Improving Inbound Call Handling - Front Office Management & Customer Service (5th Friday)

Improving Inbound Call Handling

1. Have a clear call process or model.

Some things are obvious. Callers answer the phone with some sort of greeting and an offer to help. For example,

“Thank you calling Medelivers. This is Antoine. How may I help you?” Clearly this is step 1.
Unfortunately, computers tend to take over from there. So, instead of focusing on their callers, agents tend to bully them with impersonal, but necessary questions. Once they’ve made the conversation all about their order screen, its pretty tough to re-engage a caller and start to up-sell. Way too many opportunities are lost right here. Way too many agents feel the cold breeze between themselves and the caller and fail to even try to up-sell. By giving agents a process to follow, they can set a tone more likely to create customer satisfaction and sales, concurrently.

Try this one, for example:
· Greeting – we know how this one works and what to say.
· Engagement – This is where we respond to what the customer told us when we asked, “How may I      help you?” But, we also make it clear that we are interested in providing good service and that we      are listening. It can be as simple as, “I’ll be happy to take care of that for you. You’ve come to the      right place. May I please trouble you to provide me with your account number or telephone number    so that I can access your file?”

· Need Development –Where we ask all of our questions to understand the problem that caused the       inquiry or complaint. It is also where we take the order and gather billing information. Questions         here should include how the product will be used, if the customer has the needed supplies or               peripherals and how we can best support the customer so the product is used satisfactorily for a long   time.

· Present Solutions – Where we offer recommendations for additional products or services and special
promotions. It comes after need development so that it can begin with “Based on what you told me about your situation, I’d like to recommend you try… Would you like to add that on to your order? ”

· Close – Wrap up the call by repeating back what has been accomplished. Review the order, the delivery date, the total price, and any other issues that were resolved, etc.

· Reinforcement – “Thank you for calling Medelivers” is not a very powerful end to a call with an important customer or prospect. Try saying something more compelling such as “Thank you so much for being our customer. Please let us know when we can help you again.” Or, say something that relates to the conversation, such as “I know you are going to be thrilled with your new copier and our delivery service. Please call us again if we can be of service.”

2. Use your “fancy guest” manners.

Say “please” every time you ask for a piece of information. Say “thank you” every time you get what you asked for.

Never fail to do this. It is missing from telephone sales and service conversation so often that when you do it, you will be perceived as significantly superior to every one. How easy is that?

3. Use statement/question pairs to control the conversation without interrogating the caller.

Callers know you need information in order to identify them and then address the reason they phoned. Still, responding to a long list of dry questions is uncomfortable and often annoying. Annoyed people treat you poorly and make your job harder. Then, when you get to the part where your supposed to be presenting a promotion or up-selling, some of them get their revenge and say “no”.

In order to get your questions answered and create a comfortable dialog, you must be a great conversationalist.

Great conversationalists know that they must blend telling and asking in order to stay interested and interesting.

Here’s the strategy for managing pleasant, interactive conversation while you service and sell. We call it “the statement/question pairs conversation technique”:

· When you need to ask a question, place a statement in front of it. For example, “I just need to fill out your billing information. What address do you use for billing?” Or, “My name is Lee Overby. May I please have your name?”

· When you need to tell about a product, service or promotion, describe it and then ask a question afterward to see if the customer heard you and has developed an opinion on its value, so far. For example, “This weeks product promotion takes 20% off of our most popular highlighters. They have a wide tip and come in yellow or blue and a box of 10 is only $4.42. Are these something you will use in your business?”

· When you need to create action, explain the reasons for acting now and then ask your closing question. For example, “When parents express a concern about interest rates on the loans, I usually recommend that we go ahead and complete the application right away before the information I provide changes. Can we take about 5 minutes and get this done?”

4. Take care of everyone’s name.

I grew up with the name Ronna Caras and I bet most of you reading this are pronouncing it incorrectly. Names are tough, especially in the United States where so many ethnicities are represented.

These techniques can help to make your agents more comfortable with the challenging names. They will also make the contact more inclined to cooperate.

· Pronounce the name to the best of your ability and ask for confirmation right away: “We usually speak with Ronna Caras. Am I pronouncing that correctly?”

· Listen closely when the contact says his/her name and say it again immediately to prove you can use the correct pronunciation.

5. Pre-write product and promotion descriptions so they are colorful and concise.

Nobody is so good that s/he can just “wing it.” It takes years of practice before a great salesperson hones in on the perfect sentence to describe or explain something. The best salespeople eventually come up with statements that are very compelling. But you probably don’t have years. Meanwhile, you’ve got salespeople at various levels of experience explaining your products, services, company, features, benefits and value with a wide range of competence and confidence. Some are very wordy and filled with “ums” and “ahs” and some are so generic the caller can’t see any value in the investment.

Support sales efforts by creating nicely composed descriptions of everything you offer. Teach agents to use the adjectives and not to edit them out in order to save time.

6. Allow for the human buying process.

There is no point in trying to create action if you have never created interest. Yet so many sales pitches try to present and ask for the order in the same breath. Callers say no to a great offer because they have been pushed to fast and when faced with a decision, can decide not to decide.
Human beings have a clear and visible process we go through to make a decision. Some people go through it more quickly than others because of their personalities and the genuine urgency they feel. Others are more cautious.

Teach your salespeople to move prospects gradually from:

· Fear – Where they say “no thanks” before they even understand the offer, unless they are moved to the next step.

· Interest – Where the mind starts to see some value and is willing to consider the offer.

· Evaluation – Where the prospect compares accepting your offer to keeping things the way they are.

· Desire – Where the prospect wants what you recommend.

· Action – Where you secure your goal

7. “Overcome” objections, don’t “Rebut” them.

