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Dashing Through the Calls

The holiday season can be a stressful time for any customer service department, whether you're on the phones or on your feet in a brick-and-mortar store. Picture this:

It’s mid-December, and you’re a customer service representative in the middle of assisting a customer as they complete a very large purchase. Suddenly their credit card is declined, but you’re not quite sure what happened. You need to take a few moments to investigate, but now the customer is concerned… and impatient. You try to sound reassuring as you frantically attempt to contact the credit card company and just happen to notice that your queue is building. The credit card company then puts you on hold, and as you wait, the customer is steadily becoming even more agitated. You try signaling your supervisor - who is currently busy assisting one of the seasonal reps – so you attempt some small talk with the customer. Which, unfortunately, does not go over well. After many long minutes, the issue is resolved and the customer goes on his or her way. You breathe a momentary sigh of relief, until you realize that the next customer in line is even more impatient than the first.

Sound familiar?

As a former department store cashier (and call center rep), interacting with anyone in customer service during the holidays always brings back my not-so-fond memories of that seasonal stress.

But there is hope! Your reps don't have to dread the holidays! I shared my concerns with Jeff Toister, President & Founder of Toister Performance Solutions and he recommended some key strategies on how to defuse common causes of holiday stress.

Stressor #1: Alienation
In my department store days, my register was my island – both figuratively and literally. Even though I was only a phone call or a few steps away from my colleagues, once the "sea" of customers swelled we might as well have been miles away. For me to take a couple of minutes to make a call or step away from the register to ask a question was the equivalent of putting a customer on hold. And typically, this would only increase the customer’s stress level and in turn, I would feel the pressure.

Toister’s Solution: Knowledge Sharing
Toister says, "Our call center agents often feel the same way. They want to find a better solution to challenging situations, but it sometimes feels as if there’s no time to ask questions and learn from their experience. One strategy to overcome this alienation is to hold daily team huddles. These are short, five to ten minute meetings where the supervisor reviews the top priorities for the day and agents can briefly share solutions to common challenges."

Stressor #2: Awkward Silence
Trying to make conversation with a customer while you’re waiting for a price check, waiting to find out why the method of payment was declined, etc. can be awkward for a rep, especially if the customer is impatient or angry. And when you’re serving hundreds of customers a day, the enthusiastic small talk can dry up pretty quickly.

Toister’s Solution: Create 5 Key Questions
"Fortunately, anyone can become an expert conversationalist with the help of the Five Question Technique,” Toister says. “The way it works is you write down five questions that you can use to break the ice with a customer, develop some rapport, and perhaps learn a little bit more about their needs. Customer service reps who prepare these questions ahead of time find that at least one of the questions is appropriate in nearly every situation."

Once you’ve expanded your customer service rep’s knowledge base and given them the confidence to break the silence, you are well on your way to less dashing and more servicing and selling this season!

You can hear more of Jeff Toister’s simple and effective stress-relieving strategies in the ICMI webinar, now available on demand: Do the Holidays Stress Out Your Contact Center?

Christina Hammarberg is the former associate editor at ICMI.