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Customer Service Begins Here
Our view of excellence as stated in Southern at 150: Building Excellence through Commitment is multi-faceted. One facet of excellence, perhaps the most important aspect is communication and the universal tool for communication is the telephone. In today’s work world the phone dominates as a tool for selling, buying, researching, providing services and making lasting impressions. It can also be a source of great frustration, puzzlement and agitation.
The difference between a positive and negative experience with a phone call is you. The human factor in all communications makes the difference. Customers need to feel taken care of, well informed and motivated. When you answer the phone, it’s that 'human moment' when customers can actually experience what it would be like working with you and your people. It's the opportunity to create relationships for the future of your department, college or the university.
We thank you for your efforts on behalf of the students, your department, your college and the University. Without you it wouldn’t get done.
Table of Contents
Clear Your Mind
Prepare Your Phone Voice
Prepare to Offer Your Standard Greeting
Be Prepared Before You Respond
The Phone Call and the Customer
Treat the Caller with Respect
Placing Callers on Hold
What’s In It for Me
- 1. Clear your mind of all but the task at hand – responding to the caller.
- 2. Prepare your phone voice
- 3. Answer by the 3rd ring
- 4. Offer your standardized greeting.
- 5. Be prepared before you respond.
- 6. Treat the caller with respect; be efficient, effective, empathetic and responsive.
Clear Your Mind of all but the Task at Hand – Responding to the Caller
There’s nothing worse than trying to carry on a conversation with someone who is reading their emails, looking at documents or distracted with something other than your conversation. You can always tell; there’s an extended pause in the conversation while you wait for a response but, they have none because they were looking through a magazine while chatting on the phone. It’s frustrating, it’s rude, it makes you feel unimportant and they are likely to miss important information for lack of focus.
BE PRESENT WITH YOUR CALLER
Being present requires FOCUS. Your center of interest should be on the caller and their conversation. Allowing distractions can result in important information being overlooked or worse, the caller identifies you as a poor provider of customer service and tells others.
- Turn away from your computer and desk when you answer the phone
- Put down your reading material.
- Focus your attention on the caller
- Take the gum out of your mouth
- No drinking or eating during the conversation
Take an informal survey of the people you see talking on the phone. How many are focusing their attention on the caller? Pay attention when you are talking to someone on the phone, do you think they are giving you 100% of their attention? What reaction do you have to their phone etiquette?
How you handle yourself on the phone reflects not only on you, but also your department and SIUC. You see it over and over. Someone talking on the phone forms an opinion of the person with whom they are talking based on the tone of their voice, their language skills, etc. It may not be fair, but it happens. According to John Robertson of EZINE @rticles, within 60 seconds people will make assumptions about your education, background, ability and personality based on your voice alone. What reputation do you want to build? What impression do you want to make?
Do you sound like this on the phone?
Pay attention to:
Your voice is very important to your career and your personal life. When you are talking 87% of the listener’s opinion of you is based on how you say it according to Robertson. That means that only 13% remains to make a positive impression about what we are saying. Project a tone that conveys enthusiasm, confidence, friendliness and attentiveness.
Did you know, when you smile while you are talking it comes across in your
voice? Let your personality shine through on the phone.
- Take a deep breath before you pick up the phone
- Smile before you speak
- Assume your speaking voice, controlling speed, tone and volume
- Speak clearly,
Call someone and tell them you are conducting an experiment. Ask them to give their attention to your call and begin speaking with a grimace on your face and then change to a smile. Ask if they noticed a difference and have
them explain what they heard.
YO, Hey, Whazzzzup may be the normal greetings you would expect to hear in the academic setting if you are calling the dorms but they are not generally accepted telephone etiquette for University offices. Remember the 87% rule? Make a good first impression with an effective, efficient greeting. Identify your department, then, identify yourself. Name your department (Music Department), your name (Glenn Campbell); that’s it, 4 words! It’s crisp, clean and gives all the information the caller can handle at this point in the call. Adding phrases such as “good morning”, “how may I help you” are ok so long as you sound like you mean it. Elaborate, drawn out greetings are distracting and time consuming. You can lose your caller before the conversation begins.
