Did You Hear What I Said?

Customer service representatives need to listen to what their customers are telling them and apply critical thinking skills to the situation

By Lynn W. Murphy, M.Ed., President of Key Innovative Solutions, Inc.

From my recent experiences with customer service representatives, I’m starting to believe that many representatives have been trained NOT to listen to their customers.  As a customer service trainer, I see the value of training customer service representatives to follow standardized procedures and scripts, but not when the training has taught them not to use good critical thinking and problem-solving abilities.

I believe that companies, CSRs, and customers would benefit if customer service representatives were trained to use better thinking skills instead of just routinely reading a script.  As a customer, I want to deal with smart customer service representatives who know what they can and can’t do, who use their brains to listen to what I am saying, and who create a solution that fits my needs.  I also want to work with someone who seems to care about what he or she is doing and truly wants to help, is not just trading time for a paycheck.

In the last week, I have received phone calls from representatives of two companies with which I have done business for many years.  One call was from Qwest, the phone company for my business landline; and the other was from Verizon, my cell phone service provider.  Both representatives called me to convince me to “upgrade” my service, yet neither representative really listened to what I told him.  Each seemed intent on following a script.  “Upgrading” service (or any sales of any kind) is not just about following a script.  Good sales and service are about understanding what your customer wants and needs – or wants and needs that you may be able to create or uncover.

The first call was from Alex (not his real name) at Qwest.  Alex wanted to go over the landline services I am receiving ostensibly to see if he could save me some money and better tailor the service to my business needs.  (Sounds like a well-written script – so far.)  Since I frequently work with clients out of my office, I forward my business line to a secondary cell phone I use just for those business calls.

I explained to Alex that the cell phone service has caller ID, call waiting, and voice mail – everything I really need for my business.  He asked a few more questions then launched into his next script.  “Based on what you’ve told me, here’s the package I recommend for you:  two lines with caller ID, call waiting on each line, and voice mail.”  I wondered if he even listened to me or if he just asked questions and flipped to the next page of the script.  I did take the time to repeat what I’d told him, but he still couldn’t grasp that I didn’t need to pay Qwest for the same services I was receiving from my cell phone provider.  After listening to Alex recite several more scripted recommendations and benefits, I told him that I was going to hang up because he wasn’t listening to me.  I had wasted enough time already – and Alex wasted his.

Today, I received a phone call from Verizon representative David (not his real name) who is in the Customer Loyalty Department.  Apparently, I’m a “Loyal Customer: because my contract has been fulfilled and I could cancel my service at any time.  He was surprised to discover that I’ve been with Verizon and their predecessors since 1985, probably before he was born.  I’d call that loyalty.

He offered me an upgrade for my four-year-old, very basic cell phone.  (This is the one I have my landline forwarded to.)  I explained that I only use this cell phone to answer phone calls that are forwarded from my business phone and to get voicemail.  I said that I have another, newer droid phone with all the bells and whistles on a separate Verizon contract.  I said I’d be happy to upgrade the old phone to a newer model if it didn’t cost me a dime and it didn’t change my calling plan. 

I must have repeated these two simple conditions six or seven times during the conversation.  He kept offering new phones with “exciting features” like touch screens, e-mail, browsers, text messaging, cameras, video recorders, and MP3 players that only cost $49.99 since I was a “Loyal Customer.”  He couldn’t seem to understand that I don’t need a second cell phone that does all those “exciting” things.

Maybe he couldn’t locate the script for my particular situation.  After 15 minutes, I finally agreed to upgrade the old phone and extend my contract as long as it cost me nothing, nada, zero, zilch.  As he read his script confirming my upgrade, he mentioned the sales tax on my zero payment – that would be, ah, zero; that I could change to a plan with data capabilities for an additional charge (didn’t I say I did NOT want to spend another dime?); and that if I didn’t like the phone once I had tried it out, I could return it and pay a $35 restocking fee.  Unfortunately for him, that doesn’t fit into my “nothing, nada, zero, zilch” scenario.

When I train customer service representatives through my company, Key Innovative Solutions, Inc., I encourage them to really think about what they’re doing and saying, and why they’re doing and saying what they are.  Well-thought out policies and procedures are a useful place to start, but they are not the ultimate solution in every circumstance.  Not every customer’s situation can be crammed into one of the designated procedures or scripts.

Customer service representatives, supervisors, and mangers have very difficult jobs.  They can save time, build customer loyalty, and reduce their own and their customers’ frustration and stress levels if they would really listen to their customers and apply critical thinking to every situation.  The good news is that listening skills are trainable.  So let’s train those customer service representatives to listen and think – not to just follow a script.



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