Friday, 2 September 2011

Dealing with deadlock situations

Anybody who has worked in or managed a customer service team will have experienced a deadlock situation.

This is where a customer is demanding something which you are simple unable to deliver.

Poorly trained customer facing staff (or those who have the wrong instincts for customer service) often respond very badly to these requests with a blunt sounding statement which tells the customer what they are unable to do e.g.

I want to speak to the manager!
My manager does not take calls.

I want compensation!
We can't give compensation.

What is your name?
We are not allowed to give out names here, it is company policy.
Telling a customer what you can't do for them is never acceptable as a first response.

More importantly this type of blunt reaction makes this situation even worse.  The customer not only has the issue they originally called about but they are now having to do battle with the attitude of the customer service rep as well.

Even customer service staff who genuinely want to help customers can sometimes respond in the wrong way.  We usually see that the initial response to a deadlock request is pretty good but the approach falls down when the customer continues to demand the impossible. E.g.
Customer - I want to speak to your manager!
My manager is not available at present but if you give me some details I may be able to help you.
Customer - No I want to speak to your manager.
Well I have just told you that he is not here.

Notice how in the initial response the member of staff offered to help the customer as an alternative.  This offer of help was totally missing in the blunt, second response.  This misguided approach is not uncommon within telephone service teams.

The broken record technique
This is a simple technique to avoid the mistakes outlined above and as the name suggests it involves repeating our position to the customer.

There are 2 critical factors:
First, you must avoid repeating what can't be done alone and instead ensure you also repeat the offer of an alternative solution.

Secondly employ the phrase "As I mentioned" in your response.

This phrase is incredibly powerful and assertive. 

See how these 2 factors are employed in the following exchanges:

Customer - I need this for delivery tomorrow.
- I am sorry, I won't be able to deliver this for you tomorrow but I can have this with you on Thursday.
Customer - That's not good enough, I want this tomorrow!
- Mr Anderson, as I mention I am unable to get this to you for tomorrow but I can definitely have this for you on Thursday and if it helps I will make this the first drop.

Customer - I want to speak to your manager!
Mr Joyce, my manager is unavailable, please let me take some details and I will see what I can do to help.
No, I want the manager.
Mr Joyce as I mentioned, the manager is not available at the moment but I would like the opportunity to help you. Alternatively I can take a message and ask her to call you back when she returns later this afternoon.

If the customer continues to demand the impossible then we go to the next stage which involves additional reassurance and drawing the call to a close.  See the article on Additional Reassurance.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Business retention.

TCTC have seen an increase in demand for training on telephone business retention.  Most typically this is where customers are considering cancelling their policy / subscription or taking their money elsewhere.

When faced with these situations it is essential to remain calm, not to appear annoyed or defensive and to treat the request with respect and professionalism.

When a customer is calling to cancel they are often focussed on that objective alone.  To be successful in retaining business we must first change the customer's mindset.

2 important tips for successful business retention:

- Plant the seed for retention in the mind of the customer very early in the conversation.

- Create a thought provoking reason for the customer to consider retaining their business.

The seed for retention
When responding to a request to cancel or terminate business we often make the mistake of fully explaining the cancelation procedure without even considering alternative options which may help the customer.

The customer of course has every right to terminate and your approach must not block this but simply outlining the cancellation process alone will result in an almost certain loss of business. 

Failure to make the customer aware of all the options open to them is a failure to deliver good customer service.

In most cases there are alternatives.  For this reason reference to options (or similar) in the early part of the call will help plant the idea of retention.

Take a look at the following 2 financial service examples and consider the differences in their approach:

Example 1
Customer - I am thinking of redeeming the funds in my ISA, can you tell me how I can do this please?

- Certainly, you can do this over the phone today or you can put this in writing.  Once we have your instructions it should take a maximum of 5 working days to have the funds sent to you.

Example 2
Customer - I would like to sell my ISA investment please.

- Yes of course, I can help you with that. I will take you through the redemption procedures and also explain some of the other options you have.

The key difference between these 2 examples is the effect on the mindset of the customer.  The first example answers the customer's question directly but almost invites them to proceed with the cancellation.  In the second example the advisor is equally helpful but crucially, opens the customer's mind to the idea that there are other options for consideration. 

Thought provoking reasons for retention.
We need to create a relevant, thought provoking reason for the customer to consider retaining business.

