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Phone customer support for beginners: the ultimate cheat sheet

Customer Happiness

With the multitude of digital services out there you would think the good old phone is out of business regarding customer support. Customers are increasingly mixing in digital channels such as live chat, but a good phone customer support is still the road to satisfaction for the majority of consumers.

Phone support doesn’t have to make your customers crazy. In fact, it’s one of the easiest ways you can build better relationships with your customers. It’s all about building trust and in order to do this in the best way possible, we have put together a phone-support for beginners cheat sheet.

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The minute you pick up the phone, body language disappears, and your tone of voice and the words you use become the entire story.

Developing excellent telephone customer service (in both tone and words) is one of the most valuable business skills you can acquire.

The voice itself

Even if we didn’t find significant difference between a male and a female voice in customer support, the voice remains an important factor in building good relationship to customers. The entire message you project to a customer over the phone is communicated through it. For example:
A monotone and flat voice says to the customer, “I’m bored and have absolutely no interest in what you’re talking about.”
Slow speed and low pitch communicate the message, “I’m depressed and want to be left alone.”
A high-pitched and emphatic voice says “I’m enthusiastic about this subject.”
An abrupt speed and loud tone say “I’m angry and not open to input!”
High pitch combined with drawn-out speed conveys “I don’t believe what I’m hearing.”

Mean what you say

When you’re saying the same thing again and again, slipping into the habit of speaking in a monotone voice is easy. Even though your business pitch hasn’t changed and you found yourself saying something a thousand times, your customer may be hearing it for the first time.

Watch the volume

This is somehow counter-intuitive: Lower-tone speaking tends to grab people’s attention more than speaking in a louder tone. Some of the most common ways to use volume control to your advantage include the following: if a customer is angry and speaking loudly, don’t yell back at the same volume even though your instinctive reaction may be to do so. Instead, behave like a professional and start out by speaking at a somewhat lower volume than the customer, gradually bringing the customer’s volume down to yours. In any case, avoid starting out a conversation in too loud a tone of voice as this may signal stress on your part and serve to unwittingly increase the customer’s volume and stress level.

Tone of voice or inflection

The tone of voice or inflection is the wave-like movement of highs and lows in the pitch of your voice. The peaks and valleys in your voice let your customers know how interested or uninterested you are in what they’re saying. When inflection is missing, your voice can sound monotone.
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Smile (yes, you heard me, even when you talk on the phone!)

One way to positively affect the inflection in your voice is to smile, especially when you first answer the telephone. The reason is not psychological but rather physiological. When you smile, the soft palate at the back of your mouth raises and makes the sound waves more fluid. For those of you who practice singing (be it in the shower), you know that the wider you open your mouth and the more teeth you show, the better tone you get. The same applies on the telephone. Smiling helps your voice sound friendly, warm, and receptive.

Learn to breath

Just like in your yoga practice, breathing is super important as it can greatly improve your inflection. Take long, slow, deep breaths as much as you can. Most people become shallow breathers when they’re under pressure. By being aware of your breathing, especially in stressful situations, you can slow it down and thereby relax your vocal cords, bringing down your pitch and creating a calmer tone of voice.

Changing the stress on the words

Another way to improve your inflection is to be aware of how stressing certain words changes the feeling of what you’re saying. The following sentence, “What would you like us to do about it?” changes in feeling, meaning, and tone when you say it defensively – emphasizing the words “would you”, with curiosity – emphasizing the words “like us” or apathy – not emphasizing any of the words.

Mirror your customers way of talking

Matching your customer’s rate of speech and intensity of feeling is called pacing and it definitively is one of the best single tool you have for creating rapport with your customer. According to ancient Greec philosopher Aristotle, imitation is the key to learning. Make good use of it and you will learn a lot about your customers. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not talking about monkey-like imitation, but rather paying attention to what and how the customer communicates. Here are some tips:

Match your customer’s rate of speech

The average American speaks at a rate of 100 to 150 words per minute. The average American listener, on the other hand, is capable of listening up to a rate of 600 to 650 words per minute. Some people will speak faster than you do, some slower, and some at the same rate. One factor that significantly affects a person’s rate of speech is where he or she comes from.

Narrow the geographic gap

Geographic location can influence the speed at which you talk. Two extremes are native New Yorkers, who generally talk a mile a minute, and Southerners, who are known for their slow drawl. For any ground to be gained, either the New Yorker or the Southerner must keep pace with the other. Your job is to keep pace with the customer — not the other way around!

Talk with your customer’s words

The point is you have to listen very carefully to your customer and try as much as possible to match his vocabulary as well. Do not use complex words for example, keep it simple and clear. Even more so, words say a lot about the strength of emotions and intensity. The level of intensity changes with the level of concern.
If your customer is calm and relaxed, their level of intensity probably is fairly low, but if they’re upset or angry, the level of intensity rises. Your customer needs to feel that you care about his problem and you are making everything possible to fix it or at least bring solutions. Proactivity, matching words and a caring attitude is key.

Improve yourself

You can improve your pacing skills by trying the following exercise: record yourself while talking during a call and then listen to your voice. However, don’t record your customers without asking their permission first. If you don’t feel comfortable recording a real conversation, try doing it through a role play with a co-worker. As you listen, use the following questions to evaluate your tone:
Did my tone of voice show interest and concern?
Did I use a level of volume that gained the customer’s attention?
Did I adjust my rate of speech to match his or hers?
Did I use the same words as him?
Did I match my intensity to his or hers?

I hope this post helped you have a better understanding of phone customer support practices on the whole.

Do you have any tips on phone customer support? What works best for you? I would love to hear from you in the comments below 🙂

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