Support center analysts have a tough job. Maybe a customer (whether internal or external) has just received a new product and can’t understand the installation directions. Maybe the customer’s network connection is not working properly and it’s just one week over the computer’s warranty. Or maybe the customer’s toddler played with the trackpad and now nothing works. People work hard and they need technology to do so, so when their tools don’t operate correctly, they need help. But the support center analyst isn’t just responsible for providing technical support; analysts must also address the full spectrum of customer emotion: frustration, disappointment, concern, or even anger.
I know that when I contact a support center, I’m very happy when I get through to a representative who, within thirty seconds, can make me feel at ease. I don’t even mind waiting a bit, especially when the automated response system provides me with an estimated hold time or gives me an option to be called back. What makes my disappointment or frustration evaporate so quickly? It’s a feeling of personal connection. Statements like “Hi, this is Joe. How can I assist you today?” rarely communicate welcome or personal interest, especially when the analyst doesn’t listen to the customer or acknowledge the customer’s underlying emotion. In many support centers, representatives and analysts can sound robotic or indifferent, even if they are not.
When companies invest in their products and services by employing a technical service and support department, it’s because they understand the importance of making sure their customers are happy with the products they’ve purchased and/or can effectively use the tools the organization has provided. This is especially critical in this new world of social media, where the customer truly is king.
Since generating repeat business and building brand equity are the keys to any company’s success, service and support professionals have the opportunity to increase brand loyalty by building a personal connection, in addition to solving the problem. Thus, service and support should always have two objectives: fix the issue (if possible) and welcome the customer.
Over the past three years, I’ve spent hundreds of hours making mystery shopper visits and calls to test a hypothesis: All support professionals fall into four distinct categories. These categories, examined in detail in The Welcomer Edge: Unlocking the Secrets to Repeat Business (Vantage, 2012), are: the Welcomers, the Robots, the Indifferent, and the Hostiles.
Service and support professionals often act and think robotically. They go through the motions without showing any emotions; without emotions, personal connections can rarely be made. The next two categories are the Indifferents and the Hostiles, analysts or representatives who should never interact directly with a company’s most important asset—its people—whether they are internal (employees) or external (the organization’s paying customers).
Welcomers, on the other hand, automatically see the customer as a person first and a customer second, and they are naturally engaging. They like to meet and speak with new people and have a long history of helping others. Welcomers also instinctively make customers feel important, appreciated, and valued. Because a support center’s main function is to help people, if you manage a support center, employing Welcomers will almost guarantee your department’s success.
The good news is that many Robots can be taught to act and think like Welcomers by segmenting their interactions into three components: the greet, the assist, and the leave-behind. Aristotle, the Greek philosopher, scientist, and educator, is responsible for the axiom, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” Taking this wisdom into account, it can be said that while each of the three components may be equally important and can stand alone, when they are used together, the customer’s experience can be dramatically improved.
The purpose of the greet is to build a personal connection with a customer before you even determine what their issue is or help them solve their problem. Giving customers a personal hello, using the customer’s name by incorporating it into the dialogue, and listening to the customer and acknowledging the customer’s underlying emotion will all help build a relationship.
The primary objective of any customer interaction is to help people find what they need or respond to an inquiry they may have. Whether it’s replacing a battery or turning off a light, the better the explanation, the faster the person can get back to work, and the more likely it is that the customer will repurchase your company’s products or services. From a business and relationship standpoint, millions of dollars are lost every year by support professionals who answer questions correctly, but not effectively.
It’s important to answer questions from customers by responding to their direct inquiries, and when relevant, providing them with additional useful information. Customers often benefit from learning more about why something may have happened and they feel better when they know that others have experienced the same problems too.
Welcomers naturally provide more than a brief one-word response to an inquiry, because they enjoy interacting and love to share their knowledge.
