5 Simple Things to Say to Win Over a Customer

Last Updated Aug 10, 2011 11:09 AM EDT

"So what, exactly, do I tell my customers when they call?"

That's what service professionals wanted to know after reading my posts on the things you shouldn't tell customers by email and by phone.

Before I answer, though, a point of clarification: I mentioned state wiretapping laws in yesterday's post about phone service. Some commenters asked about the notification requirements for recording a conversation.

Most states only require one party to consent to a recording, although 12 states, including California, Florida and Pennsylvania, require that you obtain permission from both parties.

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press has a helpful guide on the topic.

"I'm thinking I'm going to lead off my customer service request calls by saying, 'We are also recording this phone call for our training and quality assurance purposes,'" reader Kevin Spalding said in an email. "Hey, I can learn how to better handle customer service issues, too. And then I'll have the recording."

I find it interesting that a few readers â€" presumably, some of them customer service professionals â€" got tripped up on the wiretapping debate. Not to connect too many dots, but if everyone did their jobs right, we wouldn't have to worry about having a .MP3 file of the conversation making the rounds on the Internet, would we?

But back to the topic at hand. What do customers want to hear when they phone a company?

"Hello." Customers don't want to deal with an automated system, no matter how "efficient" it may make your business. The best companies don't let their customers get lost in a maze of voicemails and prompts. They answer the phone on the first ring. If they do use an automated system for call triage, it's mercifully quick and can be bypassed by pressing zero.

"How may I help you." Customers don't want to be transferred to a different department when they call. They don't want to be told that this isn't your responsibility. They don't want an empty apology. Instead, they want you to say, "The buck stops here. I'm going to help."

"I'll stay with you until this gets fixed." One former customer-support worker for a telecommunications company told me his colleagues were limited to two minutes per call. If they exceeded their allotted time, they could be disciplined or terminated. "So, being inventive they would literally disconnect the call if it was approaching two minutes or do what is called a blind-transfer where they put the call on hold and then forwarded the call to a random local in the company," he says. Terrible practice. Customers want you to assure them you'll stay there until the problem gets resolved, no matter how long it takes.

"Here's how to reach me." Too often, call center employees refuse to give you their full names, extensions or email addresses. Seriously, I just dealt with a bank that claimed it didn't have email. In the 21st century? Come on. Not only should an employee offer a way to follow up â€" he or she should offer it unprompted, instead of rattling off a 10-digit "case number" that you're somehow supposed to write down quickly.

"Thank you for your business." I hear companies say they wouldn't be anything without their customers â€" and that's true, of course. But how often do they tell their clients? No, not as part of a script. How often do they say, "We are thankful for your business" â€" and mean it?

I'm sure there are other things you'd like to hear a customer-service rep say to you on the phone. And if you work in the customer service business, I'm also sure there are things you wish you could say.

What are they? The comments are open.

Related: Christopher Elliott is a consumer advocate, syndicated columnist and curator of the On Your Side wiki. He's the author of the upcoming book Scammed: How to Save Your Money and Find Better Service in a World of Schemes, Swindles, and Shady Deals, which critics have called it "eye-opening" and "inspiring." You can follow Elliott on Twitter, Facebook or his personal blog, Elliott.org or email him directly.
Photo: alanclarkdesign/Flickr
  • Christopher Elliott

    Christopher Elliott is a consumer advocate and journalist. A columnist for National Geographic Traveler magazine and the Washington Post, Elliott also has a nationally syndicated column and blogs about customer service for the Mint.com. He is at work on a book about customer service issues.

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