Heard any of these before? “I’m going to put you on hold for just a second.”; “I think you misunderstood me just now — what I actually said was…”; “I understand you are upset, but…”
Let me guess…those statements frustrated you more than helped you. In these instances, customers were seeking help but what they received was a negative interaction brought about by tone and wording. Although the problem could still be resolved, the customers received a negative customer experience, and unfortunately that’s what they’ll remember.
Effective communication is the key to building and nurturing any relationship, whether personal or professional. Communicating with customers effectively can help you gain their loyalty – leading to repeat purchases, positive word-of-mouth, and referrals.
But on the flipside, failure to communicate well can create dissatisfaction, frustration, and a decrease in sales. And, in the day and age of social media, negative word-of-mouth from unhappy customers can spread like wildfire, tarnishing your reputation.
Regardless of the medium through which you communicate with customers, the bottom line is that it needs to be done well. Here are some simple ways to communicate with customers effectively.
Use the Right Tone
In some situations, it makes sense to take an authoritative tone, for example when providing a technical answer about software functions to a B2B customer. Other scenarios may call for a more empathetic tone, such as assisting a customer who is frustrated with a malfunctioning product.
How and when we accentuate words and phrases also conveys a message. Customer service expert Shep Hyken illustrated this in a recent column, pointing out how vastly different common responses to customers can be. In a café, servers often respond to a customer’s thank you with “No problem,” or “My pleasure.” They may then ask a customer “What else can I get for you?” or “How is everything?” All of these phrases are very common in the service industry, but Hyken points out that a sincere “My pleasure” is the preferable phrase in response to customer thanks because it more effectively communicates that you value the customer. Similarly, a caring “What else can I get for you?” conveys a willingness to provide additional service in a way that “How is everything?” can’t replicate. Both are great examples of why tone matters in customer communication.
Choosing the Right Words
Let’s revisit our opening example: “I’m going to put you on hold for just a second…” Both parties know “just a second” is a figure of speech and it sets an unrealistic expectation. A better approach is to ask customers if you can put them on hold and give them a ballpark timeframe for when you’ll be back.
Using the word “but” in a sentence negates everything that was said before it. More effective phrasing would be an acknowledgment of the customer’s frustration and an apology: “I can understand your frustration and I’m very sorry you experienced that”. With this response, the customer will feel heard and may be more receptive to discussing solutions.
It’s also important not to sound defensive or deflective. Instead of saying, “You misunderstood me,” an agent could reply, “Sorry about the misunderstanding, what I meant to say was…” to put the focus back on the customer issue and avoid escalating the situation.
And try to avoid scripted language. It is impersonal and customers are quick to understand if you’re resorting to such responses in your conversations with them. Make sure your support representatives have real conversations with your customers.
Focus on Quality and Sentiment
In a competitive environment, it’s easy to get lost in a web of metrics that are focused on quicker resolution times. Quicker resolution means fully resolving a customer’s issue in the quickest possible time. 51% of customers believe that they can get the fastest resolution to their problems over the phone, followed by live chat (23%). But instead of worrying about hitting certain metric goals, focus on the quality of your response and develop a team of representatives who are committed to engaging meaningfully with customers. Train your team to be your customer’s ally and try to solve their problems effectively.
You also need to equip your team with the right tools. Your representative should instantly be able to pull up a customer’s records. This can include information about their purchase history or any recent interactions with your team. Information and insights such as these can help to give your team member some context about a customer’s issue. This allows the support representative to share relevant and accurate information. Lack of accuracy is one of the top reasons for customers to get frustrated with support.
Conclude your Conversations Properly
Conclusions are just as important as your first impressions. Customers can tell when support representatives are in a hurry to attend to the next person in line. Your eagerness to solve one more ticket could cost you a customer. Make sure your representatives end their conversations well, even if that extends the call by a few minutes. Your objective should be to end the conversation in a way that leaves your customer happy and content.
The Bottom Line on Communicating Effectively
It’s important to remember that customers seeking help aren’t always looking for a solution or additional information. Sometimes how their issue is resolved can be more important than actually fixing the problem because it indicates how much a company cares about their business.
Representatives who use the right tone and choose their words carefully send a positive signal to customers that they are respected and valued. Communicating effectively requires people skills, but it’s also helpful for agents to have the right tools. That allows them to understand customer needs immediately, find answers quickly and efficiently, and communicate effectively with every customer.