These reasons could include:
- The alternatives to full cancellation e.g. retaining part of your investment / policy
- An outline of the consequences of cancelling i.e. the "what if" scenario.
- An explanation of benefits which the customer will no longer enjoy.
- Highlighting additional benefits associated with a product / service which the customer may not have previously been aware of.

A common error at this stage is to use negative re-enforcements questions / phrases which make the customer feel pressured and therefore invite them to respond in a negative way. 
"Would you be interested in hearing more about other offers we have?

To successfully engage the customer in the mindset of retention we need to identify what is important to them and obtaining the reason for cancelation is the critical starting point.

To see how this works let's return to our ISA example:

Agent - May I ask the reason for wanting to sell your investment?

Customer - I am going to use part of the funds to assist with a house refurbishment.

Agent - ...You mentioned that you are intending to use part of the funds, were you aware that you do not have to sell the complete holding?  You have the option if you wish to withdraw part of your holding and leave the remaining invested in the fund...

Customer - No I was not aware of that and it may in fact be something to consider...

In this example the agent has not asked the customer if they would be interested in hearing about other options.  She has instead taken the lead and subtly provided the customer with a relevant reason to consider retaining part of their investment.

As a result the customer's mindset is now far more open to alternative ideas / suggestions on some form of retention.

For an example of how these retention principles worked successfully on an extended warranty for kitchen appliances read the following article:

Sunday, 5 June 2011

What every customer wants...

- Ownership
- Reassurance
No matter what the reason for calling, whether it be an enquiry or a complaint, every customer wants to be greeted by a service professional who takes ownership and offers reassurance.

This is the conclusion of some very interesting research conducted by TCTC.

We believe that these 2 factors are so important they should form the corner stone of every set of customer quality standards.

The first chance you have to demonstrate both qualities is in the instinctive response to a
customer's enquiry.

For a practical example of how ownership can be taken and reassurance offered at the start of a call read the following article:

Scoop's shopping trip to Sainsbury's

Face to face customer service is a little off-piste for Tele Scoop and the supermarket has rarely been fertile ground for service excellence but today's trip to Sainsbury's (St Clare's in West London) was to be a pleasant exception.

Scoop had completed his shopping and was waiting at the checkout in a haze of boredom when his attention was drawn to an exchange between a female shopper (with a toddler in tow) and 2 members of staff.

As the shopper was loading her groceries on to the checkout belt she called out to a couple of staff members who were chatting happily amongst themselves at the next (closed) till.

Now in Scoop's experience interrupting service staff in the middle of personal conversations can be a dangerous business - but happily not today!

The first member of staff was a middle aged man who seemed to exude natural sunshine.  His colleague was a younger lady who had the look of a supervisor about her.

The customer attempted to grab their attention as follows:

"Err excuse me, I am sorry to interrupt, can I ask a favour?  Do you know if the latest copy of New Magazine is in stock please?"

Scooped watched with interest to see how the staff might respond.  The male member of staff sprang into action:

"I can do better than that Madam, I can go and get it for you."

Scoop was suitably impressed!

As he walked off his colleague smiled warmly at the customer and said:

"You asked the right person there, he puts out the magazines every morning."

Within a few moments the man returned cheerily with said magazine in his hand:

- "There you are madam, one copy of New Magazine."
Customer - "Thank you so much, that's very kind of you."
- "It was my pleasure."

Scoop was struck by the look of pride and satisfaction on the man's face as he walked back to his counter.  This was matched by an equally pleased expression on the face of the shopper.


This man is a shining example of how customer service can be.

He is unlikely be earning a fortune in this job yet he displays a genuine pride in his work.

His initial response shows his desire to go one step further in helping the customer.

His final response is even more impressive:

"It was my pleasure."
He did not have to say this and it's almost certainly not part of any prescribed service standards.  This was a spontaneous response to the customer's expression of gratitude.

There is something very special about this type of final response.  Uniquely it has an equally positive effect on both the customer and staff member and therefore cements a satisfying experience for both. 

This example encapsulates the positive sentiments which can be generated in customer service.  The member of staff clearly welcomed the opportunity to make life easier for the customer.  The customer (having originally been apologetic in her request) was in the end genuinely appreciative and was pleased she asked for help in the first place.  A sweet taste is left all round.

