The 10 Steps of Human Conversation
By following our guide to The Human Conversation you will be able to reap maximum customer satisfaction and loyalty benefits from your service conversations — in the most cost-effective way possible.
There are ten steps in The Human Conversation:
Be prepared — outline specific areas in which reps should be knowledgeable.
Keep your live chat form to a minimum — where we take things back to basics.
Respond in less than 20 seconds — to meet the needs of today’s busy customer.
Make a personal first impression — to help the customer make the first step in the emotional connection.
Create empathy through active listening — a technique that brings out the best in your customer.
Uncover context with open questions —to better understand a customer’s hidden needs and expectations
Confirm understanding with closed questions — this narrows down the issue and helps you take control of the conversation.
Guide, manage, and solve — confidently guiding the customer toward first-call-resolution.
Reassure through forward resolution — reassuring the customer that they won’t have to come back.
Close in style.
Let’s take a look at each one in turn.
1. Be prepared
Being prepared is the key. It is your responsibility as a shop owner to ensure your team is fully equipped to service your customers as best it can.
To do that, why not hold a regular Monday morning team meet in which you focus on updating your full team in each of the following seven areas:
Your site: Are there gaps in your service defense line? Missing product descriptions, perhaps? Let everyone know. Add them to your scripts.
Your product: Have there been recent changes in specs? New additions to your portfolio? Make sure everyone knows. Again, add them to your scripts.
Your offers: Do you have offers about to expire? New ones just about to start? Be certain everyone is fully up to speed.
Your support content: Does everyone have full links to all your key sections/pages/FAQs, etc.? When were they last updated? Any changes, let everyone know.
Your customers: Let your team know about any major trends in questions or complaints. If you have personas, share them to refresh your team’s understanding of who they are about to serve.
Your brand: Do you have any major news on your brand, such as new sources, partnerships, acquisition, or more? If so, let them know.
Your go-to guy (or gal): Recap on your routing. Someone away on holiday? Let your team know. This will save time and effort later on.
Once you’re confident everyone is fully equipped to handle any potential questions or issues, the next step is to do a quick review of your live chat contact form.
2. Keep your live chat form to a minimum
For the most part, customers use live chat, because it is quick and convenient. So be sure that it takes as little effort as possible for them to contact you.
That means leaving any heavy pre-chat questionnaires for later — once we have a happy customer.
For now, meeting their needs and expectations is what will give you the best benefits. Depending on the exact nature of your business, we recommend to not add more than the below fields to your chat form:
Confirmation of availability (Live Chat hours)
Type of question for routing
Free-form field for question detail
Obviously, the more form fields you can dump: the better it is. Next step: your response time.
3. Respond in less than 20 seconds
Above all, live chat is in real time — and a real-time channel deserves as near to a real-time response as possible. You have a very small window of opportunity to engage customers before they leave.
According to this study the average wait time before visitors give up on a chat is 20 seconds when a pre-chat form is not in use. If you do have a pre-chat form in place, the average wait time before they give up on live chat is 54 seconds.
Either way, you should aim to pick up live chats within less than 20 seconds. It’s simply not worth taking the risk of losing a customer. The tighter you set your targets, the better.
4. Make a personal first impression
Ideally, you already have clear pictures of your full team on your site. Also, be sure to feature, within your chat window, a small, smiling profile photo of the real person to which your customer is interacting. No generic, stock, or filler pics, please!
The moment the conversation starts, customer service should identify themselves. Far too often, live chat greetings are stiff and formal. So aim for a greeting that is professional, friendly, and personal.
Try starting with “Hi, John! Thanks for contacting us. How are you doing?” This is a neat and simple way to set a positive tone for your customer. It is strong, respectful, and confident.
More importantly, it encourages your customers to take a moment to connect with your store and brand on a personal level. Cunning, eh? This is the very first step in building that emotional connection we are after.
If you choose wisely, you will have a Live Chat tool that automatically pulls in a customer’s full data — from customer profile to conversation history, order history, order value, maybe even loyalty info too.
