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19 tips to improve your customer service skills

13 min read
Whether you’re working in a customer-facing role, managing a team in a contact center or looking to improve customer experience on a company-wide level, use these customer service tips and skills to make sure you’re at the top of your game.


Great service has never mattered more

We’re living in an experience economy. Business has evolved, and customers expect not just products and services, but high-quality experiences as standard. Time and again, studies have shown that customers are willing to pay more for better experiences, and that many will abandon a company after a bad experience. What’s more, each interaction a customer has with your business goes towards building up – or tearing down – their loyalty to your brand. However you look at it, good customer service skills are foundational to success.

Despite this, U.S. companies lose $62 billion a year due to poor customer service. That alone should be enough to encourage you to improve your customer experience. Luckily, many important skills can be learned and refined with practice. Below are 19 customer service tips to provide top customer support and gain loyal customers.

Customer-facing staff tips

  1. Practice active listening
  2. Learn to empathize with your customers
  3. Use positive language
  4. Improve your technical skills
  5. Know your products and services
  6. Look for common ground
  7. Communicate clearly
  8. Be solutions-focused
  9. Admit mistakes

Management and operations tips

  1. Provide first-class training
  2. Set your standards high
  3. Have a clear escalation pathway
  4. Align your touchpoints
  5. Create a culture of excellence
  6. Be smart about automation
  7. Use tools that boost speed and efficiency
  8. Measure and analyze customer feedback
  9. Use closed-loop feedback
  10. Be willing to learn

Customer-facing skills

If you’re working in a customer-facing service role and want to excel in your work, these are for you.

1. Practice active listening

Behind every customer service call is a real human who has a question or concern that needs to be answered. The person needs to feel understood, heard, and served. Active listening is a key skillset you can develop by practicing daily on your co-workers and family. First, you should approach each conversation with the goal to learn something and focus on the speaker. After the customer is finished speaking, ask clarifying questions to make sure you understand what they’re actually saying. Finally, finish the conversation with a quick summary to ensure everyone is on the same page.

By practicing active listening, you’re not only going to possess the ability to become a truly exceptional customer service agent, but you’ll also improve your relationships outside of the office.
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2. Learn to empathize with your customers

Empathy is the ability to understand how the customer is feeling and where they’re coming from. While some people seem like they’re born with this trait, it’s a skill that can be acquired. When listening to the customer, try to see the problem through his eyes and imagine how it makes him feel. This is an important customer service skill because the customer will be more receptive if they feel understood by you. It can also de-escalate a conflict and create a more enjoyable interaction with your company.

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3. Use positive language

When attending to customers’ problems, using positive language takes the stress away from the situation. Words are powerful and they can create trusting relationships with your customers. Verbs should be used positively. For example, instead of saying “don’t hit the red button” say “the green button is the best option.” Future tense is also positive as it doesn’t dwell on the customer’s past issues. Phrases like “Great question, I’ll find that out for you!” and “I’d love to understand more about …” can keep the customer in the present moment. Also, remember when speaking to customers to make sure you’re authentic, positive, memorable, and to stay calm and positive, even if the customer is angry.

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4. Improve your technical skills

Customers may come to you with all types of problems and they want their questions answers fast. If you don’t know how to properly implement a service ticket, you’ll be wasting their valuable time. Before interacting with customers, you should fully understand how to use your live chat and ticketing system and learn to type fast.

5. Know your products and services

In order to help the customer, you must have a deep knowledge of your products and the way they work. It’s recommended that each customer service agent spends onboarding time with a seasoned product specialist so he can ask questions and fully understand the ins and out of the product. This way, you’ll be able to help customers when they’re troubleshooting issues, and you’ll know product tips and tricks you can share to make the product easier to use.

6. Look for common ground

Live chat, email or even telephone communication can seem impersonal because you can’t read the other person’s facial expressions and body language. Consumers want to feel connected so look for common ground to make a quick connection.

7. Communicate clearly

The ability to clearly communicate, both verbally and in writing, is essential in customer service, especially if you are speaking to someone who has a different native language. Answers to your questions should be clear, concise and in your natural tone of voice.

Customers want an explanation, but they don’t need to know all the details. If they ask for more details, you can share, but most people want their issue resolved quickly. Always end each conversation with the question, “is there anything else I can do for you today?” so they have one more opportunity to ask another question and you know you’ve done everything you can to resolve the issue.

Also, be sure to communicate hold times if you put them on hold while you pull up their account or talk to your manager. On live chat especially, it’s important that you don’t idle too long.

