Categories : Coaching Communication Customer Service De-escalation Difficult Situation Management Measurement Relationship Building


Customer service is simply people serving people.  Employees at your utility are the people who create a service experience every time they come into contact with one of your customers.

The question is, does every person at your utility really care about each customer? And does each customer feel like the company cares about them?  The answers to those questions would be a resounding yes if utilities would stop skimping on something critical to the service equation – training. Your employees weren’t born with skills for communication, conflict resolution, problem solving, listening and needs identification. They need training on those skills and others to be effective in serving customers.

CRM and other forms of technology are wonderful, but training is critical because good service is such a personal thing.  Consider these ideas as you start a new year of serving your customers

Build rapport. A skill known as mirroring and matching is one of the simplest to use in communicating with customers.  Mirroring and matching involves talking at the pitch and speed of the person you are interacting with.  CSRs tend to speak faster than customers can comprehend the information they’re receiving. The key is to listen to the speed and pitch of the customer’s voice and to mirror them.  Customers who feel comfortable conversing with a CSR are more likely to talk about their situation and will remain calmer when they feel frustrated with technology.

Follow the 80/20 rule. One of the most effective ways to understand the customer is to create a list of open-ended questions to use in conversations. Opened-questions are those that require the customer to provide more than one-word answers.  They are vital to those utilities that sell additional services such as long-distance telephone, cable TV and high-speed Internet access.  In an initial conversation, the customer should talk 80 percent of the time and the CSR 20 percent.  The more you understand a customer’s needs and knowledge of a particular service, the better the interaction and the less time you spend helping them.  When you’re selling competitively, your people need to identify the customer’s needs and explain the benefits of choosing your services over the competition.

Practice, practice, practice. Every customer that calls your utility has a different level of experience and knowledge about your services. Treating each caller as an individual requires practice.  Give each CSR 30 to 60 minutes a month to practice skills such as building rapport with customers and listening to their needs. Set up scenarios in which a customer is frustrated and have CSRs practice being patient and using a calming tone of voice to reduce the customer’s frustration.

Express empathy.  I recently overheard a telephone conversation at a utility company.  A CSR was answering a customer’s questions about his or her bill.  When the conversation was over and the customer had hung up, I heard the CSR say “once an idiot, always an idiot” loud enough for myself and the rest of the CSRs in the office to hear.  Empathy is critical to building a relationship bridge with customers.  Your CSRs need to demonstrate empathy in their actions and their voice for the frustration that customers are experiencing when they call. Customers hear the sincerity – or lack thereof – when they call.

Measure customer satisfaction.  Most companies worry about their cost effectiveness.  They track every conceivable statistic about phone calls:  the length of the call, the number of calls per hour each employee handles, the length of time it takes an employee to connect to the next call.  You name it, it’s probably measured – with the likely exception of measuring the customer’s perception of how the call was handled or the customer’s interaction with your field personnel.  Hire a company to call customers that have established service. Ask them what they thought of the experience with the CSR who explained the service and what they thought about the self-install process or the technician who installed the service.

Know what to do when things go wrong. Do your CSRs know what to do with an angry customer?  Do they understand how important it is to let the customer talk?  Do they know not to get emotionally involved in the conversation?  Asking the right questions to understand the customer’s needs usually leads to a solution and, therefore, a satisfied customer.  Do your employees know what these questions are?  People call companies every day angry and frustrated for one reason or another. The skills your employees possess can make the difference between retaining a loyal customer and the customer telling 20 other people about their poor customer-service experience with your utility. Research shows that 90 percent of customers with a complaint will still do business with a company if they feel someone really listened to their problem, even if they weren’t able to solve it

Practice active listening. Here’s what’s involved in the process of active listening. Listen to customers without interrupting them.  Ask probing questions to better understand the customer’s needs.  Give the customer feedback to make sure you have clear communication.  Confirm the details of the customer’s request and let the customer know when they can expect a solution to their problem.

Your people are the ones delivering service every day to loyal customers.  Do they have the right tools to provide an excellent service experience to every customer?  Excellent customer service isn’t about that new CRM solution.  It’s about people taking care of people.


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.