5 Ways to Make a First-Time Caller Feel Comfortable

Phone Tip: Making Callers Comfortable

When a potential client interacts with your business for the first time, you may need to ask for a few pieces of information in order to begin working with this new person. Asking someone to share personal information isn’t always easy; however, there are ways to make the interaction more comfortable for everyone involved, and it all begins with your approach. Here are some tips to set you up for successful screening!

Here are some tips to set you up for successful screening!

  • Your questions are coming from a place of helpfulness.  Surely, the reason you ask a caller for their email address, financial information, or the details of their case is so that you and your company can provide them with the optimal support and assistance. Keep that in mind as you move forward with gathering personal information, and your good intentions will naturally come through in your questions.
  • Ask confidently.  It’s no secret that self-assuredness is the key to success, and when we portray confidence, the people we interact with will in turn have confidence in us! If a caller senses a tone of uncertainty, they may feel hesitant to give private information.
  • Create a conversational tone. Start by asking how they heard of your company and what brought them to you. It’s a great opener and a fantastic way to break the ice!
  • Tell them why — people love to know! If a caller seems uncertain about answering your questions, tell them, if you can, why providing this information is beneficial to them as a customer.
    • We typically correspond through email, if possible. That way you will receive documents immediately rather than having to await their arrival in the mail.
  • Know when to fold ‘em. Don’t push too hard if someone declines to give information right away. You can always ask again once you’ve established a more solid working relationship. By letting them create the boundaries they need, you show flexibility and willingness to work within their comfort level. Even though it may be a small inconvenience, you’ll make a great first impression!

You may find yourself in the opposite position, and your caller will want to provide much more information than is necessary during that first interaction. For tips on guiding a talkative caller in the right direction, check out the post, Make the Most of Your Conversations by Guiding Chatty Callers.

Photo via Cathy Cheney of the Portland Business Journal

How to Help When You Can’t Give Someone What They Want

Please use other door

A close friend of mine works at a boutique app development company, and he told me the other day about a French woman who called and was having some difficulty with an app they had designed for a client. Speaking in impeccable English, though more slowly than a native speaker, she began describing every detail that led up to receiving an error. Some of the information was useful, but much was not related to the issue. My friend listened patiently, but it was clear within a few minutes that the client he developed the app for was the only one with the power to fix it.

What was he to do? It felt rude to interrupt, or tell her that he didn’t need to know all of the information she was taking such great pains to describe. He genuinely wanted to help her, but his hands were tied; she had to contact the company who commissioned the app and go through the whole story again. He told me, “I really wanted to tell her I sympathized and be able to offer her a credit for her trouble — or even just give her a couple bucks of my own money!”

It can be frustrating when you don’t have all the tools to solve someone’s problem. But that doesn’t mean you can’t help!

  • Step 1: Empathize. My friend was on the right track; it’s always nice to hear someone’s on your side! Remember to frame things positively; rather than commiserating, try saying, “That does sound frustrating; I would feel the same way!”
  • Step 2: Guide them. It’s counterintuitive, but sometimes interrupting is helping! Repeating the same information to multiple people is a common complaint among customers. Anyone who’s ever called their cable company can attest to that. Listen for a pause and interject, “I hate to interrupt, but I think I know what the problem is. ABC Company would actually be able to help you with this,” or “I’m sorry for the interruption! John in Support would be the best person to speak with about this type of error.”
  • Step 3: Offer assistance. Ok, so yo might not be able to give them a credit or fix the problem. But there is always something you can offer. Perhaps it’s just looking up the phone number to the company that can help. Maybe it’s offerring to jump on a conference call to cut through the technical jargon, or sending an email with a succinct description of the issue that they can read to the customer support tech. Nine times out of ten, they’ll decline, but anything that shows you want to help is a huge comfort. Even a simple, “If you have any more questions or there’s anything more I can do to help, please let me know!” will help!

Your customers are people, too. Focus on connecting with your caller on a personal level and treating them how you’d like to be treated, and you’ll both feel better!

Photo via Flickr user James Cridland

Let “May I” Make the Difference in Your Customer Conversations

Phone Tip for Better Conversations

Add a little “may” to your day, every day! Although they’re little, the words “May I” can make a big impact on your conversations with customers and potential clients. Adding this polite twosome to your vocabulary is a simple way to turn your tone from okay to outstanding. Here are five ways to add a little may to your day:

Use “May I” when greeting callers. An offer of assistance is the perfect addition to your company’s telephone greeting. Let callers know you’re excited to help as soon as you pick up the phone:

Good Morning! Thank you for calling ABC Company. How may I help you?

Use “May I” when broaching a new subject. If you’re looking for a graceful way to introduce a new idea, “May I” is your best pal:

I think I understand the problem. May I make a suggestion?

Use “May I” to take the sting out of an interruption or potential inconvenience. When you need to encourage a customer to do something they might not want to do, asking nicely is key. “May I” is very important when asking a caller to hold, for example. While a curt “Hold, please,” might irritate a caller, a polite “May I place you on hold for a moment?” makes a conversational interruption seem like no biggie.

