How Phone Customer Service Works

Closeup of a beautiful business customer service woman smiling

What they want you to think the call center is like.  Note the smiles and color scheme.

I spent a few years working as a customer service representative (CSR) in the financial services industry, spending a brief period of time as a quality assurance supervisor.  In my role in quality assurance I would evaluate about 30 calls a day, grade them and provide coaching sessions.  Eventually I worked in FOREX handling inquiries on trades that averaged 2 million dollars.  If you think someone is upset when they call the cable company because Pay Per View doesn’t work, imagine someone who isn’t sure if they executed a two million dollar deal and at what price.

There are some differences in how customer service is approached depending on the industry, product and client however one thing remains constant: the customer wants you to do something and often times it’s because something went wrong or was perceived that way.

To the company employing CSR’s one thing is valued over everything else: how many customers can a rep help in a day at the standard they set.  Time is money.  If a CSR is excellent in handling calls they have more leeway in the number of calls they can take.  Conversely if a rep is merely mediocre quality wise but averages a high call volume they will get a pass.

The best CSRs however can handle many calls, provide high quality support and never need to escalate a matter to supervisor.  Very few, and its usually those with a lot of experience, are able to reach the heights of CSR ability.

To be able to crank out a high call volume a rep needs to be able to dictate the pace of the call while remaining polite and performing research efficiently.  A CSR that has through knowledge of protocol and company information spends less time researching that for a customer.

A CSR must be able to identify when time is being wasted and nip it in the bud.  This can be because the customer is spending a lot of time on chit chat or unrelated matters.  Many people who call in like to talk the reps for whatever reason about anything.  Sometimes they are just lonely.  It’s common for customers to ask where you are and what the weather is like there.  A great CSR will be able to interject without interrupting and bring the call back on track without the customer feeling brushed off.

Another time waster is encouraging a customer’s belligerence whether voluntarily or involuntarily.  Most who call in do so because they have a problem and the fact they can’t see you naturally encourages their belligerence, as we see on the internet. Not only that but if the gripe is legitimate in their eyes the CSR is an extension of the company and is partially to blame.  A great rep mitigates belligerence by sounding alert, legitimately compassionate, knowledgeable and confident. There is never a need for a CSR to lay blame on a customer or challenge them when they get heated.  No one likes a smart ass.

Often a customer is bringing with them the poor experience they received from someone else so not only is something wrong for them as a customer they are already irritated by someone who did not provide the adequate customer service previously.  A CSR should never be engaging in argument with the customer or provoking them in any way.  This can be a challenge for many as some customers can be nasty, nasty people.

A customer will react to the person they are speaking to.  If you sound disinterested, it will bother them.  If you sound like someone is forcing you to do your job and you’d rather be anywhere else, it will show.  Likewise if you sound fake, this can annoy people.  If you sound unsure they will want to get confirmation from a supervisor.  All these things potentially waste time.

There really is no way to teach professionalism.  A CSR has to be able to never, ever take what a customer says personally.  They also have to take their work seriously.  While some people do get fulfillment out of CSR work, most would rather be doing something, often times anything else.  The customer has to always get the impression you are satisfied with your work.  They want to think they have a high paid, competent, happy individual servicing them.

All employers have protocol they want CSRs to perform, however the best CSRs can hit all these notes without sounding forced or canned.  This is key.

When a customer calls in and states the reason for a call the CSR in their response should succinctly summarize the reason and convey empathy.  If the customer’s payment was deducted in their records but not reflected on their account a CSR must apologize for the mistake and state what they will do to remedy the situation.  For example:

CSR: Thank you for calling xxxx my name is Lupa how can I assist you?

Caller:  Yeah you keep sending me bills for January but I paid it two weeks ago.  I called in last week and someone said they would fix it but never did.

CSR: I apologize for the inconvenience, that must be frustrating.  Allow me to see why your payment is not reflected on your account.  How was the payment made?

With this the CSR shows they take the caller’s matter seriously and can relate to it, creating rapport.  By stating in different words the caller’s concern they show their grasp of what the person is calling about and thereby give the impression they will be able to resolve the issue.

Always act like the customer is correct or did what they say even if you know they aren’t and they didn’t.

Caller: I used my debit card.

CSR: OK. May I place you on a brief hold while I look into this?

A CSR needs to always ask the customer if they can place them on hold if they need to research something or get assistance.  Never tell them you will put them on hold, ask them.  This makes the customer feel catered to.  If they know you are considerate they will believe you to be competent.  Depending on how long they will be on hold the CSR should periodically come back on the line to inform the customer they are still researching the issue and need more time.

As important as what is being said is how it is said. The best CSRs will have an irate customer apologizing by the end of the call because they killed them with kindness.  However if the sentiment is fake it is better to minimize how much of it you are conveying.  Likewise empathy is nothing without competence.  No one wants to hear I’m sorry and not get the problem solved.  Also when some people get a little sympathy they’ll lay the whole trip on you.  First was a billing error, next they are telling you how their mom died last week.

CSR: Sorry for the delay I am still researching this issue.  Can I continue to place you on hold?

Caller: Sure

CSR:  Thank you for holding.  I can verify payment has not been received on our end and we have not received any payment from you.  Have you confirmed through your bank they debited the money from you?

Caller:  No, but I remember paying it.

CSR:  If that is the case it could be an issue with your bank and you should see if they deducted the money from your account.  Usually in this situation it turns out to be an issue with the bank.  If you would like I can take your payment now over the phone and provide you a confirmation code for future reference in case this issue arises again.

Caller:  What if I get billed twice?

CSR:  In that event we would credit your account, however if your payment has not been acknowledged through our system after two weeks it will most likely not.  I have never seen that occur.  It is either a bank issue or a glitch in processing but I can assure you we have not received the payment.

Caller:  Ok let me check with my bank first.

CSR:  No problem.  You can always make a payment online or through our automated phone system.  Have I addressed all your concerns?

Caller:  Yes I believe so.

CSR:  If you continue to experience this issue please contact us.  Thank you for calling, have a good day.

The skilled CSR will always make sure the customer leaves the call with all of their concerns met and asking if they have any other inquiries is more important than it seems.  For their benefit they get to think if there is anything else they need and avoid calling again, which is exactly what the company wants.

Some CSRs are just naturally gifted.  I have seen people breeze through irate callers while reading the newspaper, completely unfazed.  Often times these CSRs also have a pleasant voice, which can really help in manipulating customers when they are irate or having them accept information they are skeptical of.

Getting What you Want From CSRs

When I call customer service I always get what I want and it isn’t by accident.

For one if you have a legitimate issue and you are irate about it you are more likely to have people go above and beyond however you must remain tactfully irate.  Once a person curses at the CSR the game is over and the customer loses.  No CSR is instructed to take abuse.

The idea is by expressing anger you are communicating you will be willing to take your business elsewhere as well as tell others about your negative experience.

I never need to become irate though I simply explain my previous work and the understanding irate customers can get increased support and say I would rather not get upset.

Another thing is if you are calling for someone else, say your wife, all you have to do is tell them your name is your wife’s.  The CSR is not a detective, not to mention there are males with typically female names and vice versa.  From their end they are covered.  They will never question why your voice sounds like Barry White but your name is Jenny.

If you can avoid it, do not call on a Monday.  Everyone calls on a Monday.  But don’t call at the end of the day on Friday either because people are trying to leave.

Just remember, besides the fact you are speaking to a human being they often have sensitive information about you.  Have some decency.  If that doesn’t motivate you remember your call is most likely being recorded and there is a good chance someone will hear what a jackass you were.

 

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