Client Service: The Crucial Need for Good Phone Etiquette

Apr 16, 2021 / By Teresa Riccobuono
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The staffer who answers your incoming calls wields a great deal of influence over how your business is perceived by callers. Professionalism on the phone adds immeasurably to an excellent client experience—and reputation.

My mother does not own a computer, so she still conducts the majority of her business over the telephone. For the last few years, she has been keeping a record of good and not-so-good encounters she has had with customer service people.

First takeaway for advisors:

Your receptionist may be the most important person to help form the impression others have of your firm.

Lands’ End consistently receives high ratings from mom. It would be interesting to know more about their training program. All companies should aspire to this level of customer service.

Two absolute musts on the phone are these:

  • When you are on the phone with someone and you need to step away to check on something, advise your caller of what you are doing so they don’t think they have been disconnected.
  • If you, or someone on your team, makes a promise to a client, keep that promise.

When things do not go well

Here’s an example of how frustrating not keeping an agreement can be to a client. This actually happened to my mom.

When my mom was experiencing a delay in the delivery of her new furnace, she called the service department and was told that it should arrive in two weeks. Evidently, no notes were made in her file by the client service person she had spoken with.

After two weeks had passed and there was no communication from the furnace company, she called again and had to tell her whole story over again. Someone from the furnace company was supposed to look into the delivery date of her furnace and get back to her. This didn’t happen.

This led to a sense that the customer service people were not interested in helping her. There was disinterest in their voices and no concern about resolving the issue of the delayed furnace.

Mom felt these calls were a complete waste of time. The customer service department was useless. The first person she spoke with bad-mouthed another department for not doing their job. This should never happen.

Customer service should always listen to the complete request before they try to resolve the problem.

In this encounter, the person who answered the phone started asking questions before she really listened to the request. She turned what could have been a simple encounter into one where the caller didn’t feel respected and became annoyed.

To add insult to injury, the customer service person was ready to dismiss the caller prematurely. The message that was received was, “I’m done with you and want to move onto the next call.”

Can you even reach a human?

How difficult is it for a caller to reach a human being? Have you ever found yourself in what I call a death spiral loop? This is when you get prompt after prompt and you never end up in the correct department and it is impossible to reach a human being.

In addition, when you have an issue and need to speak with someone to resolve it, the telephone options never seem to correspond to your issue.

Even worse is when the system wants you to answer questions verbally to a non-human being, but the non-human being does not recognize what you are saying. I hate to admit it, but I have found myself yelling at the machine. It doesn’t help with my service issue, but it does let off some steam of frustration! Here again, you may find yourself in an endless loop.

The relief of good phone service

What a pleasant surprise it is when a real person answers the phone right away and who also knows how to resolve your issue or can connect you directly to the correct department, without disconnecting you? When did this level of service become a superior level of customer service? This should be the norm!

Here’s another story from my mom. As I mentioned, she handles business by phone and documents her good and not-so-good encounters.

Apparently, the receptionist was new and forgot who she was working for. She stumbled around for a while and finally asked, “How can I help you?” True story.

Along the same lines, if the person who answers the phone is multitasking, it is obvious, no matter how skilled at multitasking the person thinks they are, it is obvious they are not giving the caller their full attention.

What this means for your office

Nine-one-one operators and those who work on suicide hotlines go through in-depth training. How they respond to callers in distress could mean the difference between life and death.

The way in which people on your team answer the telephone and interact with callers doesn’t mean the difference between life and death, but it certainly could be the difference between being perceived as referable or not.

When it’s done right, proper telephone customer service looks (sounds?) like this:

  • Pleasant
  • Informative
  • Gives me all the information I need
  • Doesn’t feel like I am speaking to a bored teenager
  • Have no need to yell into the phone at a recorded message or prompt
  • All of my concerns have been satisfied
  • When I finish the call, I’m in a good mood

Great client service is such a rarity these days. When someone gets it right, be sure to give them feedback and thank them. If you receive a survey, complete it and let the powers that be know what a great encounter you had with their customer service person.

What can you do?

Think through the steps callers go through when they call your company to see how service can be improved. Better yet, ask a trusted friend or family member—even a few people—to call into your office and document their experience. I hope you get high praise like Lands’ End. If not, now you can fix the issues.

For more than 20 years, Teresa Riccobuono of Simply Organized has been a practice-management and recruiting specialist to the financial services industry, helping advisors bridge the gap between their existing and their ideal financial planning practice. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area but works with advisors across the country. She is a member of the board of directors of the East Bay Chapter of the Financial Planning Association and is currently the chair of the Public Relations committee. She can be reached at teresa@simplyorganized.com.

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