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How to Talk to Customers Notes | Study Basic Fundamentals of Business - Entrepreneurship

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Great communication is an art. Honing it to a keen edge is a science. The way you talk to customers has a big impact on your brand, and nothing delivers customer satisfaction quite like consistently delightful communication. When you’re thoughtful about the way you convey information to (and receive feedback from!) customers, that yields better results than any splashy new logo or 20 percent off coupon ever could. But what does “thoughtful” communication mean when you’re talking to a customer? What’s the strategy behind successful conversations? World-class customer service begins with treating humans like humans. Follow the tips on how to talk to customers in this guide, and we guarantee you’ll be on your way!

Maintaining a consistent Tone

Just as in music, if your tone is off, the whole piece falls flat. For example, “Anything else?” and “What else can I help you with?” ask the same question, but they are wildly different in terms of tone.
As you define your support team’s collective voice, develop a set of standards for personal and human conversations. This allows each member to maintain their unique voice without sounding like they’re talking from a script.

1. Think of tone on a spectrum
Take the examples above: “Anything else?” and “What else can I help you with?” One is clearly sliding into bitter-sounding territory, while the other feels friendly but still professional. That’s where you’ll want to be for the large majority of customer interactions.
How to Talk to Customers Notes | Study Basic Fundamentals of Business - Entrepreneurship

One is clearly sliding into bitter-sounding territory, while the other feels friendly but still professional. That’s where you’ll want to be for the large majority of customer interactions.
For Example
How to Talk to Customers Notes | Study Basic Fundamentals of Business - Entrepreneurship

2. Use positive language
Positive language keeps the conversation moving forward and prevents accidental conflicts due to miscommunication. Words like can’t, won’t, and didn’t — and phrases like “you have to” or “you need to” — are usually interpreted as negative. Focus on how you’re going to fix the problem, and avoid words that cause knee-jerk reactions.

For Example

  • Bad: “No, we don’t have that.”
  • Less bad: “I can see how that would be useful, but I’m afraid we don’t have plans to add that functionality.”
  • Good: “While there’s currently no way to do that, we appreciate you taking the time to let us know what you’re looking for — most of the improvements we make come from ideas and suggestions like yours, so thank you for reaching out!”

Say one of your products is backordered for a month and you need to relay this information to a customer immediately. Consider the following responses:

  • With negative language: I can't get you that product until next month; it's back ordered and unavailable at this time. You'll have to wait a few weeks, but I'm happy to place the order for you right now!"
  • With positive language: It looks like that product will be re-stocked and available next month. I can place the order for you right now and we'll make sure it's sent to you as soon as it reaches our warehouse!"

Redirecting the conversation from negative to positive places focus on the proposed solution. When the outcome takes center stage, it reduces the odds that customers will be upset.

Customers don’t care about what you can’t do; they want to hear what’s going to be done.

For those tricky situations where customers “have to” do something, you can use positive language to remind them (and yourself) that this is a team effort:

  • With negative language
    • First, you'll have to check...
    • Now, you'll need to set up...
    • After that, I need you to...
  • With positive language
    • First, let's verify...
    • Now, we can set up...
    • After that, the best solution is if we..

3. Reply in a timely manner

  • When you can modify your saved reply with the customer’s name and an acknowledgement of their specific issue within 30 seconds, it can make some people wonder if their email even got read. It’s okay to let non-urgent emails sit a few extra minutes. Of course, customers who are in a “pulling my hair out” situation want a resolution yesterday. Make responding to them a priority.
  • Try setting up a folder separate from the main support queue where you can filter less-than-ecstatic messages. Here, the team can see immediately which emails are from customers who need help right away.

4. Always use your customer’s name

  • If you’re not using the customer’s name in your greeting, you’re missing an opportunity to use the psychology of consumer behavior to your advantage. Dale Carnegie advised readers to “Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.”
  • Your help desk should allow you to automate using the customer’s name.
  • Just be sure to get it right — use the name they use! Sérgio is Sérgio, not Sergio. Katie is Katie, not Kate. If you don’t have the person’s name, go with a friendly, generic greeting: “Hey there!”

5. Be careful with jokes

  • Gauge your rapport with the customer before attempting any jokes, sarcasm or irony — they don’t translate easily through text, so your intent can easily be misunderstood. While emoji and GIFs certainly help, there’s still no sarcasm font, so choose every word with thoughtfulness and care.
  • If your customer comes in cracking jokes, though, mirroring their humor is a surefire way to make their day!

