Updated: Mar 23
When working in customer service, the old adage does not stand that silence is golden. In fact, silence in customer service, especially through phone support, is unbearably awkward and can easily come across as rude.
Here’s an example we use with new agents:
Say, you’ve received your online order and it doesn’t fit. The box doesn’t include instructions on how to return and you don’t want to go fire up your computer, so you dial the customer number on the pack slip. An agent answers and asks how they can help. You let them know that the item you purchased isn’t a good fit and that you need to do a return.
Dead air…. Silence.
You wonder whether your call dropped and you ask, "are you still there?" The agent responds that they’re just looking up your order. And now, if you’re like me, you feel a little disconcerted -- do they think you’re an unpleasant demanding person? You really just want to get your return or exchange done. So you begin to ramble about the length of the sleeve, the catch in the zipper, etc. Still no response. Well, this is awkward. Did they drop now? Are you interrupting something important they were doing? Are they exasperated with you? What do you say now?
We NEVER want our customers to feel anxious or discomforted. In our regular coaching sessions, I work with our agents to create genuine connection. We want our customer to feel as though we are excited to get them back on the right path. We know that customers who are quickly and efficiently helped, whether it's through a quick return or, even better, an exchange, leave with a happy feeling and even a sense of accomplishment -- one more task checked off for the day! Leaving dead air communicates all sorts of things: disinterest, distraction, and just plain rudeness, none of which are a great experience.
Here at HigherRing, we are careful to train our people in strategies designed to put customers at ease. We know that there are times when it will take a while to find the answer. Maybe you’re a new agent and you’re still finding your way, perhaps the systems are slow or it’s just a tough query and you need to check multiple systems to get a full answer. Over the years, we’ve found that there are four excellent methods for eliminating or explaining dead air.
Explain to Customers What’s Going On
Narrating the journey is an excellent and easy way to put customers at ease and let them know you are actively working on their issue. Phrases can include:
“Okay I’m looking up your order now.”
“Okay, thanks for giving me the order number, I found it. Let me read through the tracking updates and then I’ll be able to be helpful.”
“I’ve found your order, let me review the notes here. I’m going to go quiet for about two minutes but I’m still here.”
It is not okay to just ramble on or to narrate every little twist and turn, but customers generally appreciate knowing the highlights.
This strategy is incredibly helpful to most upset or angry customers and usually serves to calm them down.
Even murmurs of agreements with their comments or statements of empathy that don’t assign blame -- we never want to throw our clients under the bus -- are helpful.
“I would be upset too. Let’s see what we can do to fix this.”
“I can see how that would be disappointing… Let’s see what I can do.”
“I’m not sure how that happened, let me bring that up with the team.”
Take Advantage of Slow Systems to Create Connection (or Gracefully Drive Sales)
From time to time, systems will inexplicably slow down (if it’s common, there’s a bigger problem that needs to be addressed). Agents can use this time to create connection with customers.
“Hmmmm….my system is being a little slow… It’s raining like cats and dogs here - are you having better weather than me?”
“Thanks for your patience while I get an answer… is that a puppy I hear in the background?”
We know that this does not work with customers who are trying to multitask. Multitasking customers are generally identified by their abrupt responses to any overture. This doesn’t mean you leave them to wonder if you’re there, but you’re not going to make conversation with them.
This also isn’t usually successful with angry customers unless, after the first torrent of grievance, they feel embarrassed by their anger and are looking to make up, and then it’s an excellent way to put them at ease and repair the relationship.
Advanced agents can feel their way into driving sales.
“While my page loads... is this almost the end of your holiday shopping?”
Super savvy agents always have something at their fingertips for each type of client - either the current promotion or something that connects with a previous part of the conversation.
“Your exchange will get to you in about two weeks. Did you get a chance to see the promotion we have on… holiday slippers… Easter baskets for the grandkids… organic puppy treats?”
Take Advantage of System Hold
If your system has hold music, and it’s going to take a while to research the inquiry, putting the customer on hold is an excellent way to avoid the small-talk and focus on your task. This doesn’t mean we just leave customers there though. We pop in from time to time to let them know we’re still researching.
“Hi Ms. Jones - Kayleen just popping in here to let you know I’m going to need a couple more minutes.”
“Hi Jane, it looks like this needs a little more investigation. I don’t want to keep you. Can I call you back with your answer or would you rather continue on hold?”
Let Customers Know if You’re New
We know that customers have patience with new agents and we coach our agents to let customers know that while they may be new they are anxious to help.
“I’m a little new here but I should be able to quickly figure this out. Do you mind if I go quiet for a minute while I read up on these configuration notes? I don’t want to give you wrong information.”
We also hate it when our agents flounder on the phone so we encourage teamwork.
“I’m a little new here. Do you mind if I put you on hold and ask for help from my team?”
“I’m a little new here and it sounds like you need a quick answer. Would you like me to ask one of my more experienced co-workers to join us so that we can get you off the phone quickly?”
Essentially, silence is deadly when it comes to making a connection with your customer. At the least, every agent should have this basic waiting phrase in their arsenal.
“Sorry to keep you waiting. Thank you for your patience.”
Additionally, keeping the customer in the know throughout the process invites them into the solution as well as communicates respect for them and their needs.