Does call center etiquette matter? The short answer: yes.
The long answer? Consider these two scenarios:
On one hand, you have Company A. They have a call center and provide quick, efficient service to their customers, but their agents are known for being hasty, serious and unfeeling. If you have an easy question, you’ll likely get a solution quickly; but if you have a more complicated problem, you shouldn’t expect any sympathy or accommodation from them. They’ll give you the policy answer, and then they’ll move along to the next person.
On the other hand, you have Company B. When you call them, you get a friendly agent almost immediately who seems happy to help with your concern. The agent listens carefully to your problem, confirms that they understand what’s going on, and then takes the time to find a reasonable solution. The whole process is pretty painless and straightforward, and you feel taken care of—no matter how difficult your situation.
At the end of the day, the situation might get resolved either way, but there’s a big difference in how you feel during and after the interaction—and how you think about that company as a result.
While there are plenty of companies who fit into the company B category—think Chewy, Southwest Airlines, the Ritz-Carlton, Zappos, Trader Joe’s—there’s plenty of companies who fit into the company A category as well (we won’t name names). If you’ve ever had a negative customer service experience, this illustration probably serves well to remind you why call center etiquette can have a visceral impact on customer experiences.
But how does all of that impact your business? We’ll explain—and show you how to excel at call center etiquette—in the rest of this article.
The Impact of Call Center Etiquette on Customer Experience
Call center etiquette has a major impact on the customer experience—as one might expect. However, recent data shows that this connection is more direct than one might imagine:
- 54% of customers make decisions based on customer service, with about a fifth of customers saying it’s the most important factor for their purchasing decisions.
- 64% of business leaders say “customer service has a positive impact on company growth”
- 89% of consumers are more likely to make another purchase after a good customer service experience
So it’s clear that good customer service impacts customer loyalty, retention, purchasing decisions, and, by extension, overall profits and company growth. But what exactly creates good customer service?
The majority of US consumers—about 80%—say that friendly service and knowledgeable help, alongside speed and convenience, are the top elements of a positive customer service experience. Another study revealed that being able to resolve issues quickly, get support in real-time (i.e. 24/7) and speak to friendly support agents were the top elements that created good customer service experiences.
Obviously, all of these elements—speed, quick resolution, friendliness and knowledgeableness—are related to call center etiquette. The more positive the conversation is—in both word and tone—the more positive the resolution is perceived to be, even if the outcome is the same. And more positive solutions create more satisfied customers.
Creating this positive experience through call center etiquette begins with first impressions.
From the first interaction a customer has with your agent, agents should be friendly, knowledgeable and eager to help.
- Greet customers by name, if possible, or ask for their names quickly so you can use them throughout the conversation.
- Speak in a positive, friendly tone.
- Answer the phone with a smile so callers can “hear” that you’re happy to hear from them (body language really does come through over the phone in tone of voice!).
By starting off on the right foot, you can reassure customers that you care and that you’re there to help. But it’s not just first impressions that impact customer experiences—it’s the entire call or conversation. In the next section, we’ll walk you through how to enhance communication skills in your call centers to improve etiquette and experiences.
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The Elements of Call Center Etiquette
There are four main elements of good call center etiquette:
- Polite and courteous speech
- Active listening skills
- Timely responses and follow-ups
- Respect for privacy and confidentiality
While we’ll get into how to ensure your call center improves etiquette and communication, let’s take a closer look at each of these elements and how to recognize them.
Obviously, polite and courteous speech is fairly easy to recognize. We’ve all had negative experiences with customer service, and many of them can be traced back to negative, impolite, or un-empathetic communication.
However, some of these other elements are more difficult to define. Active listening skills cover a wide range of skills, such as:
- listening carefully to the customer’s problems
- repeating or rephrasing the customer’s problems back to them
- showing you understand and empathize with the customer’s problem
- taking responsibility for solving the customer’s needs
In addition, regardless of how skilled your agents are in communication and active listening, it’s essential that you have procedures in place to ensure timely responses and follow-ups so customers feel taken care of. Without timely responses, all the good communication skills in the world won’t overcome the seeming rudeness of keeping a customer waiting.
In fact, today, more than half of customers expect responses from call center agents within 5 minutes or less. Companies who can’t honor their customers’ time and respond quickly will lose customers. Finally, a respect for customer’s time is closely followed by a need to respect customer’s privacy and confidentiality. Though this is more of a background element—it’s not as often seen by the customer—ensuring that customer data and communications stay confidential and secure is essential to creating a courteous and effective call center.