Leaving a positive, lasting final impression is just as important as providing a good first impression. This last step in the customer interaction is one of the best opportunities to build brand loyalty or increase customer satisfaction, and to end on a personal note. Mentioning something specific that the customer communicated to you during the interaction or wishing them a good weekend (or day)—beyond the rote “Have a nice day”—will make the customer feel that their business is important to you and that they’re not just one more customer coming off the assembly line.
So let’s see how a Welcomer might handle a support question or issue. Handling contacts in the following manner will make the customer think that your company is treating them not only as a customer, but as a person, too.
The Greet in Action
Representative: Hi, my name is Joe. Am I speaking with Mary Jones?
Verifying or finding out the customer’s name is one of the first and most important steps in building a personal connection. It’s important not to begin documenting the call until you have first established this personal connection. Don’t assume that a screen pop is accurate, since a person having trouble with a computer or a VoIP phone may be using someone else’s extension or sitting at a different computer.
Customer: Yes, this is Mary.
Representative: Hi, Mary. Thank you for calling support today. I hope you had a good holiday, but I’m sure if you are calling us today you must have some kind of problem or question. I would like to help you. Can you tell me what your situation is?
Don’t ask what the issue is before saying something personal. If it’s Monday, say “Hope you had a good weekend.” If it’s during the week, you could say, “I hope your week is going well.” If it’s snowing where you are, you could say, “It’s snowing here today, how is your weather?” These types of quick statements can immediately disarm customers who are frustrated, concerned, angry, etc.
Customer: My week was going great until I had this problem. I just received my new laptop. I have around thirty people coming to a presentation tomorrow and I can’t figure out if I’m missing a piece of software or not. I’ve been working on this for over two hours and I’m at my wit’s end.
Representative: Mary, I can certainly understand your frustration.
Acknowledging the underlying emotion will automatically instill a feeling in the customer that they are speaking to someone who is a good listener. People who are upset will not be ready to listen to the technician unless the he or she has proven that they have first listened.
Customer: Yes, I’m totally frustrated.
The Assist in Action
Representative: Mary, I can help you with your issue, but I will need to ask you some questions first. Is that okay?
Tell the customer you can help her. It’s not important whether you ultimately can or can’t. The help might be that the problem gets resolved. The help might be that you need to have them speak to someone else. The help might be that the problem can’t be fixed, but at least they know and understand why and that you did try to help them as much as possible.
Customer: No problem. Of course.
The Leave-Behind in Action
Representative: Mary, thank you for calling. I’m glad I could help you today. I hope your meeting goes well and you have a terrific presentation tomorrow.
Always end the call on a personal note. If the customer mentions something specific, try to repeat it in the close; it personalizes the conversation and shows that you were listening. Always mention the customer’s name, too. Finally, thanking them for calling is another important step toward building a relationship
Customer: Thanks so much for your help and patience.
Representative: Mary, that’s what we are here for. Please feel free to contact us at any time. Have a wonderful rest of the day.
Reinforce to the customer that it’s not just by chance that your function exists. Make sure you communicate how important customers and/or employees are to the company’s success. Invite the customer to return by telling them to call again when they need assistance.
In the example above, the Welcomer heard the customer’s underlying emotion, wanted to help, appreciated the customer’s call and made the customer feel supported. Some of you may be thinking that employing the greet, the assist, and the leave-behind will increase the length of the call. While this may be true in some cases, again, support professionals really have two jobs: to fix the problem and to build brand equity. These days, almost every service and product is a commodity, so technical support is a critical function. Don’t miss out on any opportunity to make customers feel welcomed, important, and appreciated.
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When filling new positions, look for natural Welcomers. If your staff is heavy on the Robots, train them to segment their interactions. It will make customers feel more welcomed, and have the added benefit of making your analysts feel better about themselves, too. It’s a winning combination!
Richard Shapiro is the founder and president of The Center for Client Retention (TCFCR), which provides research, training, and consulting services to Fortune 500 corporations on how to improve the customer experience. Before founding TCFCR, Richard was with ADP for eighteen years. In his last role at ADP, he was VP of customer satisfaction and client retention.