6. Build templates for saved replies

  • A living database of saved replies that your team can actively build on saves time by streamlining how you answer common questions.
  • Saved replies can be used to reduce the number of conversations that are not valuable to your company. A new customer who needs to know how to reset her password still deserves help, but this is a conversation that warrants a template. You’ll gain more time to have high-value conversations, which result in real insights.
  • Establishing a relaxed set of guidelines encourages the team to use their gut to decide when a new saved reply needs to be added; “I feel like we get this question a lot” is often all the justification you need.
  • Pro Tip: Don't hold back on saved replies
    Be liberal with adding new saved replies. There is little downside to having a large library of replies other than getting somewhat trigger-happy and ending up with replies you rarely use. However, it’s easy to access them via your shared inbox's search feature, so this won’t generally be a problem.

7. Cross-check whole-company support replies

  • Whole-company support is fantastic for a number of reasons, but don’t let people who aren’t trained in the art of support fire off replies without the sign-off of a seasoned pro.
  • Have non-support folks use your help desk’s @mentions feature in an internal note to a support team member so they can quickly review your draft reply before shipping it. Remember, customer support is challenging, specialized work — not just anyone can do it.

8. Offer to help further

  • Avoid ending conversations so bluntly that the customer feels you are hurrying them out the door. Instead, invite them to continue the conversation.

“Let me know if there’s anything else I can do for you. I’m happy to help.”

  • Make sure you customer knows you’re happy to assist with any lingering concerns or answer questions they may feel are “silly.” There are no silly questions in support.

9.  Show, don’t just tell

When possible, take a quick screen recording to show customers what to do versus typing it out in steps. This tip comes from Denise Twum, Customer Support at issuu:

  • “Instead of telling customers what to do, show them! I use Recordit for screencasts — it’s free and generates a link, instead of having to attach a bulky file to your responses.
  • Now when someone writes in asking how to find a particular page in their account, I can log into the account and record the steps, versus typing out “1. Go here, 2. Click here, 3. Click this green button.”
  • It’s fast and doesn’t need to be super polished since it’s not for your knowledge base or a blog post. It saves a lot of back-and-forth and has made all the difference!”

10. Clarity, clarity, clarity

  • Use accessible, candid, precise, plain language. Avoid using passive-aggressive or didactic language (“actually,” “ought to,” “should”), slang, colloquialisms, and technical jargon. For a refresher on clarity, we recommend The Elements of Style or these writing guides.

11. Steer clear of customer service clichés

  • Which one of the following statements do you think is more appropriate?

“You are being transferred. Your call is very important to us.”

“Hi Angela, I’m going to introduce you to Tim, our customer success specialist who will be better able to answer your question!”

  • Easy. One is a trite platitude that people are sick of hearing. The other explains to customers why the transfer is to their benefit. Wording makes all the difference.

12.  Simplify for foreign-language customers

  • When a customer contacts you in another language, use a translation tool (such as Google Translate), and write for translation by using active voice and simple words. Skip the idioms. Lean on visuals more heavily than text. If anyone on your team speaks the customer’s language, ask them to check your reply!

13. Apologize Sincerely

  • As the ambassador of your company, you accept responsibility for the customer’s unhappiness. This doesn’t make you “at fault,” nor does it give the customer leeway to demand whatever they want. But it does give them someone to talk to instead of being angry at a faceless company.
  • “I’m sorry” is mandatory even in situations that aren’t your fault. Consider your “I’m truly sorry about that” a personal apology to the customer that the experience wasn’t up to their expectations — not that you are to blame.

14. Be direct

  • When a customer reports a bug, they’re likely pretty frustrated. For both the initial report and your follow-up, cut to the chase and don’t waste their time.
  • Overtures, no matter how well intentioned, just delay the message, so keep your communication focused before adding any warm fuzzies.

15. Get personal

  • Great support is defined by genuine compassion. Use the first-person pronoun to demonstrate yours: “I completely understand why you’d want that,” or “I know how {blank} that can be.”
  • What you use in that {blank} will greatly affect the tone of your message — one that is obviously being used with an upset customer. Read the customer’s mood and relate with how he or she feels.

16. Ask for their “why”

  • When customers are vague about why they’re upset, they’re handing you the opportunity to request specifics.

Customer: Your update looks terrible. Make it more like it was before!”

Customer Support: “Oh no, sorry to hear that! Would you mind telling me a little more about what you liked better about the old version?”

  • You may do something with that intel and you may not, but it’s a win either way: They walk away pleased someone is listening and flattered someone cares enough to want their opinion.
  • People will complain about your product no matter how well it’s built, so just make sure your language is level-headed and professional.

17. Thank them for the heads up

  • People who offer detailed information about a bug they encountered are the unsung heroes of your product’s quality control.

