The Golden Rules of Communication with Customers
Customers appreciate it when you value them enough to communicate well. Customer service reps must develop their communication skills to deliver the best service possible, positively impacting customer loyalty and retention.
Customer service representatives are expected to be endowed with many skills, and they work in a profession that is widely becoming regarded as more respected and desirable. It is for this reason that businesses want highly skilled agents to be able to represent their business in interactions with customers, and particularly to possess well-developed communication skills.
What business doesn’t want to be clear, precise, direct and empathetic with its customers? Clear communication can not only lead to faster resolutions, but prevent future issues from reoccurring because it gets to the root of the problem. Positive communication skills means that agents create a better impression with your customers and enhance the reputation of your brand.
Therefore, we will see that it is critically important for businesses to communicate with customers effectively. Without proper communication, this will lead to disenchantment, frustration and disappointment within your customer base, and more customers abandoning you for the competition.
There are certain rules you can follow to encourage better communication with customers and ensure the success of your business.
The definition of customer communication
Customer communication is any interaction between your customer service department and customers, although this can be extended to include customer success, marketing and sales. Communication with customers could take many forms, whether that’s through telephone calls, emails, live chat or even social media.
Clear communication is all about how well the business transmits its messages to customers and assures an accurate reception. Customer communication is actually a very deep topic, because it concerns conveying meaning from one party to another. What you mean to say may actually be interpreted very differently by the customer.
So it’s important to pay attention to cultural and other types of context when communicating with customers. For example, the emotional state of customers is also very pertinent when trying to communicate effectively with them. Angry customers may interpret your attempts to resolve their problem as abrupt, and often require more sensitive handling.
It’s key to employ agents with the right communication skills who can create positive experiences for customers, no matter the situation.
Why is it important to communicate well with customers?
Builds customer relationships
Communication through language is the foundation of any relationship, as psychologists will tell you. Communication ensures that we can cooperate and that information can be transmitted between two parties. When you communicate with customers well, this builds relationships that will survive in the long-term and earn you loyal customers.
Being able to share our thoughts and feelings with customers means we can build healthy long-term relationships.
Helps to resolve problems
Your agents can’t understand your customers’ issues if they are unable to elicit information about problems from them. The ability to cultivate a back-and-forth exchange enables agents to troubleshoot even the most technical of problems, despite the customer not even being in the room.
Communicating with customers allows the open exchange of ideas, helping agents arrive at effective resolutions.
Encourages repeat business
When you communicate well with customers, you are more likely to earn their repeat business. Customers trust you and know that you provide great service, so they are more inclined to open their wallets again when the time comes.
If customers believe that you will help them with issues, they will feel confident when buying from you again.
Maintains your business’s reputation
If your business can’t conduct simple conversations with customers, your reputation will most certainly suffer. Your business will become known for offering poor customer service and will start to lag behind competitors in the industry. Great communication ensures that your business remains competitive and builds a solid reputation.
Word about the reputation of a business quickly spreads, so you need to use your communication skills to make sure it is positive.
Earns you word-of-mouth referrals
Customers who are excited and gratified by your effective communication skills are more likely to refer you to friends and family. Positive experiences underlie the customer’s desire to recommend your business, because customers are happy to be associated with you.
Creating exciting experiences through communication means that you can attract new customers through your enthusiastic existing customers.
Shows customers you value them
Communicating well with customers shows that you have taken the time to understand their situations, experiences and their problems. Although your business might not be able to offer all the answers, the simple fact of recognizing what the customer wants to say is enough to show customers you value them and leads to customer satisfaction.
Customers who feel valued are more loyal to your business and stick around in the long-term.
What are 3 communication skills in customer service?
There are three top customer communication skills in customer service teams that you should pay attention to.
“Empathy is the ability to emotionally understand what other people feel, see things from their point of view, and imagine yourself in their place.”
