Call center interaction dos and don'ts

Read about call center interaction dos and don'ts and get tips for improving the customer experience, customer trust and customer retention through call center interactions.

Handling customer interactions isn't always easy, since every interaction is unique and different customers present different challenges. 

We've put together this list of the things call center agents and customer service reps should and shouldn't do during a call center interaction.

DO:

  • Speak clearly and professionally -- Little things like introducing yourself at the beginning of the call and stating the name of your company and purpose of the call (if you're working for an outbound call center) can go a long way towards improving the customer experience and customer satisfaction. As a call center professional, you're acting as the voice of the company, and customers expect you to be professional and clear.
  • Be courteous and personable -- This is extremely important, especially if you are working for an outbound call center and calling customers directly. Always ask if it's a good time for them to speak, and always thank them for their time. Your customers value their time, and they should know that your company does too.
  • Know your products or services -- Developing a thorough understanding of the products or services you offer will make you a more confident and successful agent, says call center expert Donna Fluss. It will also help establish credibility with the customer and build customer confidence, and increase your motivation to up-sell or cross-sell during a call.
  • Take pointers from a successful call center agent -- One of the best ways to improve your own performance is to get tips from someone who is doing well. Sit in on calls with a successful call center agent and listen to how they manage their calls and handle customer interactions. Then, incorporate their techniques into your own dealings with customers.
  • Show empathy -- Customers relate better to call center agents who demonstrate empathy, genuine supportiveness and are there to help the customer, says Fluss. While the best call center agents are inherently empathetic, call center empathy is a skill that can be taught in communications training courses.
  • Set customer expectations from the beginning -- According to Fluss, setting customer expectations and developing a time frame in which customers can expect to have their issues resolved is crucial. Setting customer expectations from the beginning will help you avoid problems down the road.
  • Learn how to handle difficult customers -- The first step to turning an unsatisfied customer into a satisfied customer is to accept that there is a problem and avoid making excuses. By apologizing to the customer and making it clear that you will work to fix the problem, you could be saving the relationship.
  • Get comfortable communicating in different channels -- According to CRM experts Don Peppers and Martha Rogers, multichannel customers are often a company's most valuable customers, and companies should encourage customers to get in touch with them in whatever way they want to. Because of this, call center agents who are comfortable communicating with customers both online and over the phone are a great asset to a company.
  • Gain customer trust and act in the customer's best interest -- There are two main factors to building customer trust: acting in the customer's best interest and competence. Call center agents should focus on what the customer really needs, rather than just trying to sell him something. This approach will build customer trust and long-term customer equity.

DON'T:

  • Read from a script too closely -- Call center agents who read directly from a script often sound stilted, says Fluss. Sticking too closely to a script doesn't allow call center agents to communicate empathy, an important part of the customer interaction. Call center scripts can be useful for directing conversations, but avoid reading them word for word.
  • Avoid asking for help -- If you're unsure about the answer to a customer's question, ask a trainer, coach or team leader for help. Maintaining open communication and asking for help when necessary will not only build your knowledge and improve your quality monitoring evaluations, but it will improve the overall customer experience.
  • Force customers to give you the same information more than once -- It negatively impacts the customer experience if customers need to repeat the same information every time they call your company. Your call center software should store customer data and call center agents should know how to access this data when a customer calls.
  • Avoid cross-selling and up-selling -- Many call center agents are hesitant to cross-sell and up-sell, but selling in the call center can be easy if you know when and how to do it. A good rule of thumb to follow is instead of thinking about how to sell a specific product to a specific customer, think about what product that customer might actually need. This will result in more successful sales interactions and increased customer value in the long run.
  • Make the customer wait for an answer -- First call resolution (FCR) plays an important role in shaping the customer experience. According to customer experience expert Lior Arussy, FCR demonstrates that the company is there for the customer and respects the customer's time. As a call center agent, you should aim to answer the customer's question the first time they call, and avoid transferring them from person to person to get an answer.
  • Put off discussing customer issues with your call center manager -- Sensitive customer situations and issues will arise, and call center agents are usually the first people in the enterprise to learn about problems. Because of this, it's important to let your call center manager know when issues come up, says Fluss. Call center agents shouldn't keep these calls to themselves -- instead, flag any calls that involve sensitive customer situations so that managers can review and make sure the situation was handled correctly.
This was first published in June 2009

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