"Dead Air" kills. You’re sitting on the phone with a Customer Service Representative (CSR) and there is a loooooong period of silence on the other end of the line. You begin to get nervous. What’s the problem? Is there something wrong with my account? What is it she sees there on her screen? Is this guy even competent? Did I get some newbie who doesn’t know what he’s doing?
Dead air is murder for customer confidence and can have a domino effect that will lead to decreasing customer satisfaction. It’s important that any business professional be aware of, and learn to manage, dead air.
Our group read some research many years ago that measured the point-in-time when customers begin to get nervous with dead air. The research showed that seven seconds was the key. After seven seconds, customers got nervous and confidence began to erode. My experience would concur. After listening to tens of thousands of phone calls in which I time "dead air" – I routinely find that customers initiate nervous conversation (e.g. "So, how’s the weather where you are?" or "Hello? Are you still there?") at the 8-10 second mark of dead air.
Keep in mind that dead air seems a lot longer on the customer’s end. You’re engaged, you’re brain is spinning, you’re looking up information on your computer, and you’re focused on solving the problem. That seven seconds seems like nothing when you’re the CSR.
Here are three proven strategies to help manage dead air:
- Tell the customer what you’re doing while you’re doing it. Developing this habit can not only eliminate dead air, but can also boost the customer’s confidence that you know what you’re doing. "Just a moment, Mr. Vander Well, let me pull up your account and I’ll take a look to see what happened to that order…There we go…I’m looking at your orders…I see the order you’re asking about…it says here that the order did ship…let me switch to the order detail screen and that will tell me when it shipped and how we shipped it…one moment…Yes, here it is…we shipped on the 10th via UPS and I have a tracking number…"
- Ask the customer’s permission and place him/her on hold. No one likes to hold, but sometimes you know that the process for looking up the customer’s issue could take a few minutes. If you’re anticipating this, put the customers in the driver’s seat and let them make the call: "It’s going to take me a minute or two to investigate the problem. Do you mind holding while I find a solution for you?" If the customer doesn’t want to be placed on hold, he or she will tell you, but it’s rare. Just make sure give a decent time estimate and check back with the customer if it’s taking longer than expected. (Note to Managers: If you are holding your CSRs accountable for "hold time" without understanding the context and circumstances driving it, then you may be driving a dead air problem. If CSRs perceive that they will get in trouble for placing customers on hold – even in appropriate circumstances, they will opt to leave customers in dead air instead).
- Make appropriate, controlled small talk. This can be a tricky one. Nevertheless, I have known many CSRs who do it, do it well, and use the dead air as an opportunity to build rapport with the customer. Those who do it well have the ability to multi-task, to manage the conversation so it doesn’t get out of hand, and to seamlessly transition back into the business at hand once they’ve found the answer. Not everyone can do it, so I put it at the bottom of the list – but if you’re one of those CSRs who can pull it off, then go for it.
Are you talking to customers on the phone today? Pay attention to the amount time it takes you to look up information. Learn to manage the dead air that is naturally going to happen as you focus on the task and lose focus on the customer. If you learn to do it well, you’ll boost customer confidence and raise yourself to the next level of service excellence!