Empathy is critically important for customer service agents when they are communicating because it allows them to pitch their words to the individual customer. Being able to read someone else’s state of mind is a valuable skill because it ensures you don’t aggravate customers who are already angry or offend customers who might have had a positive experience.
Like other skills, empathy can be consciously developed through trying to be more present, spending time with different people and examining your cognitive biases.
Communication is a two-way street, so customer service agents should focus on developing their listening skills if they want to be effective. Reading between the lines and hearing what customers really intend to say are important components of listening. Listening also encompasses written comprehension if customers are getting in touch with your business through email or live chat.
“Active listening is a communication skill that involves going beyond simply hearing the words that another person speaks but also seeking to understand the meaning and intent behind them.”
Not only should you strive to listen to your customers but you must also become an active participant in the process. Active listening means you should try to interpret what is being said and also demonstrate explicitly that you are listening to the speaker.
The difference between listening actively and listening passively is in the former you are consciously showing that you are paying attention through giving feedback.
Don’t promise customers something you can’t deliver – honest communication means being truthful with customers and managing expectations. Sometimes conversations can be uncomfortable and it’s tempting to offer customers anything they want, but this isn’t great customer service in practice. Stay present with any tension and you will end up with more successful resolutions.
“Radical Candor really just means saying what you think while also giving a damn about the person you’re saying it to.”
Using radical candor (a term coined by Kim Scott) in your communications with customers means telling them the truth while retaining empathy and compassion for their situation. It can be tempting to withhold the truth in order to spare a customer’s feelings but this means you’re inviting more hurt and disappointment later down the line.
Honesty and radical candor is not an excuse to be brutal and abrupt with customers, but simply to foster an atmosphere of trust for all involved.
What is the key to success when communicating with customers?
The key to success when communicating is to pay attention to your individual customer base. Some businesses may have customers that are more open to humor and levity than others, whereas some businesses will need to be more serious. Striking the right tone is an important part of connecting with customers.
With customers, you must be intentional about how you communicate with them. You need to balance competing priorities such as speed, effectiveness and comprehensiveness. Every customer wants to be served quickly, but they also want a competent resolution and an effort made to solve future problems.
Agents will be successful with customers when they have been appropriately briefed, instructed and motivated. Agents, after all, are the ones who are actually delivering the communication and interacting with customers, but the experiences they provide will be a reflection of customer service culture in the company as a whole.
Thus, successful communication is a combination of personalization and standardization – a balance between the requirements of the business and the needs of the customer.
How can communication with customers be improved?
Now we’re going to look at some different ways that communication with customers can be improved in your business.
Set conversations off on the right foot
When customers first interact with your customer service team during a conversation, this is your big chance to create a great first impression. The first impression sets the tone for how customers will feel about you during their support experience, and may even determine whether the customer views the conversation as positive or negative, which of course influences future loyalty and revenue.
For example, picking up the phone quickly leads to customers feeling more satisfied. Replying to an email with the customer’s name creates an element of personalization. Making sure your customers aren’t kept waiting and have access to a friendly, knowledgeable service rep helps you improve customer communication.
According to research, humans have less than a minute to form a first impression and it can also fall prey to confirmation bias.
Give customer service reps adequate training
Of course you can hire customer service reps with excellent communication skills, but ongoing training is key to ensuring the standard remains key. Like any other skill, better communication can be learnt and continuous professional development means that agents will stay at the top of their game.
If you don’t invest in your customer service reps, you are likely to suffer from high agent attrition. You need to make what you require from agents explicit and instruct them in how to correctly deal with customers.
Nearly 80% of customer service reps say they need more quality training, which means that the majority of agents don’t feel well-equipped to help customers currently.
Develop an external communication policy
Good customer communication can be fostered when customer service reps understand the requirements for the business. Unless your policy is standardized and made explicit, the result will be that customer communication is fragmented and haphazard. Reps won’t know how to handle each customer and instead they’ll just wing it, which is alarming when 39% of customers say an agent’s lack of knowledge is the most frustrating part of poor customer service.