Even the best sales conversations will run into some objections. Objections happen when callers are not sold yet the salesperson has asked for the order, or when callers hear something that moves them back to the “fear” step of the buy (see tip #6). Objections need not be deal breakers.
Successful salespeople must be prepared to overcome objections in the most convincing way possible. Too often, they rely upon what we call “rebuttal” which rarely succeeds. The rebuttal is an old-fashioned method which says “I understand how you feel, but… here’s why you should reconsider.”

In 2002 we know how damaging that “but” is to a relationship. Any good that was accomplished by the empathic and connecting behavior of “I understand how you feel” is completely obliterated by the “but”. You may as well have saved time and said, “I don’t care how you feel. You’re wrong and need to do it my way.”

Here are the steps to overcoming objections that will truly re-engage the contact and provide the solution needed to get the sale. Please notice the 4 steps are actually 2 statement/question pairs (see tip #3)

· Empathize – “I understand how you feel.” Or some statement that makes the caller feel listened to and understood. This disarms the prospect.

· Clarify – “What feels wrong about this?” or “Is it the cost that you are concerned about, or do you have another issue?” This question is the key to making your sale. Ask a question that helps you to understand or proves you already understand. Then, be quiet and hear what the caller tells you. That’s the information you need to get your sale.

· Present Solution – “I see. Based on what you’ve told me, here’s why this is right for you.” Use the caller’s words and tailor this solution to address the concerns you just heard. That will make it highly effective.

· Gain Agreement – “What do you think about my idea now?” or “Can you see why this makes sense for you?” These are both examples of “trial closes” that will help to move the prospect back into the buying process so you can close your sale.

8. Be a student of good diction.

In our society, the ability to speak clearly is equated with intelligence. Fair or not, people whose Ts and Ds and INGs sound crisp are treated as though their message has more value. People who use standard pronunciations for common words are perceived as more knowledgeable. Knowing this gives us an advantage.

Here are some ways to practice key sounds and words to improve the way you are treated on the telephone:

· Ts, Ds, INGs – these “dental” and “guttural” sounds may vary based on the neighborhood where you were raised but in the sales world, there are clear distinctions between right and wrong. Practice with a tape recorder to improve your clarity with the words below.

o T wouldn’t; prospect; difficult; got; minute; must; consult; software; lighten
o D sand; held; recommend; thousand; card; trend; field; build
o ING catching; meeting; hoping; trying; working; planning; thinking

· The letter R poses a challenge for many. Practice with a tape recorder to improve your clarity with the words below.

o R wear; consider; order; card; answer; prepare; secure; carton; market; corner
· STS at the end of a word is just plain tricky. Practice with a tape recorder to improve your clarity with the words below.

o STS lists; specialists; forecasts; rests; tests; assists; suggests
· These words are often (the T in “often” should be silent) mispronounced and a simple correction can result in more sales. Practice with a tape recorder and the crazy sentences below.

o Because it is preferable to the company, I basically express business strengths when asked.

o Mischievous government regulators probably escaped using personal credit cards and avoided
irreparable harm to their often-challenged reputations.

o Disoriented representatives and supervisors gave accurate descriptions of their expertise,
according to a federal government spokesperson.

o It is often either nothing, something or everything, wouldn’t you know?

9. Express the right emotions at the right time

The moment we answer the phone we begin influencing a caller. We influence callers to think well of us and our company, or we influence them to think poorly. Scripting helps agents to know the right words to say to meet company standards. Teaching the proper emotions helps agents to deliver the messages in a way that has the right impact.

Just like in a movie, telephone dialog must be delivered in a convincing way, or the listeners won’t feel engaged or cared for. The proper emotions are the key. There are 4 emotions that are appropriate in an inbound sales/service business conversation. If a caller is not projecting 1 of these 4 emotions at all times, then s/he is projecting the opposite emotion, which almost always results in failure.

Here are the 4 emotions and a way to practice them:

· Enthusiasm – Perfect when beginning the call; or when describing your company and its offers; as well as when reacting to an explanation of your caller’s situation and goals. Enthusiastic delivery requires use of lots of highs and lows in the voice, variation of speed and the emphasis or “punch” of key words.

The opposite of enthusiasm is boredom. It is accomplished by keeping the voice monotone. Or, worse, the sing-songy delivery when someone is reading. There is no middle ground here. Boredom will reduce sales results and customer satisfaction.

Learners can practice the two opposite emotions with this statement, “Based on the situation you describe, I’d like to recommend you take advantage of all 3 of our offers. This will allow you to meet with an expert in your home, already have approval on the first part of the investment and see pictures of the location on the Internet.” You will see very quickly the impact that enthusiasm makes.

· Curiosity – Lets the salesperson sound “interested” instead of “intrusive”. It uses the higher range of the voice, varied pitch and a lilt at the end to indicate the question mark.

The opposite of curiosity is doubt or disdain, which comes across as sarcastic or nosy and is not an effective way to move a relationship to the next level. Learners can practice the two opposite emotions with this question, “What process do you go through when making a new investment?”

· Encouragement – When you need to gain more information or cooperation, you must be able to make the contact feel comfortable and safe enough to go deeper. We encourage people by “dragging out” our words and using the lower more soothing range of our voice.

The opposite of encouraging is, of course, discouraging.

Learners can practice the two opposite emotions with this statement, “I see.”

· Calm – When you need to disarm and diffuse. Using the lower range of the voice and a slower pace,
soothing words will be very powerful.

The opposite of calm is anger. Too often, words that are meant to gather input carry an angry sound and hurt the chances for a swift and satisfactory resolution.

Learners can practice the 2 opposite emotions with this question. “How would you like us to solve this?”

10. Don’t just listen, pay attention.

Listening is the great equalizer for salespeople. Callers talk in order to communicate with you. When people talk to you it is because they want you to know how they feel, what they believe or what they want. This information is exactly what you need to know so that you can re-position your offer to satisfy this person. The more they talk, the better chance you have of making a sale. So, getting people to talk and hearing what they say, actually makes the job of a salesperson easier. I had a great Sales Manager years ago that said, “Give them enough rope and they’ll hang themselves.”

