Last week I spent 49 minutes on the phone trying to resolve a problem with a hotel reservation. (I canceled it two weeks prior to the date, they still charged my card... need I say more?)
I didn't mind the mistake. Stuff happens. What I minded was how long it took to get the mistake corrected -- and more than that, how I was made to feel in the process.
So I asked an expert how to provide better customer service by phone: Ed Reeves, co-founder and director of Moneypenny, the market-leading provider of telephone answering specialists with offices in the U.S., the U.K., and New Zealand. (Instead of having random people in a massive call center take your calls, Moneypenny assigns one person to your account.)
Last month I ordered a scooter for my daughter. I was far more excited than a grown man should be about buying a scooter, but she'd been talking about it for months. So in a shameless bid to win a few brownie points I decided to buy one as a surprise.
When it arrived I found a scratch on the side. I was disappointed but these things happen, I reasoned. I figured I would simply call the company and they would apologize and offer to send a new one... and I'd go about my day happy, right? Wrong.
The person I eventually got through to was not having a good day -- or perhaps year, judging by their attitude. Surly, unhelpful and just plain rude, it took 25 minutes to rectify what should have been an easy inquiry, and I hung up feeling angry and exasperated.
The result? I've spent the last four weeks telling everyone who'll listen about their terrible customer service. Needless to say I won't be shopping with the company again either.
How you represent yourself in this arena matters. I know from firsthand experience. Before founding Moneypenny in 2000 I ran a small graphics firm and left my business in the hands of an answering service while I took my first holiday in two years. Unfortunately their standard of "customer service" wasn't nearly the same as mine and their poor attitude lost me my biggest client.
At the time I was devastated but that was the light bulb moment that inspired me to found Moneypenny.
The above is just one example of what not to do on the phone, but there are many more. In my opinion, here are three of the worst:
1. Keep them hanging.
A few days ago I saw a report that claimed we spend approximately two days a year waiting on hold. That's two whole days. Of our lives. Every year.
Just think of what you could have been doing in that time.
That level of service simply isn't good enough. We live in a culture of immediacy, and--as consumers--are used to having everything at our fingertips. When this doesn't happen we get frustrated: we complain, we write bad reviews, we tell our friends and we take our custom elsewhere.
Think about a time you've been in this position yourself. What did you do? Wait patiently and call back? Or sit, getting increasingly irate as you were forced to listen to awful 'hold music'?
The consequences of being 'unavailable' are damaging to both potential and existing customers alike. At best you're giving clients a reason to be angry, and at worst you're losing their trust and future trade.
Remember, there's a person on the end of the phone. So don't leave them hanging.
2. Make your customers do the leg work.
It never fails to amaze me how often I'm asked to email a company after I've just spent the last five minutes talking with them on the phone.
How has this become acceptable? If you can't take a few minutes to write down the details of my inquiry then you obviously don't want my business that badly -- or, for that matter, care about me as a customer.
Never make it hard for your customers to do business with you. Their time is precious. Treat it accordingly. That's an unwritten golden rule.
It's your job to convince every customer that they are important to you, not the other way around. Assuming a customer will tolerate a lazy service is foolish. Nurture your customers. Make them feel worthy of your time and attention.
3. Forget to roll out the red carpet.
It might sound obvious, but we all like to feel special. Male, female, young or old--it's human nature. This isn't a secret. It's something we all know.
So why then, do such a high proportion of companies fail so spectacularly when it comes to the phone? Each time customers come into contact with your company--on social media, when they call, or in the store--they should feel like they're your biggest and most important client.
On the telephone this translates as: smiling, listening, being helpful, investing in a great CRM system, and just generally making the person feel like royalty. Get out the red carpet and throw it down in front of them.
The litmus test we use at Moneypenny is this: are we treating our customers as we'd like to be treated ourselves? It's a simple but effective standard.
To quote poet Maya Angelou: "I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."
Print this off and pin it to your office wall as a reminder. Meeting expectations isn't enough.
Aim to exceed them.