Is Customer Service Taught or Learned?
By Sally Sheridan
I have always worked in customer service – for me, it’s second nature. I am the person who holds doors, says “God bless you” when a stranger sneezes, and smiles as I say hello to anyone I pass. I’ve always liked people. I’ve always enjoyed helping others. Saying “please,” “thank you,” and “I’m sorry” are phrases I don’t have to think about using.
I am constantly baffled by the lack of customer-friendly service I encounter every day. Is it really so hard for people to smile as they give you change? Or say thank you? Often I’m tempted to address the issue with a manager, but many managers have marginal customer service skills as well. Has customer service been forgotten?
This is my dilemma with training. We can teach operators the phrases to say and the buttons to push, but how can we train them to think logically, speak politely, and sound genuine? How do we teach someone to care about his or her job and the caller on the other end of the phone?
To come up with an answer, I thought back to when I first started. Who taught me? How did I develop my own customer service skills? Ten years ago, I saw a help wanted ad in the paper for a customer service position – nights and weekends required. I called the number and went for an interview. Being a young mom with five children, I needed a job that offered me a way to make money without having to pay for a babysitter or daycare. I came into the answering service industry somewhat blind about what an answering service actually does.
I had always worked in the customer service field, but it wasn’t until I started working for an answering service that I truly understood and appreciated customer service. With all my background, I had never before had to handle calls of this nature, and no amount of training could have prepared me for what I would encounter: calls from doctors in an emergency room, a fast-talking police dispatcher, or someone heartbroken over the death of a loved one. I had to learn how to pick up the pace or slow it down, how to show empathy yet maintain composure. At times I had to learn to hold back tears, bite my tongue, or even refrain from laughing.
I learned that angry callers weren’t mad at me; they were just frustrated. By listening I was giving them an outlet, and it was my voice that helped solve their issues. I learned to be patient with the caller who spoke broken English or had a speech impediment. I developed the ability to listen for what wasn’t being said from the elderly woman who didn’t want to wake anyone but was scared or lonely. I learned not to judge; people have things happening all the time, and to them the slightest thing could be perceived as a tragedy. I learned to accept that not everyone has good manners or a nice way of communicating, but that didn’t mean I had to be like them. I realized that just because one person may be harsh, not everyone is. If I allow someone to change me for the worse, then my customer skills still need polishing.
I learned that knowing my job made a difference, and that was thanks enough. I was someone who was there – just a voice; my name didn’t matter. I could convey my empathy, offer to help, and reassure the voice on the other end of the phone that someone was listening. I could reassure the caller whose mother was dying that I was there to help reach a nurse. I learned how just answering a call or connecting a distraught mother to a doctor in the middle of the night was gratifying.
We are not just an answering service – we are CUSTOMER SERVICE:
In the end, customer service is neither taught nor learned – it is earned. By believing in customer service, it becomes a way of life.
When I see new operators smile because they helped someone or calmed someone down, when I watch them go the extra mile, then I know they have earned customer service skills. When I see pride in their actions and hear empathy in their voices, then I know – and so do they – that they finally understand customer service.
I’m grateful to my bosses and peers for giving me the opportunity to discover what customer service truly means.
Sally Sheridan is a supervisor/trainer at Medcom Professional Services.
Retaining Customers and Pursuing Prospects
By Peter DeHaan
Although the number varies with who’s doing the telling, it’s many times more costly to obtain a new customer than to keep an existing one. The sad reality is, though, no one at the giant megacorporations gets this – or at least their actions belie that they do.
For years, I’ve been trying to get a lower rate from my local phone company, practically begging them to give me a reason to stick around. As soon as I had a viable alternative, I switched providers and cancelled my service.
For the first time in twenty-four years, they asked me, “What can we do to keep you as a customer?” Sorry, too late.
A week later I received an email from them. It seems they pre-approved me for a special rate, a deal they wouldn’t consider giving me as a customer but will if I’m a prospect. They offered me a “triple play,” a package with phone, Internet, and satellite for about what they were charging me for just phone and Internet before.
If existing customers were treated with a bit more respect, the sales and marketing folks wouldn’t be under as much pressure to make up for the lost revenue from defecting customers. But instead, they do things backwards, taking customers for granted and offering sweet deals to prospects.
Although rampant at large corporations, this situation isn’t unique to them. Smaller companies can fall prey to this as well. Does this scenario have any implications at your answering service?
Peter DeHaan (www.peterdehaan.com) is publisher of TAS Trader and Connections Magazine.
Seven At-Home Agent Best Practices
At-home agents are here to stay. Here are seven best practices that can help answering services maximize the benefits of using at-home agents.
1) Hire qualified, motivated agents: Successful recruitment is key. Make sure to conduct remote interviews and background checks. Removing any travel limitation – such as limiting candidates to being with a twenty-mile radius – will increase your chances of finding the best talent.
2) Focus on certification and skills: Provide candidates with comprehensive product training. Make sure to optimize class size for attentiveness.
3) Engage in coaching and communication: Supervisors should be available through initial calls and ready to assist with that first round of questions. Consider collaboration tools, such as chat. Use barge-in, whisper, and coaching tools.
4) Create clear performance expectations: Establish clear metrics and expectations; identify performance issues early and take action immediately.
5) Design proper incentives: Consider implementing a pay-for-performance system.
6) Record all calls: Recording 100 percent of calls will increase agent awareness, which will improve quality. Recording calls is great for training and coaching, and it maintains security and compliance.
7) Choose a solid technical foundation: A strong foundation can make all the difference. Include agent chat and IM for collaboration, along with quality monitoring for supervisors.
The Seven At-Home Agent Best Practices is recommended by Five9 (www.five9.com).
Scott Walker Joins Sound Telecom as Sales Account Executive
Sound Telecom announced the addition of Scott Walker as sales account executive in Spokane, Washington. Scott joins Sound Telecom as a sales account executive, bringing eleven years of sales and sales management experience with him. “We are pleased to have Scott join our sales team,” said Michael LaBaw, Sound Telecom’s CEO. “He is a highly energetic and driven sales professional with a successful track record of consultative sales and business development.” Scott has a diversified sales background that includes small business consulting, sales management, and sales and operations team building in the mortgage finance, loss mitigation, consumer law, and oilfield executive recruiting sectors.
TextGen Text-Enables Landlines
TextGen unveiled its communications platform that allows businesses to reach customers by text-enabling their existing ten-digit landline number, allowing companies to text customers with the same number they use for voice and automated response systems. TextGen provides businesses with an affordable solution to customer communication; it was developed through partners Noah Rafalko, Gary Pudles, and Thomas Howe, an early developer of VoIP and ADSL technology. “Imagine ordering pizza, talking to customer service, or activating your electronics through a simple text without the need of mobile apps or a smart phone,” said Pudles. “If you can text on your cell phone, you can use the TextGen system.”