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Webucator's Free Customer Service Tutorial

Lesson: Developing Verbal and Nonverbal Communication

Welcome to our free Customer Service tutorial. This tutorial is based on Webucator's Customer Service Training course.

Excellent customer service depends on excellent communication skills. The first step in developing excellent communication skills is to realize that communication does not happen in a vacuum. Communication is a two-way process that depends on these three elements:

  1. Speaker or sender.
  2. Listener or receiver.
  3. Feedback from one to the other.

In this lesson, we will look at both verbal and nonverbal communication and how they, combined with the information above, contribute to the success (or failure) of good customer service.

Lesson Goals

  • Learn the basics of communication.
  • Learn how to communicate with customers.

The Basics of Communication

In any interaction, whether with internal or external customers, there are four things you can do to ensure good, basic communication:

  1. Watch. It is not enough to just look at the person you are speaking with, you must also pay attention to how the person is reacting and what nonverbal signals are being sent. What kind of impressions are you forming that may or may not be accurate based on how the person is dressed, behaving, or speaking? A good communicator will observe without judging, waiting for more information before making an evaluation.
  2. Hear. Listening is not just hearing the words, but paying attention to them. If you are focused on how you want to respond to the speaker, you will not hear what is being said. If you are daydreaming, you will miss entire passages. Stay focused, listen, hear, and understand what is being said.
  3. Open your mind. We are bombarded daily with information from many sources. In order to sort through and make sense of all of it, we must keep an open mind to new ideas. Effectively working with people depends on thinking creatively and using new information in ways that improve and/or enhance current processes.
  4. Understand. When we are conversing with our customers and colleagues, we need to clarify the information we are receiving to make sure the message we are hearing is the message that is being sent. Paraphrasing or parroting the information will help us understand and clarify the meaning with the speaker.

Dr. Albert Mehrabian, Professor Emeritus at UCLA, determined that communication happens as follows: (http://www.businessballs.com/mehrabiancommunications.htm)

  1. 7% of the meaning is determined from the actual words that are spoken.
  2. 38% of the meaning is determined by the way the words are said.
  3. 55% of the meaning is determined by facial expression.

Given this information, it is important to understand the role nonverbal communication has in communication as a whole. This applies even when speaking on the phone. Tone, pitch, and volume in your voice will provide your listener with more information than the words you are speaking.

Tone

Tone refers to the characteristic style of your voice. You can convey a lot of information by the tone of voice you choose to use. For example:

  1. A conversational tone.
  2. A business tone.
  3. A sarcastic tone.
  4. A condescending tone.
  5. A hushed tone.
  6. A jubilant tone.
  7. A soothing tone.
  8. A harsh tone.

Think of it like this: a baby cannot understand the words you speak, but will react to the tone of voice you use when you speak, just as a person who does not speak the same language you do will react to the tone of voice you use. It is not true, however, that if you speak louder, a foreigner (or baby) will understand what you are saying better than they did before.

Pitch

Pitch refers to the modulation of your voice while speaking. A monotone voice is hard to listen to because it is boring, just as a sing-song voice is difficult to listen to because of the repetition of the variations in pitch. The key is to find a pitch pattern between these two extremes. Pitch can be utilized through a variety of techniques, such as:

  1. Inflection. Your voice should go up and down throughout the conversation, emphasizing certain words or forming questions. Be careful that you do not develop a sing-song speech pattern, however.
  2. Pace. As you speak, pay attention to the speed with which you are talking. Using a variety of speeds, slower when making an important point, faster when you want to move the conversation along, will help to keep your listener interested and help them determine what is most important.
  3. Feeling. Using a warm and feeling voice will give your customer a sense of being liked and respected. Conversely, if your voice is cold and unfeeling, your customer will pick up on that as well, and will form a negative opinion.

You can practice using proper pitch by recording your voice and listening to it to hear where the pitch is off and then re-recording it. Try recording a conversation you are having with a friend and then listen to it, paying particular attention to pitch.

Volume

Some people are more naturally soft-spoken than others. Some have excellent radio announcer voices without even trying. The volume of your voice, along with the tone and pitch, will either push your customers away, or draw them in. It is important to be aware of how the volume of your voice is affecting those you are speaking to. Watch for these signs:

  1. People back away from you, frown, or look around to see who is listening when you talk. You might be talking too loudly. Try lowering your voice a bit and watch to see if the listener relaxes.
  2. People move closer, turn their heads so their ears are pointed at you, or cup their ears when you talk. You might be talking too softly. Try raising your voice and watch to see if the listener reacts appropriately.
  3. If you have been told your voice is too loud, or too soft, practice speaking in more moderate tones.

Another thing to keep in mind when moderating the volume of your voice is the space you are speaking in.