Monitor 10 calls or monitor 1000 calls. It is obvious that many salespeople and service people do not bother to listen. While the caller is talking, many representatives are busy thinking about how they can interrupt, what they are going to say next or what task they wish they could move on to. Still other agents believe they can listen and be thinking about their next question at the same time. They could not be more wrong. Listening is only useful if you pay attention. It is only helpful if you can take the information the caller just provided and use it to decide how to respond.

Here are the ‘rules’ for listening to increase your results:

· Anytime a caller speaks, you must be prepared to write down what s/he says. By stopping to do this, you force yourself to pay attention.

· After a caller speaks, you must respond with some sort of empathy statement. This makes your caller believe you were listening and that you heard and that you understand. “I see what you mean” and “How interesting” are 2 examples.

· If you do not understand what someone means, try “Can you please tell me more about that?” or “Can you please help me to understand why that is important?” Nothing could be more flattering to a caller.

· Once you understand the information the caller has provided, decide what to say next to help the caller understand why you are recommending the up-sell.

· If you need to change to a different product because of what you just learned, do so. Your chances of making a sale are very high when it is based on what a caller just told you.

These 10 tips are just a few of many that we have taught to thousands of successful sales and service professionals during the last 12 years. We are happy to share them with you so that you can continue to improve your results and develop the skills of your staff. Please let us know if we can be of even greater service to you now, or in the future.


Dealing with Outbound Calls - Front Office Management & Customer Service (5th Friday)

How To Deal With Outbound Calling
by: Stella Jones

Outbound calling can be a tough job.  You need to have the ability to listen to the person at the other end, communicate to them what you need them to know, and handle their concerns and issues with professionalism.

However, outbound callers also need to be strong sales people, with the ability to deal with knock backs and irate customers who object to being cold called.

Stella Jones highlights some of the ways to develop the skills needed for outbound calling.

1. Cold calling
Callers need to plan their call and have a clear call route to follow. If they know the introduction they are going to use and how to make the reason for their call compelling to the customer, they will have more confidence making the call.  It is important to get their personality across and make their call stand out from all the other calls that person has received that day.

A good way is to pretend you are having a face-to-face meeting and talk to customers in that friendly relaxed way.

When working on a campaign we ensure that the team have practiced their opening lines and key messages thoroughly, so they are relaxed and professional.

2. Knock backs
We train our team to know that they will get knock backs, but they will be surprised at the number of people that they are able to turn around.

If a prospect says they are not interested, our team ensure they don’t ask why, as this reinforces the objection.  Repeating the objection has the same results. Instead they ask polite questions to determine why the client said no, to see what they can do to address their concerns.

It is important that your team are trained not to fall at the first hurdle and this often just comes with practice, practice, practice. However, if the person is clearly not interested, the caller also needs to learn to recognise this, deal with the rejection and try not to take things too personally when people say no. Often it can take several attempts to convince the prospect you are worth seeing.

3. Objection handling
A good way to respond when handling appointment objections is to use the objection as a reason for a sales meeting.  We recommend the FEEL, FELT, FOUND technique. In the training our callers practise acknowledging the prospect’s objection: “I understand how you feel. Many customers we have today felt that same way. However, after they looked ____ they found ____ to be the case”, and then are shown how to communicate that at the appointment the person will have time to assess their needs and address these concerns, before setting the appointment.

4. Irate customers
When dealing with irate customers, our callers are trained to talk slowly and calmly. Whilst acknowledging what the customer is saying but speaking slowly themselves, agents will often be able to slow down the customer’s speech. By listening and making notes, agents can learn to ensure they cover the points the customer is irate about and then turn it round, with positives. It doesn’t always work, but many people have been turned around in this way before and often if you can turn these people around they are often the customers that will re-sign and stay.

5. Selling
One of the most important areas of outbound training is sales training – simply put, learning to sell the benefits of the product or service, not its features.

In training, the focus should be on discovering an offer that the prospect would find it difficult to say no to and then trying to close the call. It is important to be assertive when closing and ensure that you clarify at the end of the call the appointment time and date before thanking them for their time.

6. Don’t blag it
In training we will often slip in questions that we know that the agent does not know the answer to. It is important that under pressure the agent learns not to blag it, and instead to say that they will find out and get back to the customer – or say that they are not the expert and will either come back with the answer or have the appropriate person call back.

It is better to be honest with customers and manage their expectations, than over-promise something you are not sure about and cause larger problems.

7. Always start each call as if it is your first
Taking the baggage of the previous call with you if it didn’t go well, is likely to make this call go the same way, so make sure it is a fresh start every time. This next call could be your next big customer!

Cross-Selling, Up-Selling and Creating Loyal Customer - Front Office Management and Customer Service (5th Friday)


Cross-selling generally occurs when the sales representative has more than one type of product to offer consumers that might be beneficial to them. Some fields in which cross-selling is most evident include those of the banking and financial services industries. Banking customers may go into the bank and sign up for a checking account and later be sold various investment vehicles such as bonds or CDs as part of a retirement plan. Investment firms do much of the same, starting off clients within a specific investment product that they need and then later identifying additional needs that their company can meet on behalf of the client.

Up-selling differs somewhat from cross-selling in that the salesperson is not so much concerned with selling an additional product to generate additional commissions, but rather with selling a higher-end version of the product the customer originally came to buy. The automobile salesman often engages in up-selling by showing the customer multiple versions of the same product. Each version may differ in quality, starting with a base model and progressing through more luxurious models with additional features.

