Writer, Founder of Gazellish.com,
Content Contributor at Digium, Inc.
Communication is at the heart of human interaction, and it can make or break a business. Being able to communicate effectively with customers can lead to increased sales, repeat business and referrals. On the other hand, not being able to can quickly lead to decreased sales, frustrated customers and negative word of mouth.
So one big question facing businesses in this ever-more-connected society of ours is: How can businesses improve their communications with customers in order to grow and thrive?
Well, the place to start is to improve the experience people have when they call your business.
Because, whether you realize it or not, while phones may feel like an outdated way to communicate, one study concludes: “Phone calls are still the primary channel for customer communications: Social media channels handle just 3 percent of all customer communications, compared to 68 percent who contact customer service by phone.”
That means even in an increasingly tech-savvy world, the telephone is still one of the most important mediums of communication between a business and its customers and prospects.
With that in mind, here are four ways to improve customer experience and communication over the phone so you can drive business and improve customer happiness.
1. Nail the first impression.
We’ve all heard that first impressions are everything, and business is no different. In fact, first impressions are even more important for businesses because prospects can easily send their business to your competition if they decide they don’t like their initial interaction with your company.
One of the easiest ways to botch your business’s first impression is to simply not answer your phone correctly. More specifically, if you’re getting a decent amount of calls on a daily basis and you don’t have an automated system that communicates with callers effectively, it can damage your business more than you may know.
Another study found that “more than eight in 10 consumers (83 percent) say they will avoid a company or stop giving it business after a poor experience with an automated phone system.”
For many businesses, the first point of interaction with a customer will occur over the phone, so the most effective way to ensure better communication with customers is to put a professional automated answering service (called an auto attendant) in place.
A quality service will answer your customer’s calls quickly, with a friendly and professional voice, and route them to the appropriate extension so they’re connected with the right person the first time.
This takes a huge burden off the shoulders of office personnel, makes for a much smoother and effective communication experience and leaves first-time callers feeling good about their initial interaction with your business. Of course, the key to achieving the benefits of an automated answering system is to make sure it’s developed with customer experience in mind.
2. Keep hold times to a minimum.
Consider two research findings cited by Help Scout: “75 percent of customers believe it takes too long to reach a live agent.” And, “In the last year, 67 percent of customers have hung up the phone out of frustration they could not talk to a real person.”
This isn’t exactly a revelation, it is something many businesses still struggle with. The bottom line is, people hate holding for longer than a couple of minutes, so take steps to ensure all calls are being routed to the appropriate person or voicemail in a less than that.
Again, a good automated answering system will help limit hold times when setup properly. Another step to take is to use a phone that makes a sound to signal when someone has been on hold for a certain amount of time. This may seem like more of an annoyance than a useful business practice, but it will help ensure no caller is left hanging on the line too long.
So work on putting the right processes and technology in place to ensure callers aren’t placed on hold for long periods of time. It’ll help your business in the long run.
3. Make customer service calls a priority.
Customer service is one of the main forms of communication between a customer and a business, so your business can’t afford to drop the ball. A recent survey found that 78 percent of consumers have bailed on a transaction or not made an intended purchase because of a poor service experience.
In other words, when communication breaks down over the phone, people take it personally, and they tend to not give you their business.
4. Speak to your customers like real people.
Improving communication with customers extends to the language your company uses in conversation with them -- even to having real conversations at all. That means having telephone interactions that are less scripted and that use less transactional language. To start, try to frame your language in a positive way rather than a negative one.
For example, the site Help Scout cites the following routine customer service statement as negative language: "I can't get you that product until next month. It is back-ordered and unavailable at this time." To recast the same information in a more positive light, the site recommends something like this: "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!"
Customer service departments should also give teams the right tools, ones that offer better customer insight. Phone systems nowadays have the ability to sync with customer relationship management (CRM) tools like Salesforce, giving your support team access to customer information, such as their purchase history and recent interactions with your business online and over the phone. All will help them better serve your customers in the moment.
Companies should refocus their customer service teams on becoming a customer's ally in resolving their issue, rather than on trying to hit metrics. Businesses often let metrics get in the way of actual problem solving. Instead of trying to beat the fastest support time, focus on engaging customers in a meaningful way, ask them what their problems and expectations are, and go at the problem as a team rather than working against the customer to solve their issue.
Communicating better with your customers will co-create better experiences that leave them more likely to buy from you and refer business to you.