10 Tips for Engaging Customers

Today, the answer to almost any question can be found on the Internet. The key operative word in this statement is almost.

Call centers are still necessary to answer questions that cannot be found through a Google search or query to Alexa or Siri. When a consumer makes that phone call, the issues are likely to be complicated and time-consuming to resolve. The customer needs help. Contact centers should be multipurpose.

Consumer questions must be answered, but don't miss the opportunity to also engage with the customer. Without engagement, loyalty cannot be created or maintained, and the call center will remain an expense to your company instead of an investment.

Here are my 10 tips for engaging your customers:

  1. Hire people who are curious. One of the traits of a successful representative is a keen sense of curiosity. Curiosity drives information. Gathering information leads to dialog. Dialog leads to personalized conversation. Ensure your hiring profile includes curiosity. It's important that representatives want to know more and learn the why behind the call.
  2. End the conversation with an open-ended question. Always ask the customer, "What other questions do you have?" Do not ask, "Do you have any other questions?" The first invites the customer to spend more time on the phone. The second implies that the call is over.
  3. One-word answers are passé. Answering a customer with a yes or no does not encourage customer engagement. One-word responses can also be misleading and demonstrates a lack of interest in the customer's concern or question.
  4. Navigate detours ahead. Answers to tough questions are important. If the company&'s return policy is not flexible, advise the customer up front. If the directions on the web are more accurate than those enclosed in the packaging, let customers know. This information develops trust.
  5. Never just say, "I don't know." Whenever a representative is asked a question and she doesn't know the answer, the rep should say, "That's a good question; let me find out and get back to you." Ensure the turnaround time for the response is provided (within the hour, the next day, or perhaps a couple of days if the response requires research). Consumers will greatly appreciate the time and effort the representative took to ensure their satisfaction and not lose confidence because they don't know the answer.
  6. Deliver additional information. When customers receive added information that they hadn't asked for or were expecting, they are extremely happy. The Center For Client Retention has consistently found 95 percent of customers who feel the representative provided them additional and useful information were delighted with the interaction. It helps build competency and trust.
  7. Empower. Hire representatives and empower them to make customers happy. Give representatives training and a budget. The budget should be considered a guideline and not a permanent fixture. Allow reps to consider each individual situation and all possibilities.
  8. Personalize. Use technology to predict and personalize the customer encounter. Accessibility to purchase history and previous contacts makes the customer feel the information is specifically there to help him. Consumers are used to companies like Amazon that recommend similar products that might be of interest. When the representative makes a suggestion it has more impact than a pop-up ad on a screen.
  9. Don't force self-service. Automation is best when it supplements the staff in providing enhanced service. Automation will negatively impact loyalty when it prevents customers from speaking to a live agent.
  10. "What's in it for me?" All of the research on millennials shows that they trust people over brands. Millennials want to purchase from companies that are socially responsible. Communicating how your company helps the world is key; but, in addition, millennials want to know, "What's in it for me?" We know that millennials will not call a company as their first choice, but if there is a need, interacting with a person who can personalize the conversation and help them make the best choice will go a long way to build customer loyalty.

Here's another idea: Call centers should send representatives to visit a museum or theme park. Tell them to go on a tour and listen to the guide. It's a great learning experience. See how the guide anticipates questions. Hear his enthusiasm and desire to engage people of all ages. Good tour guides are skillful and proactive. The ideal customer service representative is the perfect tour guide, leading the customer through a dialog and answering more than the original question, leaving the customer loyal and wanting more.

Richard Shapiro is founder and president of The Center for Client Retention.