There is a difference between a mechanically correct customer exchange and a genuinely pleasant customer experience and our man at Sainsbury's demonstrated this to perfection.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Responding positively to customer enquires

This is one of the most powerful words in customer service.

Using this word when responding to a telephone enquiry inspires a host of positive thoughts in the mind of the customer.  These include:

- Makes the customer feel welcome and valued.

- Shows a genuine keenness to help.

- Instils confidence.

- Instils trust.

Take a look at the following example from the Customer Service Team at Knauf Drywall, a company who offer consistently strong responses to customer enquiries / requests:

Customer - Good morning, this is John from SI. Can you tell me if you have an item in stock please?
Knauf - I certainly can John, which item are you looking for?
This example demonstrates perfectly how to take ownership and offer reassurance at the start of the call.

Other phrases which can provide similarly positive impressions include:
- Of course
- Sure
- Yes I can
- I can help you with that

The importance of a positive response to a customer request cannot be overstated. The quality of the initial call greeting is of course crucial but the way in which we respond to the customer's request is even more important as this instinctively shows our attitude towards customer care.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

10 Introductory phrases to avoid

TCTC have been analysing sales calls in preparation for training for more than 15 years.  In that time we have come across a wide range of destructive, introductory statements in sales calls.  The 10 most common examples are:

- This is just a courtesy call...
- This is just a catch up call...
- I won't take up too much of your time...
- I am calling to introduce you to...
- I am sorry to bother you...
- We have not spoken before...
- I was just following up on literature we sent to you...
- This is not a sales call...
- I am calling from a company called...
- I was just wondering...

Some of these statements could be improved with slight amendments, others are so poor they must be avoided completely.  These statements invite an instinctively negative response from your customer.
The first step in improving the quality of your sales calls is to avoid these phrases.  For ideas on how to replace these read the article on statements of intent:

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

One word to avoid when making outbound calls


This one little word is without doubt the most commonly used negative term in UK outbound calling. 

The next time you receive a sales call consider how often the word is used.

- Just a quick call...
- Just following up on the literature we sent you...
- Just a catch up call...
-Just calling to introduce...

The word is destructive for 3 reasons:

- Sends a signal to the customer that the call is not important.

- Gives the impression that the caller is nervous or apologetic.

- Instantly triggers sceptical thoughts in the mind of the customer.

"Just" is an example of habitual verbal junk.  The word has no purpose, no benefit and therefore no reason to be used on your calls.

Cutting this one word from all outbound sales calls will instantly improve the quality of your first impression.

Monday, 28 March 2011

Advice - Opening Statements - Outbound Sales Calls

This article explains the importance of having a clear statement of intent when making a sales call i.e. telling the customer what you want!

Most people become instinctively sceptical when receiving a cold call. 

A potential customer will make a decision to talk to you or dump you within 5 seconds.

For this reason the number 1 priority for the professional outbound caller is to overcome this barrier of cynicism within the opening stages of the conversation.

What do you want!!

This blunt question is the most common thought that springs up in the mind of the sceptical customer.  Successful outbound callers tackle this issue head on by making point of including a clear statement of intent as part of their call introduction. 

The statement of your intent.
The statement of intent is not just another way to describe the reason for your call.  Outbound callers often have a reason for making the call but no statement of intent e.g.
"I am just calling to make sure you have received the quotation I sent to you..." 

Your statement of intent goes one step further and explains exactly what you want to do on that call e.g.
"I wanted to make sure you have received the quotation and more importantly discus your feedback in a little more detail."

The effective statement of intent incorporates the following types of phrase:

- I wanted to...
- I would like to...
- I am keen to...
- I am interested in...
- I wanted to discuss...

Compare the following 2 introductory statements:
Both examples have been taken from the same organisation but there are striking differences in the approach adopted by each caller.

1 - I was just wondering if you need any stationary delivered this week at all...

2 - I am calling to take your stationary order for delivery on Thursday...

One sounds weak and apologetic. The other is a clear statement of intent which in turn encourages a positive and more honest reaction from the customer.

Helpful Tips:

Ø  Be realistic.  You are not going to make a sale on every call but you can set yourself a target of making a good first impression on every call.

Ø  Decide what you want from the conversation before making the call. Let this form the basis of you statement of intent.

Ø  Consider your introduction as an opportunity to create the right conditions to make a sale later in the call.

