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Telephone tips for the CSR

Sep 1, 2001 12:00 AM

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Contact between customers and customer service representatives (CSRs) almost always takes place on the telephone. Therefore, the way CSRs handle themselves on the phone is all-important. Here are some tips that can help CSRs become effective telephone communicators:

  • The phone can ring at any time. Stay close to the phone, and try to answer by the second ring: When customers call, they do not want the phone to ring multiple times before somebody picks up. Nor do they desire to leave a message. They want to speak to a live person, conduct business and move on to their next activity.

    This means CSRs cannot be out in the plant looking for misplaced items, asking or answering questions, checking proofs or press sheets, selecting samples or making sure that things, in general, are being done properly. They need to remain at their desks where they can pick up their phones. Portable phones are not a good substitute, by the way. CSRs need to talk to clients from a quiet workplace where the necessary information is available.

  • Be friendly and pleasant. The company money that buyers spend does not affect them in a personal way. How they are spoken to does. Purchasing agents prefer dealing with nice people.

  • State your name, and ask how you may assist. This lets clients know they have reached the right person and that you want to help.

  • Do not use technical language or abbreviations that the caller may not understand.

  • Always remain courteous, even if the caller is not. CSRs often need to firmly state unpleasant truths — but they must know the difference between being firm and being impolite.

  • Listen without interrupting, and don't sound impatient. Do not jump to conclusions and guess at what the customer is about to say. It is okay, however, for CSRs to say “uh-huh” every once in a while, to let the customer know they are still being listened to.

  • Always have paper and pencil handy. Take notes.

  • If the caller is not being clear, ask leading questions. To help prevent misunderstandings, repeat, in your own words, what the caller has told you.

  • Tell the caller what action will be taken as a result of the call, and when it will be done.

  • Avoid transferring calls or putting them on hold.


CSRs should try to answer their phone whenever possible. If callers always get voice mail, they might become convinced that the CSR is trying to dodge them or is too busy to take care of them.

Sometimes, however, voice mail is a necessary substitute. CSRs cannot always remain at their desks. They do eat lunch; they do go to the bathroom. They also talk to and help other customers. Because voice mail has a strike against it — the caller wants to talk to a live person, not a machine — use the following tips to make it more efficient:

  • State your name and title, and give a reason(s) why you cannot answer the phone at this time. Indicate how often you check your voice mail — it should be at least every hour and a half.

  • Request key information from callers, including their full name, their company's name, their phone number, when they can be reached and a brief explanation of why they called.

  • Do not imprison callers in voice mail jail — tell them how to get out. For example, you could say, “If you wish to speak to somebody right now, please dial…” That other person should be a fellow CSR who is able to do more than merely take a message. Don't allow the caller to get sent into another voice mail.

  • Above all, remember to return calls promptly. Even if you are not ready with all the answers, do not leave callers wondering whether you received their message.