Listening: Whether a customer is calling you or sending email or chat messages, you need to be paying attention to what they are saying and the way they are saying it. Whenever I've "jumped the gun" and started to offer a solution without actively listening to the customer, I've gotten it wrong. Really paying attention and thinking about what the customer is saying--and how they are saying it--can give you a wealth of information about the customer's context, the urgency of the issue, and other factors that might very well figure into the correct solution to assist your customer toward the best outcome. As Covey says, "Seek first to understand..."
Empathy: Every call for assistance, technical or otherwise, has at least two components: One is the stated reason for the contact (question, difficulty, complaint, suggestion, praise, exchange, return, etc.); the other is the emotional state of the customer. There's an example I've seen in more than one customer service textbook about a woman who rushes into a hospital and excitedly asks where her sister is. Without that first component, listening, we're not sure whether the sister has been seriously injured in a car accident, or whether she is giving birth to a child. Once we've determined which it is, we can empathize, either to share the deep concern or the joy of the new child, and act appropriately.
Clarity: Once we understand the circumstances and the emotional components, we have come to the point where we have gained some insight into the issue. At this point, it's a really good idea to confirm with the customer that you do have a grasp of why they are contacting you by asking something like, "If I understand you correctly, you're calling because..." and then restate the issue, question, or complaint. (Don't forget to practice active listening when the customer responds. You may pick up details you missed.)
As you begin to provide the customer with a solution, clarity is extremely important. Here are some quick tips:
- Don't speak in jargon.
- Don't use internal language--that is, language your company uses, but that the customer normally would not.
- Don't talk down to the customer, but assess what level of information they are comfortable with.
- Confirm that the customer understands what you are telling them.
- Don't wander off track; stick with the customer conversation.
- Don't ask the customer to "bite off more than they can chew." Keep it concise.
Note: Scripts, in my opinion, are death to customer service, especially if your representatives are unable to deviate from them. Customers see right through scripts, and often get the impression that the representative has no understanding of the issue, and doesn't have the authority to solve the problem. Provide guidance, good shared knowledge, and training, not scripts.
There you have them, in very short form: Listening, Empathy, Clarity and Consistency. The four corners of the customer service foundation.
Give it some thought.