One of the main differences between up-selling and cross-selling is in the approach that the salesperson takes when engaging in either method. When cross-selling, the salesperson identifies a definite need that the customer has and fulfills that need by recommending an additional product. Up-selling is somewhat less need-based in its orientation and typically involves the salesperson building value in the product being offered. In other words, a car customer may not need the top-of-the-line SUV with leather seating and a full entertainment center, but the up-selling salesperson can help that customer see the value in having it by painting a picture of how much more comfortable the family vacation will be with these additional features.

In many ways, cross-selling and up-selling are similar in that they each offer customers additional value than what they would have otherwise received had they only bought what they were initially looking for. Some salespeople make the mistake of cataloging features of these additional products, rather than building value, or showing customers how they will benefit from these additional or higher-quality products. A successful cross-selling and up-selling salesperson will be able to paint a picture of the value that the customer will receive so that the customer will be able to visualize the benefits of making the purchase. Up-selling benefits the customer by providing higher quality, while cross-selling adds benefit by providing additional quality.



1. Let customers know what you are doing for them. This can be in the form of a newsletter mailed to existing customers, or it can be more informal, such as a phone call. Whatever method you use, the key is to dramatically point out to customers what excellent service you are giving them. If you never mention all the things you’re doing for them, customers may not notice. You are not being cocky when you talk to customers about all the work you have done to please them. Just make a phone call and let them know they don’t have to worry because you handled the paperwork, called the attorney or double-checked the shipment -- one less thing they have to do.

2. Write long-time customers personal, handwritten notes frequently. "I was just sitting at my desk, and your name popped into my head. Are you still having a great time flying all over the country? Let me know if you need another set of luggage. I can stop by with our latest models anytime." Or, if you run into an old customer at an event, follow up with a note: "It was great seeing you at the CDC Christmas party. I will call you early in the new year to schedule a lunch."

3. Keep it personal. Voice mail and email make it easy to communicate, but the personal touch is lost. Don't count these as a legitimate follow-up. If you're having trouble getting through, leave a voice-mail message that you want to talk to the person directly or will stop by his or her office at a designated time.

4. Remember special occasions. Send regular customers birthday cards, anniversary cards, holiday cards -- you name it. Gifts are excellent follow-up tools, too. You don't have to spend a fortune to show you care. Use your creativity to come up with interesting gift ideas that tie into your business, the customer's business or his or her recent purchase.

5. Pass on information. If you read an article, see a new book, or hear about an organization that a customer might be interested in, drop a note or make a quick call to let them know.

6. Consider follow-up calls business development calls. When you talk to or visit established clients or customers, you'll often find they have referrals to give you, which can lead to new business.


Revealed: The Social Construct that Holds Society Together
The #1 thing that creates loyalty in anybody (that includes your customers) is the social construct of Reciprocity.

Reciprocity is a social norm that's been evaluated and debated since the days of Aristotle, and it has been said by many scholars to be one of the single defining aspects of social interaction that keeps society whole.

Why is it so important?
Additionally, how can it help us create loyal customers?
Why Reciprocation is ingrained in Our Brains

Behavioral psychologists and historians have uncovered a lot of evidence that the process of giving and taking "fairly" seems to be a part of a massive majority of normally functioning people.
In Prof. Robert Cialdini's »now infamous Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, he notes that:
The impressive aspect of reciprocation with its accompanying sense of obligation is its pervasiveness in human culture.

It is so widespread that, after intensive study, Alvin Gouldner (1960), along with other sociologists, reported that all human societies subscribe to the rule.

Within each society it seems pervasive also; it permeates exchanges of every kind.”
The point: Reciprocity is likely something that has evolved in the human brain in order to keep a majority of transactions "fair".

We often feel obligated to return favors, even if they are unasked for.

This is the ultimate reason why great customer service has such a fantastic ROI (return on investment).

Human beings are wired to follow the rule of reciprocity, and now that you understand its importance, we can discuss how to use it to create incredibly loyal customers.

How to Use Reciprocity to Create Loyal Customers
The first thing you need to know is that reciprocity comes in 3 different forms:
1.            One-to-one
2.            One-to-many (or many-to-one)
3.            General reciprocity

One-to-one form is highlighted because that's the one you need to master: interaction with customers is typically a very isolated experience, that is, you tend to deal with them individually, even if they have similar issues.

Winning customers over starts with winning their thanks on individual terms.
Although technology allows you to scale the process, the fact is this: people remember acts of kindness more readily when it feels personal.

The second thing you need to know is that reciprocity can be handled in two different ways:
1.            Through subtle gestures (aka surprise reciprocity)
2.            Through obvious gestures (aka trumpeted reciprocity)

1. How to Utilize Surprise Reciprocity
Have you ever ordered an item that you really wanted online, and as soon as you hit the buy button, you got that (positive) anxious feeling of, "I can't wait until it gets here!"

What if that item showed up on your doorstep the next day?
You'd be pretty overjoyed, right?
Of course!

Zappos recognizes that feeling, and it's done everything it can to give it to each and every Zappos customer.

Did you know that while regular Zappos shipping states the item will be delivered in "3-4 days", Zappos

If the upgraded shipping was mentioned on the sales page, it would've become the norm; that feeling of placing your first order on Zappos and having it surprisingly end up at your house the next day wouldn't exist: people would just expect it.

As a company known for it's legendary customer service, it shouldn't be any surprise that Zappos doesn't mind the incurred cost of this extra perk.

The process of reciprocity begins here for most new Zappos customers, and there's nothing quite like getting "WOWed" on your very first order, after all, first impressions mean a lot.
The research points to this being a universal truth in social interaction and reciprocity: small surprises that feel like they were "just for you" can spawn some incredibly strong goodwill from the receiver.
I discussed this very process of the "secrets of personalization" when I addressed the psychological study that examined how waiters were able to increase their tips by 23%... simply by coming back a second time with more mints!