8. Be solutions-focused

Contact center work can be emotional, and sometimes you’ll be dealing with people who are frustrated or angry. For your sake and theirs, it can be helpful to adopt an approach that keeps you focused on the bigger picture and helps you stay resilient and determined to reach a good outcome. Make it your mission to find solutions and help your customers move from a problem-focused mindset to a more positive one. This approach is even more successful when the customer is in a good frame of mind to begin with.

9. Admit mistakes

If you’ve misunderstood a customer’s needs, made an error that’s cost them time or money, or failed to do something you said you would do, be transparent. It happens – everyone makes mistakes, and admitting to them is often the quickest way to resolve the situation positively.

If the mistake is on the part of the business rather than something you’ve personally done, you can still take the customer’s points on board and be clear about what you’ll do to help them rectify the situation. Be clear that wherever the problem originated, you are committed to finding a solution for them to the best of your ability.

Management and operations tips

Leading a team or department, or making decisions about how to do customer service in your organization? Read on.

10. Provide first-class training

Customer service staff are the front-line of any business, so it’s critical to support them with the best possible training. Whether it’s a formal course, an easily-accessible wiki or online reference tool, ongoing mentoring and coaching from more experienced staff members or a combination of approaches, do what it takes to make sure your staff feel confident and clear about how to do their jobs well.

11. Set your standards high

Make sure your staff understand how valuable their role is and how seriously you take their contribution. Set standards for what is expected and be clear about why it matters that staff are – for example – always courteous, punctual, positive and supportive of other team members. Setting clear expectations will help staff members to feel confident in doing their jobs well.

12. Have a clear escalation pathway

Inevitably, customer service teams and contact center agents will come across customer questions and problems they can’t solve on their own. Be prepared for this eventuality by formulating and communicating an escalation plan for each person’s role, so that everyone knows who they should reach out to with a customer question that goes beyond their remit.

13. Align your customer journey touchpoints

Every customer service experience is part of a larger story. Customer journeys can involve touchpoints from all over your business, from a customer seeing a billboard by the highway to their experience of finding and downloading a smartphone app. Consider your customer service offering in the context of a whole customer journey and you’ll have better insights into how much customers know, what their goals are and what interactions they may already have had with your business.

14. Create a culture of excellence

Happy employees make for happy customers. When your EX (employee experience) and CX (customer experience) goals align, you can begin to build a culture around customer experience that has employees feeling fully engaged and committed to their work. Good customer experiences should be not just “what we do” but also “who we are”.

15. Be smart about automation

Chatbots and self-service tools can be an invaluable way to help customers with straightforward questions and challenges. They lighten the load on contact center staff and save customers from waiting on hold. But overwhelmingly, customer feedback tells us that when it really matters most, only a human conversation will do. Use automation and chatbots selectively, and always provide clear signposting for how a customer can bail out of an automated interaction and connect with a human agent.

16. Use tools that boost speed and efficiency

You could have the best customer service staff on the planet, but if they’re stuck with slow, laggy or unintuitive systems, or if they can’t get the information they need when they need it, the result will be a poor customer service experience. It’s crucial to choose customer relationship management and contact center tools that support fast resolutions and stress-free experiences for your customers and your employees. Look for a platform that offers complete integration with your other business systems and provides real-time data from across your business, so that your staff have the details they need at their fingertips.

17. Measure and analyze customer feedback

The best way to understand if your customer service is top-notch is to ask your customers. Use surveys to track top customer service metrics individual performance and ask service agent-specific survey questions, such as, “How knowledgeable or unknowledgeable would you say our service team member was?” and “How effective or ineffective would you say the service team member’s communication was?” Once you understand which areas you excel at and which ones you need to improve, you can focus on specific skills.

18. Use closed-loop feedback

How you receive customer feedback is important. What you do with it next is absolutely crucial. With closed-loop feedback, a business makes a practice of following up with customers, especially those who have been dissatisfied, to let them know how their feedback has been implemented and how it has changed the company’s approach for the better. Doing this sends a clear message to the customer – we hear you, we value you, and we make use of the knowledge you provide.

And finally…

19. Be Willing to Learn

Tom Brady didn’t learn to be a great football player in a day. It took years of practice and he was even a backup quarterback before he earned the starting position. And now, even though he’s a Super Bowl-winning quarterback, he continues to eat nutritious food, watch game tapes, and receive feedback from his coaches. Customer service is no different and in order to be a world-class customer service agent, you must be willing to work on these customer service skills and learn from your mistakes. If every team member did this, your organization would excel.

The Call Center Agent Experience Guide