Customer Service Tips for Your Small Call Center

By Mike Taylor
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If you run a small call center, then you know the level of service provided to your callers can make or break your company’s reputation. Take Ryan Block for example. This is a classic (and well known) story of a bad call center experience, and one that could have been avoided.

Why Every Call Counts

It was 2014, and Ryan had a simple request: to cancel service with his cable and Internet service provider. So he called the cable provider’s call center, and after being “badgered” for nearly 20 minutes, he found himself ending what he considered to be one of the worst phone battles he’s ever encountered as a customer.

What went so terribly wrong? The company’s representative repeatedly asked why Ryan was canceling his service – even though Ryan consistently stated he did not want to provide a reason. The call center agent refused to proceed with Ryan’s cancellation request without an explanation. As a result, the exchange grew more and more aggressive over the course of the call (the last 10 minutes of the call Ryan recorded and posted on social media).

Unfortunately for this well-known cable provider, Ryan was also a well-known tech figure and a VP at AOL at the time.

Needless to say, the story of Ryan’s terrible phone experience spread like wildfire across the media, and some say the company is still recovering from the storm of bad PR – three years later.

It’s easy to laugh at situations like these as if they could never happen to your business. We can be fairly certain this cable company didn’t start out wanting to be known for bad call center support. Their downfall likely happened one compromise at a time.

4 Tips for a Better Customer Experience

So what can you learn from a cataclysmic call center failure like this? How can you avoid falling into the same hole? Well, here are four call center tips to improve the etiquette and overall service provided by your small call center.

  1. Avoid lengthy hold times

Sometimes long hold times are unavoidable, but not usually. Many times keeping customers on hold becomes a problem simply because of lack of priority and/or technology. Maybe you got caught up doing something else and forgot about the person on hold. Maybe you simply don’t have a modern call center phone system to help ensure customers aren’t left in a hold-time wasteland. Either way, your caller is still left waiting, growing more frustrated by the minute.

It can also be easy to fall into the trap of thinking that just because a person calls into a call center, he or she is okay with (or should expect) to be on hold until an associate is available. Like it or not, everything is instant nowadays. So callers expect their calls to be answered, routed, and handled quickly when they call into your call center.

To accomplish this, consider using auto-attendants or Interactive Voice Response (IVR) systems within your call center’s phone system. They answer calls immediately, let the caller identify his/her purpose in calling in, then the caller is automatically routed to the appropriate agent. This leaves callers with a sense of progress and control, plus it has the added benefit of conveying professionalism on the part of your company.

  1. Treat your callers like real people

In other words, let yourself drift from the script a bit. Remind yourself and your team that people hate impersonal or transactional rhetoric, and they can pick it up from a mile away.

Customer service software company Help Scout recommends framing your language in a positive way whenever possible. Sometimes this is more difficult than others because we’re often so conditioned to revert to a negative tone. Here’s an example:

Negative language: “I can’t get you that product until next month. It is back-ordered and unavailable at this time.”

Positive language: “That product will be available next month. I can place the order for you right now and make sure that it is sent to you as soon as it reaches our warehouse!”

The difference may seem subtle, and maybe even a little cheesy, in the moment, but you can be assured that positive tweaks to your language – no matter how small – can make a world of difference to the person on the other side of the phone.

  1. Personalize conversations

Everyone knows we live in the information age, so why do so many call center agents and representatives continue to make servicing callers so impersonal?

Aside from using simple personal information like location and name, many modern phone systems now have the ability to sync with customer relationship management (CRM) tools. This is huge from a personalization standpoint because it gives call center teams access to up-to-date and often in-depth customer information.

A phone system integrated with a CRM (like Salesforce for example) might provide information such as a customer’s purchase history or their recent interactions with your business either online or over the phone. When relevant information like that is instantly handed to call center agents, it helps them go above and beyond in serving their callers.

  1. Embrace flexibility

Serving callers is often about compromise. They have a need or a problem, and it’s the call center’s job to solve it. However, not all problems can be solved with a simple, by-the-book solution. Every caller is different, and some require a certain amount of give and take in order to arrive at an amicable solution. Good call centers embrace this reality by giving their agents freedom to do what they deem necessary – within reason of course.

Take our initial example of Ryan Block. The call center agent had a protocol to stick to, and boy did he stick to it. He even went so far as to become borderline militant with Mr. Block, which only caused more frustration and offense. Had he only stepped back, realized protocol wasn’t working and talked to Ryan like he was a human being with a real problem, he might have saved himself and his company a ton of misery.

Protocols can be useful, but whether it’s service, support, sales, or anything else for that matter, it’s important to make sure you’re able to veer from the handbook whenever necessary in order to serve people as natural and humanly as possible.

To learn more about how you can reduce hold times, get personalized caller insight, and improve customer experience, check out Digium’s call center phone system solution.

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About the Author

Mike Taylor

Mike Taylor is a Content Marketing Specialist at Digium. He’s a small business and entrepreneurial enthusiast, and before joining Digium he spent years helping startups and businesses of all sizes grow using content and digital marketing strategies. He covers business and communication topics on Digium’s blog and on other business publications as well.

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