Telephone customer service may look easy, but until you’re responsible for navigating the world of tough calls, it’s difficult to appreciate the kicking, blocking, and sparring skills some customers have perfected.
Luckily, there are some proven moves for handling difficult calls and doing so in a way that keeps customers coming back. These three specific moves, when used with precision, can improve interactions with challenging callers.
Move One: Set the Stage from the Start
The first tactic is designed to help service providers end calls with long talkers when the conversation gets to the point where there is no additional business to be done. Because you can’t always identify a long talker at the beginning of a call, it’s a good idea to start most of your interactions using this move.
Here’s how it works. Thank callers for dialing in and letting them know you are glad to hear from them. “Mrs. Smith, I’m so happy you called. How is your morning going? Allow for a minute of chit chat. Well, I sure am glad/sorry to hear that. What is it that I can do for you today?” Now, if you ask, “How is your morning going” and you’re told, “fine,” move on to helping the caller. The person is probably not a long talker, but you won’t know for sure until you test the waters.
Your expression of interest at the start of a conversation gives people the feeling you don’t find them to be a burden. Communicating that is especially important in environments that serve a lot of callers who are routinely blown off by most of the people they interact with.
Why does this tactic work? Long talkers almost expect you to rush the conversation and try to escape, just as everyone else does. But when you don’t follow that pattern, these people tend to be pleasantly surprised, and they have less of an urge to try to keep you on the line.
Showing genuine interest is a win-win for you and your callers. Does this mean you should be prepared to spend an extra 20 minutes with everyone who dials in? No. You are, however, on the phone to be compassionate and kind. The extra niceties shouldn’t take you but a minute or two. What’s more, if you master them, you’ll find that your overall call length will decrease, and the frequency of dial-ins from long callers will decline.
Move Two: “No” Know-How
In the service business, from time to time the answer is “no.” How you communicate this message can have a lot to do with how palatable it is. Here’s how to employ “no” know-how, with the backdrop set at a property management company.
Someone is in a resident’s preferred parking space, and there is no assigned parking in the complex.
Choice One: Mr. Jones, there are no assigned parking spaces in your building.
Choice Two: Mr. Jones, I hear you. I’d love to have an assigned parking space myself. Let me take a look at the lease for your building. Please give me a minute. Pause. Mr. Jones, the lease for your building does not provide for assigned spots. I know you like your spot, and I wish I could tell you it was yours and only yours, but I wouldn’t be telling the truth if I did. At this point, you have to hope your favorite parking place is empty when you want it because it can’t be reserved.
The second choice is preferable to the customer because while the “what” is obviously the same, the “how” makes a difference. There are reasons why option two is a service-centric response, in comparison to the dismissive nature of option one:
- The service representative is repeating what she’s been told; never mind that she already knows the building doesn’t have assigned spaces. But by repeating Mr. Jones’s complaint, she’s showing she’s listening.
- She’s agreeing that having an assigned space is preferable. Agreeing with the statement shows she connects with caller’s desires. It doesn’t mean she’s going to change the rules.
- When she pauses before breaking the bad news, she shows she is serious about the question and shifts the focus from herself to the lease. In other words, she’s communicating that the disagreement is between the terms of the lease and the caller and not the caller and herself.
- Finally, she ends by reinforcing that she understands Mr. Jones, and she wishes the answer were different.
Move Three: Suggest a Close
When you are interacting with people in person, you can use body language to suggest it’s time to move on. Body language is powerful.
During telephone interactions, you don’t have the luxury of body language, so you’ll need to use a different move to draw calls to a natural close. Although these ideas are not as simple as saying, “Mrs. Green, I’m picking up my purse,” they’re close. Let’s look at a few examples:
- Mrs. Jones, I certainly have enjoyed talking to you, and I don’t want to tie up your afternoon. Let me go ahead and make a note that you called about this, and then I’ll let you get back to your day.
- Mr. Smith, I’m sorry I wasn’t able to give you the answer you were hoping for. I certainly prefer it when that’s not the case. Before we hang up, is there anything else I can answer for you?
- Mr. Allen, you’ve certainly shared a lot with me (repeat the facts). Is there anything else I need to ask before I hang up and start researching the answer?
Each of those closes suggests the end is near, and each is tailored for a certain kind of customer.
Option one would work well for someone in need of service and a friend. Option two is a good choice for situations where you have to say “no,” and you want to reinforce the idea that you are empathetic. Option three is a winner when you have callers who repeat themselves.
Being a Telephone Ninja when ending calls is part art and part science. Refining your master moves requires precision and practice. But as the saying goes, “no pain, no gain.”