Enhancing Communication Skills in Call Centers
So how do you improve communication skills in your call centers? Focus on these core elements:
Use clear and concise communication. Clear and concise communication reduces miscommunications and reassures the customer that you know what you’re doing, are willing to take care of their problem, and can provide friendly and knowledgeable service. This can look like:
- Using clear, simple language.
- Speaking slowly and clearly enough to be easily understood.
- Always communicating to the customer what the next steps will be, whether that’s what you’re doing, something you’re looking into, or a hold time.
- Let the customer know when things have changed, i.e. if the hold time will need to increase as you look into something.
- Practice communicating concisely—use short explanations for clarity, and don’t bog the customer down with processes they don’t need to know.
Use effective tones and language. That is: keep a positive tone and framing, regardless of the issue at hand. When things are phrased positively, customers are more likely to have a positive experience, regardless of the end outcome. For example:
- Use positive framing, i.e. saying, “Let me check into that for you,” instead of “I don’t know,” or “I’d be happy to start a return or exchange for you,” instead of “Sorry, we don’t offer refunds.”
- Train agents on positive framing and practice regularly until it becomes second nature.
- Use scripts when necessary to help agents frame things positively for customers.
- Use empathetic language that shows you care about and understand the customer.
Prioritize training for call center etiquette. Call center agent training should be a priority. The more training agents receive, the more effective they can be—and a decent percentage of training should focus on communication and etiquette. Effective training techniques regarding communication and etiquette could look like:
- 1:1 training and mentorship from supervisors or more skilled agents
- role-play scenarios to practice scripts
- reviewing brand and communication guidelines
- live call training
- ongoing review and training sessions
Challenges to Maintaining Call Center Etiquette
Of course, if creating the right call center etiquette was easy, every team would be doing it. The reality is that there are many obstacles and challenges that get in the way of maintaining call center etiquette. For example:
High-stress situations. There’s no doubt that call centers can be stressful places to work. Demanding customers, high call volume, difficult questions, unclear policies and more can all contribute to a stressful call. When agents are stressed, maintaining the proper etiquette can be more difficult. As a result, it’s on call centers—managers, supervisors, strategists and other leadership—to ensure that agents reduce stress as much as possible within each call. This can look like:
- Providing clear scripts and protocol that can be followed for difficult calls.
- Always providing agents with direct access to a supervisor or manager who can be called in for difficult questions or situations.
- Ensuring that agents have access to knowledge bases and other resources to solve customer quandaries effectively.
Difficult customers. Difficult customers often provide some of the highest-stress situations call center agents encounter—and engaging with a difficult, hostile or angry customer can make it a challenge to remain polite and empathetic for all but the most patient and experienced of customer service agents. Providing your agents with ongoing training, practice and role-play situations will make it easier to know how to deal with difficult customers, as well as provide them with clear options for scripts, solutions and de-escalation techniques that can help maintain positive regard even on difficult calls.
High call volume. If agents are swamped with long backlogs and customers who have been waiting a long time to speak to an agent, not only does it make it a challenge to be polite and friendly—agents will be stressed and tired, after all—but it also exacerbates other issues, such as creating more difficult customers. As a result, call centers should do all they can to avoid such understaffing and consider working with an outsourced call center or overflow call center to create the appropriate levels of staffing and allow proper etiquette to be implemented properly.
Looking to the Future: Trends in Call Center Etiquette
As technology advances and call centers increase their use of AI, chatbots and other technological solutions, there’s a need for expanded call center etiquette within new tools and channels.
For example, call centers who offer an omnichannel approach need to determine appropriate etiquette for channels such as social media messages or live chat on their website, as this may vary compared with phone calls or emails. In addition, call centers who implement chatbots will need to train and ensure the chatbots are also following appropriate etiquette for the situation, so that customers have smooth, consistent experiences regardless of channel.
Although technology can allow call centers and customer service to offer increased on-demand service and stronger personalization, there’s also a growing need for emotional intelligence and connection in the customer service space. Customers are still looking for a human connection, as evidenced by the strong desire for friendly service, and many customers still prefer to speak to a human agent. Recent studies have shown as many as 98% of callers try to skip IVR systems to get to a representative.
So with all that in mind—keep your technology up-to-date on your etiquette rules and training, but don’t dismiss or downplay the importance of human agents and their emotional intelligence for creating consistent, relatable customer experiences.
Conclusion: Upholding Call Center Etiquette for Success
At the end of the day: call center etiquette can be difficult to implement, and even more difficult to keep implemented. Whether you’re relying on chatbots and AI or just managing a basic call center and fielding voice calls, you need to provide:
- adequate training on emotional intelligence and good communication and etiquette skills
- clear guidelines on policies, protocol and etiquette to agents
- positive and friendly communication to customers
All of these will help implement the etiquette you need to deliver successful customer experiences.