- 1. Practice answering the phone using the suggested format of department name, then your name.
- 2. Change your voice mail message to be more efficient and effective.
Be prepared to answer the phone. It’s not an interruption, it’s your job. Have pencil and paper ready; prepare mentally to be present with the caller. Write down the caller’s name immediately. If the caller doesn’t identify him or herself – ask for a name… “May I say whose calling?” “Could I have your name please?” “With whom am I speaking?” All are polite, appropriate ways to get the caller’s name. Use their name frequently throughout the conversation.
Use all of your listening skills, focus your attention on the caller, speak calmly and choose your words. Be careful to avoid jargon or acronyms not universally familiar.
- • Listen not only to what the speaker is saying but to their unspoken thoughts as well. What is it this person isn’t saying that is important to the conversation?
- • Be sure to get clarification. “If I understand you correctly…”, “So you are saying that…” “This is what I understand you are telling me…”
Let’s pause here for a minute to talk about the effect your kindness, courtesy and relationship building has on your department and ultimately the University’s relationships with our customers. Ah! Customers! And just who are our
customers? A short, informal Webster definition is “a person with whom one must deal”. A phone caller is certainly someone to be dealt with: thus, a customer.
There are many dealings occurring during the workday outside of your sphere of influence. However, how people react to you, perceive you and thus the organization you represent are all within your control. If you are a cheerful, responsive problem solver, people will react positively to you. You can confidently influence your effectiveness with a caller and ultimately the reputation of your department, with a strong customer service orientation.
A famous restaurant trains their greeters to ask when you leave about your experience at their restaurant. They ask because they know if you had a bad experience you are likely to tell 7-9 people. Those people will tell others and
quickly the customer base erodes because of one bad experience. Without customers, the business fails and employees are out of work.
If you treat your caller with disrespect, disdain and curtness, you will unwittingly send a message to 7-9 people you never had direct contact with that employees at SIUC, and you in particular, have no sense of customer service. On the other hand, if you treat the caller with respect, focus on their situation and resolve their problem, 5 people will hear about the positive experience the caller had with SIUC and you. We build our reputation with the community we live in and serve, one phone call, one customer service experience at a time. Each one counts and each one reflects on you.
Activity: Smile at people as you meet them. Pay attention, most will smile back; and those who didn’t, what was your reaction to them?
Be positive, a problem solver, honest and helpful.
|"I Don't Know"||
“That’s a good question, let me find out for you”
“I/we can’t do that”
“Here’s what we can do.” Everyone expects that
“Just a second”
Give an honest answer about how long it will take
Try to find a way to state the situation positively.
Problem callers don’t usually start out that way. Something happens to make them go ballistic. Customers have an expectation of how they ought to be treated and if you fail to meet that expectation, they become agitated.
When you get a caller on the phone who is getting agitated: Listen. Allow them to vent. Stay calm and be sincere. Remember the 87% rule – if you aren’t sincere the caller will know immediately. Don’t jump in, even if you have heard the same thing 10 times. The caller will be offended. A sincere voice will have a calming effect on the caller. If you become upset or defensive you will make a bad situation worse.
• Don’t over-react to trigger words. Callers will often try to push your buttons.
• Listen completely to the complaint, allow the caller to vent. Only when they are finished should you comment.
• If the call is long-distance you might offer to call them back to avoid phone charges. This can have an immediate positive impact.
Empathize. Acknowledge their feelings. “I can hear that you are upset by this” or “I can tell this situation is upsetting you”.
• To help with this process, keep family pictures in your work area. Pretend you are talking to someone you know and like while you are working with your caller.
• Force yourself to focus on solving the problem rather than internalizing the caller’s attacks.
• Don’t blame anyone for the problem, no matter who is at fault. It’s counter productive to resolving the issue.
Apologize. It doesn’t matter who’s at fault. Anyone who has been inconvenienced wants an apology. You don’t have to agree with the caller, but should express regret that there is a problem. Empathize with the person’s
feelings and apologize, sincerely… “I’m really sorry this happened”. This makes the caller feel that you have aligned with them. It’s hard to be upset with someone who is sympathetic and trying to help.