Talk about some incredible customer service ROI!
Key takeaway: Sometimes the best way to approach reciprocity and to build goodwill with your customers is to surprise them; chest-thumping about every single good aspect of your business makes people blind to the benefits you may truly offer.

2. How to Use Trumpeted Reciprocity
Surprises are great, but sometimes it does pay to let customers know just how far you will go to make them happy.

I could go on and on about what this process looks like, or I can just give you what I believe is a fantastic example of going "above and beyond" for the sheer purpose of telling an amazing customer service story.

If you've never heard of this tale before, allow me to be the first to introduce you to the adventures of Joshie the Giraffe (story previously featured on the Huffington post). 

Click the Link for the story of Joshie the Giraffe:

What does the tale of Joshie teach us about "trumpeted" reciprocity?
Here's the thing: the Ritz staff didn't help Mr. Hurns out in the hopes of getting some free press, the main goal was to provide the level of service that they are known for (and what allows Ritz Carlton Hotels to charge such high prices).

Despite that, the Ritz staff didn't hold back on their support.

Nothing about this tale is "subtle", while Mr. Hurns may have been surprised at the results, this isn't the same as adding "surprise" to an order like Zappos does with it's shipping.

What actually happened was that the Ritz was able to "show off" their amazing customer support by story telling.

Click the Link below to know the Importance of Story Telling in Creating Loyal Customer

Resolving Customer Complaint - Front Office Management & Customer Service (4th Friday)

Key Factors to resolving Complaints

1. Look past the fury for friction
It’s a fallacy to assume that just because someone is behaving wildly, his or her argument has no merit. Complaints, even angry ones, can contain insight—it’s your job to seek out the friction.

Evernote CEO Phil Libin offers up one of my favorite truisms on listening to feedback: “Feedback is great for telling you what you did wrong. It's terrible at telling you what you should do next.”

Socratic questioning, whether to the customer or to yourself, can help get to the source of the issue. Okay, the customer’s angry—is this because we weren’t clear with our copy? Is our user experience setting the customer up for failure? Did we drop the ball with our communication?

It is tempting to dismiss complainers as cranky or overly sensitive, but do that too often and you’ll ending up dismissing genuine feedback.

2. Record and organize meaningful complaints
Free customers always ask for more free stuff. Feature requests often turn into product demands. While helping customers is always right, haphazardly following their demands is always wrong.

Multiple messages from multiple customers with recurring concerns is the beginning of a narrative. The volume of a certain complaint only raises the red flag, though; you’ll have to carefully decide what to do next.

You’ll need a simple way to organize this sort of feedback, and here’s an overview of some options.
The key is to make it easy, and make it browse-able. “Hard to do” leads to never being done. Give your team a meaningful way to make note of meaningful complaints, and you can rest easy, because you will hear about them.

3. Identify who you are talking to
This study on customer complaints presents a strong case for evaluating messages through a selection of common archetypes. Here are a few notable personas that will make their way into your inbox:

The Meek Customer. Generally averse to talking to you. He doesn’t want to be a burden, or he doesn’t think you’ll care—either way, it’s your responsibility to inquire deeper to get to the heart of exactly what is wrong.

The Aggressive Customer. Outspoken and not shy about letting you know what’s on her mind. Avoid mirroring this confrontational behavior, and instead react with firm politeness that is pleasant but not submissive—your team needs to be treated with respect, too.

The High Roller. Perhaps your “enterprise” customer, who likely pays well and demands premium support for it. While no customer is fond of excuses, this customer disdains hearing them. Setting up a VIP Folder with Workflows is a simple way to cater to the high roller’s needs.

The Chronic Complainer. This customer will contact you a lot, but that doesn’t mean that his issues should be dismissed. Patience is required here, but once satisfied, this customer will have no qualms about singing your praises to others.

The Barnacle. Although the research identifies this as the “rip-off” customer, the barnacle label to be more accurate. This person is never happy. She is not looking for a satisfactory response; she is trying to get something she doesn’t deserve. Nothing is good enough unless she’s getting a handout. Maintain composure and respond as objectively as possible.

These are generally the ends of the spectrum. Most people are reasonable, and most conversations are uneventful. Should you come across one of the above, however, put those tried-and-true support skills to work.

4. Don’t be passive-aggressive
“We’re sorry that you are having this problem” is an infuriating phrase for a customer to hear. It is nothing more than the deferment of blame.

Far too many use this sort of language by accident. The attempt to apologize comes off as dismissive, all thanks to a misuse of tone.

Just say you’re sorry. Even when the customer is being unreasonable, apologize outright and ask how you might help resolve the issue. If you come across a lost cause, keep it friendly, keep it professional, and keep it moving.

5. Transfer quickly, but explain why
“Please hold while I transfer you. Your call is very important to us.”
Terrible. While this problem isn’t nearly as bad over email, introductions or handing someone off should be handled with care. Never miss an opportunity to briefly explain to a customer why this movement will be to their benefit. It’s nearly impossible to get anyone excited about being transferred, but consider the two choices you have:

1.            I’ll have to transfer you for that. *click*
2.            I’m going to set you up with our specialist who will get that squared away for you right                        away. “That’ll work!”

Without this brief but relevant insertion, customers won’t know that you are actually doing the best thing, and second only to doing the best thing is letting people know you are.

6. Use supportive questioning
There is a fine line between following up and inadvertently swaying a customer to dwell upon his bad mood.

Let’s look at these two responses:
•             “Is there anything else wrong?”
•             “How else can I help you today?”

Asking a customer a leading, negative question such as #1 is asking for a negative outcome. Conversely, inquiring how you may be able to further assist shows that you are ready and willing to address anything else the customer needs.

7. Time is of the essence
Inbox zero often causes us to envisage an assembly line environment of productivity. The truth is that catching up to the queue grants you time for the most meaningful conversations. A quick reply will never go out of style.