Ø  Cut out the negative vocabulary "just wondering" "sorry to bother you" "Just a quick catch up call" etc.

Ø  The clearer your statement of intent the greater the chance of making a sale.

Want more information?
If you would like more information on improving your sales calls drop me a line directly

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Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Advice - The Quote Follow up Call

This article examines the two most common mistakes made on quote follow up calls and provides some helpful advice on how to conduct these calls successfully.

What are the two most common errors?

- A weak reason for calling.
- The use of closed sequence questions.

The following call introduction demonstrates both errors: 

Salesman - I am just calling to make sure you received the quote I sent to you...
Customer - Yes I have.

Salesman - That's good. Did it cover everything you needed?

Customer - Yeah I think it pretty much covers most areas.

Salesman - Good, do you need any other information from me?

Customer - No I have all I need thank you.
Salesman - Is it ok to give you a call in a week or so to see how things are going?
Customer - Yes that's fine.

The weak reason for calling
Calling to confirm receipt of the quote is what you expect from a junior administrator.  The professional salesperson understands that the customer's feedback is the valuable treasure.  The call introduction should reflect this.  More effective examples would be:

"I wanted to discuss the quotation I sent over to you..."
"Calling to make sure you have received the quote and more importantly I'd like to discuss your feedback..."

There are of course many other statements which can work well here but these examples leave the customer in no doubt that you are intending to have a conversation about the quote - not just confirming receipt.

The use of closed sequence questions
Closed sequence questions (defined as being 3 or more closed questions in a row) are counterproductive.  They will always lead you into a dead end and do nothing to extract the valuable feedback.

Your introduction may of course include a single closed question i.e.
Did you receive the quotation? Or Have you had a chance to read through the quote?
 Once you have the clarified these points it is essential to open the conversation to obtain feedback.
This feedback may cover a wide range of areas such as:
- The customer's views on the quote.
- How your quote compares to others they may have received.
- The current status of the project you have quoted on.
- What the next steps are going to be.
- The process of decision making.

Above all else your questions at this stage need to be thought provoking.   There are many examples of thought provoking questions which can be effective on these calls such as:

What are your thoughts?
How are we looking?
The second example is arguably the most effective question to use.

Take a look at how this is used in a call:

Salesman - I wanted to discuss the quotation I sent over to you...
Customer - Ok.
Salesman - Have you had a chance to read through the quote?

Customer - Yes I have.

Salesman - Excellent, how are we looking?

This strong, direct approach cuts out the pointless list of closed questions.   This is a very open, confident and professional way to invite feedback.

Want more information?
If you would like more information on improving your sales calls drop me a line directly

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Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Opinion - Avoiding the Clichéd Call Close

Is there anything else I can help you with today?
Is this a professional, polite way to end a conversation or an unnecessarily scripted way to close the call?

This question is now common place within many telephone centres and there is no doubt that it is used with the best of intentions but feedback also suggests that some customers find this to be an irritation at the end of a call.

The danger is that it can become a clichéd comment which lacks sincerity.

Let us consider two examples from non telephone service situations.

When you buy your cheese burger do you think the member of staff serving genuinely cares if you;
"Enjoy your meal"?
You can walk into a well known food store, pick up your sandwich, head for the till and be delighted to see that there are no other customers waiting.  Yet the first thing the cashier says is; "Sorry to have kept you waiting".

Is there any real value in apologising to a customer for keeping them waiting when in fact they have not been kept waiting at all? 

These examples do not show an individual's customer care skills they simply show an ability to follow a script.  To a customer this will often sound robotic and lack sincerity.

These types of statement are often added to a company's quality standards on of the advice of consultants like ourselves or in response to customer feedback exercises such as mystery shopper / caller programmes.

The secret to success is understanding how to use these points appropriately.  A tick in the box from the mystery shopper is useless if this turns out to be counterproductive from the perspective of your real customers.

So let's go back to our original question:
Is there anything else I can help you with today?
On the plus side it signposts the end of the call and prompts the customer to think about other questions.  It also ensures that she / he does not feel rushed off the call.

On the negative side it can sound scripted and it will annoy some callers who want to end the call quickly.  Perhaps the most important factor to consider is that in most cases the customer's answer to the question is; no.

- Try to be selective with this question and avoid asking it at the end of every call.