• Use the person’s name a lot and apologize frequently.
Solve the problem. Suggest agreeable solutions. Ask how you can help and if it’s reasonable, do it; if not, find a compromise. Make sure something is done. Take it upon yourself to ensure the customer gets some satisfaction.
• Handling difficult customers isn’t easy. Remembering the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”, and putting it into action with difficult customers, will help increase your job satisfaction.
• Paraphrase the problem and repeat it to the caller – get clarification before offering solutions.
• Work with your managers to streamline office/departmental procedures so people who answer the phone are empowered to solve the customer’s problem.
• Picture how good it feels to solve a problem and send someone away satisfied. It makes your whole day better.
|“Hold on”||“Will you hold while I…” (and wait for
|“Who is this?”|| “May I have your name please?” or
“Who is calling, please?” or “May I ask
|“Thank you for calling the office of the
Director of Education, Finance and
Everything Else, in the College of We
Are the World. My name is Global
Warming, how may I help you.”
|“College of We Are the World, Global
|“We can’t do that.”|| “I believe we can offer (alternative)
...will that work for you?”
|“I can take a message.”||“I’ll be happy to take a message and be
sure it gets to (the correct person) right
|“So and So is responsible for that.”||“I’m sorry you’re having this problem,
what can I do to help?”
|“Like I told you before…”||“I’m really sorry you’re having this
problem. Let’s find a way to resolve this
|“No one here would have promised you
anything like that.”
|“If I understand you correctly, you were
promised…” “Let’s figure out how we can resolve
|“If you would just listen.”||“I understand you are upset, I
apologize for the trouble you’re having
|Sentences starting with you||Sentences starting with I|
CONGRATULATIONS!! You’ve successfully handled a difficult situation. Take care of yourself. If it was a particularly difficult call, take a quick break, walk down the hall, or have a drink of water. Talk over the situation with a colleague or your manager. Find some humor in the situation if you can. Pat yourself on the back. Remind yourself how good you are at your job and how committed you are to good customer service.
Screening calls is often an unpleasant part of the job. But it is sometimes necessary because the person for whom you are screening does not always have time to talk or want to talk to the caller. Key to handling these situations is considering the “availability” of the called party. In order to keep a caller from being irate over not finding the person they are calling available to them, try sequencing the questions to avoid a conflict.
Receptionist: “Bookkeeping, James Stewart”
Caller: “This is Sam Davis, would you please tell her I called, she has my number.”
Receptionist: “Mr. Davis, she has asked me to interrupt if you should call, so please hold while I tell her you are on the line.” (Had Mr. Davis not been someone who should be passed through you have left no room for doubt about the availability of Ms. Stell.)
Review the following conversation.
Receptionist: Bookkeeping, James Stewart
Caller: I need to speak with Ms. Stell, right away.
Receptionist: May I get your name and number please?
Caller: This is Sam Davis and I need to speak with Ms. Stell
Receptionist: Let me check to see if she is in, will you hold please?
Caller: Yes, thank you I’ll hold.
Receptionist: I’m sorry, Ms Stell is not available, Let me take your number and have her return the call.
Caller: NO, I’ll hold until she can take my call. Why do you think Mr. Bellefonte thinks Ms. Stell is in the office?
• Have a list of callers for whom you should always interrupt
Remember back when we talked about “being present” with your caller? If you are present with your caller it is only polite to let them decide if they will Hold, go to voice mail, or call back. Handle your current caller before you rush off to another…first come, first serve.
Once you have placed a caller on Hold, check back every 15-30 seconds to update them. Thank them for holding and be as specific as you can about how much longer you expect to keep them on Hold. Each time allow them the opportunity to decide if they would like to continue Holding.
Next time you are on hold – track how many seconds you are on hold and how many times someone checks back with you. Would you consider them customer service oriented?