  1. Is it outdoors with a lot of traffic or other distracting noises?
  2. Are you talking in a crowded restaurant?
  3. Are you presenting in a large conference room?

Louder voices are needed when there is a lot of distraction, but not so loud that you become a distraction for others in the area.

  1. Are you having a private conversation in a corner of a break room?
  2. Are you in a one-on-one meeting in your supervisor's office?
  3. Are you chatting as you walk down the hall in the office?

Use softer voices in smaller, less crowded areas.

Check for Understanding: The Basics of Communication

Duration: 5 to 10 minutes.

In this exercise, consider the following scenario and then respond to the questions.

Marcus and his supervisor, Ms. Diaz, are having a meeting in a small conference room. Marcus is explaining the process he took to complete a task that was assigned to him. Ms. Diaz is listening, and her facial expression is one of deep concentration. Marcus, however, interprets her expression to be one of confusion and he keeps talking, growing more anxious and nervous as he continues to explain himself over and over again.

  1. What is happening in this scenario?
  2. Why does Marcus keep talking?
  3. Why is he so nervous?
  4. What might Ms. Diaz have done differently in this scenario that would have been helpful to Marcus?
  5. What could Marcus have done differently?

Solution:

  1. Marcus is responding to the facial expression Ms. Diaz is making.
  2. He thinks she is confused or maybe not understanding what he is saying. He is misinterpreting her expression, possibly because she is using an expression that is hard to understand.
  3. He is talking to his supervisor, who he thinks does not understand him. He is nervous about creating a bad impression by not speaking clearly.
  4. Ms. Diaz could have affirmed, either via an expression or verbally, that she understood what Marcus was saying. Better yet, she could have restated it back to him in her own words.
  5. Marcus could have asked Ms. Diaz if his explanation made sense to her and if she had any questions.

Customer Communication

Communicating effectively with customers impacts the relationship you have with them. Customers are more willing to do business with someone they have a positive relationship with. To create that positive relationship, you need to build rapport and establish your credibility with your customers.

Building Rapport

Rapport is mutual trust in a relationship. It is something that must be built and maintained, not something that happens as a result of one or two interactions. There are four steps to building rapport with customers:

  1. Break the ice. When you first meet a customer, take a minute or two to get to know him or her. Don't start the conversation immediately with business talk. You want to put the customer at ease and help him or her relate to you first. It only takes a minute to comment about something general. Some possible ice breaker topics are:
    1. The weather.
    2. Mutual friends.
    3. Families and/or pets.
    4. Common business interests.
    5. Avoid talking about religion or politics.
  2. Listen actively. Focus on what the customer is saying, listening for clues about what he or she needs or wants. Customers will respond to someone they know is paying attention to what they are saying.
  3. Mirror the customer. If you share some common mannerisms, like posture and tone of voice, the customer will feel more comfortable communicating with you.
  4. Be sincere. If you are not being sincere when you talk to the customer, he or she will pick up on that and any rapport that has already been established will be gone.
    1. Be yourself.
    2. Show you are genuinely committed to your customers.
    3. Treat customers with genuine respect.

Your customers will be genuine and respectful back to you.

Establishing Credibility

Your customers need to know not only that you will do as you say you will do, but also that you have the skill, knowledge, and resources to do it. Credibility with your customers will go a long way to establishing a trusting relationship. Some ways to do this include:

  1. When asked a question you don't know the answer to, say, "I don't know, but I will find out and get back to you."
  2. Follow up on your promises and keep your customer apprised of the progress you are making, especially if it is taking longer than you first anticipated.
  3. Admit it when you are wrong. Accepting responsibility for a mistake and then working to correct that mistake will establish your credibility quickly in the mind of your customer.
  4. When voicing opinions or values, be consistent and sincere. Don't waver in an effort to gain an advantage or to be liked by more people.
  5. Always behave in a professional manner by not gossiping.

Not only will your credibility serve you well with your external customers, but your internal customers will also benefit from it. By establishing your credibility, you become a resource for your company. Your colleagues will come to you with questions, or refer their customers to you!

Check for Understanding: Customer Communication

Duration: 5 to 10 minutes.

In this exercise, please respond to the questions.

  1. Why is it important to break the ice when talking to a customer?
    1. There is not enough time to break the ice, so don't try.
    2. To help put the customer at ease.
    3. To establish rapport.
    4. Breaking the ice is a silly time-waster thought up by overzealous motivational speakers.
  2. What is the appropriate response when a customer asks you a question and you don't know the answer?
    1. Make up an answer so you don't lose credibility.
    2. Pretend not to hear the question and change the subject.
    3. Say you don't know and offer to find out.
    4. Say you don't know and leave it at that.

Solution:

  1. B and C.
  2. C. Say you don't know and offer to find out.