the telephone …
1. Use relatively short sentences with one idea per sentence. Use a step by step approach with a pause in between the steps for the Customer to catch up. ”First go to X. When you are at X, you are now going to move to the next step.” Long, rambly instructions or explanations are very hard to follow on a telephone.

2. Use Customer friendly language. Pitch the terms you use at the level your Customer rather than yourself. Be very careful of jargon and 'business speak 'that is unique to your business or, indeed, your own Company. If we use these terms every day, we often assume that they are widely known and acceptable. Using them inappropriately with a Customer can also sound aggressive, like you are talking down to them.

3. Use positive definite language rather than negative language. Negative language is language with ‘not’ like ‘can’t, won’t, shouldn’t etc.’ Try to switch what you are saying round so that it will always sound positive. ”I am sorry, but we can’t have that for 10 days” becomes ”I can definitely have that for you in 10 days” Do not tell the Customer what can’t be done without giving them a positive option at the end. ”I am sorry, but I can’t do …; The reason is … What I can do is …”

Closing the Telephone Call Positively
In Customer Service, we want the Customer to go away with a very positive impression of us. Callers remember the first impressions, and the very last impressions.
As we move towards the close, it is good practice to summarise any agreements, and to confirm any next steps or actions. Again it is worthwhile reviewing HOW you do this, to ensure that your language is positive and clear.
We finish with a nice positive close that will ensure our Customer’s go off the phone happy.

Author's Bio: 

Kate Tammemagi is Customer Service Trainer and Consultant in Ireland. She designs and delivers customized Customer Care Training and Telephone Skills Courses.