Did you know that the old-fashioned, Alexander Graham Bell invention (the telephone) still reigns as the most widely used channel for customer service? Yes, almost nine in ten consumers (89%) feel that telephone customer service either meets expectations (60%) or exceeds expectations. (State of Customer Service Experience 2016, The Northridge Group, Inc.)

No matter how you personally feel on any given day, your telephone communication must be consistent and represent your company/organization brand. Here are 21 phone tips to ensure you’re creating outstanding customer experiences:

  1. Answer the phone within three rings.
  2. Swallow any food or drink before you pick up the telephone.
  3. Greet callers with a smile and identify yourself with your name, department and/or company name, followed by “How can I help you?” (You’ll be surprised how others will pick up on your smile just from the tone of your voice.) Company greetings should be standardized for brand consistency.
  4. Similarly, develop a standardized closing that is positive and friendly, no matter how callers behaved during the conversation.
  5. Speak clearly so callers can fully understand you. This is especially important if you talk too quickly or have a regional or foreign accent. Customers may get annoyed when they have to ask you to repeat yourself several times. If that happens, pretend you’re an actor on stage and enunciate your words, speaking slower.
  6. Be warm, inviting, enthusiastic, and friendly.
  7. Speaking in a monotone voice sends a negative message that you’re bored. Put some personality into it!
  8. Always allow callers to finish their thoughts before jumping in.
  9. If you need to use your hands in order to serve callers, ask first before using the speakerphone.
  10. When taking messages for colleagues, you don’t need to share why they are unavailable. It’s more professional to simply mention their unavailability at the moment. When colleagues are off work due to illness or are out-of-town, use your discretion whether to reveal that information for privacy and security reasons.
  11. Take notes when appropriate so you can follow-up easily or pass the information to a colleague.
  12. Ask customers if it’s OK when you need to put them on hold. Check back with them every 30–40 seconds if your task takes longer than that.
  13. When transferring callers, explain why and to whom. “I’m going to transfer you to Juanita. She handles all our [fill in] and can help you with that.”
  14. When people call for information that is easily available on your website, avoid saying, “That information is available on our website.” Of course, these calls are interruptions for you, but that’s irrelevant. You have no idea why these callers didn’t check online first. Maybe they have disabilities, their computers are malfunctioning or broken, or they can’t afford their own computers. Don’t make assumptions and embarrass them. Use these opportunities to win them over with your pleasant customer service. Innocuous questions may lead to new business!
  15. Always ensure that you (or someone else) fulfill what you promise to callers.
  16. Your telephone answering and messaging system should set the tone for doing business with your company. An unanswered phone is unprofessional and may imply that your business is unreliable if prospects and customers cannot reach you during business hours or they’re calling from a different time zone.
  17. Record a voicemail message that includes your name and a call to action, such as asking callers to leave a message with specific information.
  18. Check your voicemail at regular intervals.
  19. Return all voicemail messages within 24 hours (or sooner if you can).
  20. Change your voicemail message if you’ll be away from the office, indicating whom to contact in your absence. If you don’t do this, callers won’t hear back from you until you return from vacation or illness. Not only is it unprofessional, by that time, it can be too late.
  21. If you’re a sole proprietor or an employee with a mobile phone as your sole business line, make sure that you answer when there are no distracting noises such as crying babies, grocery carts colliding, cash registers ringing, etc. These sounds can give customers an unprofessional impression of the business. Besides, it isn’t very appealing or professional when you talk to clients within earshot of the people around you. One of my pet peeves is hearing someone’s business cell phone conversation while walking the aisles of a retail store. Frankly, I find it rude and it infringes on my personal space.

Excerpted from Beyond Your Logo: 7 Brand Ideas That Matter Most For Small Business Success, © 2015, Compass Press LLC

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