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 kevinb@tctc.co.uk

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!

If you are interested in ways to improve telephone quality visit the telephone tips area of our web site www.tctc.co.uk or follow us on twitter.com/teleconsultancy