Customer Experience

Small Talk: Keeping your Customers Engaged

Ask.Ytel partner Call Criteria is sharing the ways to use small talk to your advantage on customer service phone calls by exploring deeper into the customer's issue.

Small talk is a gift not everyone is blessed with, but as a customer service agent, should be prioritized. There is a fine line between purposeful small talk with customers, and just idle chit chat where nothing meaningful gets accomplished.

On June 11th, 2016, Steven Weinstein, a call agent at Zappos, set the record for the longest customer service call in history at 10 hours and 43 minutes. Steven was helping a customer with an order for a few items, but even after she was helped, she stayed online and continued to chat with the agent. What were these two people talking about for that long?

Researchers from the University of Arizona have proven that people feel happier when they indulge in more meaningful conversation as compared to small talk. And this is exactly what Steve was doing; instead of following the script or prompting idle chit chat, he went with the flow and spoke to the customer like a friend would.

Unfortunately, most call agents don’t know where to draw the line between idle chit chat and purposeful small talk when speaking to customers. This is particularly prevalent when there’s any sort of downtime. For example, when the customer states their problem, the agent keys information into the system and then both the agent and customer wait for the information.

During this downtime, most companies tell their agents to use cheerful chit chat. To say things like; “How’s the weather in your area today?” or “Are you having a good week so far?”

Some agents may also decide to maintain an awkward silence or worse yet, insert ‘hold music.' But here’s the problem. The weather report or status of the customer’s day doesn’t provide any background information or context for the issue at hand. So what’s the point of asking?

Context is King in Initiating Purposeful Small Talk With Customers

While these topics might work to engage the customer, they do not provide any advantage for both the agent and the customer. For one, these subjects are not in context with the complaint of the client and therefore do nothing to help the agent understand the situation at hand. Secondly, these questions do not assist the customer to understand how the agent is going to address the problem.

Now imagine instead of the idle chit chat, the agent instead asks the customer this:

“Is there any  particular reason you chose this particular bundle?” OR “Are you ordering this camera as a gift?”

In other words, the agent is trying to find out more about the customer’s context. By discovering more about the background of the customer’s situation, the agent can resolve the issue faster, more efficient and still engage the customer providing that ‘feel good factor’ that is crucial for best customer experience. So how can call agents prepare themselves for purposeful talks during downtime?

Here’s how to encourage Purposeful Small Talk with Customers

1. Keep conversation focused on the solution

To initiate purposeful talk with a customer, ask questions related to the complaint or issue at hand and keep the conversation focused on finding a solution for their concerns.

2. Talk naturally

To communicate with customers, talk like you do in real life. For example, when you bump into someone on the street, you don’t say, “I apologize for the inconvenience.’’ You just say, “I’m sorry about that.” On the same vein, consider speaking your customer's language or vocabulary rather than using fancy industry lingo.

3. Avoid conversation killers

Customer support, much like dating, is not a one-and-done deal. It’s about relationship building. So instead of telling your customer, ‘’Let us know if you have further questions.” Ask if the solutions you offered solved the customer’s problem. Make sure the customer leaves the conversation with every question answered.

4. Be human

Purposeful small talk with every customer is not always going to be successful, and that’s okay. At the end of the day, your customers won’t remember what went wrong they remember how you treated them. Your greatest asset as a call agent is that you’re human, so don’t be afraid to show it.

Let’s face it; you can no longer afford to keep your customers on hold or irritate them with ‘scripted small talk’’. With every minute spent on hold or answering questions about the weather, your customers are getting more frustrated while your call center wastes money keeping the call lines open.

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