25th Jun 2010This topic sheet looks at why communication is so important and offers some crucial principles to bear in mind when communicating with customers, whether over the phone, in person or in writing.
Communication is the oxygen of customer service – without it, service simply couldn’t exist. And the vast majority of customer service communication is based on language – the words we use.
So how should we be using language to help us provide exceptional customer service? To know how best to communicate, let’s look first at what customers really want.
Most people who ring a contact centre, write a letter or send an email enquiry want three basic things:
Evidence that the customer service representative has truly listened and understood what they’re saying
Clear and useful information
To feel that they’re interacting with a helpful human being
This has real implications for how we communicate. We clearly don’t want to come across as jaded, distant or uninterested. We never want to appear as if we’re just going through the motions or as if we’re more interested in the company and its procedures than in the customer and their issues.
Our communications must – at all times – be clear and relevant to the customer. They must demonstrate that we’re listening and understanding. And we must sound helpful. The icing on the cake (which will differ slightly for each of us) is that the way we communicate should demonstrate the particular brand values and customer service culture of our workplace.
Of course, it’s easy to talk about these things in principle – and hard to disagree with any of them. The challenge comes in knowing exactly how to achieve them. What techniques can we use in our letters and emails and when speaking to customers to make sure our communications measure up?
These golden rules will help us communicate to impress every time.
Too often we just focus on the words we use, forgetting that communication is really all about interaction, and this rests on understanding the other person. So taking the time to really read or listen to what customers are saying is the only way we can really meet their needs.
Too often we skim or half-listen and make assumptions about customers that lead us down the wrong track, which leads to inefficient communications and frustrated customers.
Always remember: you can’t communicate successfully without understanding where the other person is coming from.
Let’s go ahead and get this out of the way right now: you don’t have to be formal to be professional. In fact, using formal language will make you sound distant, stiff and – frankly – not very likeable. Given that customer service is all about building relationships, formal language doesn’t do anyone any favours.
Using natural language – much like one adult speaking politely to another – will help us sound human and helpful. We’ll also be communicating more clearly and succinctly.
We want to cut the standard bureaucratic phrases out of our speech and writing, so that we get to the point and simply say what we mean.
So the next time you find yourself using phrases like these, think again:
May I take this opportunity to…
I can advise…
I can confirm…
Please do not hesitate to contact us should you require further assistance.
I apologise for any inconvenience caused.
The first three can be taken out altogether, and the final two need freshening up so that they sound more real and genuine.
And over the phone, it’s crucial to make sure your voice doesn’t sound flat and that any scripts you use are written in conversational English – you are having a conversation, after all.
Sometimes this is as simple as greeting callers in a warm, human tone and exchanging names before moving on to details. Sometimes it means showing empathy for how the other person feels before you explain how you’ll resolve their problem.
The bottom line is that although people contact customer service teams for business reasons, our communications should sound helpful and customer-minded. We can only do this convincingly if we treat people as human beings, rather than reference numbers.
So there you have it. Regardless of how you’re communicating with customers, keeping these basic principles in mind will help you deliver service that’s memorable for all the right reasons. And that, really, is what we’re all after.
This sheet was contributed by Red Lorry Yellow Lorry, a London-based consultancy that 'works with words'.