Without policies in place, the service that customers receive will be highly dependent on the individual service rep. Unless your business speaks with one voice, customers will receive inconsistent experiences with your brand.
An external communication policy tells service reps how to behave with customers and increases the chances that customer interactions will be of sufficient quality.
Prioritize customer service in your organization
Great customer communication is a reflection of the value you place on customer service within your organization. It doesn’t matter how friendly, knowledgeable or helpful your service reps are if you don’t prioritize the customer experience and customer service within other teams.
Prioritizing customers within your organization will make communication more efficient, more relevant and more effective because agents will know exactly what they need to do. The words that agents choose when they are interacting with customers will reflect the fact that they are empowered and that the customer is important.
Customer-centric companies are 60% more profitable than companies that don’t focus on customers.
Be available for your customers
Communication will always be stilted if customers have a hard time getting in touch with your company. If you make customers jump through hurdles like complicated automated phone systems, customers will end up more angry and frustrated when they finally do reach a representative and less likely to listen to what you have to say.
It might not be possible to offer support 24/7, but make it clear when you will be available to customers and stick to it. Since customers prioritize speed, it makes sense to ensure you have enough agents available to meet demand and offer fast response times.
Two thirds of customers state that speed is as important as price, so have agents available during business hours.
Take control of the communication channel
Communication can suffer when you are struggling with the wrong channel to interact with your customers. Many impatient customers may reach out over social media, but the need for sensitive personal details might make it appropriate to switch to email or phone. Take charge with customers and migrate to the right channel.
Equally, exchanging detailed instructions for troubleshooting hardware or software might work better over email, when customers can take their time to work through the steps. Use your best judgment when it comes to helping customers, to maximize your chances of effective communication.
Funnel customers to the right communication channel to ensure effective communication.
Offer appropriate responses to unhappy customers
A big part of communication is knowing how to deal with customers who are less receptive to what you have to say, especially when dealing with customer complaints. Often, offering a simple apology can be a great way to deal with customers who believe they have suffered as a result of your company, or at the very least showing empathy for their pain.
You must communicate that you care about the customer’s experience and that the company values their business. Being especially sensitive to the customer and choosing the right words is important when dealing with unhappy customers.
91% of customers say they won’t do business again with a company that left them unhappy, so handling these customers properly is critical for customer retention.
Underpromise and overdeliver
That being said, it’s important not to overpromise anything to customers in your efforts to prove that you care. If you fail to meet expectations, your customers will be disappointed and at worst, believe that your business has lied to them.
That’s why it’s always better to underpromise and overdeliver. That way, if you exceed expectations for customers it will be a win-win for all parties. Even if a situation is uncomfortable, avoid promising more than you will be confident you are able to deliver.
Communicate as accurately as possible with customers so it doesn’t result in unmet expectations.
Be as human as possible
Communication is a fundamentally human trait, although all animals also communicate with one another. Communicating is how we operate in society, conveying information to one another, and yet many companies neglect the human side of things. Language that is robotic and scripted leaves customers with a sense of being treated like a number, not a person.
Relating to customers as a human instead of as the corporate face of a company helps you build rapport and foster mutually beneficial relationships. Using the words that customers would use to communicate with you is critical, and explaining things in plain language also important.
Good communication depends on the message you deliver to be successfully received by the customer, so keep it human.
Frame your responses in a positive way
There are times in communication when you have to deliver bad news, such as for whatever reason you cannot fulfill their request. Using positive language can really help frame the denial so as to soften the impact it has on the customer. Many customer service agents are trained to avoid the word “no” and instead offer a phrase such as “I can offer you an alternative.”
Offering customers constructive alternatives is a better way to conduct communication than simply turning them down flat. Even if an item is out of stock, you can still let customers know you will be getting a shipment next month and you can set a reminder to update them. Constructive communication is key to winning satisfied customers.