In the case of an unhappy customer, a speedy response goes from nice to necessary—complaints are a different beast that benefit from being resolved as soon as possible.

A customer leaving a feature request won’t sweat the fact that it took you a day to respond. Customers who are in a “pulling my hair out” situation want a resolution yesterday. Make responding to them a priority.

It can be useful to set up a Folder separate from the main support queue where you can filter less-than-ecstatic messages. Here, the team can see immediately which emails are from customers who need help right away.

Get the answer right the first time, but know that if there is ever a situation where speed takes a priority, it’s in turning the metaphorical frown upside-down.

8. Verify the resolution
Have you ever submitted something through an online form, and after you hit submit there wasn’t a single confirmation on whether or not anything had happened?

It’s incredibly frustrating. You don’t have a clue where your issue—and any hope of resolving it—stands.

The same principle applies when communicating with customers. You want to be absolutely sure that the customer is clear on the resolution that occurred and that it met his or her needs. If you’re not ending your responses with an inviting question, you may be creating unnecessary trouble.

"Let me know if there's anything else I can do for you—I'm happy to help!"
That’s a good place to start. Even a simple, "Are you all set?" will do.

9. Treat customers with genuine respect
Customers want to be treated with respect. The day you stop talking to them like regular people is the day you lose touch and relevance. After that, you start losing customers.

So don’t talk to them like a corporate stiff—this is a conversation, not “correspondence.” However, also avoid the flipside, which is pandering through pleasantry. It’s disingenuous to act like you can force your good mood down an unhappy customer’s throat. Worse yet, it’s downright creepy.

Please — spare me your insincerity.

Providing great support means finding a demeanor comfortable to the people you are serving, no matter the situation. Justin, our support lead, describes it as such:

•             We do not offer up platitudes. We are not obnoxiously bubbly, cheery, or “zestful.”
•             We don’t wage a campaign of aggressive happiness. We do not offer foot massages or roll                     out the red carpet for people who treat our team members poorly (it’s a two-way street).
•             Help Scout is fond of the Ritz-Carlton principle, to be “Ladies and gentlemen serving ladies                and gentlemen.” We hold doors, offer a strong handshake, and will pass on the last piece of                  pie—unless it’s pumpkin.

We care about the customer experience, top to bottom, but that doesn't mean we behave like a caricature. It means being consistently helpful and unquestionably genuine.

10. Don’t drag out a lost cause
If a customer wants to cancel his account, do it right away. Nothing makes for a bitter departure quite like running your customers through the gauntlet as they try to leave.

Winning customers back with exceptional service is fundamental, but when people already have one foot out the door, you’re better off letting the parting be as frictionless as possible. Learn what you can, see if there is a way to resolve the issue, and accept the outcome if there isn’t.

Customers aren’t necessarily gone for good just because they cancel their accounts once. Hassling upon exit, however, will assure they never return.

11. CARP Diem to resolve complaints
A really useful method for consistently handling upset customers can be found in Robert Bacal’s book, If It Wasn’t for the Customers I’d Really Like this Job. Bacal’s practices are known as the CARP method, which consists of:
•             Control
•             Acknowledge
•             Refocus
•             Problem solve

In other words, take control of the situation with language that shows you are ready to handle concerns and don’t intend to play games. Acknowledge that you completely understand your customer’s concerns and won’t be brushing them off.

Next, refocus away from the customer’s emotions to the solution at hand, outlining how you’ll take care of it. Finally, solve the problem, confirming that everything has been resolved to the customer’s satisfaction.

Take your customer complaints seriously

You deserve no more respect than you are willing to give others…except in customer support, you’re the professional. You do have to learn to be the rock for your team. In turn, your team needs to look out for you.

Sometimes support needs support, and sometimes you just need to remember that not every customer can be made happy. Stay positive; the next pleasant conversations is just around the corner.



English Language Proficiency - Pronunciation

What is Pronunciation?

pronunciation (noun): the way in which we pronounce a word
pronounce (verb): to make the sound of a word

"Pronunciation" refers to the way in which we make the sound of words.
To pronounce words, we push air from our lungs up through our throat and vocal chords, through our mouth, past our tongue and out between our teeth and lips. (Sometimes air also travels through our nose.)

To change the sound that we are making, we mainly use the muscles of our mouth, tongue and lips to control the shape of our mouth and the flow of air. If we can control the shape of our mouth and the flow of air correctly, then our pronunciation is clearer and other people understand us more easily.

Speakers of different languages tend to develop different muscles of the mouth for pronunciation. When we speak a foreign language, our muscles may not be well developed for that language, and we will find pronunciation more difficult. By practising the foreign language pronunciation, our muscles develop and pronunciation improves.

As well as creating correct vowel and consonant sounds using the muscles of our mouth, tongue and lips, there are other important aspects of pronunciation, including:
  • word stress - emphasis on certain syllables in a word
  • sentence stress - emphasis on certain words in a sentence
  • linking - joining certain words together
  • intonation - the rise and fall of our voice as we speak

Word Stress
Word stress is your magic key to understanding spoken English. Native speakers of English use word stress naturally. Word stress is so natural for them that they don't even know they use it. Non-native speakers who speak English to native speakers without using word stress, encounter two problems:
  1. They find it difficult to understand native speakers, especially those speaking fast.
  2. The native speakers may find it difficult to understand them. 

Understanding Syllables

syllable (noun): a unit of pronunciation that has one vowel sound, and may or may not be surrounded by consonants. A syllable can form a whole word or part of a word. For example, there is one syllable in cat, two syllables in monkey and three syllables in elephant.

To understand word stress, it helps to understand syllables.
Every word is made from syllables.
Each word has one, two, three or more syllables.

number of syllables
Notice that (with a few rare exceptions) every syllable contains at least one vowel (a, e, i, o or u) or vowel sound.

