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Improving the over-the-phone customer experience

One of the most frequently referenced frustrations among customers who offer negative business reviews is poor service over the phone. Whether because of unclear options provided by an automated recording or through the less-than-helpful attitudes of customer support specialists, many shoppers find themselves turned off by their experiences with businesses across all sectors when the phone call replaces an online or brick-and-mortar retail setting.

A recent Business 2 Community piece focused on the many simple ways businesses can improve the over-the-phone experience, acknowledging that for many companies, addressing this aspect of their services is a back-burner priority. In most cases, website consultations or live online chats are preferred, and while that may also be the most efficient avenue for many shoppers, it's important to remember that there are plenty of consumers who still prefer to speak to a live person over the phone. 

Enlisting the services of a mystery shopper can be an especially effective method for businesses to identify issues with this area of their service - especially since staff are less likely than ever to suspect that a mystery shopper is on the other end of the line. By offering an impartial yet unfiltered take on their experience, secret shoppers force companies to address their shortcomings while encouraging them to accentuate their strengths. 

Making a bad first impression
Dropping the ball through an inefficient or otherwise unpleasant phone consultation is one of the quickest ways for businesses to generate negative customer reviews. But avoiding the issues that are most commonly referenced is, in many ways, as simple as establishing a code of conduct and keeping things in perspective. Company representatives should remember first that speaking to a customer with respect and patience goes a long way, and that above all else, they should treat every caller the way they would hope to be spoken to if they were on the other end of the line. Furthermore, companies may want to remind representatives that mystery shoppers exist not only inside of stores, but sometimes over the phone, assigned to evaluate this exact form of customer service.

In that interest, training is paramount to establishing sound practices. If all employees are on the same page - whether they handle calls regularly or not - customers will be more likely to enjoy the same pleasant experience over the phone, online and in person.

That said, there's a fine line between being polite and sounding disingenuous, with the latter most easily attained through the usually ill-fated "Your call is very important to us" assurance. Whether iterated by a live representative or a recording, such statements can easily become tiresome for the caller if heard more than once. Similarly, the caller quickly begins to feel their issue is a lesser priority if they are transferred to a different representative or put on hold repeatedly. This is where offering streamlined services and ensuring that all members of the support team are working conjunctively is essential to maintaining an efficient and positive customer experience.

Don't do the robot 
Of course, having a plan is not the same as having a script. While a business should train employees on proper phone etiquette and make sure there's something close to a uniform standard or protocol, a script becomes painfully obvious and frustrating for the customer if there's no wiggle room for real conversation. After all, many consumers who opt for over-the-phone interaction do so because they appreciate the human element of it, so if they feel like they're talking to robots, their experience will be no better than if they had they gotten a recording.

Lastly - and many companies learned this a long time ago - any reception service that kicks off with a series of numerical options is generally going to draw the ire of customers. The most poorly reviewed over-the-phone experiences are often those featuring multiple, touch-tone phases. It's one thing to offer a "Press Two for a different language" option, but if a caller has to work through more than a couple stages, each with multiple options, only to end up speaking to a live representative, the result will almost assuredly be some level of frustration.

By training and coaching employees on company standards while allowing for some flexibility and personality, most of these over-the-phone pitfalls can be avoided rather easily.