The Middle Manager

Surviving & Thriving as a Leader

Making an Impression

One of our most important assets as a manager is our ability to communicate.  Did you know that studies have shown that only 7% of what we actually say count towards the overall communications process? Would you be surprised to find out that 93% of how people communicate is transmitted through posture, tonality, intonation, and expressions? In other words, the best possible way to communicate is to be in the same room with the person to whom you’re talking.

This raises a good question: In an age of distributed teams, virtual environments, and multi-national corporations, how do we effectively communicate with our customers when we can’t be in the same room with them? Providing support via the telephone is difficult. Industry survey’s have shown that 67% of customers receiving remote support end the call without feeling like they have connected with the analyst, or that the support analyst was indifferent to their problem and primarily focused on getting them off the phone.

So how do we establish a genuine connection with the client? There are some clear steps we can take to improve our customer’s perceptions.

The first part sounds easy, but can be a challenge to do consistently as we get caught up in the pace of our daily work. One of the most important parts of making that initial connection is how we greet the customer. We may not use call scripts, but we can develop a habit of greeting the customer by name, with a pleasant tone of voice and an upbeat attitude. Equally important is listening. Don’t jump to any conclusions, and allow the client to speak, to vent, to let you know how they are feeling. Empathize with them – think about how many times you’ve had to deal with poor telephone support, and how you would do things differently.

For example, a friend of mine was traveling out of the country, and she was using a corporate American Express credit card. Upon arriving in Belgium, she went to rent a car only to find that her credit card was being declined. This naturally panicked her, as the corporate card was her lifeline – how she would get transportation, lodging, and food. She immediately called the American Express customer service line. Imagine how badly that call could have went – the agent could have told her that the bill was past due, could have given her a hard time about any number of things. Instead, he listened calmly and zoomed in on the crux of the problem. “So, you’re stranded. Let’s see what we can do to fix that…” He addressed the immediate problem first, calmed the customer down and made her feel comfortable, and then addressed the root cause afterward (turned out the payment had been applied to the wrong account).

Getting off to a good start also means maintaining an appropriate pace. Don’t rush the client, allow them to express what their problem is. At this point, use strong listening skills to try to focus on the actual problem. And the actual problem may be different from what the customer perceives as the problem. We’ve all handled issues where the root cause was altogether different from how the problem presented itself, so listen closely to determine actual root cause. It’s often good to calmly repeat the problem back to the client to verify you understand what they’ve said.

Once you feel you understand the problem, clearly let the client know you’re going to help. If you know the solution, explain what it is in a simple, non-technical manner, avoiding technical jargon. Try to be proactive and let the customer know the time frame for resolution, preferably before the client asks for it. Share any additional relevant information, summarize what the next steps are, and get the client’s agreement.

As you close the call, remember to use the client’s name and ask them if we’ve met their expectations. Sincerely thank them for their time before disconnecting.

Other things to keep in mind while on the phone; if you need to place the client on hold be sure to explain to the customer why and how long you expect to keep them waiting. When returning to the call, again greet them by name and thank them for holding. Focus on what you can control, and avoid ‘bad mouthing’ other support teams.

Finally, keep in mind that all of the above would also apply to voice mail. Remember that voice mail is simply an extended conversation, so treat it as if you’re actually speaking with a live person on the phone.

So if we had to distill all of this down into simple language, it might look like this:

•  Make the connection
•  Act professionally
•  Get to the heart of the matter.
•  Inform and clarify
•  Close with the relationship in mind


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