When the caller needs to be transferred, be polite and ask if they would like to be transferred. Ask the caller for their number in case you lose them during the transfer. Give the caller the name of the person to whom you are transferring them along with their number in case the call does not go through or in case they would like to call later. If at all possible, stay on the line until the transfer is complete.
If you have a frustrated caller who has been transferred several times already, do not transfer them again. Take ownership of their situation. Call the appropriate party; ensure they have a solution to the situation, only then should
you transfer the caller. If you don’t know how to fix the situation, take the caller’s name and number, find the appropriate person and have them return the call. Check back to make sure the caller’s situation has been resolved. The caller will always remember your kindness and will tell others about your terrific customer service skills.
• Treat the caller as you would want to be treated
• Look at those pictures in your work area; help the caller as if they were family
• Make it your goal to call them back within 4 hours if you have to do research to help them with their situation
When taking a message for someone else, be sure you get the following information recorded:
Be sure to verify this information with the caller to make sure you have taken the message correctly and give him/her the opportunity to check what they told you.
• If someone is covering the phones for you, pick up your messages when you return. Don’t wait for them to come to you.
Voice mail can be a very effective tool for communication if it is used correctly. In general people don’t mind getting transferred to voice mail if it gives them helpful information. Your voice mail message should be short and to the point. When forced to leave a message, callers prefer to get right to it, not listen to a longwinded voice mail greeting. Don’t state the obvious, (I’m away from my desk or on the other line). State your department, your name and leave clear instruction as to what information you need from the caller such as:
- Name and phone number,
- Best time for you to return the call
- Brief summary of the reason for calling
- • Sample voice mail: “Housekeeping; Mary Maid. I will be out of the office until Tuesday. Please leave your name, number, and a brief message as to the nature of your call. I will respond when I return.”
- • Sample voice mail: “Housekeeping; Mary Maid. I will be out of the office until Tuesday. Please leave your name, number, and a brief message as to the nature of your call. I will respond when I return. If you need immediate assistance please contact Jeeves Butler at x5555.
- • Sample voice mail if you change your voice mail daily: “School of Agriculture; Pepper Greenjeans. Today is (date). At the tone, please leave your name, a brief message regarding your call, along with your phone number and the best time to call you back.”
- • www.infotech.siu.edu/telecom choose Administration; on this next screen under Administration choose Voice Mail; on the next screen choose Desktop Messaging Quick Reference Guide for learning how to use our university voicemail system.
If you are going to be away from the office, say so and leave your date of return so people will know when they might expect a response. If you are going to be out for an extended period, you should consider offering information on another source for helping the caller. In this case, you would state your department name, your name and information about who the caller can contact for assistance.
If you plan to refer your calls to another member of your department, be sure to make arrangements with them ahead of time. Leave them a cheat sheet on how to handle special procedures.
Customer Focus Inc. offers the following:
“Customers and other employees like to work with people who have a zest for life. NO matter what your knowledge or abilities, your enthusiasm and attitude have the greatest effect on people…and on you!
Focus on being enthusiastic
- • At the start of each day, set a goal to be enthusiastic.
- • Be aware of your energy level during the day, use it wisely.
- • Pull yourself up when you are feeling down.
Choose and use energy words or a pick-me-up song
- • Select your own energy word or phrase such as zest, energy, get going, YES or
- • Select a favorite energy song such as “Old Time Rock n Roll” or “Mony Mony”.
- • Play your song or say your words to help energize you in your down time.
Accept the challenge
- • Know that it is a challenge to meet or exceed customer expectations.
- • Use your enthusiasm.
- • Take pride and satisfaction in creating a positive experience for someone else.
Tap into energy sources
- • Let other enthusiastic people zap you with energy.
- • Be aware that your energy is contagious.
Disconnect from energy drains
- • Avoid negative people – they can drain you.
- • Walk away from discussions that are negative or cynical.
Measure your accomplishments
- • Track your performance and seek feedback.
- • Set short term goals and beat them.
- • Set long term goals and track your progress.
- • Empower yourself by making your own decisions.
- • Go the extra mile at home and work.
- • Reward yourself for your accomplishments.