Top notch telephone skills satisfy client needs

Customer-focused organisations are generally more successful when their employees are trained to use soft skills to complement the technical requirements, or hard skills, of a job.

An increasing number of employers are seeking to hire employees who have a high level of soft skills, says Rachel Johnson of Palomino Training Solutions.

Wikipedia describes the term “soft skills” as “a cluster of personality traits, social graces, ability with language, personal habits, friendliness and optimism that mark people to varying degrees”.

Johnson says skills relating to personality, attitude and behaviour are critical in creating and maintaining good relationships. In today’s competitive environment soft skills such as good communication and customer service can mean the difference between retaining clients’ goodwill and driving business straight into the open arms of competitors.

She points out that a customer might not necessarily start out being angry when phoning a company with a complaint or problem. It is often the events that follow which irritate the customer, such as the behaviour or attitude of the company employee dealing with their complaint.

Johnson describes an every day scenario with which people can identify: “Imagine you’re going through your bills at the end of the month when you notice an error on your cell phone account. You dial the call centre number – the only one that appears on account – and after selecting various options, an agent answers.

“As you start explaining your story, the agent interrupts, telling you to hold on and then transfers you to another agent. You start explaining the details of why you are calling to the second agent, but you are again cut off in mid-sentence. The agent says you have made a mistake, although he has not heard your whole story. You feel your anger rising and ask to speak to a supervisor or someone else who might be able to help you.

“At last the supervisor comes on the line and you breathe a sigh of relief before repeating your story for what you believe will be the final time. But once again you are interrupted, and the supervisor tells you to call another number.
“At this point that your anger erupts because you have now been pushed too far,” she says.

Johnson suggests that employees who deal with customers on the phone (and face-to-face) should learn to “LEAP” (Listen, Empathise, Apologise, Problem-solve) to the assistance of those who have a complaint or problem.
The first step is to allow your customer to vent, without interrupting. You must stay calm and be sincere.

Next, empathise with the client. Acknowledge that person’s feelings by saying ‘I hear that you are upset by this’ or ‘I can tell this situation is upsetting you’.

Then apologise sincerely. A simple sentence, such as ‘I’m really sorry this has happened’, will make the caller feel that you have aligned with them. It is difficult to be upset with someone who is sympathetic and trying to help.

Finally, suggest agreeable solutions. Ask how you can help and, if the client has a reasonable request, carry it out. If not, find a compromise. Make sure that something is done and take it upon yourself to ensure that your customer gets some satisfaction.

Palomino Training Solutions, which was established in 2006, offers over 150 training courses ranging from telephone etiquette, public speaking and business writing to conflict resolution, recruitment & selection and supervisory skills.

The upcoming 2019 Telephone Etiquette courses will be held on 11 March, 17 April and 8 May in Cape Town, Pretoria and Durban. The cost is R2,295 ex vat per delegate (contact for excellent onsite rates). This one-day interactive course includes modules on being customer focused, telephone skills, daily attitude and much more.

This course is also available as an onsite option at your work premises (contact us for the very competitive prices) and also as an online (e-learning) option.

“Our aim is for delegates to leave our workshops feeling inspired and motivated, with a wealth of knowledge and hands-on tools that they are able to implement immediately,” says Johnson.
For more information, contact Rachel Johnson on 082-878-1164, email [email protected] or visit