Customer service: Answer the question behind the question

A man listening on the phone
“Customer Service Assistant on the Phone” by CWCS Managed Hosting, via Flickr Creative Commons is licensed under CC BY 4.0

In my first marketing directorship at a community college, one of my responsibilities was to oversee the switchboard for the college. When the original member of my team who filled this crucial role announced her resignation due to a family move, I asked to spend a few days doing her tasks with her so I would understand the role and know more about the personality and skills we needed to fill that role.

And that’s when I noticed it, several times per day, we would get phone calls that replicated this script:

Me: (greeting)

Caller: When does the fall semester start?

Me: August 22

Caller: Ok (long pause) Thank you.

Me: You’re welcome. Have a good day.

Was I providing good customer service?

In actuality, no. What I quickly realized was, these same people were calling back a few hours or days later and asking questions about how to enroll, how to register, etc. They weren’t really asking when the semester started; they were asking what they needed to do to be ready to start school then. And I wasn’t giving them the information or assistance they really needed.

So I changed the script:

Me: (greeting)

Caller: When does the fall semester start?

Me: August 22. Would you like me to connect you to someone who can work with you to get you set-up to start then?

Caller: Yes! Thank you, that’d be great.

Me: You’re welcome. Hold on one moment while I transfer you (transfer to Admissions)

After a few days of this, the Director of Admissions called. They had noticed the significant increase in calls and noticed that the calls were all potential students. They were curious what had happened.

This led to the Director of Admissions and I working together to identify other areas in the our communications and processes where we weren’t answering the question behind the question.

I’ll admit that it’s a continual process, it’s just too easy to slip back into being busy and not thinking-through to the actual, or next question, so I have to remind myself of this often.

When a potential or current customer contacts your organization, are you answering the question behind the question? Are you answering the question that they will call with next? Do you provide them with the information they need to move along in the sales process?

Photo: “Customer Service Assistant on the Phone” by CWCS Managed Hosting, via Flickr Creative Commons is licensed under CC BY 4.0

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