Laura Del Rosso
Laura Del Rosso

Good customer service often starts with some basic common sense. Chewing gum or eating lunch while talking to a client on the phone? Don't do it.

“You may think your customers don't realize that you're chewing on something, but chances are they do,” said Nancy Friedman, who operates the Telephone Doctor (www.nancyfriedman.com), a consulting company. “Don't chew gum when serving customers. It's unacceptable.”

When putting someone on hold, don't tell them, “I'll be right back.” Chances are you'll be gone for longer than you think, and longer than the customer would like, said Friedman.

“Practice in your own office. Close your eyes and, when you think one minute is up, open them,” she said. “Eighty percent of people will open their eyes at 35 seconds. We don't realize how long a minute is when we're waiting for something.”

Friedman, who spoke during a webinar for the Travel Institute, said how you deliver information is often key to good customer service.

For example, if you haven't been able to nab the ship stateroom that your client wants but have gotten another cabin with similar amenities, you can preface your conversation with “I have some good news and not-so-good news.”

Don't use the words “bad news” with clients. By using “not-so-good news” you're indicating that you've been able to help, which is what you want to emphasize, she said.

“Delivery is key. Practice it, play with your delivery in your office [before talking to a client],” Friedman said. “And always have a plan B for your client. It may not be what the client wants, but you need to have a plan B to deliver.”

Friedman also recommends what she calls “sandwiching” messages to most effectively communicate with clients. “Every time you leave a voicemail, send an email, too. Every time you send an email, leave a voice mail. The telephone is not the main means of communicating any more,” she said.

Travel agents often have to cope with difficult and at times irate clients who have called to complain or vent about a problem booking.

Friedman suggests first acknowledging and apologizing for what has happened, then sympathizing and empathizing. However, be careful how you empathize. “Don't say, 'I know exactly how you feel' if you have not experienced the exact same thing.”

Then, she said, accept responsibility, even if it's an issue with a travel vendor. Tell the customer that you will take care of the problem.

“Prepare to help. Prepare to fix it. That's what the client wants to hear,” Friedman said.

One of her pet peeves, she said, is outgoing voice mail messages that are too long or give obvious information such as “I can't take your call right now.”

She suggests short messages inviting customers to leave their name and number and asking them to repeat their phone number.

Then check to make sure your outgoing message sounds cheery and professional.

“Call your own phone number to hear what your customers are hearing,” Friedman said. “Are you enthusiastic? Are you giving the right information?”

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