May 4, 2017

What NOT to Say and What to Say to Provide Good Customer Service to North Americans

"What words or phrases should we avoid saying with Americans?" 

"What should we say instead?"

These are common questions professionals in India ask me that are working with Americans. In this post, I will share some dos and don'ts when it comes to what to avoid saying and what to say instead.

Note, the phrases highlighted in this post come from a video entitled "Learn English for Call Centers and Customer Service Jobs." Though this is the title of the video, the lessons in this video apply to anyone working with Americans regardless of position or industry (including BPO, KPO, etc.). These lessons help you to understand the subtle differences in English to know what is rude and what is polite.
Always keep in mind a few things:
  • People can't see you. So tone of voice and choice words make a bigger impact.
  • Make sure you are smiling when starting the call and ending the call and appropriate places in the the conversation.
  • The choice of words themselves can provide the tone. So, even if one says one of the 'avoidable' sentences or questions with a smile, many Americans will not hear the smile. Or, worse, they could hear it as sarcasm, which is not a good impression to leave at all.

So, let's look at the phrases. First I will review all the phrases below in text. The video lesson will follow.

Starting a Call: Dos and Don'ts
Rude Robert: "Yes? Huh?" "What do you want?"
Polite Patricia: "Hello. Good Morning." "How may I help you/assist you?"

There are certain courtesies we use when answering the phone. This is true regardless of working in a customer service call center type of role or working on a distributed team answering the call for a weekly status update meeting. 

Some guidelines are:
  • Who ever answers the call should talk first.
  • If you are calling someone for the first time, you must introduce yourself/company after the person on the other end introduces themselves. A simple introduction includes, "Hello. I am [Name] from [Company]. I am calling to speak with [Name]? Is he/she in today?"
  • Always, always, ALWAYS smile. See some video tutorials on that here.

Note what Rude Robert says. While the words alone may not look rude, this always sounds rude in a professional environment. Even if it is said with a happy voice, answering with "Yes?" or "Huh?" sounds passive and like the person is not interested in speaking to the person on the other end. "What do you want?" This question always sounds rude in a business environment because it's too direct. We need to soften it.

Putting Someone on Hold: Dos and Don'ts
Rude Robert: "Wait a minute."
Polite Patricia: "Just a moment, please."

If you need to request a caller or a client to hold for any reason, or you need ot put them on mute, it's better to precede that with saying, "Just a moment, please, while we/I [mention what you are going to do.]."

Keep in mind, the best practice for putting someone on hold is to check in with them every 45 to 60 seconds. Do not allow too much silence to separate you and your caller or team members. Silence is a killer on a phone call. Keep your conversational partner or customer engaged, always. For those who are more advanced, one can make small talk while solving the issue the client or customer needs assistance with instead of putting them on hold.

Video demonstrations of how to put someone on hold or transfer a call are here

Asking to Repeat or Get Clarity: Dos and Don'ts
Rude Robert: "What? Huh? Can't hear you."
Polite Patricia: "I'm afraid I didn't hear what you said." "Could you speak a little louder, please?"

There may be many reasons we can't hear or understand what others say on the phone. Some reasons are accent, speed of speech, volume of speech, clarity of speech (mumbling or stuttering), technical problems, background noise, and others. Our job as a service provider is not to make our customer or client feel inadequate or stupid. We need to respect them. So, we must be very polite. Just imagine ourselves in their place. If we were the ones calling them, and they, for instance thought we had a bad accent, we would hate to hear the customer service representative say, "I can't understand your accent. Talk clearly!" We need to have empathy to provide good customer service (regardless of providing it across cultures).

Other ways to ask for clarity or to repeat include:
  • "Sorry, I did not catch the last thing you said." 
  • "If I understand the situation correctly [summarize what they said]. Is that right?" 
  • Ask to repeat only what was missed. For example, "I was able to understand the first three steps of what you have done to solve the problem, but somehow I missed the last step. Could you walk me through that again?"
  • "Pardon me." vs. "Excuse me." I suggest to use "Pardon me." The reason is because "excuse me" has four meanings depending on the tone. Some English as Second Language speakers may not always be clear in their tone, and mixing this with how someone hears us over the phone could cause problems. For a deeper understanding on the four tones of Excuse Me, click here.
  • Feel free to share other ways you ask for clarity or someone to repeat themselves in the comments below or see this post.

Asking If Anything Else is Needed: Dos and Don'ts
Rude Robert: "What else?" "Is that it?"
Polite Patricia: "Is there anything else I can help you with today?" (There are two more phrases to learn in the video below.)

As you wrap up (end) the call, it's customary to ask a client or customer if they need help or assistance with anything else. It's a polite courtesy that shows caring which equals good customer service.

Requesting Contact Details: Dos and Don'ts
Rude Robert: "Gimme yer email."
Polite Patricia: "May I have your email, please?"

Asking for contact information is a question not a statement. Therefore, it should always be asked as a question with a question mark at the end (in an email) and a questioning tone (if spoken). 

Notes: When asking for email IDs, the customer would need to spell it out. Spelling over the phone can be tricky to hear as each culture or language group does also pronounce letters with their own accent. After they spell their email ID, name or whatever it is, spell it back to them to assure that you have heard it correctly. If you have the option of also being on chat with the person at the same time, feel free to spell it in the instant messaging app for clarity. Note, when using instant messaging (IM), there are certain rules to maintain good business etiquette. See this post for more.

Ending the Call: Dos and Don'ts
Rude Robert: "Okay. Bye"
Polite Patricia: "Thank you very much. Have a nice day."

It's important to leave the customer or client with a happy feel at the end of the call. What Polite Patricia says is good for ending a customer service call or a call with a client you rarely speak with. However, if you are ending a conference call or weekly status update meeting with a person you talk to frequently, we can make some small talk here. Especially if it is a Thursday or Friday, we can ask them if they have plans for the weekend. We can also start our call on Monday with asking them about how their weekend went.
There are a few more phrases I did not review in this post. For the entire lesson, watch the video below.


Related Posts:
Reducing Malayalam MTI when spelling letters
Tips on Handling Calls with US Clients

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