customers have all the time in the world to prepare for the call
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OperationsCustomers will prepare for the call to your business when there’s a problem

If you are running a business, no mater how big or small, you may end up dealing with challenging calls when things go wrong. This isn’t necessarily because you’ve done something bad, but no business should ever expect to have a 100% success rate with every customer, and the first thing most people will do when they hit a snag is, hopefully, call you to get it resolved. In the next few posts I’ll address some things to keep in mind for dealing with these interactions.

Even before a call begins a customer is making a mental list of all the things that they expect from the interaction. And they may actually not sit down and make this list on paper but it’s something that they do subconsciously. They’re expecting you to be courteous, they’re expecting you to be friendly, they’re expecting you to be knowledgeable, they’re expecting you resolve their issue and maybe in some cases they’re expecting you to give them something for free if they’ve had a problem. So what we need to do throughout the call is systematically, tick off each one of these mental things that the customer wants from us on the call.

In other words, we’re trying to make sure that every expectation that the customer has when they ring your business, we are not only achieving but we’re addressing before they have to prompt us to do it. This is not an easy thing to do because different people will obviously have different expectations. What we want to try to do though is hit as many of the expectations for the majority of people. If somebody has an expectation that’s maybe a little bit unreasonable or that we haven’t come across before, then they really will most probably prompt us or let us know what this expectation is and we can deal with it at this stage.

In a follow-up post to this I’ll discuss the challenge of objections and handling queries that we’re not used to. But for the moment, let’s just talk about the main things that customers are looking for when they ring your business. If you can imagine, there are a lot of customers who when they ring a with an issue for example can actually be quite nervous or upset. They may even be annoyed or frustrated. Again, this may be because they don’t understand what’s going on, they may have something else going on in their lives that you are not aware of and they may need their phone or they may need their car, they may need whatever it is to be working straight away and for them.

Contacting your business is time out of their day, it’s a hassle, it’s an inconvenience; and for some people, it’s also quite frightening. The reason it can be frightening is because they’re not sure exactly what’s going to happen. They feel like they’re ringing blind. You have all the systems, the information, the knowledge, the training behind you; whereas they don’t have this. They don’t have the experience, they don’t have the expertise, so for them, it’s uncharted territory. It’s curious that many surveys that have been done over years show that one of the things that ranks quite highly on lists of daily annoyances and fears, believe it or not, is ringing a call center or business with an issue.

You would expect this to be almost non-existent, but in actual fact, the majority of people feel tense or quite nervous before they have to make this call. In that same list, we have things like moving house, sitting driving tests, filling out loan applications; these are things that have to be done on a day-to-day basis, throughout life etc. and because of this, they rank very highly with anxiety levels.

customers will have a mental checklist when they call you

customers will have a mental checklist when they call you

If you can imagine, a customer may prepare for a call well in advance. They may spend quite a considerable amount of time putting their notes on paper, putting their issues on paper, putting down the dates and times of whatever went wrong with their car, etc. They have as much time to prepare as they want to. The amount of time that the person on the other end of the phone, i.e. the representative of the business, you, has to prepare, is the time it takes for the call to drop in to your phone. In many cases this is quite simply the duration of a beep. It’s expected then that after that beep, you are talking and answering the query, answering the customer as fluidly and as quickly as possible.

Your preparation time is zero in this instance, whereas the customer has time to prepare everything in advance. Why is this such a crucial thing to bear in mind?  Well, the obvious answer is call control. If we don’t maintain control of the call whenever we deal with a customer, it’s very possible that because the customer has so much that they may have prepared and may want to say and may mentally have gone through in their mind, that they run the risk of actually steam rolling over us and not letting us do our job.

This happens so often in calls to businesses, where somebody is prepared for the call, they call up with an issue, and they end up speaking for the first few minutes and giving possibly too much information, or information that’s not necessary for you to resolve the issue. It’s very important that you, as the business owner, or subject matter expert, maintain control of the call, get the information that you need, but obviously don’t let the customer ramble. This seems to fly in the face of the idea that you should be empathizing with the customer and building rapport. There is a very fine line between letting a customer vent their anger and vent their frustration a little bit and letting them go on a complete tangent or telling you a complete story of their entire life.

You can take back control by asking questions

You can take back control by asking questions

It’s up to you to balance this out. Not a particularly easy thing to do, and believe it or not the best way is to keep asking questions and we quickly find that the customer relinquishes a great deal of control while they are being questioned. A lot of people would think that by telling the customer things, telling the customer how you’re going to resolve the issues  is the best way to maintain control because the customer then feels educated, or knows more. But in actual it’s incorrect. This in often times will leave the customer to talk more or give us more information, particularly if we contradict something that the customer said, whereas by asking them lots of questions they are forced to give you the information you need and want rather than simply venting at you.