So if the conversation is with a returning customer, there’s an option to take a quick look at their info — but don’t go too deep. Just a quick orientation while they respond will do.
Once your “chatter” (i.e., your live chat customer) has let you know how they are doing, and you’ve acknowledged them, it’s to ask them what kind of help they need. And, with that, it’s time to move on with the conversation.
5. Create empathy through active listening
Once into a support conversation, the temptation is to dive immediately into solving the customer’s problem or answering their question — but that temptation should be resisted. Even if your team member thinks they know what the issue is and how to resolve it.
Why? Your most profitable customer segment, for example, always begins their live chat with just one question. But they’re actually looking to figure out if you are made of the right stuff to meet their longer term buying needs. This is where “active listening” comes in.
More than 25% of repeat calls stem from an emotional disconnect between customer and rep. So you need to get this right. All customers are looking for empathy — an ability to see things from their point of view. And active listening is the key. This means staying totally in the present and not jumping into the resolution (which comes in the near future).
Staying present may sound a bit Zen — and it is. But active listening is a powerful communication tool which builds great customer trust every single time. To be a good active listener you need to approach live chat by:
Keeping a fully open mind
Not making judgments
Putting aside your own gut reactions
Resisting the temptation to solve issues along the way
As your customer speaks, your team should respond with short, affirmative statements that show they’re really listening:
“I hear you”
When they do this, rest assured, your customer will already start to feel truly appreciated and understood. And you’re now one step further along in creating an emotional connection with your customers.
6. Uncover context with open questions
The goal in active listening was to listen only. But your team also needs to be on the lookout for the bigger picture — aiming to uncover the context behind a customer’s question or issue. That’s what “open questions” are for, to further explore what your customer is really after. These are some open questions which help determine that bigger picture:
Why is that?
How did that happen?
What happened then?
When you say “X,” what do you mean?
What else did you try?
Where else did you look?
By asking open questions, customer service will gain a much better insight into the right solution (or solutions) that will be proposed to your customer shortly.
And be sure customer service takes its time with your customers! No one likes to be rushed while they are talking.
When managed efficiently, service conversations are also a fabulous way to gain insights into improving your overall service strategy — as we mentioned in our strategy pillars.
So, as the customer talks, be certain everyone is on the look out for little insights into the following three topics.
The customer mentioning things that would help reduce their effort when shopping in the future.
The customer mentioning things that would allow you to improve operations.
The customer mentioning things that could offer you areas for product or brand improvement.
Later on, when you have closed the conversation, feed these notes back into your team and share them with operations. The longer you do this, the better you will understand your service model from the customer’s point of view and know which improvements to focus on.
By now, your customer will have explained all they have to explain. The next step is to acknowledge them. Show them you have been actively listening, for instance by saying:
If they have a complaint about a product, acknowledge it: “Yes, I understand. You are right. I’m sorry about that.”
If they have a question about your products: “Yes, you are right, we should have made that info easier to find. We’ll ad dit to our site right away.”
If they are have having trouble finding the right product, once you explore their needs, the reply should be: “Thanks! I understand. I have a much better idea of what you are looking for now.”
By now, your customer will be certain they are in genuinely caring hands. You have built a great foundation for trust. Now it’s time for you to step up, guide the conversation toward resolving their issue.
7. Confirm understanding with closed questions
Once your customer feels listened to, customer service won’t have to struggle to take control of the conversation. The customer will sit back and hand your agent control. All that’s needed is to say “Ok, let’s see if I have this right.”
Your team’s goal now should be to confirm that they fully understand your customer’s issue or question. This way, they can be certain they’re offering the right solution. To do this, ask “closed questions.””
You are after ‘A’, right?
I see. So is ‘B’ what you’re looking for?
Would ‘C’ solve your problem?
Give you the facts
Are easy to answer
Are quick to answer
Keep control of the conversation with your team!
Once you get a positive reply from your customer, then — and only then — it’s time to deliver a solution. From here, customer service stays in control of the conversation by guiding them confidently through every step.
8. Guide, manage, and solve
Now, fully in control of the conversation, with thanks in part to active listening, your team fully understands your customer’s needs and expectations.
