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November, 2005


Freeing Yourself From Unrelenting Customers

Sometimes it's not about connecting — it's about disconnecting.  As customer service and technical support representatives we have legions of customers to serve.  Yet sometimes the ones we're serving won't release us so we can serve others.  The art of closing tech support calls can be difficult for many. Yet CSRs and TSRs with crib sheets of phrases can simply invoke the appropriate one to conclude elongated conversations and focus on patiently waiting queued callers.

I teach representatives to use pauses, changes in intonation and standard phrases to let callers know their call is being closed.  Consciously and subconsciously, the listener will respond to such cues, while still feeling valued as a customer.

Chapter and Terse

Many service reps find it easier to deliver bad news if they're just quoting established policy or guidelines. It's important you let the caller know you are responsible for closing this call and attending to others that await you.

"Well, Mr. Johnson, my queue awaits. It's been my pleasure to assist you. Thank you for calling."

"Ms. Tremble, in order to answer this new question I need to open up a separate call; that would put you at the end of the queue. Let me tell you how you can get this information for yourself.  Previous callers have found more immediate relief through our web-based FAQ section. From our website's home page simply type /support/FAQ.htm and it will load."

"Our policy requires that you to attempt these workarounds before we can authorize further actions. Call us back as soon as you've ruled out the two workarounds we've discussed today. I've recorded our conversation in the file so whoever you speak with will know the background. Good luck."

At the Tone…

Often we can signal a call's conclusion through a change in our intonation.  In this case, when we lower our voice it signals the end of our conversation. Often preceded by a deliberate (A.K.A. pregnant) pause to indicate a changing of the conversation, we lower our voice and issue our stock goodbye:

(Pause, and in a lower voice) "Mr. Arnold, we're sorry for the inconvenience this problem has caused, and confident we've solved the problem today.  Thank you for your continued support of Zed Computing Systems." (Pause again for his buy-in of our sign-off.)

Sum Time

One of the best ways of disengaging is through summarizing the call so as to include its ending. When we recap the call for the caller we explain why they called, the proposed remedy or workaround, and conclusion. Thus you've signified the end of the call.  

"So let's summarize: your program was crashing in conjunction with Camelot software. We reconfigured our program to launch before Camelot, tested it and it no longer crashes. I'll pass a memo to engineering to further examine this conflict. Meanwhile you are up and running again. Here's the call #; I've closed the call. Should you have further problems just call back.  It's been a pleasure to serve you Mr. Tuttle."

Follow Your Lead

Alternately, you can close a call with agreed upon action items for the caller. In your summary you can enumerate steps they are to employ before calling back. Ideally one of these steps will generate the desired solution.

"OK Ms. Franke, after hanging up we agree you'll do the following:

1.    Back up all your data files

2.    Change the memory allocation to the program

3.    Load Update 3.3

4.    Reboot the system

5.    Repeat the original actions that led to your call

If the problem still isn't solved we'll expect a call back. If we don't hear back from you in two days we'll close the call.  Thank you for your patience. It's been our pleasure to work this through with you."

Closing Questions

You can also close calls with summary questions to obtain your caller's buy-in and give them that "well served" feeling:

"Before I close this call, are you receiving our e-letter on latest program enhancements and workarounds? It's very useful for frequently asked questions?"

"Before we close this call, would you be interested in learning more about our training and consulting solutions? I'd be happy to have one of our company reps call you to describe the many options available to train you and your staff on our products and how best to employ them." (After his or her answer, issue your standard goodbye.)

The End!

For best results, use a combination of auditory and verbal cues to let your callers know you're ending their call.  Each technique works best in concert with others: pauses, lowering the voice, using stock phrases and obtaining their buy-in on your sign-off all work together to signal the close of your conversation. And don't forget to smile as you bid your callers adieu.

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