January is National Soup Month. Aside from the fact that there’s a near 100% chance you didn’t know that, you’re probably wondering what soup has to do with customer support. The answer? Everything. Customer service is like soup. It’s warm and friendly, comprised of the ultimate combination of tips and tricks that has the potential to take a bad experience from sour to savory with just a dash of patience, a pinch of adaptability, or any other culinary reference that stirs your stockpot. Customers who are presented with a taste of the care that we’ve outlined will most certainly go back for seconds, thirds, and even fourths. So, what are you waiting for? Get out your notepad, and start writing down our recipe for souped-up customer support!
Ingredient 1: Patience
Everyone has heard the expression, “Patience is a virtue.” Overused? Maybe. Applicable? Absolutely. You are going to be dealing with a bevy of customers all day long, and no two will be alike. Some will be as straightforward as tomato soup. They’ll be familiar and easy to manage. Others will be vague or confusing – a sort of mulligan stew, if you will. You won’t have any idea of what they’re all about or how to help them. So, when you’re up against the mulligan stews of the world, and you’re counting the seconds until your next tomato soup call, keep your cool. If you can feel yourself boiling over, instead of flipping your lid, just move it a smidge to let out some steam. Take a moment to deescalate your emotions. Once you’re back down to a simmer, you can address the issue at hand.
Ingredient 2: Empathy/Understanding
Empathy is the driving force behind human connection. It’s comfort food for the soul. So, when it seems as though an interaction is sinking faster than chicken and dumplings gone wrong, try to look at things from the customer’s angle. Listen intently, and make it a point to understand what they really need. When a customer is clearly upset, you’ll need to have some compassion. What if the same thing were happening to you? What if you’d been looking forward to the perfect bowl of chicken and dumplings all day, and then someone forgot to add the dumplings? Or maybe you paid for enough to fill a Dutch oven, but all they sent you was an 8 oz. mug? By envisioning yourself in the customer’s shoes, you will be able to quickly identify the root of the problem and resolve the situation to everyone’s satisfaction.
Ingredient 3: The Power of Positive Thinking
Upbeat personalities are like gazpacho – they’re bright, refreshing, and full of flavor. Whether communicating on the phone, via live chat, or through email, customers can always tell when they are speaking with or corresponding with someone pleasant. Wouldn’t you much rather present yourself as a cool and spirited cup of gazpacho than a heavy ladle of loaded baked potato? To keep things friendly, adjust your attitude, your tone of voice, and the tone of what you’re writing. Whatever the avenue of communication, positive language and an approachable demeanor will steer the conversation in the right direction.
Ingredient 4: Communication Skills (Verbal & Written)
Before beginning any job relating to awesome customer service, work on your communication skills, and learn how to deliver information in a simple, effective manner. For example, imagine if you were trying to impart a recipe for your grandma’s famous black bean soup, but you were so confusing that the recipe turned out more like refried beans. What good would that do the recipient? The goal of any verbal or written communication is to get your point across in the most direct way to ensure that everyone is on the same page, and the customer is receiving the assistance they need. That means developing a strategy for well-thought out conversation, and allowing that to guide everything you say or type.
Ingredient 5: Non-Complacency
You could do your job blindfolded, with one hand tied behind your back. You’re comfortable. Too comfortable. And after a while, that complacency can actually lead to a mediocre work ethic. Think lobster bisque, devoid of flavor. Hot and sour soup that’s neither hot, nor sour. Never stop considering which aspects of your position or your core knowledge you can improve upon. Always evaluate. For example, do you frequently find yourself repeating the same information to customers? That is a sure sign that you need to improve your telephone skills. Are customers usually happy when they hang up with you? If not, go back and dissect the conversation in your head to see where you could have used different language to produce a more positive resolution.
Ingredient 6: Adaptability
In many cases, customer interaction will go entirely according to plan – those run-of-the-mill phone conversations where you barely have to stray from your script. On the other hand, some calls will take a turn that may lead you outside of your area of expertise. When the recipe calls for shallots, but all you have is an onion. When the soup requires a roux, but you don’t know a roux from a mirepoix. Should that happen, and you can pretty much bet that it will, be prepared to roll with the punches. Rely on your training and intuition, and use the items at your disposal to get things to the desired end result, without compromising flavor or quality.
Ingredient 7: Problem Solving Skills
Anyone in customer service, and anyone who’s ever tried to make consommé, knows that these are not simple tasks. As a customer support representative, you are “the problem solver,” and no one ever said that your job would be easy. Problem solving requires ingenuity and adherence to four basic steps: identifying the problem, generating solutions, choosing the most appropriate solution based on the customer’s needs, and implementing said solution. Using your background knowledge in conjunction with the information that the customer provides, you’re bound to stir up an answer to any problem that comes across your plate. While the fix may not be exactly what the customer had in mind, you can feel confident knowing that you can handle anything they throw at you.
