Customer Experience News & Trends

6 costly blunders when communicating with customers

There’s one problem at the root of most customer issues: miscommunication. Eliminate many of the missteps in communication, and you can improve customer experiences.

Some poor habits, outdated practices and listening barriers get in the way of clear communication between employees and customers every day.

Here are some of the most common issues and how front-line employees who help customers day-in, day-out can avoid them:

1. Interrupting

Interruptions are on the rise in every form of communication. Why? People are so used to immediate answers — thanks to the Internet — that they have even less patience than they once did. So we tend to interrupt to get to the conclusion — whether it’s an answer, solution or response — sooner.

Service pros might be tempted to interrupt when they think they know what customers are requesting or explaining. So they jump in to complete customers’ thoughts.

Avoid it: The simple solution is to not interrupt. But when you must, ask for permission and tell the customer what you think the main idea is before moving to an answer. Say, “Can I stop you there and make sure I understand what you need? If I understand this correctly, you want to … Is that right?”

2. Negative questions

Negative questions cause a lot of confusion in communication. For instance, you ask a customer, “You don’t have an account set up?” and she answers, “Yes.” What does it mean? Are you right — she doesn’t have an account? Or yes, she does have one set up?

Avoid it: Ask straightforward questions with clear language, such as “Do you have an account set up?” Alternatively, ask open-ended questions to get more in-depth answers, such as “What information have you given your sales rep?”

3. Technical talk

Customers likely have less technical and industry knowledge than you do. In that respect, they don’t fully “speak your language.” If you use too much technical language and industry-speak, your answers and resolutions won’t be fully clear (and customers will likely have more questions and need to contact you again).

Avoid it: Skip acronyms and jargon. Use full phrases, at least at first. Then tell them an acronym you’ll continue to use with their permission. If it’s a particularly technical subject, check throughout the conversation if customers get it. Say, “What doesn’t make sense so far?” rather than, “Does this make sense?”

4. Business speak

You’re in business, so when you communicate with customers it’s meant to be professional. But sounding all-business all the time can get in the way of genuine communication. There are some emotions involved, especially when the customer experience involves a problem. So if you don’t respond to emotions — from annoyance to panic — customers will likely be underwhelmed by the exchange.

Avoid it: Short phrases that acknowledge customers’ emotions work well. For instance, “That’s a pain in the neck, isn’t it?” “I hate when that happens.” “This is frustrating.” “I’d can see why you’d be upset.”

5. Doing the minimum

Only responding to what customers ask or request often leaves a lot of room for misinformation or misinterpretation. But if you answer the next question before it’s asked or take the next step before customers need you to (because you know from experience the sequence of what happens in common situations), you can prevent the back-and-forth that often muddles communication.

Avoid it: One sentence that explains why you’re saying what you say or doing what you do often helps you stay ahead of misunderstandings. For instance, “You’ll need to update even if you haven’t changed processes because it will prevent a system slow-down.” Or “I am changing your appointment frequency because the new model has a built-in back up.”

6. Keeping your distance

Most people are used to constant communication thanks to social media, 24-hour news sources and text-zealous family, friends and colleagues. So if they don’t hear from you on anything that’s pending, they feel communication is breaking down.

Avoid it: You likely update customers on developments that involve them. You also want to reach out when nothing is happening, but you’re working on it, so they know they haven’t been forgotten. Add alerts to your system so customer issues that aren’t touched for a day or two are followed with some sort of contact that includes an update.

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