More about client loyalty.

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In a previous article I discussed a number of vehicles that can be used to easily and cost-effectively encourage client loyalty.  In this article I’m going to discuss another aspect of this very important task.

This aspect is one of the most misunderstood and badly used business components.  It’s called ‘customer on the phone service’.

Stick with me now.  I know you probably want to yawn and click away because you already know all about  – and maybe even provide – fabulous customer service on the phone. But truly, in all my more than 20 years of working with clients on improving their profitability, this is a key area I see them failing at time and again. Even when they’re convinced they have it aced.

As my husband loves to say, “In business, EVERYTHING counts.”  Another of his favourites is, “The fish stinks from the head down.”  Invariably, everyone in a business takes their cue regarding customer service from the guy (or lady) at the top.

And truly, everything DOES count.

Let’s begin with the basics. How do your staff answer the phone?  From reception right through to the sales and shipping department, each one whose hand lifts a receiver is responsible for the service they deliver by phone.

Obvious no no’s are allowing the phone to ring endlessly before it’s answered.  Once again, this applies whether it’s at the first point of contact or the last.  Using voice mail to screen calls is also just plain bad customer service.  Both these practices are guaranteed to elevate the customer’s blood pressure significantly as a result of the feeling of helpless frustration in not being able to get help when it’s requested.

I’ve come across many companies where the receptionist may do a reasonably good job of handling incoming phone calls, but when they are directed to the intended receipient, they’re handled as if they’re a complete annonyance.  When a caller is greeted by a gruff, “Yeah?” undergirded by obvious irritation at being interrupted, it’s like a slap in the face to the caller, even if the tone lightens up once they announce who they are.

What many people tend to forget is that when a customer takes the time and trouble to phone you, it’s because they are willing and desirous of interacting with you.  That’s good news.  The more willing and desirous of interaction with you that they are, the more likely they are to spend money with you.  Never, ever allow anyone in your business to treat incoming phone calls lightly.  They are important and a botched call can easily mean a lost customer – and leave you none the wiser as to why you’ve suddenly lost their business.

Here are a few tips to elevate your customer on the phone service to help you maintain maximum client loyalty:

  1. Always have a live person on reception.  And I mean ‘live’.  Someone whose enthusiasm to talk to customers is obvious.  Someone with a smile in their voice.
  2. Provide them with a specific way to answer the phone – something engaging and easy on the ear.  Personally I like to use phrases such as, “XYZ Ltd., this is Shelley.  How may I direct your call?”  It immediately alerts the caller to the fact that the business is friendly and willing to assist them in reaching the correct person.
  3. On the second leg of the phone journey, make sure all staff are trained as to how to answer their phone in order to continue the good impression.  A good way is simply, “Hello, this is Joe.  How may I help you?”
  4. Never let the phone ring for more than 3 to 4 rings before it is answered. If it must go to voice mail, make sure that the message the caller hears is very specific and definite about what information is required to return their call and how long it will be before that happens.
  5. If your caller has to be put on hold, ensure that someone live gets back to them every 20 seconds or so to let them know they haven’t been forgotten or abandoned.
  6. Even if a caller is aggressive and annoyed, a calm, sympathetic and friendly approach can often turn the situation around and prevent loss of business.  The easiest way to do this is to simply be on the caller’s side and sympathize with them while doing what you can to resolve their problem.  For instance, saying something like, “Mr Jones, I understand how upset you are.  Let’s see how we can sort this out to your satisfaction.”  You then become their advocate instead of their adversary.
  7. Deliver on your promises. Return calls timeously.  If you cannot deliver or are delayed, be sure to call the customer and explain the situation as quickly as possible.  Provide them with time lines and expectations.

These simple customer on the phone service techniques will go a long way to creating a level of customer service that your customers love and your competition cannot easily duplicate.

Although they are really very easy to implement, it does require that you ensure all your staff are on board and fully subscribe to the philosophy that guides this approach.  It’s often helpful to bring in an outside consultant who can help you script a variety of appropriate telephone answering scripts that are easy to say and sound natural to the caller.

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