Connecting with Customers
It was in Kindergarten, when I first realized I am a people person. My Kindergarten teacher even pulled me aside one day to tell me, “Emily, I’m really happy that you like helping your peers so much, but that is my job. Your job is to learn.” It didn’t make sense to me that I shouldn’t walk around the room checking on my classmates to see if they needed more supplies or had adequate help and assistance. I mean, they were all my friends, right? Friends are supposed to help each other.
At a third grade parent/teacher conference, my teacher told my parents that I personally greeted the lunch ladies every day, asking them about their lives and gratefully thanking them for giving me food. Hearing this, my parents laughed along with my teacher. I didn’t know what the big deal was, as I considered the lunch ladies my friends. Looking back on my life so far, I have many significant memories with other people as the main focus. More recently, I have been able to cultivate and enhance my strength in interacting with people by focusing on emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is a major buzz word in business today. Many top companies hunger to indoctrinate this concept and ensure their associates understand how to incorporate it. More importantly, instill its importance and take the steps to polish and hone emotional intelligence skills in the workplace.
What is emotional intelligence? It’s the practice of showing heightened empathy, respect and care as a top priority. It encompasses having compassion for your fellow associates and customers, while approaching situations in an appropriate manner. Why is this key for customer service? It simply shows your customer you really care and are willing to go the extra mile for them, which goes a long way in forging strong relationships.
9 Methods for Exceptional Customer Service
1. Acknowledge, Question or Comment
When you are trying to explain a problem or situation and the person you’re speaking with just doesn’t understand, it can be greatly upsetting. What do you do now? Do you attempt to explain it in a different way? Do you ask the associate to explain it back to you to make sure they understand it? Or do you keep quiet so you don’t offend anyone or cause a disruption?
Good customer service avoids this scenario, preventing the customer from feeling this way. After your customer is done expressing their scenario or issue, acknowledge the question or topic brought up by re-stating it back to them. Saying the phrase “sounds like” or “seems like” is a great way to transition into your personal reiteration of their initial inquiry or problem.
For example, you could say, “It sounds like you are having a problem with…” or “It seems like the system is not working appropriately in x, y, z ways…” The customer can then hear the issue over again, ensuring that the associate clearly understood what is happening.
2. Clarify with Open Ended Questions
In addition to repeating back the original issue or concern with the “sounds like” or “seems like” verbal transitions, you may need to get further clarification of the big picture by asking questions. Ask as many questions as necessary to ensure you get a bird’s eye view of what is happening. Customers will appreciate it more than you know. This displays an honest concern of the customer’s inquiry, which is an A+ when we are talking about emotional intelligence.
3. Small Talk ( In Moderation)
Small talk is an unexpectedly positive and impactful tool. If you can remember and continue previous small talk conversations, the effectiveness is enhanced even more; it builds a personal relationship. If you don’t, no problem. There are a multitude of things you can bring up with customers to create that sense of caring and trust.
4. Respond with Emotional Awareness
Unfortunately, everyone has experienced terrible customer service a few times in their life. I’m not talking just questionable, or bad, but terrible. Even thinking of the scenario could be making you heated right now! I could likely guarantee that the reason behind this awful experience is due to poor responses that were not emotionally aware. Instead of hearing, “Sure, let me help you with that,” you might have received an eye roll, or a sigh. Perhaps this response exasperated the situation even further. Regardless of what happened, we never want the customer to leave, feeling like their concerns are not important.
Some ways to provide Emotionally Aware responses include:
Acknowledging the Customer
Acknowledging the Customer’s Request
Showing Compassion and Empathy
Being Transparent and Honest
5. Calm Tone
Tone can make or break a conversation. Ensuring that you are matching your tone to the customer is crucial. If the customer gets upset and their temper rises, drop your voice and stay calm. Make sure to be honest and don’t sugarcoat the conversation too much. The opportunities to control a conversation with tone are limitless.
Sometimes this one gets me into trouble, as I am fairly jovial and enjoy a good laugh. Without noticing, I can easily come off as sarcastic. If I’m conversing with someone who doesn’t know me well and doesn’t pick up on my joking energy, they can take it personal. I have to be very aware of who I am speaking with and check myself. On the days when I am tired or grumpy, I am constantly making sure my tone is not affecting the people to whom I am speaking.
6. Body Language
It doesn’t matter if you are on the phone or face-to-face with a customer, your body language matters. Ensuring that you are optimistic and professional in your presentation helps to create a positive and inviting scenario. If a scenario is far from positive or inviting, this can help turn it around for the better.
When I train on body language in call centers, I always do an exercise where I slump down in my chair and have a fake phone conversation with the people in the training. You can tell right away that I am way too comfortable and not fully focused on the conversation. You do not have to be in front of someone to practice correct body language. Have you ever been on a phone call with someone and you hear them smiling? That is a great example of body language.
7. Positive Phrases
Instead of just making bland or bare minimum “Ok” responses, throw in some positive phrases to create the conversation you want. I personally appreciate someone who is being positive, whether it comes naturally or they have to work at it. Positivity is infectious and improves many situations.
For example, my best friend always responds to statements in a chipper voice with, “Perfect!” or “Yes, that sounds perfect!”. The positivity she provides spread like wildfire in our friend group and I even caught myself saying it recently at work. It’s a refreshing way to acknowledge the next step without sounding forced.
Some more examples of positive phrases include:
Great! Let’s move forward with this.
Let’s work on this together so we can find a solution for you.
Thank you so much for your time, I know that you are busy.
Fantastic, let me get this started for you.
8. Transparency and Honesty
Recently, I began reading a book focused on conversations being transparent and honest. It has been eye opening for me. Thinking back, how many conversations could have been avoided if the initial conversation was honest and clear? Being able to talk about the bottom line can be difficult, especially when trying to present it in a way that is still kind and compassionate; however, it is an essential practice for good customer service.
People crave honesty and would rather be told the truth of a given situation, good or bad, instead of going around in circles and not pinpointing the actual issue or the honest way(s) to solve it. Granted, the truth can be rough at times, this type of customer service method requires a lot of practice to make it perfect. In addition, this type of communication is best coupled with emotional intelligence. The truth can be said, but make sure to say it with candor, empathy and compassion, if needed.
A genuine expression of gratitude can go a long way. It not only shows that you acknowledge the time it took to do a task, but it also shows thankfulness towards the person or group of people with whom you are working. Appreciation is a type of recognition that lightens a mood, while bringing people together. Even better, customizing a thank you towards a situation pinpoints why you feel grateful for this person.