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The right way to answer the phone?

Seth Godin has a great post up today (admittedly, most of his posts are great ones) about handling customer phone calls. Here's his opening salvo: "The new rules mean that the most valuable marketing event is almost always an inbound phone call."

I'll admit that answering member calls is something I struggle with, because in my career in association communications, I've often received calls from members with questions that had nothing to do with my area of expertise--the member operating under the assumption that "communications" meant that I knew the answers to any given question they might have. I've struggled with the conflict between wanting to give great customer service and just not knowing the answer to a question. And, of course, no member enjoys being bounced all over creation while they're trying to find the one person with the answer they need.

But last week I noticed something while I was working at Springtime: The hardest questions I had to answer were the brand-new ones. Once I had told one person where the closest Starbucks was or how to get to the general session, I could answer the question easily and fluently the next time it was asked. Our meetings department gave me pretty much all the information I needed, but I had to go through the experience of answering the question once to upload it properly into my brain.

I'm wondering: Would it be worthwhile to cycle all of your staff through a few weeks of answering member phone calls? It would certainly be hard work for all concerned, but would it help your staff get a truly fluent familiarity with the questions your members tend to ask--and therefore help them to provide better customer service when called upon to answer those questions again?

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Comments

Godin also goes on to say "the goal of every single interaction should be to upgrade the brand's value in the eye of the caller and to learn something about how to do better, not to get the caller to just go away." For our members, calling us should feel like calling up a friend for a quick answer.

I like your suggestion, Lisa. And with the collaboration tools available today, groups can keep a log of every question and answer that comes in so that the only new questions are about brand new products, services or programs.

Hey great suggestion re cycling through ... at my previous association we did that - sort of. We each had a shift on the front desk. Short but action packed and very educational shifts. The added bonus was that it created a deeper appreciation for each other's jobs and responsibilities. One big outcome led to a consensus that the IT priority should go to the member service wish list! Now if this isn't practical (cycling through) there are probably other ways to that same goal.

Lindy--Great point. I remember at my last job I used to reference our customer service scripts all the time for basic information callers might need; a more sophisticated system could capture things for new customer service reps as well as staff in other areas.

Peggy--Another great point. I hadn't thought about it when I wrote my original post, but you're absolutely right; nothing increases understanding of another person's challenges like experiencing those challenges yourself (a great way to break down departmental silos!).

Thank you both for commenting!

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