Use “May I” when gathering information. It’s easy to see that “May I have your name?” and “May I ask who is calling?” beat the heck out of “I of need your name” and the ghastly “Who is this?” Whenever you’re collecting a bit of information, start with “May I”:

May I have your account number?

Use “May I” instead of “Can I” when asking for just about anything from a client or potential customer. The word “can” is used to note ability — if you’re able to do something, you can do it, as in “I can do a handstand.” When you’re asking permission, “may” is the right choice. This is why we go with “May I have your name?” and not “Can I have your name?” When you’re collecting info or asking something of a customer, “May I” is almost always the way to go.

“Hey, What Do You Want?” And the Downfall of Being Too Casual

Yesterday we wrote about how being overly formal in business can make customers uncomfortable. A client playfully quipped on our Facebook page: “Along those lines, can Ruby start answering our firm’s calls with the following: ‘Hey. What do you want, fool?’ Would that be effective? I don’t know. You are the experts.” Jokes aside, he’s absolutely right! Being overly casual can turn off customers, too!

You want to be friendly and make a personal connection, and formality can create a sense of detachment that is hard to overcome. But on the other hand, being too familiar, too fast can have callers doing their best Stephanie Tanner impression:

Customer Service Tip: Casual or Formal?
How rude!

So how can you up the friendly factor without seeming rude? Remember to do these four things every time you interact with a customer, and you’ll surely be on the right track:

  • Enunciate and use proper grammar. This goes for every medium your company uses to communicate with customers, from phone calls to email to social media. It can be tempting to respond quickly with a “Thx! U r awesome!” — especially when you only have 140 characters to work with. Spelling out words completely and correctly and using proper punctuation is worth the extra time; your customers will appreciate the extra care and clarity.
  • Stay positive. Expressive phrasing can make a huge difference on the tone of the conversation. “Absolutely!” and “Certainly!” sound so much more enthusiastic than “Yeah” and “Sure.” You’re glad to have their business; don’t be afraid to show it!
  • Offer assistance. Keep on the lookout for additional ways to help. If you’re unable to do something, propose a different solution. “Let me…,” “I’d be happy to…” and “I’ll gladly…” are fantastic solution starters!
  • When in doubt, get Grandma involved. Try adding “Grandma” to the end of your sentences: “I can’t do that, Grandma,” or “What do you want now, Grandma?” Yikes! Just writing it makes me want to call my grandmother and apologize!

Balancing formality and casualness can be challenging, but it’s all about making your customer feel comfortable and creating a connection. After all, people do business with people they like!

Why Formal Doesn’t Equal Professional in Business

Formal does not equal professional in business“Manners are sensitive awareness of the feelings of others. If you have that awareness, you have good manners, no matter which fork you use.” – Emily Post

What do you think of when you hear the word “formal”? Do you see visions of a suit and tie, someone who addresses folks by Mr. and Ms., maybe even someone who is a bit…stuffy? Now think of the word “professional.” You might think of someone who is great at what they do, gets projects done on time, and is always courteous. In business, having manners isn’t so much about following a strict set of rules; it’s about making the other person feel comfortable and doing a top-notch job.

In fact, being overly formal can be just as offensive as being too casual. Clients could interpret your aloofness as coldness, disinterest, or even condescension. Even something as simple as addressing customers can turn into a faux pas. Say you receive a call from a new client by the name of “Pat Jennings.” It can be difficult to distinguish gender over the phone, especially if they’re on a cell phone or speakerphone. One slip up — “How may I help you, Ms. Jennings?”…”Oh! My apologies! Mister Jennings!” — can ruin a sale.

The next time you meet a new client or chat with an existing one, follow their lead. If they introduce themself as “John,” go with that. If they prefer “Mr. Smith,” say, “Pleased to meet you Mr. Smith!” Match their tone and pace, and remember: being cheerful and friendly will help put everyone at ease and make a great impression for your company!

Why Manners Still Matter in Business

It may not be the Belle Epoque, but manners still matter!

What do Emily Post, James Bond, and Lord Grantham of Downton Abbey have in common? They all have exceptional manners. In today’s age of instant everything, it’s easy to forget about social graces and the power behind politeness. Whether good etiquette comes from a virtual receptionist service or a CEO, leaving a positive impression on others is vital in business.

These days, customers simply have too many options to waste their money on companies that don’t treat them with respect. More than 80% of consumers are willing to pay more for a better customer experience, while nearly two-thirds cite friendly employees as a top reason for sticking with a brand. Add to that the fact that four out of five consumers will stop doing business with you after a bad customer experience, and it becomes clear that manners do affect the bottom line.

Why Manners Matter

Your manners reflect not only how you view others, but how you also see yourself. From gaining new clients to keeping the ones you have, manners command respect and promote trustworthiness. For example, a client is more likely to trust in your expertise and capabilities if your virtual receptionist is polite and engaging.

More importantly, good manners convey that you notice and care about others. Little things like remembering names, sending thank you notes, making eye contact and putting away your cell phone are all actions that send a big message: “You matter to me.”

