by Chandra Osthoff, Cyber Pixie (and RRR Facebook group mentor)
As someone whose first serious job was as a tech support agent in a high-volume call center, I completely understand when someone tells me they want to avoid phone-based work. But it makes me a little sad, too, because customer service can be a really rewarding field with the right tools and the right company. They often offer a lot of performance-based incentives and room to climb. Plus, even if you don’t intend on staying there forever, those people skills—conflict resolution, professional communication, building rapport—are powerful tools that can be applied to just about any profession (and they look great on a resume).
We post a lot of customer service jobs here at RRR, so finding the right company shouldn’t be a problem. As for the tools, well… while we don’t have the resources to provide a full-fledged customer service course for free, we can certainly offer some advice. Here are our tips for surviving (and excelling at) customer service:
Use active listening. By default, most humans listen to respond rather than listening to understand. Our ears pick up keywords while our brains begin to formulate a response before the person has even finished their sentence. This is much more efficient when you’re having a friendly conversation with a friend, but it will work against you in customer service. When your customer is talking, don’t spend that time structuring a reply in your head: just listen. You’ll be amazed at how much more information you take in!
Balance empathy and assertiveness. If your customer is having a bad experience, even if it is no fault of the company, let them know you’re sorry they’re going through that. A lot of people just want to know they’re being heard and will be a lot easier to manage once they feel their message has been received. Don’t let them hold you hostage, though! Let them rant a little if they must but don’t shut down and lose control of the call. You should always keep the conversation moving towards a resolution.
Smile. Customers can tell if you’re smiling or not from your voice. Keep a positive tone even (and especially) if the customer is angry. If you respond to an upset customer either submissively or with irritation, there is a good chance that call will escalate. Kill them with kindness! Also, keep that energy throughout the day and treat every call as if it is your first. Don’t ever take out a bad call on a good customer.
Be confident. Like hippogriffs, customers can sense weakness. If you’re not confident, fake it until you make it. If they ask you a question you don’t know the answer to, try saying, “That’s a good question. Let me get an answer for you,” instead of, “I dunno.” Also, try to avoid filler words like “uh” or “um.”
Don’t argue. The customer is not always right but arguing with them doesn’t do any good. If you have ever cared for a toddler, you know what I’m talking about. You will occasionally get the impulse to call them out, but I’m telling you to ignore it. If you do find yourself in a position where you must tell them they’re wrong, do so gently.
Avoid negative phrasing. Nobody likes the word “no.” Instead of responding to a customer’s outrageous demands with an “I can’t do that”, try, “This is what I will do for you.” Instead of hitting the customer with bad news, you’ve made a promise of action. Of course, the result is the same, but the overall vibe is entirely different.
Be human. Customers find it a lot easier to use you as a verbal punching bag if they dehumanize you. If you ever find yourself in an angry customer’s crosshairs, do your best to remind them that you’re human. Call them by name, introduce yourself, be kind, and work in a little fact about yourself. It’s a lot easier to yell at someone about your Internet being down before you realize that she’s a pianist named Beth who just adopted a blind puppy. Now she’s somebody’s daughter and you really hope she gets that promotion.
Be consistent. Don’t give your customer any breaks that you wouldn’t have given the last one, no matter how nice (or angry) they are. Remember that the service you give them this time is the service they will expect every time. If you do make an exception for them, make sure you explicitly mention that it was a one-time event. You’re setting a precedent, so be compassionate to the agent who takes their next call!
Customer service experience is hard-earned but great to have. I just hope these tips will make it a little easier for some of you. Good luck out there!
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