Businesses have many options for keeping in touch with customers today. Websites, social media, self-help resources, and chat applications call all be part of an overall customer service strategy.
But when your customers need to get ahold of you, many will still reach for the telephone. That makes how you answer the phone a key part of providing a great customer experience.
Answering the phone for your business might seem simple. But there’s much more to it than just picking up and saying “hello”—though that’s a good start.
This guide will cover some General Principles for providing an excellent customer experience by telephone. Then, we’ll dive into some Scripting Best Practices that will help you design a dynamic, flexible roadmap for your inbound calls.
General principles: The basics of answering phones
No matter what size or type of organization you’re running, these general principles will help you approach your inbound calls with the right mindset.
Whether you’re answering the calls yourself, partnering with a call answering service, or some combination of the two, keeping these things in mind will set you—and your callers—up for success.
Pick up the phone
It’s tough to provide a great telephone customer experience if you don’t pick up. Voice mail and recorded phone trees have their place, but there’s no substitute for a friendly, live, human voice.
But for many organizations, staffing an in-house call center or even a single receptionist around the clock just isn’t cost effective. For those situations, a virtual receptionist service can help you provide a consistent and professional experience no matter when your customers call.
Tone of voice
Tone is one of the most important and sometimes challenging aspects of delivering great customer service by telephone. While difficult to measure or quantify, tone can make or break your callers’ experiences with you.
What makes a good tone?
Let’s break down what it really means to have a good tone of voice on your customer service calls. This may sound complicated, but actually it couldn’t be simpler. Just speak naturally, like you would to a friend, family member, or someone else that you care about. If you approach the call with empathy, that will be reflected in your tone.
To give you an idea of the elements than contribute to positive tone, give some thought to these points.
Vary your pitch – use inflection
To provide great customer service on the phone, the first step is to let your caller know that you’re a real person who’s there to help—not a robot.
Many of us have a natural tendency to slip into a monotone when answering phone calls, especially when volume is high. If you notice yourself doing that, stop! Subtly raising or lowering the pitch of your voice can go a long way towards communicating emotion.
Of course, you need your caller to hear what you say. But speaking too loudly can be off-putting and provoke anxiety. Try to keep your voice firm without being too loud.
Offer a calming presence
If you seem stressed out, your caller will be, too. Try to notice any tension in your upper body, neck, or shoulders. Stretch a little bit between calls so you stay relaxed. That calmness will translate to the call!
Don’t rush the call
When we’re nervous, it can be easy to default to filling all the empty space in the conversation. But that doesn’t leave much room for listening. Take your time and leave gaps for the other person to fill, or just to have a little room to breathe.
Smile at the phone. (Yes, really!)
You might think that your smile doesn’t matter, because the caller can’t see you. Well, the reality is that they can hear your smile, too. Of course, you need to match your tone to the conversation—a big smile might not be appropriate for a very serious call. But in general, do you best to let your friendliness come through in your voice.
Listen carefully and show empathy
Make the caller feel heard. Even when you can’t resolve the issue immediately, answering the phone can go a long way toward making the caller feel heard. This alleviates anxiety and lets them know you’re “on the case.”
Be helpful. Offer one-call resolution
No one wants to keep calling back to get what they need. Respect your caller’s time and aim for one-call resolution whenever possible.
Unlike other methods of communication such as email, when someone calls you they’re investing precious time. They could be doing something else, but they’re on the phone with you. Make it worth their time by doing everything possible to achieve their goal in calling you without making them call back.
Of course, one-call resolution isn’t always possible. There may be times when you don’t know the answer to your caller’s question, or need time to investigate. In those situations, you can still work to give your caller confidence that the matter will be handled. Let them know when they should expect to hear from you with a resolution to their problem.
Get the details right
Be clear about who you are so you can establish right away that they’ve reached the right person or organization.
Then, when you caller speaks, pay attention! Take notes where appropriate. Make the effort to be sure you’re spelling names correctly and recording phone numbers or email addresses accurately.
Accuracy is one of those things that can sometimes be invisible when it’s there. But you can be sure your callers will notice when you get things wrong. And they’ll only tolerate so much of that before moving on to another provider of your goods or services.
