Categories : Coaching Customer Service Management Relationship Building Team Building Training


Utilities provide service to their customers every day, often over the phone. Customers call to buy a product or they have a problem or a bill to pay.

And who is first in line to interact with that customer? Who has an opportunity to solidify that customer relationship? The customer service representative (CSR).

CSRs need to know that feelings conveyed and developed during customer-contact situations are important when it comes to creating the right impression with customers and even for making a sale.

For example, people buy a service or product – surge protection or hot spot detection – when they feel comfortable, when they feel they can trust you, when the process feels natural and reassuring, and when they come to the conclusion that buying will make them feel good. All of this happens with the relationship your staff has with your customers.

Statistics support this concept. Consumer surveys show that, in most cases, 20 percent of the decision to make a purchase is logical and 80 percent is emotional. I would go so far as to say the same is true when customers form an opinion about your company.

CSRs must have the ability to develop rapport and create a relationship in which your customers feel comfortable and understood.

Here are some basic components of that process.

Building Rapport. It’s corny but it’s true. You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression with a customer. How many companies have you personally called in the last 72 hours and how many times were you greeted by a warm and friendly person who was not only enthusiastic, but also demonstrated a desire to make sure that your questions were answered and your needs were met?

Here’s an interesting fact gleaned from research of telephone conversations. Eighty-seven percent of our communication is a result of our voice quality while only 13 percent is from content.

During face-to-face interactions, we can use our body language to support our communication. That’s a definite advantage. We lose that advantage when communicating over the telephone. Our voice, tonality and pitch are the biggest part of this communication.

Voice inflection is a vital part of the CSR’s communication on the phone. Do your CSRs come across with a robotic greeting that tells you they’ve said it a thousand times before or do they leave the impression they’re ready to do anything they can to assist your customers?

Active Listening. There’s one element of a CSR’s job that’s downright boring: they are asked the same questions every day. There are ways to mask this boredom during customer interactions.

Practice active listening. CSRs need to ask questions to confirm they clearly understood what the customer said. Words and phrases like “okay,” “right” and “I see” sprinkled throughout a conversation tell the customer the CSR is listening. Confirming what the customer said also shows the CSR is listening and it clears up any opportunities for miscommunication.

Understanding Customer Need. If a customer calls inquiring about a product or service, they’re revealing an indication that they may buy. Before they can make that buying decision, though, they probably have some questions.

People shop for a product based on price but they buy based on the benefit they believe they will receive from ownership of that product. When a customer buys one of your surge protection products, or any other product you offer, they’re buying because the perceived benefit will fill an emotional need.

CSRs should strive to create a dialogue with your customers to determine their motivation for buying Then they can explain the benefits based on the customer’s need. Don’t let your CSRs simply quote the price and then expect the customer to make a decision based solely on that information. They need to engage the customer in conversation to get a clear picture of the customer’s need.

So how do they create a dialogue to determine a customer’s need? The key is to have rapport with the customer and ask a variety of open-ended questions to create a conversation.

Some examples of open-ended questions are:

  • What prompted you to inquire about our surge protection service?
  • What about surge protection is appealing to you?
  • What concerns might you have about surge protection?
  • What information do you need in order for you to be comfortable with purchasing surge protection?

Open-ended questions help your CSRs understand the buyer’s knowledge level about the product as well as their emotional need for the product.

Asking for the Business. Unfortunately, most CSRs either don’t know how to ask for the order or they don’t like asking for it. Most customers expect to be asked to buy and don’t object if the request is not made in a pushy or condescending manner. Remember, you cannot force your customers to buy. They do so on their own. The CSR’s role is to help them make a decision.

Asking the customer to buy should be a stress-free conclusion to the sales presentation. If they have qualified the customer’s needs, presented the features, advantages and benefits of your products and created value in the mind of the customer, CSRs should be able to comfortably ask for the business. Often the customer will actually close the sale themselves if they have heard a professional presentation.

Your customers call your utility every day. Are you making the right impression with them? Are you giving them the help and assistance they need? Are your front-line employees up to the challenge?


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. He can be reached at 888-644-5499 or via e-mail at Visit the Measure-X Web site at