Learning to Speak the Language

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

This article was first published on the FCR blog on June 7, 2019. Click here to read the original post.

Thinking back on my first customer service job, our entire training manual was five pages. Yes you read that correctly — 5 pages! So basically we had zero training.

At the time we did email and phone support which meant there were many, many instances where I had to either escalate a ticket or put a customer on hold to learn the answer from the owner/co-founder/customer service manager/supervisor/boss/engineer/developer. With very few exceptions this was all the same person or a select group of people which probably isn’t terribly surprising for anyone who’s worked at a startup. Also with very few exceptions did this person ever directly respond to emails or speak with customers — and for our customers’ sake it was probably better that way.

In this escalate-for-assistance process there was one surefire way to get on my boss’s bad side. All I had to do was copy their note in the ticket, paste, and send. Their answer was the correct one, right? Well yes, but by doing so I learned nothing, and without fail I’d have to escalate the same question the next day. This is wrong on so many levels because ensured that future customers had to wait for me to escalate the ticket to my boss for the answer.

While any experienced trainer is already rolling their eyes at this post, my goal here isn’t to talk about training. Rather, I’m going to spend a few moments focusing on the responsibility individual customer service professionals have in this equation. Here are three critical actions you should take when you receive an answer to a question from a supervisor and need to turn around and communicate that to a customer.

Put the answer in your own words

If you’ve worked more than one customer service job in your lifetime, you know the importance of learning everything you can about the product or service you’re supporting. Early in my career I worked in web hosting, and while I was hired for my ability to communicate with others, I quickly discovered that I needed to know a little something about HTML and some other technical stuff in order to help customers with their websites.

In any line of work, you have to learn to speak the language within your organization and be able to translate that into words and concepts that customers will understand. By simply cutting and pasting answers or reading scripts, we never learn the language. A great practice is to instead take a note or instruction and put it in your own words before sending it to the customer. Sure some of it might be a regurgitation, but by owning those words you will begin to learn and speak the language.

Ask what and why

Naturally during this process it’s important that you gain some understanding of the information you’re communicating. To maximize learning, it’s completely reasonable to ask the supervisor for clarification on anything that’s confusing. We have a policy at FCR that it’s encouraged and expected to ask “Why?” if anything is unclear about a directive and our leaders owe us that explanation.

This most certainly applies to customer care. When we know and agree with the why along with any other details that are unclear, we become that much more confident in the message we’re communicating to the customer. And customers can absolutely sense when we’re confident and when we’re not.

Macros are aids not answers

I know I talk about macros (aka canned responses, scripts, or templates) almost every week but they’re such a critical part of most customer service operations at scale nowadays. Some of my colleagues instead call them “snippets” which is a great word. Think of them as blurbs of text that are designed to give customers consistent, accurate answers and prevent customer service professionals from typing the same thing over and over again.

For individuals, it’s important to recognize that macros are there to help you do your job better but it’s critical that you understand the content of that macro completely before sending. The response must address each one of their issues or the chances of serious customer aggravation increase significantly. That’s why this concept of snippets is so appealing. Think of them as tools to help craft the perfect message to the customer — and this can be applied to all customer service channels.

In retrospect, I probably could have summed this entire blog post into 150 characters and said something like:

When you escalate an issue to your supervisor and they send it back with the answer, take the time to understand that answer, put it in your own words, and confidently craft the perfect message to your customer.

OK, that’s actually 211 characters and I actually used a whole lot more characters in the hope that you resist the urge to simply cut and paste and instead take hold of the underlying opportunities every day to learn and grow in your professional life.

Jeremy Watkin is the Director of Customer Experience at FCR, the premiere provider of outsourced call center and business process solutions. He has more than 17 years of experience as a customer service and experience professional. He is co-founder of the Customer Service Life blog and a regular contributor. Jeremy has been recognized many times for his thought leadership. Follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn for more awesome customer service and experience insights.

One comment

  • Excellent advice, Jeremy! As a training professional, I can validate that your suggestion to re-write the answer in your own words is an excellent way to learn, and better understand, the concept you are sharing with your customer.

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