By Allan Janssen
Despite advances in communication technology, the telephone isn’t going away anytime soon, says customer service trainer Nancy Friedman.
The guest speaker on a recent webinar hosted by software company Kukui, Friedman says shops need to know how to use the telephone effectively, or risk turning off potential customers.
Friedman, who bills herself as “the telephone doctor,” said phones remain the preferred method of communications for about 40% of customers, with texting coming in second, and email trailing behind.
“Phones may change in style, and the way you work them may change, but I’m not seeing it go out of business,” she said. “Nothing beats it as a way to bond with customers.”
A big believer in the Kazan theory of management, which focuses on continuous improvement, Friedman offered a number of tips on improving phone skills during the hour-long seminar. Among them:
* Be careful about the “buffer words” you use to start a phone conversation. “It doesn’t matter how you start, but once you say your name, stop talking,” she advised. “Anything after your name erases your name.”
* Write down the customer’s first name when you hear it. “You don’t want to have to admit you missed it or forgot it. Show them that you listen.”
* There are “killer words” which can derail any phone conversation. Things like “No problem” in place of “You’re welcome,” and “Calm down,” are sure to get a bad reaction from people, so choose your words carefully.
* Never answer with “OK” when the customer relates something problematic or negative. To them it is not OK. Rather, say, “Well, you’ve called the right place.”
* Never be too busy to be nice. Don’t tell people how busy you are. You make people feel like an intrusion and they don’t think they’re getting your full attention.
* Don’t presume. When someone comes in who is going through something difficult, sympathy is a good starting place, but never use empathy unless you truly know what they’re experiencing. “If you haven’t gone through it, there’s no way you can empathize with them,” she said. “You can say, ‘That must be very frustrating’ or ‘I’m so sorry.’ What you are not allowed to say is, ‘I know exactly how you’re feeling.’ Because you can’t.”
* Never answer the phone flippantly or rudely – even if you have call display or are extremely busy. “Be friendly before you know who it is,” she said. “You never know who’s on the line. Never screw around. Keep it professional at all times.”
* Return phone calls promptly. “We’re all busy. This is a priority on someone’s do-to list. Respect that,” she said. “I don’t believe in ignoring phone messages. They have to be acknowledged in some way.”
“Effective listening is critical when it comes to phone conversations,” she said. “Most people hear but they don’t listen.”
In a service business like the auto repair and service industry, careful listening and precise communication are critical ingredients to building customer rapport and loyalty.