This is where all your preparation — on product, brand, offers, customers and so on — really comes into play.
The key here is to involve and guide the customer through a solution confidently, professionally, and as quickly as possible. Now is the time for managing their expectations, speed, and first-call-resolution.
If your team needs to send a URL to point your customer in the right direction, they must first check that it’s ok to send it. Then immediately send it.
If the customer must be transferred, make sure they know exactly who they will be transferred to, what they can expect, and how long it will take. Determine if all of that is ok.
If the customer must be put on hold while information is being sought out, explain why, and be certain the team member is back within 2 minutes — maximum.
It goes without saying that in every case, your team should strive to solve customer questions or issues in one single interaction. Do everything possible to make it so.
Once the customer has been provided with a solution, there’s just two steps left: 1. Helping the customer feel reassured they won’t have to come back, and, 2. Closing the service conversation smoothly.
9. Reassurance through forward resolution
“Forward resolution means not only getting it right this time but pre-empting future contact by anticipating the needs of that individual customer.”
A truly happy customer is one that not only has their issue solved in one interaction but feels comfortable that they won’t have to come back in the future.
Once the customer’s current issue is resolved, it’s time to think about forward resolution — heading off the customer’s next potential issue…
As we mentioned in our strategy section, this reduces the amount of effort a customer has to make in their full experience, and it is the single most effective way of creating loyalty. It also helps reduce repeat calls by around 20%.
There is no hard and fast way of doing this. However, if you have prepared well in understanding your customer, you should be aware that customers who had a problem with ‘X’ typically also have problems with ‘Y.’
If, for example, you have a community, look at the customer answers to any one topic, and look out for related issues within those conversations. If, for example, you sell designer dresses, then you could anticipate that they may well have future questions about jewelry.
Dropping a customer a link to related jewelry, or updates to latest questions, helps the customer feel reassured they won’t have to come back. Having done this, all that’s needed is close the conversation.
10. Close in style
By now, having built a strong emotional connection with your customer through The Human Conversation, closing the chat will be easy. There are only a few things left to do.
To close, make certain customer service stays in the same tone and style — if the customer was really open and informal during the chat, the customer service rep must stay in that same mode. If the customer was formal, than keep it formal.
Use closed question techniques to ask something like “Do you have everything you wanted?” If the answer is positive, and you have a truly happy customer, the next step would be to ask them if they wouldn’t mind leaving a review or filling out a survey.
Be sure that the customer leaves before you! Waiting until the chat window is closed before ending is the best way to go out on a positive note.
Much of The Human Conversation is focused on building emotional intelligence — and that’s probably the single most important skill any rep handling customer service conversations can have.
Active listening is perhaps the most successful technique in building emotional connections. Open questions help your agents uncover a customer’s unstated needs and provide all manner of insights. Closed questions help them narrow down on a customer’s needs and guide a service conversation confidently.
As we said earlier, the benefits of deploying The Human Conversation are not to be ignored:
Improve conversion and loyalty with Relational Shoppers — your most profitable customers — by more than 20%.
Reduce your number of your repeat queries by up to 25%.
Create customer satisfaction in the most cost-effective way possible.
Exploit your brand values to the max — the source of your single biggest competitive advantage over larger stores.
The Human Conversation is not just etiquette, it is a conversation process designed to help build an emotional connection with customers. However, there are elements of chat etiquette that contribute to this. Here are a few tips for your service reps:
Keep auto responses to a minimum. Although auto suggests and scripts help a rep interact more quickly, be sure to humanize your statements. Take each one and make a couple of different versions. Edit them as needed before sending if need be.
Frame conversations in positive words. Switching your customer’s “headset” from negative to positive relies heavily on how you frame your responses. You can find some good tips here and here. That last one has a ton of positive phrases.
Keep it short, sweet, and unfunny! Every customer values their time. So keeping it short is great — but not at the expense of building an emotional connection. Jokes tend not to translate well via live chat. Nor do emoticons. Avoid sarcasm at all cost. And of course, NEVER SHOUT! Enjoy!