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Retail Phone Talk

Furniture World Magazine

Volume 147 NO.4 July/August

 


Five steps to help your people develop better phone skills and get rid of phone system features that annoy your customers.


I can think of a thousand other things I’d rather do than call Customer Service! For me it ranks somewhere between pre-need funeral planning and a root canal. In typical twenty-first century dutiful customer fashion, I always try to find the answer to my question on a company’s website FAQs, or through common questions found on Amazon or other third party sites. But once in a while I have to do the dread dial into the abyss known as Customer Service.

Best & Worst
Despite what you may think, hotels and airlines are not that bad. I can normally connect with a live human being in about two to three steps. Medium size retailers are usually okay too. It's generally easy to get a clerk or sales person who can answer my question. It may seem counter intuitive, but the companies who are supposed to be communications experts seem to be the worst at communicating! That would be Cable and Cell Phone Companies.

I know this seems like it might be the beginning of a rant, but please bear with me. Imagine my dismay this past week when I needed to contact my cell phone company with a simple question about a service option.

Talking To A Computer
I checked their website first, and there was a vague answer, similar to my prom date’s answer from long ago, no real commitment, not a yes, not a no. Perhaps waiting for a better offer! I thought I was on my way when I saw that they had an easy three-digit number to dial for customer service. After I dialed it, I was pleased to know that they recognized my number. The sweet computer generated voice even gave me a two minute and fifteen second rundown on the amount of my present bill, when they received my last payment, how much data I used, and how many times I ordered Chinese Food for delivery. (Press #1 for Kung Pao Tofu, press #2 to make it extra spicy.) All good to know, but not what I was after. Since this was not my first rodeo, I informed Miss Computer that I wanted “Representative”. She quickly responded that it seemed that I wanted a representative, and that most answers could be found on their website, and then repeated my billing info along with a review of orders to Pizza King.



 

Miss Computer and I tangled for a half-dozen rounds; me repeating REPRESENTATIVE and she stirring up memories of bills long ago paid. I am not sure if my mobile company measures how many rounds or how many decibels, but I must have reached that limit when they (finally) switched me over to Wilfreda.

Wilfreda Picks Up
You might think that you’d have to feel sorry for poor Wilfreda, as she was about to feel the wrath of my frustration. However, Wilfreda, started the conversation by introducing herself and asking, “How can I make your day SPARKLE." We Buckeyes of Ohio rarely have a day that SPARKLES, and it brought a smile to my face and instantly changed my disposition. She asked my name. I typically spell my last name, because of the way it sounds. Wilfreda noted that it was misspelled in their system and fixed it on the spot. After I told her what I needed, she assured me that we could fix it on this call-TODAY!

We started by her asking me to find an application on my phone. At first I could not find it, and apologized for the extended time. She responded, “My job is to serve you, and I will wait for you." After I found the application, she told me what to change. She needed to do a few things on her end, and asked if I was OK with waiting. How could I say no? Whatever needed to be downloaded was downloading, and instead of hold music, Wilfreda asked me about my summer vacation plans. When I told her where we were going, she remarked that she would also like to go there someday, and that I probably felt very lucky and fortunate to travel. In the conversation she also told me where she was based (the Philippines) and that I should plan a trip there someday.

 



 

In no time (or what seemed like no time-compared to endless hold music droning of 101 Strings plays Led Zeppelin) the problem was resolved and we said goodbye. Within moments I received a text from Wilfreda thanking me for my business and wishes that all problems were resolved.

Phone Tips For Your Stores
Chances are good that customers who call your store as well as prospective buyers don’t have to wrestle with endless prompts to get to a real person. And you probably don’t outsource your call center to people 10,000 miles from your store, but chances are you can benefit from the following seven points that include service that Wilfreda provided so expertly.

1. Phone answering is both art and science.

You probably invested hours in training your sales and delivery teams, but likely missed the chapter on phone etiquette. Top class organizations have greeting scripts and train their people to use them. They also listen in on employees' conversations to make sure the scripts are being used. Imagine answering EVERY call with “Thank you for calling My Store - How can we make your day SPARKLE?”

2. People call your stores with problems and questions every day.

They want resolution of their issues in just one phone call. Therefore, empower every associate who answers the phone to resolve issues and supply answers to questions on the first go-around.

3. Not everything can be resolved quickly.

Whether it’s checking inventory, contacting a delivery driver, or fixing a warranty issue, sometimes a second call is necessary. No matter what follow-up needs to be done, never let a business day end without touching base with your caller. People appreciate a quick “I just wanted you to know we are still working on this” call.

4. Do more than what is required.

Wilfreda noticed my name was spelled wrong in her system. That means every bill, email, and direct mail piece also had my name spelled wrong. Everybody likes their name spelled right. Just simply checking that, along with address and email can make you an unsung hero.

5. Hold music or beeps can be annoying!

Check what your callers are hearing. Dial your own store and ask to be put on hold. Get out that fancy smart-phone and press the timer application. Let it run 90 seconds. If it seems like the longest minute and a half of your lifetime, imagine how your paying customers feel!

6. It is always the (BLANK) season!

It’s always some sort of season; vacation season, back to school season, or holiday season. Wilfreda changed my mindset from disgruntled caller to calm conversant by asking about my summer plans. The Number One subject that people like to talk about is... THEMSELVES. Showing your interest in their plans and dreams can be a game changer. You might have noticed that Wilfreda did not “One Up” me either. She mentioned how she always wanted to go where I was going, and did not say “it’s too hot there”, or “I’d rather go to Hawaii.”

7. A follow up text is an extra treat.

With so many callers using mobile phones, you have a great shot at returning a text to that phone. A simple “Thank you for calling” or “Thanks for making my day sparkle” serves as an electronic Thank You card, takes 10 seconds to send, and will build a crowd of raving fans for your business.

Overall I was satisfied with my cell phone company, now I am a fan. I like the price, equipment and applications. I won’t ever call them “APPS”. That's so I won’t get them confused with the real “APPS” like egg rolls, wontons, garlic knots, or bruschetta.

Gordon Hecht is Senior Manager-In Store Concepts for Serta Simmons Bedding Company, introducing and expanding bedding business in conventional and non-traditional venues. He started his 30+ years experience in the Home Furnishings industry in Las Vegas, NV as a delivery helper and driver and later served in sales, retail management and consulting roles.
Read other articles by Gordon Hecht