Most customers don’t speak up, so you should cherish those who do.

  • Show them your gratitude by replying with a “Thanks so much for the heads up!” or preferably, “Hey, I really appreciate you taking the time to bring this to our attention!”
  • If they went above and beyond to help you fix something, send a handwritten thank-you note, or perhaps even a gift.

18. Focus on the end, not the means

  • The best solution you can provide isn’t always a solution the customer asked for. Getting to the bottom of what a customer is trying to accomplish can help you solve the problem in a way they haven’t considered.
  • With a little back-and-forth, you might discover that the customer asking for sub-projects really just needs a way to organize different teams sharing the same account, and hey, your product can do that!
  • Once you know what their real goal is, suggest that “it may take a bit of an adjustment to your current workflow, but there’s still a way to do what you’re ultimately trying to do!”
  • Customers care more about the end than the means. If you’re aware of the customer’s desired outcome and speak to that, your alternative might not look so bad after all.

19. Explain what’s going to happen next

  • When customers make requests you’re unable to fulfill right away, you can still give them something — often, just knowing someone is listening is enough.

“I’m so sorry there’s no way to do that at this time, but I’ll share your request with the product team! They’ll review it and scope it in relation to other initiatives. They also share how approved requests are placed on their road map, followed by coding and testing to ensure a smooth integration with their existing product.”

  • As a customer, it’s comforting to be assured your request won’t disappear into the ether — there’s a process for handling requests, and you’re being taken seriously.

20. Honesty is always the best policy

  • It’s better to say no and potentially disappoint a customer than hedge with falsehoods such as “hmm, good idea, let me check with the product team and get back to you.” If the answer is really no, it’s best to be upfront about that.
  • People can generally spot insincerity when they see it, so if you don’t think it’s a good idea to add yet another checkbox on the settings page, don’t make them think you do. Dishonesty will always come back to bite you.

21. Make your customers feel heard

  • The next best thing to giving customers what they want is showing them you take their ideas seriously.
  • Often, people just want to know you’re listening. Small touches like using the customer’s name and phrases such as “I understand” or “I can see why you’d want that feature” go a long way.
  • Thank customers for telling you what they’re looking for. Whatever their issue, it was important enough to take time out of their day to contact you. Acknowledge the effort and your gratitude for it.
  • Angry customers are often just as interested (if not more interested) in hearing that someone empathizes with their situation over getting the actual problem fixed. When you have to refuse a request, show your empathy and willingness to find an alternative solution. It is one of the best ways to lessen the sting of saying no.

22. Resist the temptation to mirror negativity

  • Here’s where “mirroring” doesn’t apply. Even when the customer is being unreasonable, apologize outright and ask how you might help resolve the issue.
  • “We’re sorry that you are having this problem” is an infuriating phrase for a customer to hear. It is nothing more than the deferment of blame. The attempt to apologize comes off as dismissive, all thanks to a misuse of tone.
  • If you come across a lost cause, keep it friendly, keep it professional, and keep it moving.

23. Transfer quickly, but explain why

  • Handing people off should be handled with care — never miss an opportunity to briefly explain to a customer why this movement will be to their benefit. It’s nearly impossible to get anyone excited about being transferred, but consider the two choices you have:

“I’ll have to transfer you for that.”

“I’m going to set you up with our specialist, Laura, who will get that squared away for you right away.”

  • Without this brief but relevant insertion, customers won’t know that you are actually doing the best thing, and second only to doing the best thing is letting people know you are.

24. Don’t drag out a lost cause

  • If a customer wants to cancel their account, do it right away. Nothing makes for a bitter departure quite like running your customers through the gauntlet when all they want to do is leave.
  • Winning customers back with exceptional service is fundamental, but when they already have one foot out the door, you’re better off reducing friction as they part. Learn what you can, see if there is a way to resolve the issue, and accept the outcome if there isn’t.
  • Customers aren’t necessarily gone for good just because they cancel their account. Hassling upon exit, however, will ensure they never return.

25. Remain firm when security is at stake

  • Support professionals’ natural inclination to help can leave team members open to social engineering if they aren’t careful. If your product has different permissions that deal with security or payment responsibilities, for example, you’ll have customers ask you to switch their roles, such as transferring account ownership.
  • You’ll want to assist right away, but you’ll need approval from the current account owner.
  • Email that person (separately, so the reply can’t be spoofed), and let the person making the request know you’ve done so and that it’s all about keeping their account safe. When the owner responds, check to make sure the original message you sent is included in the reply. No detail is too small when it comes to security.
  • You may still run into something like, “But the account owner is on vacation/has been fired/is very busy and important!” There’s always something, isn’t there?
  • For these situations, it helps to have a policy you can point to on your website. That way, they know you’re not being obstinate; rather, you’re serious about security and unable to make exceptions. That isn’t always easy for people to stomach, but you’ve still got to do the right thing.