What is Word Stress?

In English, we do not say each syllable with the same force or strength. In one word, we accentuate ONE syllable. We say one syllable very loudly (big, strong, important) and all the other syllables very quietly.
Let's take 3 words: photographphotographer and photographic. Do they sound the same when spoken? No. Because we accentuate (stress) ONE syllable in each word. And it is not always the same syllable. So the "shape" of each word is different.

Listen to these words. Do you hear the stressed syllable in each word?
This happens in ALL words with 2 or more syllables: TEACHer, JaPAN, CHINa, aBOVE, converSAtion, INteresting, imPORtant, deMAND, etCETera, etCETera, etCETera

The syllables that are not stressed are weak or small or quiet. Fluent speakers of English listen for the STRESSED syllables, not the weak syllables. If you use word stress in your speech, you will instantly and automatically improve your pronunciation and your comprehension.

Try to hear the stress in individual words each time you listen to English - on the radio, or in films for example. Your first step is to HEAR and recognise it. After that, you can USE it!

There are two very important rules about word stress:
  1. One word, one stress. (One word cannot have two stresses. So if you hear two stresses, you have heard two words, not one word.)
  2. The stress is always on a vowel.

Why is Word Stress Important?

Word stress is not used in all languages. Some languages, Japanese or French for example, pronounce each syllable with eq-ual em-pha-sis.
Other languages, English for example, use word stress and pro-NOUNCE DIF-fer-ent SYL-la-bles with more or less im-POR-tance.

Word stress is not an optional extra that you can add to the English language if you want. It is part of the language! Fluent English speakers use word stress to communicate rapidly and accurately, even in difficult conditions. If, for example, you do not hear a word clearly, you can still understand the word because of the position of the stress.

Think again about the two words photograph and photographer. Now imagine that you are speaking to somebody by telephone over a very bad line. You cannot hear clearly. In fact, you hear only the first two syllables of one of these words, photo... Which word is it, photograph or photographer?
Of course, with word stress you will know immediately which word it is because in reality you will hear either...


So without hearing the whole word, you probably know what the word is...


Where do I Put Word Stress?

There are some word stress rules about which syllable to stress. But...the rules are rather complicated! Probably the best way to learn is from experience. Listen carefully to spoken English and try to develop a feeling for the "music" of the language.
When you learn a new word, you should also learn its stress pattern. If you keep a vocabulary book, make a note to show which syllable is stressed. If you do not know, you can look in a dictionary. All dictionaries give the phonetic spelling of a word. This is where they show which syllable is stressed, usually with an apostrophe (') just before or just after the stressed syllable. (The notes in the dictionary will explain the system used.)
Look at (and listen to) this example for the word plastic. There are two syllables and the first syllable is stressed.


phonetic spelling for plastic
dictionary A
dictionary B
/plæs' tIk/
/'plæs tIk/

Notice that dictionary A uses a different system to dictionary B to show which syllable is stressed. Of course, it's the same word (plastic), and the stress is the same (the first syllable). But dictionary A puts an apostrophe after the stressed syllable, and dictionary B puts an apostrophe before the stressed syllable. You need to check your dictionary's notes to know which system it uses.

Word Stress Rules
There are two very simple rules about word stress:
  1. One word has only one stress. (One word cannot have two stresses. If you hear two stresses, you hear two words. Two stresses cannot be one word. It is true that there can be a "secondary" stress in some words. But a secondary stress is much smaller than the main [primary] stress, and is only used in long words.)
  2. We can only stress vowels, not consonants.
Here are some more, rather complicated, rules that can help you understand where to put the stress. But do not rely on them too much, because there are many exceptions. It is better to try to "feel" the music of the language and to add the stress naturally.
A. Stress on first syllable
Most 2-syllable nouns
PRESent, EXport, CHIna, TAble
Most 2-syllable adjectives
PRESent, SLENder, CLEVer, HAPpy
B. Stress on last syllable
Most 2-syllable verbs
preSENT, exPORT, deCIDE, beGIN
There are many two-syllable words in English whose meaning and class change with a change in stress. The word present, for example is a two-syllable word. If we stress the first syllable, it is a noun (gift) or an adjective (opposite of absent). But if we stress the second syllable, it becomes a verb (to offer). More examples: the words exportimportcontract and objectcan all be nouns or verbs depending on whether the stress is on the first or second syllable.
C. Stress on penultimate syllable (penultimate = second from end)
Words ending in -ic
GRAPHic, geoGRAPHic, geoLOGic
Words ending in -sion and -tion
teleVIsion, reveLAtion
For a few words, native English speakers don't always "agree" on where to put the stress. For example, some people say teleVIsion and others say TELevision. Another example is: CONtroversy and conTROversy.
D. Stress on ante-penultimate syllable (ante-penultimate = third from end)
Words ending in -cy-ty-phyand -gy
deMOcracy, dependaBIlity, phoTOgraphy, geOLogy
Words ending in -al
CRItical, geoLOGical
E. Compound words (words with two parts)
For compound nouns, the stress is on the firstpart
BLACKbird, GREENhouse
For compound adjectives, the stress is on the second part
bad-TEMpered, old-FASHioned
For compound verbs, the stress is on the second part
underSTAND, overFLOW

Sentence Stress
Sentence stress is the music of spoken English. Like word stress, sentence stress can help you to understand spoken English, even rapid spoken English.
Sentence stress is what gives English its rhythm or "beat". You remember that word stress is accent on one syllable within a word. Sentence stress is accent on certain words within a sentence.

Most sentences have two basic types of word:
  • content words
    Content words are the key words of a sentence. They are the important words that carry the meaning or sense—the real content.
  • structure words
    Structure words are not very important words. They are small, simple words that make the sentence correct grammatically. They give the sentence its correct form—its structure.
If you remove the structure words from a sentence, you will probably still understand the sentence.
If you remove the content words from a sentence, you will not understand the sentence. The sentence has no sense or meaning.

