In any business--large or small--a high standard of Customer Service is that business's best competitive advantage. There are some who feel that the ability to sell the service or product which the company offers is the be-all and end-all to a company's success. It really is not. What waves the magic wand is the experience customers have with a company before the sale (pre-sale), during the sale (point-of-sale), and the care and satisfaction that continue after the sale (naturally, after-sale). Some companies excel in one, sometimes two, of these requirements; but as customer service providers, companies need to excel in all three.
A word of caution
"Customer service provider" is not a term affixed solely to the chest of the hapless front-liner. All are involved. At whatever level employees of a company operate, they are all customer service providers in one way or another. You may not be directly ministering to the needs of the external customer, but there is always the internal customer. For, as the entrepreneur, Karl Albrecht said, "If you're not serving the customer, you'd better be serving someone who is [and in a professional manner.]"
Important here is the customer's experience and the areas in which we could work to make it memorable for the customer (in a good way) and profitable to our business. In this article, we will deal with two areas, which may be considered part of the pre-sale scenario. Four others areas will be offered in a subsequent article.
Telephone 'etiquette' (the greeting)
Companies refuse to admit how much frustration they heap upon customers when calls are not answered within three rings, or, even more frustrating, when calls are answered by recorded robots. Not only do the latter situation compel callers to press every key on the key-pad for one reason or another, they also regale callers with more sales information than is necessary at the moment. Invariably, as a result of all this, many callers hang up and try the competition. Avoid this by having a live person answer calls using the three-part greeting--salutation, identification and solicitation-- in a pleasant, well-modulated voice; one that is neither too loud nor too soft. Telephone greetings are critical.
Salutation: "Good morning" or "Good afternoon" ( "Hello" is best used at home.)
Identification: This is ______ _________ (Use first and last names.) For different reasons, some companies ask that the employees use only first names, although the full name is definitely more professional. Take the time to pronounce your name clearly. Remember that you may know it well, but the customer does not. You may also be required to name your company or department.
Solicitation: Let's get to the point here by asking "How may I help you?" There really is no need to ask, "How are you doing today?" especially since you are not really interested in an answer to this question. But asking how you could help invites the caller to give the reason for the call. This is what you really need, and now you will listen.
Active listening skills
In face-to-face situations, listening involves good eye contact and a pleasant countenance. However, in all situations active listening skills also include an attentive presence and the ability to block out all surrounding distractions--even that of an athletic colleague swinging from the ceiling--as we focus only on the customer. There will then be no chance of annoying your customer by asking a question for which you were just given the answer. Give verbal feed-back to show that you are not merely hearing, but understanding and are ready to help. Never under-estimate the importance of a pad and pen for notes. They make recording easy and portray you as an efficient customer service provider.