Research shows that customers form first impressions about their interaction with a customer service representative in as little seven seconds. The first impression the CSR creates with the customer will set the tone for the rest of the conversation.
Those initial few moments are important because they are “make or break” – they determine whether the customer has a positive or negative feeling about your company. Following are some tips on how to make sure those first seven seconds create a great first impression of your company.
Voice, not words, makes the first impression. For many CSRs, customer interaction is primarily over the phone, and how they sound to the customer is critical. With telephone interactions, 80 percent of the first impression is based on the CSR’s voice inflection. Some of the key elements of voice inflection are tone, pitch and speed.
When you pick up the phone and greet the customer, does the tone and pitch of your voice communicate that you are glad the customer called? Do you greet the customer like you would a good friend? Or do you sound like you have already talked with 25 other people that day? The enthusiasm and energy in your voice is critical to a first impression.
When was the last time a business used your name? My answer would be it’s been so long I can’t remember. Using a customer’s name at least twice in a service interaction will build rapport and strengthen your relationship with that person. Many customers will offer their name at the beginning of the conversation. If you are really listening, it will help you correctly pronounce difficult names. So what happens when a customer doesn’t provide their name? All you have to do is ask! Most people will respond when you ask, “May I ask with whom I am speaking?”
There are two things to consider when using a customer’s name. First, if you are not using voice inflection when you call the customer by name, the customer will perceive that you don’t really care. Second, if the customer’s name is used numerous times, the customer will think you are reading from a script and that you are insincere in your attempt to build a relationship.
Are you always listening to the customer? CSRs have a challenging daily task of listening to problems that customers call about and then creating a solution. But they listen to similar problems day after day, week after week, month after month. Many companies use mystery shopping to measure service skills demonstrated by their CSRs. My company has been involved in mystery shops, and I have found that CSRs often fail to practice active listening to confirm they are tuned into the customer’s needs. When a CSR asks a customer to repeat a comment or asks a question about something the customer has already explained, that will be the death of a good first impression. Training on how to listen actively and confirm critical elements of the customer’s call will help CSRs communicate that they really are listening to the customer’s needs.
First impressions will make or break a customer’s perception of your company. Does every customer who calls or walks into your company always finish their interaction with an excellent first impression? It only takes a few seconds for them to make up their mind.
David Saxby is president of Measure-X, a Phoenix, Ariz.-based measurement, training and recognition company that specializes in customer service and sales skills training for utilities.