- The question should definitely be used if customers have encountered long waiting times to get through to your centre.

- The question should not be used in a complaint situation where is the issue remains unresolved.

- Encourage your staff to impose their own personality / words when asking this question and vary this from call to call. 

- Consider the effective use of silence as an alternative.  A pause towards the end of the call gives the customer thinking time and allows the operator decide if it is appropriate to ask the question.

These are of course general tips, if you would like a view on the relevance to your particular calls email me directly

Monday, 14 February 2011

Report - Scoop Reports on Telephone Technical Support

It was 2 days before Christmas, bloody cold and Scoop's central heating had broken down!

Initial investigations indicated that the source of the problem was a fault with the remote "Digistat Thermostat".  A frustrating search for a user manual proved fruitless so it was with a sense of resignation that Scoop headed for Google to see what help was available.

No web site could be located but after searching a wide range of forums (some very odd) a helpful post provided a phone number for technical support.  Scoop was cautiously optimistic when seeing the 0845 number but was not holding out much hope when his chilled fingers dialled the number at 8.55am.

The call was answered by a blunt sounding recorded message which did not seem to provide the name of the organisation but did inform him he was next in the queue, Scoop was becoming sceptical!   Suddenly the call was answered - by a human - a man - who spoke English!  Things were looking up!

Scoop did his best to explain the problem but no matter how hard he tried it always seemed to sound confusing.  At this point the operator offered an unexpected lifeline:
"Don't worry, I think I can understand your problem and I am sure I will be able to help, let me ask a couple of questions..."
It was still freezing but Scoop was beginning to feel a warm glow!

Judging by the questions he was asking the operator seemed to know what he was talking about:
"Can you see a red light on the control panel?"
- Yes replied Scoop enthusiastically!
"Looks like it needs to be reset, it's a simple procedure and I can talk you through this."

The operator proceeded to guide Scoop through the minefield of resetting a digital thermostat with ease and at the end, hey presto the boiler sprang into life!  This guy is bloody good thought Scoop.  All was well in the world.

Not quite!   Within an instant the red light re-appeared, the boiler went out again.  Scoop explained this to his new best mate who once again replied with reassurance:
"Ok, it could be a couple of issues, I will need to transfer you to my colleague in Technical but they will be able to sort this out for you."

Scoop waited patiently on hold (no music) but by now had confidence that these guys were genuinely trying to help.  He was in for a surprise  The technical expert answered bluntly and the conversation was as follows:

- Oh hello, I have just been speaking to one of your colleagues about my thermostat problem.
- Has he explained my problem to you?
- Well I have been speaking to your colleague who was very helpful.  I was hoping he had passed on the details to you rather than having to go over them all again.
- I am not getting stroppy I simply have a problem with my digital thermostat,  your colleague managed to get this working but the warning light has re-appeared so he has passed me on to you.

The exchange continued on this theme for a short time with Scoop eventually hanging up in frustration (and still cold).

Scoop dialled the number again, the call was answered by another member of staff who was as helpful as the first and who gave some excellent advice on how best to rectify the problem.  The solution worked and the problem was solved within a maximum of 2mins.

What strikes you most about this example is how two people working for the same organisation can have such differences in their desire to help the customer. 

It is important to note that the first member of staff did not solve the problem but seemed to have a genuine willingness to do so.  We can learn something from this man, the importance of providing reassurance at the start of the call:
"Don't worry, I think I can understand your problem and I am sure I will be able to help..."
Remember this is a customer who was cold, frustrated, sceptical and who also gained a negative impression from the automated message at the outset.  Yet this simple, reassuring response completely changed the customer's negative mindset.

Organisations quite rightly focus on speed of answer and good call greetings but this example demonstrates the power of our response to a customer's request.  This response is in fact far more important than the way we answer a call, something which is often overlooked within many telephone centres.

As for the technical guy, he was arrogant and rude but this kind of bluntness is in my experience not uncommon within the technical environment.  There appears to be an assumption that the customer is a nuisance or is looking for an argument. 

These guys may have technical expertise but they often misjudge a customer. They fail to understand that it is their responsibility to lead the customer to a solution, not to cross examine them.

Would training help this individual?  I doubt it.  I am fairly sure he knows what he should be doing, he simply chooses not to do it.  Training will not change him but the recession might!

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