How to Give Great Customer Service Over the Phone
You’ve probably spent some statistically significant portion of your life on the phone. You know how to pick up the phone, basic phone manners, and how to hang up. We’re all, most likely, perfectly capable of picking up a phone and talking into it…
But we also need to learn to take the art of telephone service seriously. At Zingerman’s, we do millions of dollars of business a year on the telephone so it’s imperative that we give the best, most professional service possible whenever we are on the phone.
Here are 10 things you can do tomorrow to improve the service you give over the phone:
1. If the phone is ringing, answer it. Okay, so it’s obvious. But let’s face it—all too often the obvious goes unnoticed, costing us customer satisfaction in the process. So don’t tune out those endlessly ringing phones—answer them. Our phones need to be answered within 3 (not 30) rings. In any Zingerman’s business, if you hear the 3rd ring, it’s not uncommon to start to see people run to the phone to answer it! We do a great deal of our business over the phone, and answering the phone is everyone’s responsibility. A ringing phone is like a customer staring us in the face. We wouldn’t ignore a customer who is standing in front us so let’s not ignore the customer on the phone either.
2. Start out on the right foot. The more effectively you get a phone conversation off on the right foot, the higher the likelihood of getting a positive, low-stress result. We answer our phones: “Good morning/afternoon/evening, this is Zingerman’s (Business Name). (Your Name) speaking. How may I help you?” The words alone don’t cut it, so say it with meaning, like you’re having a whole lot of fun. If we don’t have an agreed-upon greeting, most employees will answer the phone how they feel like answering the phone which doesn’t help with consistency.
3. “Body language” talks. Ever talk to one of those telephone salespeople who have about as much enthusiasm as a bowl of overcooked rice pudding? Your customers may not be able to see you, but nevertheless, you communicate your “body language” and attitude over the phone lines. Smiling while you’re on the phone makes a difference. Enthusiasm is even more critical on the phone than in person. Remember, with each and every customer, your job is to get them to think they were the best thing that happened to you that day. And just as the customers can hear when you’re smiling on the phone, they can hear it when you are rolling your eyes, too. Keep the smile on to show the level of enthusiasm you want to convey.
4. Politeness counts. On the phone, courtesy counts even more than in person. Be careful to convey patience and gratitude for the customer’s business at all times. Also, be aware of the words you use and how the words you use can have a hidden meaning for customers. There can be nicer ways to say virtually the same things you’d say in person, and get a better result. For example, telling a customer on the phone, “You have to talk to Joe about that” is very commanding and the customer may feel bossed around. Instead, try “I’d like to connect you with Joe who will be able to help you.” The end result is the same, but we can achieve the same goal in a much nicer way. Another favorite is to change the dreaded phrase of “Let me transfer you to Joe,” which can automatically put the customer on-edge with a fear of being disconnected, to “May I put you on hold while I bring Joe to the phone for you?” The same exact process happens to connect the customer with Joe but in this case, you are asking the guest to stay where they are while bringing someone to them rather than making them feel like their call is being transferred all over the building.
5. Accuracy and attention to detail are critical. If a customer is calling to place an order, the first thing we always do is get their name and phone number. That way if we get disconnected for any reason, we can call them back right away. Always read back an order to the customer in order to avoid honest mistakes. Four can sound like Forty. The read-back can save hundreds of dollars in costly mistakes! If a customer is phoning in an order for pick-up, tell them where to pick it up and the current wait. You can also go the extra mile by telling them about current parking, traffic details, or explaining to them what the process will be when they arrive to pick up.
6. End every call by thanking the customer. We thank the customer for calling in the greeting as well, but ending with a thank-you ends the conversation on a high note. We want them to be glad they called us!
7. You’re with a customer and the phone is ringing… Excuse yourself, (“I’m so sorry, would you mind if I answer the phone quickly and ask them to hold for a moment or get them some help?”) and then answer the phone. It’s okay to let the phone customer know you are just finishing up an in-person order. Ask them if you can put them on hold and then ask for help on the phone from your coworkers. Return to your in-house customer as they take top priority.
8. You’re on the phone and a customer walks up to the counter… Use the 10-4 Rule (If you’re within 10 feet of a customer, make eye contact and smile. Within 4 feet, greet them verbally), make eye contact with the walk-in customer ASAP and give the customer the universal “I’ll be right with you” sign. Using the 10-4 Rule and acknowledging a customer makes your job as a service provider easier! It can take the pressure off because the customer knows they’ve been seen and that they’ll soon be helped. If you decide that you’d like to greet the person who walked in sooner, as soon as it’s appropriate, excuse yourself on the phone (“I’m sorry, I need to greet a customer, but I’ll be right back with you”), and then greet the customer. Let them know you’re with another customer on the phone at that moment but will be right with them. Go back to the customer on the phone and say something like, “I’m sorry about that. Thanks for being patient. Now, what can I do for you today?”
9. “May I put you on hold? ” is a question, not a statement. Be sure to give the customer a chance to answer your question before you put them on hold. You’ve probably been on the other end of a phone interaction where the person on the other end says “Please hold” without giving you a chance to respond before hearing *CLICK*. Just like that you’re already on hold. But what if the customer has a quick question about what time you close or wants to get your address? What if they’ve been disconnected six times already and putting them on hold only sends their anger temperature sky-high? Just remember: ask the question and wait for the answer. 99% of the time the customer will gladly oblige and be happy that their time is being valued.
10. Remember to go the extra mile. Just as giving great service in-person demands that we go the extra mile for our customers, we also want to go the extra mile on the phone. The extra mile can often be a small gesture, but can be the most meaningful and create a really exceptional service experience.
Some of our favorite extra miles over the phone:
- Offer to meet the customer in person when they arrive
- Call the customer back to see how they liked their food or product
- Ask about the dog you can hear barking in the background
- Tell them about construction
- Ask if they need directions for how to get to you
- Tell them your name and say they can ask for you when they arrive
- Share any tips for finding parking or offer the best places to park
- Offer to let them pay in advance
- Tell them what you’re sampling right now and remind them to grab a taste when they come in
- Ask if they are celebrating something special
Implementing one (or all 10) of these tips will take your telephone service up a notch (or 10 notches!). As you try them, please let us know how they work for you and share any best practices and tips you have with us – we love learning from all of you!
Here are a few *bonus tips* for great service over the phone:
7 Crucial Steps for Taking a Message
1. Caller’s first and last name
2. Date and time of the call
3. Caller’s phone number
4. Who the message is for
5. Your name
6. What the call was regarding
7. Give it to the person who it was for and follow up
If you can’t understand or hear the customer – It’s okay to let them know this! “I am so sorry, I am having a really hard time hearing you. Would you be able to hang up and call us back?” Or, “I am so sorry, I am having a hard time understanding, would it be okay if I put you on hold and ask a co-worker to come to the phone to help us out?”
You pick up the phone and it seems no one is on the other end of the line – Our natural tendency is to say “Hello? Hello? Hello?” and then hang up the phone. But sometimes the customer can hear us and we just can’t hear them. So they are hearing an endless repeat of “Hello?” and are yelling back in the phone, “I am here, can you hear me?!?!” If you pick up the phone and no one is there, try saying “I am having a hard time hearing you, would you mind hanging up and calling back?” It can feel funny saying it to what appears to be no one, but you never know if the customer can actually hear you!