Avoid asking the same questions over and over
Don’t make callers repeat themselves. Nothing is more tedious than having to say something again. If you need information like a caller’s phone number, account number, etc., ask for it once. Create a process that doesn’t require them to be transferred and then give the info again. It makes the caller feel like you don’t respect their time, don’t have you stuff together, etc.
Be positive and accountable
A good telephone customer experience results in the caller getting what they need. Whether they called for information, to book an appointment, or to speak with a specific person, your goal should be to deliver.
Of course, you won’t always be able to give the caller exactly what they want. In those cases, focusing your phrasing on what you can and will do for them can soften the blow. Rather than saying “no” to the caller, let them know the best thing you can do for them.
And don’t pass the buck if you can avoid it. The caller doesn’t care about your internal policies or how your organization works. They just want results. Once you answer the phone, take responsibility for seeing the call through to a positive resolution.
What should you say? Scripting Best Practices
For some, the word “call script” may have a connotation of rote, robotic recitation of hard-coded information. But that’s not how scripts work in the hands of good actors on stage or screen, and it’s not how scripts should work in the hands of a good virtual receptionist either.
The script isn’t necessarily intended to be read verbatim (though some parts might be). It’s a guide that brings consistency without sacrificing naturalness. The receptionist can still improvise a little or respond to what the caller says, just like they would in a regular conversation.
The script provides a roadmap for the call, to ensure everything important is covered and you can move forward on your business goals after the call. You have all the info you need, and so does the caller. And the next step, whether that’s a message, a transfer, or something else, is initiated.
Verify caller information
To verify or not to verify? This is an important decision, and one that can involve trade-offs. There’s no one right answer here.
Verifying simply means that you ask a caller to confirm info like their phone number or the spelling of their name. Obviously, verification can increase accuracy, which is important. However, it also takes time and can be sort of annoying. Whenever possible, use a feature (like Contacts) to take advantage of technology to reduce the tedium of verification, while retaining accuracy.
Components of a call answering script
Make a good first impression
The answer phrase, or greeting, is the first thing your caller hears. So of course it’s important. What goes into a good answer phrase? It should be natural, informative, and welcoming.
The answer phrase sets the tone for the entire call experience. A good virtual receptionist will read this part of the script verbatim, so take the time to craft it (with the help of your setup person) to be just right.
The answer phrase should probably include your business name, to confirm that the caller has reached the right organization. You may want to include common phrases such as Thank You for Calling (TYFC) or How May I Help You (HMIHY)…or you may want something a bit more unique to your business. You can choose to have the receptionist introduce themselves by name, or not. It’s up to you!
Recognize why the call has been made
“Call types” are a fundamental tool for script-building, and often the first thing a receptionist has to determine on the call. Simply put, the call type answers the question, “why is the caller calling?”
Call types help put your inbound calls into “buckets” so you can handle them appropriately. This could be as simple as having one call type for existing customers, and one or new or prospective customers.
Or, you might have a call type for each of three main departments in your organization. An individual person can even have their own call type, if that’s important for your organization.
Call types help you organize and classify your calls, which is useful not only for handling the call appropriately, but for reporting on your calls later. You might want to see how many minutes you’ve used for each call type in a given month, for example.
Handling different caller needs
If a call to your business is a journey, “decision intersections” are forks in the road. If you’re so inclined, you can also think of decision intersections as points on a flowchart that describes different ways your call might proceed.
In a sense, a Call Type is a decision intersection—often the first and most important one in your script. But once a call has been assigned a type, there may be more decision intersections to follow. At each point, the receptionist asks your caller a question (or records the answer from something they’ve already said). This, in turn, determines where the call will go from there.
This series of decision intersections is designed to achieve the goals of the call type. Ultimately it leads to a Delivery Method, which concludes the call and sets you up for the next step in the process of giving your customer what they need.
Resolving the call
The ultimate outcome of a call, in many cases, is to either transfer the call itself (warm patch) or to deliver a message describing the call. The delivery method defines who will receive the call or message, and how they will receive it (their phone number or email address, for example).
Are you ready?
Now that you’ve given some thought to your strategy for your business’ approach to answering the phone, you’re ready to offer your callers a great experience.
And if you need some help, a good call answering service or virtual receptionist can step in to join your team!