Imagine that you receive this telegram message:
This sentence is not complete. It is not a "grammatically correct" sentence. But you probably understand it. These 4 words communicate very well. Somebody wants you to sell their car for them because they have gone to France. We can add a few words:
The new words do not really add any more information. But they make the message more correct grammatically. We can add even more words to make one complete, grammatically correct sentence. But the information is basically the same:
In our sentence, the 4 key words (sell, car, gone, France) are accentuated or stressed.
Why is this important for pronunciation? It is important because it adds "music" to the language. It is the rhythm of the English language. It changes the speed at which we speak (and listen to) the language. The time between each stressed word is the same.
In our sentence, there is 1 syllable between SELL and CAR and 3 syllablesbetween CAR and GONE. But the time (t) between SELL and CAR and between CAR and GONE is the same. We maintain a constant beat on the stressed words. To do this, we say "my" more slowly, and "because I've" more quickly. We change the speed of the small structure words so that the rhythm of the key content words stays the same.
I am a proFESsional phoTOgrapher whose MAIN INterest is to TAKE SPEcial, BLACK and WHITE PHOtographs that exHIBit ABstract MEANings in their photoGRAPHic STRUCture.

Sentence Stress Rules

The basic rules of sentence stress are:
  1. content words are stressed
  2. structure words are unstressed
  3. the time between stressed words is always the same
The following tables can help you decide which words are content words and which words are structure words:

Content words - stressed

words carrying the meaning
main verbs
negative auxiliaries

Structure words - unstressed

words for correct grammar
he, we, they
on, at, into
a, an, the
and, but, because
auxiliary verbs
do, be, have, can, must


The rules above are for for what is called "neutral" or normal stress. But sometimes we can stress a word that would normally be only a structure word, for example to correct information. Look at the following dialogue:
"They've been to Mongolia, haven't they?"
"No, THEY haven't, but WE have."
Note also that when "be" is used as a main verb, it is usually unstressed—even though as a main verb it is also a content word.
When we say a sentence in English, we join or "link" words to each other. Because of this linking, the words in a sentence do not always sound the same as when we say them individually. Linking is very important in English. If you recognize and use linking, two things will happen:
  1. you will understand other people more easily
  2. other people will understand you more easily
There are basically two main types of linking:
  • consonant vowel
    We link words ending with a consonant sound to words beginning with a vowel sound
  • vowel vowel
    We link words ending with a vowel sound to words beginning with a vowel sound

Vowels and Consonants for Linking

To understand linking, it is important to know the difference between vowel sounds and consonant sounds. Here is a table of English vowels and consonants:
The table shows the letters that are vowels and consonants. But the important thing in linking is the sound, not the letter. Often the letter and the sound are the same, but not always.
For example, the word pay ends with:
  • the consonant letter y
  • the vowel sound a
Here are some more examples:

ends with the letter
ends with the sound

begins with the letter
begins with the sound
Linking Consonant to Vowel
When a word ends in a consonant sound, we often move the consonant sound to the beginning of the next word if it starts with a vowel sound.
For example, in the phrase turn off...
we write it like this:
turn off
we say it like this:
Remember that it's the sound that matters.
In the next example sentence, have ends with...
  • the letter e (which is a vowel)
  • but the sound v (which is a consonant)
So we link the ending consonant sound of have to the beginning vowel sound of the next word a.
And in fact we have four consonant to vowel links in this sentence:
We write it like this:
Can I have a bit of egg?
We say it like this:

Linking Vowel to Vowel

When one word ends with a vowel sound and the next word begins with a vowel sound, we link the words with a sort of Y or W sound. It depends on the shape of our mouth at the end of the first word.

Lips wide

o o
When the first word ends in an a, e, i vowel sound [ eɪ / i: / aɪ ], our lips are wide. Then we insert a Y sound at the beginning of the next word:
we write
we say
pay all
the end
lie on

They all buy at the arcade.
theyyall buyyat theyarcade
Here are some more examples of word pairs that are linked with Y.
  • lay out, may I, say it
  • he ate, she is, we are
  • high up, my arm, why ever

Lips round

o o
When the first word ends in an o, u vowel sound [ əʊ / u: ], our lips are round. Then we insert a W sound at the beginning of the next word:
we write
we say
go out
too often

You all go out too often.
youwall gowout toowoften
Here are some more examples of word pairs that are linked with W.
  • no other, show off, grow up
  • you are, too often, throw it


In your own language you know many words that sound the same but do not mean the same. They are homophones (= "same sound"). In English, too, there are many homophones, and it's important to try to learn and understand them. We use homophones all the time, even in everyday speech. They are also a common source of humour in jokes, and frequently occur in riddles.

What are Homophones?

homophone (noun): one of two or more words with the same pronunciation but different spellings and/or meanings (for example weakand week)
Homophones are words that have exactly the same sound (pronunciation) but different meanings and (usually) spelling.
For example, the following two words have the same sound, but different meanings and spelling:
hour (noun: 60 minutes)
our (possessive adjective: belonging to us)

In the next example, the two words have the same sound and spelling, but different meanings:
bear (noun: large, heavy animal with thick fur)
bear (verb: tolerate, endure)

Usually homophones are in groups of two (our, hour), but occasionally they can be in groups of three (to, too, two) or even more. If we take our bear example, we can add another word to the group:
bear (noun: large, heavy animal with thick fur)
bear (verb: tolerate, endure)
bare (adjective: naked, without clothes)

Now let's hear a sentence where we have all five words with their different meanings:
Our bear cannot bear to be bare at any hour.
The word homophone is made from two combining forms:

  • homo- (from the Greek word homos, meaning "same")
  • -phone (from the Greek word phone, meaning "sound" or "voice")