Following a few customer experiences this year that were less than satisfactory,  I felt it was time to write an article on the subject of telephone manners

Reflecting on the differences between these poor experiences and other good ones, I think that they are more about the intention and manner of the person providing the service than the service itself.  By ‘manner’ I mean tone, rather than the alternative meaning of ‘manners’, although let’s face it, that goes a long way to appeasing typical customer frustrations.

Rather than focus only on the negative experiences and some misremembered nostalgia for the ‘good old days’ of excellent telephone etiquette, I thought what might be more useful for the SpeakUp! readership would be to highlight some comparisons, contrasting some negative telephone customer service experiences I have had this year with some high-quality ones.

These experiences had me wondering how might we all might contribute to improving the quality of our telephone conversations.  The more aware we can be when engaging with each other on the telephone, the more we will listen and respond appropriately.

My first example is a negative experience, and is one that I suspect you can all relate to as it is disappointingly common: It happened earlier this year when I called a branch of a credit union where I have an account. It isn’t my primary current account, and all I wanted to do was make some enquiries regarding changes they were making to customers’ accounts including an increase in charges, based on literature I had received in the post.

After going through the usual slow, automated dialing system, the person I spoke to seemed to be less informed on the changes to charges than I was. He then didn’t offer to investigate further, or transfer me to someone else who might have been able to help me.  As we finished our call, he gave me no indication or assurance that he would take the necessary follow-up action, or even go and learn about his own bank’s fee changes! I was left feeling irritated and no wiser as to my options.

I had a rather different and this time mixed example of customer service last month when I was looking around to find a local supplier to replace all four tyres on my car.

Making a call to the local branch of a well-known supplier, I was stunned by the offhand, casual telephone manner of the person on the other end of the line. Not only did he not seem to be bothered about the potential business, it actually seemed as though I was inconveniencing or interrupting him with my call.

After some further online searching, I found AA Tyres who were far more friendly, but their customer service was erratic.  After dealing with one individual on the phone who kept trying to sell me two tyres rather than the four I was trying to order – surely some sort of Monty Python-esque joke on how to sell –  I called back the following day when I hadn’t received email confirmation.

Unfortunately, the same person answered again and once more tried to sell me two tyres! If I hadn’t been determined to change all my tyres, all those customer service ‘Cold Buttons’ being pressed would have put me off entirely.

On the day of the work itself, the job was done so well that when they had finished I booked my car to stay there for a regular service. The person who had changed my tyres kept in touch with me throughout the day to let me know when he would be arriving with my car. It was a very different and much higher level of professionalism from that of the telephone customer service representative at the same firm.

By further contrast, this year I have had a very positive experience with my primary bank. I have needed to call them a few times this year, and found their service to be very high quality.

Even if the customer service rep couldn’t solve my immediate issue (and more often than not they were able to resolve matters), the impression I’ve been left with is that they always take a high level of pride in their work and care about delivering a high-quality service and experience for all their customers.

It’s very obvious to me that the call staff at my primary bank have been well-trained and possess a high degree of emotional intelligence, and that should always be a pre-requisite for being employed in such jobs, as well as ongoing professional and customer service training as well as ongoing measurement of the key indicators for these metrics

I’m sure we would all agree that when working in any kind of customer service role, being able to manage well yourself –  your emotions. motivation and your behaviour is a high priority.

Taking all this into consideration, I’d like to suggest something a bit radical: that as customers we all think about our own emotions, behaviour, attitude and tone prior to picking up that phone to make a call to a supplier.

Remaining calm and polite usually helps our cause more than anger and frustration when dealing with a customer service representative who either can’t be bothered, has not had proper training, or not been properly briefed by (for example) their internal and external communications department.

Similarly, when answering the phone for your enterprise, it’s important that you really engage with the person on the other end of the line, especially if it’s a potential customer or an existing client.

Referring to my article on active listening in the last issue of the GPB SpeakUp! Journal, Edition #62, active listening is indeed not a passive exercise that one can just assume we will get right. It takes training beforehand, then energy and focus during the call itself to engage fully with our interlocutor.

Self-management is not easy in exasperating situations, but usually it’s more effective in achieving the desired result, and usually greatly improves the experience – and the rest of our day.

Happy holidays to you all.


By Lynda Russell-Whittaker