Focusing on what you can do rather than what you can’t is the best way to communicate successfully with customers.
Close the conversation in a helpful way
Instead of rushing customers off the phone, always ask if there’s anything more you can do for them. Letting the customer decide when the conversation is over is more thoughtful and sensitive than simply cutting them off before they are finished.
You might think the issue is resolved but discover that customers have an underlying problem that would otherwise result in more calls to support. Asking, “Is there anything else I can help you with today?” means you can elicit further information and potentially avert an escalation.
Helpful customer service reps always go the extra mile to solve their customer’s problems.
Hopefully these steps will help you improve customer communication in your business.
What are the 5 methods of communication?
Customer service reps may use one of the five methods of communication when interacting with customers:
- Verbal – involves speaking to customers directly, whether that’s face-to-face, on Zoom or over the phone.
- Non-verbal – concerns the literally “non-verbal” aspects of communication such as posture, facial expression, eye contact and so on.
- Written – this would be something like an email or live chat which would record the message being conveyed for posterity.
- Listening – when we receive the message being communicated to us from another source.
- Visual – using a visual medium to communicate such as a video or image which conveys information.
Customer service reps may find themselves communicating in a range of styles with customers and it can be beneficial to develop your skills in each area. Verbal communication skills are particularly beneficial for customer service reps who are regularly interacting with customers.
What are the 7 qualities of good customer service?
Now, we are going to look at the seven qualities of customer service that you should focus on as a business, which are closely related to communication.
As we’ve already touched on, customers value speed in communication and customer service. If you keep your customers waiting, they are likely to consider a competitor who can offer much faster service. That doesn’t mean you should rush and risk making mistakes, but set reasonable goals for prompt and efficient service that will have your customers raving about you.
Being helpful is one of the key qualities of good customer service. If your agents are unhelpful, your customers will feel let down and disappointed as your business fails to provide the support that was promised. Helpfulness means going out of your way to find out how you can best support customers and solve their problems.
3. Effective solutions
Another important component of good customer service is being able to provide effective solutions. You can have the friendliest customer service reps in the world but if they don’t solve your customers’ problems then your customer service department has failed. This is especially vital if the problem means the company is at fault, in which case you would strive to fix the situation.
One under-valued aspect of good customer service is clarity – being able to communicate your message to customers clearly is essential for establishing rapport. Strong verbal and written skills help a lot with clarity and ensure that customers are not confused by mixed messages.
Positivity means your agents make customers feel happy when they interact with them. Agents who are satisfied with their jobs and able to fulfill their responsibilities are more likely to be positive with customers when conducting conversations. Positivity means focusing on solutions rather than problems, and using language that makes customers feel hopeful.
As we’ve already mentioned, being human with your customers is so important when it comes to building relationships. Without the human element, conversations with customers will remain transactional and they won’t develop loyalty to your brand. Relationships exist between people, rather than the business and the customer.
At the end of the day, you are a business providing a product or service. Even when customers get upset, it is your responsibility to remain professional and avoid taking their behavior personally. Agents representing the business must be careful how they conduct themselves at all times to avoid offending customers.
Communicating with customers is absolutely vital in all areas of customer service. If you cannot communicate well with customers, then you will lose out on opportunities to create memorable experiences with customers and win their business. Communication is less about thinking what you want to say than focusing on the audience who you intend to receive your message.
Just as what you say is important, so is what you don’t say. That’s why we’ve included honesty as a top communication skill in customer service, because customers expect you to be transparent with them at all times. Building an atmosphere of trust ensures that your business continues to thrive, even amidst increasingly competitive markets.
83% of customers say customer service is the most important factor when deciding what to buy.
Customers appreciate it when you value them enough to communicate well. Customer service reps must develop their communication skills in order to deliver the best service possible, positively impacting customer loyalty and retention.
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