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Greeting Customers: Does Your Small Business’s Phone Still Matter?

7 min read • Jan 28, 2022 • Lendio

Oh, how talking to customers has changed since 2013.

Remember 2013? We were reminded of it a few weeks ago when we found this post we published about the benefits of a phone answering strategy. How you greeted your customer via phone was a big thing back then, but since our phones do a better job of feeding us news stories (or TikToks, take your pick) today, we started thinking: is this article still relevant in 2022? 

Short answer, yes. Long answer: you’re probably less likely to greet a customer on a phone call now than you were 9 years ago. Here’s why: 

  • 85+ percent of customer service interactions today are automated.
  • 75+ percent of consumers have used a self-service portal.  
  • 60+ percent of U.S. consumers prefer automated self-service

That means you probably need to adjust your strategy for the ways you’re likely to respond to customers who may never even know that your business has a phone. Now the focus is on today’s customer communication tools: social media, IM, and DMs; customer chats; and even old-fashioned email.

Adjust Your Attitude Before You Answer

In 2013, the key takeaway was to smile when answering the phone regardless of how you feel, and that an insincere smile is better than a sincere frown.

Today, this is still great advice on social media, where almost 50% of consumers will do their market research. Two cases come to mind:

One is the older customer who may struggle with technology. If you’re the impatient type, you’ll need to check that before you interact. If someone is having trouble, show compassion and help them with a smile. That holds true whether someone sees you smiling or not. It turns out, even typing with a smile takes the edge off of the interaction

The other is the troll who puts you in their crosshairs. While it’s tempting to fire back – a study of 700,000 Facebook users indicated even online, we mirror the attitudes of the people we’re responding to – that same smile could be the thing that keeps the conversation civil. Being the bigger person wins in the end.

Construct and Standardize Your Greeting

The takeaway in the age of landlines was to consider what your company represents and who your clients are, then create a standard opening that connects the two and ensure your team adopts it.

Today, you’re probably more likely to set a tone through your emails. But wait, you ask, is email still relevant? Apparently so: according to Hubspot, 74% of Baby Boomers think email is the most personal channel to receive communications from brands, as do 72% of Gen X, 64% of Millennials, and 60% of Gen Z.

How do you build a tone in a one-dimensional communication like email? Start small. For example, you may want to look at your signature line. Sure, you could be generic, like “electrician” or “owner.” Or you could have a little fun or just write something unexpected – like CEO (Chief Electrical Officer).

Never Multitask While Talking to a Customer

In 2013, we advised you to turn away from the computer screen when you were on the phone to avoid being distracted by incoming messages or emails. But you know what? It’s even more important today, particularly with the rise of video calls, which a whopping 76% of Americans now do for work

Here’s a fact: other people on the call can see your eyes pointed down at your phone or staring off into space. Let your customer know that they’re the center of your attention by making them the center of your attention, too. Staying focused on a video call shows respect to everyone else.

But what about when you’re communicating sans video? It turns out that, regardless of the medium, we humans just aren’t great multitaskers. A report published in American Scientist indicated that even the most dedicated multitaskers can’t keep up well with multiple streams of information pouring in. The takeaway: if you really want to help the customer you’re communicating with, focus solely on them.

Use Mirroring to Develop Rapport

Businesses are now exchanging more than 20 billion messages with people on Messenger, and 64% of people across all age groups say they’d rather message a business than call or email.

Remember what we said about mirroring in terms of trolls? Back in the day (2013), mirroring was a thing, too, but we did this by adopting the customer’s energy and personality. If they were reserved, you were reserved. If they were peppy, so were you. In other words, the rule of thumb was to mirror their energy. 

Mirroring is still an effective technique when talking to a customer through Messenger, in a customer service chat, or via text. This is an important habit to adopt because businesses are now exchanging more than 20 billion messages with people on Messenger, and 64% of people across age groups say they’d rather message a business than call or email.

In this format, you’d be mirroring intent instead of tone to reinforce that you understand the question or problem, since you don’t have the benefit of voice to indicate understanding with throw-ins like “ahh,” “mmm hmm,” or “gotcha.” So, instead, you’d repeat what was said, like this:

Customer: Hi. I need to find shoes to match a purple suit.

You: Hi, and thanks for reaching out! So, you need shoes to match a purple suit? I can help you with that.

Used in this manner, mirroring keeps your conversations productive and professional, and lets the customer know that you heard what they’re saying.

Consider Ways to Convey Professionalism

Speaking of professionalism, back in 2013, professionalism meant steering away from casual language — and always keeping the conversation about work.

In 2022, these tips apply equally to what you put out on social media, and they’re important because 55% of consumers learn about new brands through social media channels. Still, social media by its very nature is conversational, although there’s a fine line between what’s accepted and embraced and what’s completely off limits. Customer chats are also pretty laid back, although all of these messages contribute to your brand’s image.

Mistakes, however, do happen. For example, let’s say you accidentally unleash some inappropriate language or dabble in bad grammar: on the phone, it may have been accepted as a one-time slip – the customer may not have even noticed. In a customer chat, a DM, or a Facebook post, you just created an electronic record that can be shared dozens of times over. The customer may look at what you typed and wonder why you didn’t take the time to fix it … or worse. None of it bodes well for your business. Seeming casual and friendly is great for connecting with customers, just remember to back up your casual talk with a system or process that ensures your casual language is neither offensive, inaccurate, or utterly unprofessional.

Remember, before you sell a dollar of product or service, you have to sell yourself. While we may not rely as heavily on phones for customer interactions today, we still need to communicate with customers as much as ever.

Disclaimer: The information provided in this post does not, and is not intended to, constitute business, legal, tax, or accounting advice and is provided for general informational purposes only. Readers should contact their attorney, business advisor, or tax advisor to obtain advice on any particular matter.

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