We’ve all been there. Maybe it was with a customer, a friend, a colleague, or even a stranger. Whomever it was, they were talking your ear off! What’s the best way to handle a chatty customer or any overly talkative person?
One of the problems is that we are often told, as part of customer service training, to be friendly professionals. Some people think that means we are supposed to engage in chit chat with our customers, but that’s a misunderstanding of what it means to be a friendly professional. Being a friendly professional means that we keep things positive and upbeat, that we’re cheerful and pleasant, while at the same time sticking to business and getting the job done. It can sometimes be a delicate balancing act to be cheerful and pleasant while still acting in a professional manner, especially when your customer wants to chit chat.
Solve Problems in a Timely Manner
First of all, remember that your main job is to help your customer with his or issue in a timely manner. It’s not only for the customer you’re currently dealing with, but also for all the other customers who are waiting in line for your help and for your colleagues who are working hard to help customers.
1. Set the Tone for the Conversation
Recall from our lessons in emotional intelligence that we influence the emotions of others by managing our own emotions. Similarly, we can influence the path of conversations by managing what we say and how we say it. Your customer may want to talk about unrelated topics, but you can stick to the reason for the call (or visit) in everything you say and do. Many people will pick up on your focus and will get the message that this is a professional call, not a visit with a friend.
2. Ask Closed-Ended Questions
This also seems to contradict advice given in earlier lessons about how to be a good listener. I’ve often suggested the use of open-ended questions to get to the meaning of what the speaker is saying. When you’re dealing with someone who is overly talkative, however, the opposite advice applies. Ask direct, closed-ended questions that can be answered with short responses. Doing so eliminates opportunities for rambling, off-topic discussions.
3. Paraphrase Back What the Customer Has Said
Sometimes, chatty customers and other people will repeat themselves out of concern that you don’t understand their issue or because a previous support rep didn’t pay attention to them and missed important facts in their issue. When you paraphrase back what they said, you give them confidence that you really did hear and understand them.
4. Use Redirects
When a customer starts talking about something totally unrelated to the reason for their call, offer a quick response and then redirect them back to the original subject. For example, suppose a customer starts talking about their medical issues, you can say “I’m sorry to hear about your difficulty walking. Let’s get back to getting you online. Now, are the lights on on your cable modem?” Be pleasant and cheerful as you do the redirect and realize that with some people, you may need to do it several times during the conversation.” Only use redirects when your customer is going off on tangents unrelated to the purpose of the call. Never interrupt a customer who is describing their problem, unless they’re going on and on about the same thing and repeating themselves. In that case, gently interrupt them, paraphrase the problem, and describe what you’re going to do to deal with the problem.
5. It’s a Human-to-Human Thing
A chatty customer might be lonely and just want a human connection. Yes, the clock is ticking on your calls, but perhaps you could let them ramble while you search for information or work on their problem. That may be enough to meet their needs while still allowing you to get your job done.
Dealing with someone who is overly talkative can be frustrating, but when handled gently with kindness and professionalism, many of those types of situations can be turned around to lead to a positive outcome for both you and your customer.
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