Ingredient 8: Professionalism
Visualize yourself the owner of the best French onion soup cart in the city. You are a soup genius, and you have quite a following. Then, one morning, your soup cart buddy makes a mistake resulting in soup that is neither French, nor onion. And the entire day is filled with unhappy customers. Well, in customer support, that’s not just one day – it’s every day. That’s why professionalism has special significance in a customer service position. Your ability to remain professional, even when the customer is screaming at you about an ill-fated bowl of soup, will positively portray the “customer first” mentality that is the hallmark of any stellar corporate support team.
Ingredient 9: Assertiveness
When you’ve suddenly become the customer’s punching bag, assertiveness is the tool that will quickly take you out of harm’s way, and reestablish the rules of polite conversation. In other words, stand your ground, and gently assert your expert knowledge of the situation. You know that New England clam chowder is white, and Manhattan clam chowder is red, and on this point, you cannot compromise. But, even if you don’t know clam chowder from clams casino, there will always be someone to whom you can escalate the call. Maintain a self-assured demeanor, and assert yourself with definitive language that will convey your point with ease.
Ingredient 10: Attentiveness
Cream of mushroom soup wouldn’t be very good without cream and mushrooms. And customer service wouldn’t be very good without an attentive customer support representative. Each and every interaction requires attention to detail, and lots of stirring. This means careful listening, accurate note taking, and proper responses to the customer on the other end of the phone call. Make yourself seem available and helpful by your tone of voice, how promptly you answer questions, and how efficiently you address the customer’s needs.
Ingredient 11: Time Management
“First call resolution” is a widely-known catch phrase in call center lingo. If the situation allows for it, it is of utmost importance to end each interaction with all issues resolved to the customer’s satisfaction. On the flip side, it is also important to get to as many calls as you can. That means that your focus shouldn’t be allocated to one customer. To make a long story short, while communicating and interacting with customers is important, strong time management skills will enable you to help as many people as possible, provide quick and concise solutions across the board, and still have a few minutes to spare to enjoy that ridiculously good butternut squash soup with your name on it.
Ingredient 12: Basic Computer Skills
Technology changes faster than a pot of chicken noodle soup soothes a cold. So, basic computer comprehension and the ability to learn new software is a major aspect of any customer service position. Filling out Excel sheets, writing emails, keeping up-to-date notes in whichever database your company uses – these are all tasks that you will be expected to perform on a daily basis. And depending on the company that you are working for, your computer skills may need to be developed beyond standard data entry. That being said, if you aren’t the most technologically savvy employee, take a few minutes out of every day to review the ins and outs of the software you use. Before you know it, you’ll be an expert.
Ingredient 13: Ability to Stay Calm, Cool, & Collected
Sometimes, customer support can be a messy job. The customer may be upset or angry at something entirely out of your control, like when you’re making wonton soup, and the filling boils out of the wrappers. Instead of becoming defensive or escalating your emotions, channel your inner yogi, and use a calm, assertive tone to defuse the situation. It would be great if you could please everyone all the time, but the odds are not in your favor. It’s your job to produce as many positive outcomes are possible. So, keep your emotions from clouding your judgment, like cloudy wonton broth, and get right down to the issue at hand.
Ingredient 14: General Organizational Skills
If you’ve ever made borscht, then you know that it’s a serious soup. There’s chopping, mincing, shredding, grating, slicing, and dicing, all for the love of beets. Keeping yourself on-task for that undertaking can’t be easy, which leads us to our next skill. You may be on a call while handling a live chat and sending an email, and the other line could be ringing in the background. The ability to multitask relies heavily on your organizational skills, and you’ll be expected to keep track of every call: whom you are speaking to, what needs to be done next, and which customers’ concerns require immediate attention. Don’t worry, though. As long as you’re organized, you can borscht your way through anything.
Ingredient 15: Being a Team Player
Customer service is almost always a team effort, working brilliantly together like the little meatballs and escarole in Italian wedding soup. You may share responsibilities equally, or each employee may have his or her own area of expertise. Whether you need assistance with an individual customer issue, or you’re brainstorming together to improve call center procedures for the entire group, your coworkers will need to rely on your presence and your input, just as you rely on theirs. Which brings us to our final point…
Ingredient 16: Dependability
As with most jobs, your performance affects the people around you and the company as a whole. Customers trust you to help them with everything from correcting an error on their account to walking them through the pros and cons of the various beef stews on the market. Be equal to the task, and you’ll swiftly prove yourself as invaluable an ingredient to your employer as Julia Child was to masterfully-crafted boeuf bourguignon.
Now that you’ve taken a tour of the most important ingredients to the best customer support in the universe, how does your customer service soup rate? Are you lacking something critical, like noodle-less chicken noodle soup? Or are you as fine-tuned as blue-ribbon turkey chili? Whatever you’re cooking, remember that your ability to excel at customer support is only as good as the ingredients that you’re using. Put the right components together in the right order, and you’ll be a master chef in no time.