What our Customers say:

"This will change my ability to do my job. You are my hero! :)"


"Kristin, you have done a very good job for us."


"We consider you a friend of the company and recommend your services!"


"Thank you for an enjoyable and informative class!"

Read what others are saying about KR Consulting!

Customer Service Skills: A Non-Response is NOT a Good Response

Kristin Robertson, KR Consulting, Inc.
December, 2005

We all know that good customer service is important. Good customer service keeps customers happy and eager to do business with our company or organization. With happy customers who are eager to do business with our company, we are assured of a paycheck. It’s a simple equation:

Happy customers = more revenue for the company = job security

In support centers that deal with customers who call seeking help solving an issue, we sometimes forget that providing excellent service involves more than just fixing the problem. Outstanding service includes making the customer feel good about their interaction with us, and quickly creating a human bond with that customer.

I visit many support centers every year and have opportunities to listen to analysts talking to customers on the phone. A common situation in phone conversations is a “non-response” from the analyst or service agent. It happens when we get too accustomed to hearing the same questions from customers, and don’t take the time to connect with people. We do a good job of fixing the problem, but not of making the customer feel good about it.

The Non-Response

How does the non-response situation play out? Here is a dialogue that demonstrates the non-response:

Customer: “Hi, I’m having trouble getting my reports to print out.”

Analyst: “Can I have your customer number?”

Customer: “Sure, it’s 123456. I’m wondering – is it me or the computer that is causing the problem?”

Analyst: {long silence} “What module are you looking at?”

Customer: “Well, it’s the A/R module of the financial package. I’m running the aging report and I can see it on the screen, but it won’t print. I’m really beginning to wonder if my computer is jinxed!”

Analyst: {long silence} “OK, it’s fixed now. Why don’t you try it and call us back if it doesn’t work?”

Customer: “OK, well, I guess that’s OK. I’ll call back if it isn’t working. Bye.”

Analyst: “Good bye.”

Notice that the analyst fixed the problem, assuming that he/she successfully re-set the printer queue remotely. Congratulations on a job well done, right?  Not so fast – there were several lost opportunities to connect with this customer, opportunities to turn a mundane interaction into a special one. The analyst appears bored and disinterested, as indicated by long silences, ignoring the customer’s question and the lack of acknowledgment of the customer’s leading statements. The customer asked, ““I’m wondering – is it me or the computer that is causing the problem?”  and the analyst replied with an unrelated question. Leading statements such as “I’m having trouble with…” and “I’m really beginning to wonder if the computer is jinxed!” beg for a response. The analyst responds with either silence or by ignoring the comment or question. Neither silence nor a non-response will create a bond or cement a relationship with a customer.

Use Techniques that Avoid the Non-Response

Silence on a call is problematic. Because customers can’t see what the phone analyst is doing, they assume that the analyst is ignoring them. The analyst could be typing, searching the database, waiting for a response, or just thinking, which are all valid activities, but the customer has no way to know that. When I was a phone analyst, I would sometimes be silent as I was thinking through a problem, and then I would hear the customer say, “Are you still there, Kristin?”  I immediately knew that I hadn’t told them what I was doing. I’d respond jokingly by saying, “I just don’t seem to be able to two things at once, like think and talk!” My quip would create a chuckle and a connection. In addition to using humor to diffuse a situation, I quickly learned that I needed to tell customers what I was about to do. That technique is called headlining.

Headlining is telling the customer what you are going to do, before you do it. It is the same concept as in a newspaper, in which the headline gives readers a synopsis of the article before they read it. If you need to look up the customer’s number in the database, headline by saying, “One moment while I look up your record in our database.”  That way, the customer doesn’t have to wonder why there is silence on the line.

Another technique to combat the non-response response is to act as if you are looking the customer in the eye, even though you are on the phone. In some of my customer service skills class, we role-play a scenario in which one person tells a story and another is the listener. Unbeknownst to all, I instruct the listener to act bored and uninterested in what the other is saying. All students instinctively know how to do that: they don’t make eye contact, they don’t respond to what the other is saying, they look at their watch, they yawn. I always think of that role-play exercise when I hear a conversation like the one above, because the listener is obviously bored. To counteract giving the impression of being bored or uninterested, you sit up, look the person in the eye (figuratively, if you are on the phone), listen intently and respond appropriately to what they say.

The last technique to consider is empathy. Empathy is the act of putting yourself in the other person’s situation. Responding with empathy can be very subtle, but it creates an immediate connection between people. When you use empathy, you demonstrate your similarity to the other person, which creates the feeling of partnership. To empathize, you acknowledge the other’s thought or expressed feeling. For example, if a customer says, “I’m confused by this instruction,” you could respond with “Yes, I can see how it might be confusing”, or “I sometimes get confused by directions myself.”

The Attentive Dialogue

Looking at the same dialogue as above, let’s replace the non-responses with some of the techniques we’ve described:

Customer: “Hi, I’m having trouble getting my reports to print out.”

Analyst: “That’s strange. I’d be glad to help you with that problem, and I need to start with some basics. Can I have your customer number so I can look up your record?”

Customer: “Sure, it’s 123456. I’m wondering – is it me or the computer that is causing the problem?”

Analyst: (chuckling) “Well, I sometimes wonder that same thing about my car in the morning. Could you tell me what module you are looking at?”

Customer: “Well, it’s the A/R module of the financial package. I’m running the aging report and I can see it on the screen, but it won’t print. I’m really beginning to wonder if my computer is jinxed!”

Analyst: “I doubt that the computer is jinxed, because I can see that the printer queue is stalled and it looks like I can start it from here. OK, it’s fixed now. Why don’t you try it while I’m on the phone to make sure it’s working?”

Customer: “OK, well, here goes. Oh my gosh – here comes the report!  Wow, that’s great. You’ve been a terrific help. Thanks.”

Analyst: “My pleasure. Is there anything else I can do to help you today?”

Customer: “No, I’m all set. And thanks again.”

Analyst: “You’re welcome. Please don’t hesitate to call us again. Goodbye.”

This formerly mundane conversation suddenly became an outstanding customer interaction. By using humor, headlining, empathy and filling in silences, the analyst made a connection with the customer. Moreover, the customer responded with gratitude and excitement. That kind of customer response is immensely gratifying. When I was a phone analyst, I looked forward to the customer’s excitement and gratitude at the end of the call. That made my day.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>