Customer Connections

Customers form their first impressions of you within seconds of initial contact, which means the first few moments represent a crucial opportunity. Regardless of whether you work with clients face-to-face or correspond with others electronically, there are a host of go-to phrases that can help you politely connect with others:

Thank you for…

My pleasure!

I’m happy to…

May I…

How may I help you?

A few simple, sincere words that take the focus off of yourself and place it on others is what makes the world’s best companies stand out.

Photo via Gary Bembridge

How to Give Exceptional Customer Service When Taking a Message

A great receptionist knows no matter how few words are exchanged during a call, there’s always room to make an excellent impression on a caller, even if you’re just offering to take a message. Wondering how? Here are four ways:

Pepper your offer with positivity.

If you’re offering to take a message, that usually means the person your caller is seeking isn’t available, and that can seem like a disappointment. Keeping your tone and word choice upbeat will help make callers happy even when you can’t provide exactly what they want.

Thank you for your patience. Jane is in a meeting at the moment, but I’ll be happy to take a message!

Ask for key info.

When you need to collect or confirm information, ask for it just after offering to take a message. Guiding questions will keep your call on track, leapfrog awkwardness, and help ensure every message you take is complete and accurate.

I’ll be happy to take a message! What’s the best number for a return call?

I’ll be glad to ask Jane to return your call! May I take down your email address?

Use your caller’s name.

If you know your caller’s name, say it! Uttering a caller’s name is a super simple way to show you’re listening and build instant rapport. When callers trust you, they’re more likely to be interested in leaving a message, and less likely to rebuff your offer with a reply like “Oh, I’ll just call back later.”

I’ll be happy to take a message, Mary! When would you prefer to set up a meeting?

I’ll be happy to take a message, Mary! Your last name, Addison — is that A as in Absolutely, D as in Delightful…?

Try twice when faced with hesitation.

When, despite your thoughtfully-worded offer, your caller declines to leave a message or leave a key piece of information, ask again, and explain your reason for asking.

Would you mind if I jot your number down, so Tim has it handy when he receives this message?

What if your caller still declines to leave a message? Take one anyway. Let’s say you send this message to your teammate:

Phone Tip: Messages

There’s not much to it, but it lets your teammate know that Frank may be sending an email. Better yet, it gives your teammate the opportunity to preemptively email Frank, or even call him back, and that’s when the real fun begins:

Hi, Frank! I understand you called for me this afternoon. How may I help you?

Wow — I didn’t even leave a message. You must have an awesome receptionist!

Being super friendly, and ultra thorough will impress your clients, even when you can’t give them what they want right away!

How to Make a Connection in 30 Seconds or Less

30 seconds or lessWhen I first started working at Ruby Receptionists, I remember thinking to myself, “Okay, I can answer phones all day. That will be easy!” It wasn’t until I started taking phone calls that I realized it wasn’t just about answering and routing calls, it’s about adding extra value to our clients’ businesses and brightening callers’ days. The more personal connections I can make, the happier and more fulfilled I feel, and the more fulfilled I feel, the better I perform. The way I see it, a happy receptionist equals a happy business! Luckily, Ruby prides itself in making connections, as apparent in the Ruby Service Pyramid and in our Core Values.

I will never forget the first personal connection I made. It was with a paralegal at a law firm and we had exchanged a couple of sentences about how our days were going. That is when it clicked, my “Aha!” moment. I was so moved by that simple exchange of a few extra sentences with a client that I was left smiling for at least 15 minutes. I was hooked.

From that point on, I made it a personal mission to make those types of friendly connections with as many clients and callers as possible. Sounds simple enough! However, it’s tougher than is seems to make a connection in the seconds it takes to transfer a caller. It is also far more challenging to comment on the weather when you are talking to someone on the other side of the country or to charm the socks off of someone who is calling to inquire about an attorney’s divorce fees.

I have come up with a few tips that can help when trying to make meaningful connections. These are simple things that we have a tendency to forget but they can make a big impact.

1. Say my name, say my name.

Ask for your caller’s name and say it at least twice during your conversation.

Turn “One moment please” into “Thank you, one moment, Jan.”

And “Thank you for holding” becomes “Thank you for holding, Brian!”

2. Actually listen.

There is a difference between hearing and listening. The moment you are able to actually process and respond to what someone is telling you is the moment that you can add some depth to your conversation. Adding conversation-specific phrases tells the caller that you are listening and trying to help.

“I am sorry to hear that. One moment while I see if she is available.”

3. Match the caller’s tone.

It is important to be mindful of the caller’s tone of voice so that you do not come off as insensitive.

4. Mind your manners!

Always say please and thank you. Good manners are universal and can go a long way!

5. Wish them well.

I almost always end my calls with some variation of “Have a good day!” It just feels right and helps to end the call on a positive note.

Extra Credit: Play along! If the caller or client starts engaging in conversation with you, don’t be afraid or too hurried to respond! Keep the conversation going until a natural pause.

These tips are not just for the phone and can be used in almost any situation. By incorporating one or a few of these into your routine, you will be able to make more meaningful connections and impact that person’s experience with your company!

Photo via Flickr user Michael

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