Tips for Creating a Stronger Customer Relationship

As president of The Center For Client Retention, a consumer, an observer of other consumers, and a professional researcher, I have discovered that when you provide information that goes beyond just answering a question, people feel more comfortable and satisfied with the service interaction. They are getting more bang for their buck. It is also one of the key ingredients to creating a strong customer relationship. Call centers are failing to train their associates to provide fuller explanations to customer's inquiries It's the battle of quality vs. quantity.

A so-called, "well-trained" associate will simply provide brief yes or no responses to questions. Let's use the example of calling a restaurant to book a reservation. You call and ask if a particular day and time are available, the person on the other end of the phone looks at the reservation calendar and tells you, "Sorry, no, we're booked." Conversation over. The better response is, "Sorry, we're booked, but thanks for calling our restaurant. Let me see what else is available, and maybe another time and day will work for you. Our reservations fill up quickly, so it's a good idea to call at least a week in advance. Please ask for me, and I will help you. I will look for when you come to dine so we can meet."

Airline travel also provides perfect opportunities for imparting more information. We all have experienced delays, which are especially annoying and troublesome when you are already seated in the plane. One pilot might announce: "There is a delay." That's all he says, and the passengers have to moan, groan, and guess. The better communication is, "I just heard from air traffic control that our flight is going to be delayed. They are saying this is due to weather conditions in New York, but they expect to release our plane within the next 30 minutes. I'm going to request an update in 10 minutes, and, if I don't hear back, I will call them again. Although the doors are closed, you are welcome to use your cell phones. I checked with other pilots who were waiting for clearance to take off, and they have reported an average of 20- to 30-minute delays, so I feel comfortable that my estimate is accurate." How much better is that? The delay is still the same, but the reason makes waiting much more palatable. People like to be in the know.

Every interaction with a customer offers an opportunity to provide additional, useful information, supplementing the simple catalog of facts. For instance, a bank manager should instruct employees to tell customers about hours of operation when a holiday is around the corner. The associates could also inform customers that next month the bank is issuing a new certificate of deposit. Based on prior transactions, a bank representative could recommend a different type of account to better meet the customer's current banking needs.

To further build a strong relationship, ask the customer additional questions. Most reps end a call with the standard, "Do you have any other questions?" Sounds OK, but is it? We have found from our years of consumer research that when a customer hears that, the gut reaction is, that's it, the conversation is over. A better alternative, one that can build a closer connection with the customer and establish long-term loyalty, is to instead ask, "What other questions do you have?" Simple, but that technique of asking an open-ended question communicates to the caller that the person on the other end of the phone really does care. The company wants to make sure that customers feel their time is worthwhile and the pains they took to contact the company and probably navigate through menu options and then explain their situations are important.

We operate in an era of mass communication, and consumers prefer to self-serve if the answer to their particular issue is easy to find. If that's not the case, the next step is to speak with a person. Enter the call center, which exists for that very purpose. Call center representatives like to help people; that's why they are in the profession, and it should be part of the job description to be hired in the first place. Training should emphasize that answering customers' specific questions is important, of course. But, above that, representatives must learn that many times, customers don't know themselves which questions they should be asking. Providing additional, useful information and thorough and complete explanations and delivering those details with a smile in your voice will make customers think, "Wow, this company gets it! They appreciate my business and I'm going to appreciate them in return."

Remember, every call is an opportunity to create stronger customer relationships. Please, don't miss it!

Richard Shapiro is president of The Center for Client Retention.