25. Don’t pass the buck

  • If you messed up, pass the conversation on (with context) to your supervisor to figure it out from there together. Mistakes happen.
  • The buck should stop with you, however, if a customer requests “the manager” just to get around an accurate, honest response. When you’re acting with certainty, speak with kind authority:

“I’m afraid management would have to tell you the same thing. I’m really sorry we don’t have a better answer for you!”

  • It can also work to hand off the conversation to a teammate, who reiterates the message in different words:

“I’m afraid June is right — we currently don’t have a feasible workaround. I’m so sorry about that!”

  • Often, a second opinion is enough to convince the customer there’s nothing more to be done.

26. Ask questions to get to the bottom of what they’re really trying to accomplish

  • Often, your customers will come to you asking if you carry the proverbial quarter-inch drill bit when what they really need is a quarter-inch hole.
  • It’s the principle behind the jobs-to-be-done framework: When a customer asks whether you have a specific solution, take some extra time collect insights and ask what they’re ultimately trying to do.
  • Ann Goliak, who moved into quality assurance from a support role at Basecamp, began her career as a librarian in a physics and astronomy library. She recalls speaking with a group of undergrads who showed up looking for a basic book on astronomy.
  • They weren’t, however, really interested in the physical and chemical properties of the cosmos. “It took a lot of back and forth but in the end, what they really wanted was a star chart because they wanted to go stargazing and make out.”
  • Aside from helping you better understand your customers’ use cases, asking questions and receiving input from your customers builds relationships and generates trust.
  • That trust will allow you to guide them toward better solutions they haven’t considered, even when it means going through the pain of making a shift in the way they work. If these conversations ultimately lead to a shift in how your product works, then all the better.

27. Boost happiness with GIFs, exclamation points, and emoji

  • Concerned that using “fun” elements in your customer support correspondence will come across as frivolous or unprofessional? Don’t be! Research shows that subject-matter experts who use emoticons are perceived as more “friendly and competent” than those who don’t.
  • Contractions, exclamation points, emoticons/emoji and even GIFs are great ways to convey meaning with humanity. In text communications, cues like exclamation points and emoticons can help the sender convey a positive tone the recipient may not otherwise assume.
  • Remember to modulate your tone for the situation. When a customer initiates the conversation with a greeting like “Hey folks!” that’s a good indication you can exclaim and emote to your heart’s content in your reply.
  • And GIFs aren’t only fun and games: They can also help you deliver better customer support. If a picture is worth 1,000 words, then animated GIFs are worth millions in instructional wisdom.

28. Fix problems that aren’t your fault

  • Forces outside your control — email clients not playing nicely, your customer’s IT department delaying a company-wide upgrade from Internet Explorer 8 — are going to conspire and make doing business with you harder than it should be.
  • But if you don’t want to lose business, you can’t throw your hands up and blame those external forces — you won’t win any positive word-of-mouth about your support by treating the symptom rather than the cause.
  • Sometimes, you need to fix problems you didn’t create. You have a responsibility to help your customer even when the issue is with a tool you don’t support.
  • It may mean working with third-party tools; it may mean stopping to teach less savvy users about how saving to a PDF works. You can at least answer their immediate questions, then direct them to resources to help them learn.
  • Your customer doesn’t care whose fault the problem is. They just want it fixed.

29. Offer alternatives

  • You want to create happy customers, not marginally satisfied ones. When you don’t have what they’re looking for, you still have the opportunity to generate goodwill by pointing them toward a workaround or even a competitor.
  • Zappos, for example, refers customers elsewhere when they don’t have an item in stock — CEO Tony Hsieh has said that while they may lose the sale, in the long run it’s best for Zappos because “the customer appreciates the help and tells their friends the story.”
  • The resulting long-term loyalty and word-of-mouth advertising outweigh any short-term loss.

30. Take a breather

  • When you feel a strong negative emotion, make sure to double and even triple check what you’ve written to a customer before you send it. No matter how their message made you feel, it’s your job to keep the conversation productive, so go back and read what you’ve written to make sure your emotions didn’t end up in your reply.
  • Would you use those same words in a conversation with a friend? If not, find new words.
  • Use your team for gut checks — ping your teammate in a note and ask them to review your draft reply to see if they catch anything you might have missed or have suggestions for framing your message more positively.
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