Customer Service Skills
In this section you’ll learn about:
- Why customer service skills are important
- Customer service skills for email communication
- Customer service skills for the phone
- Customer service skills for retail
Why Customer Service Skills are Important
It can’t be overstated just how important it is that every member of a company understands that giving good customer service is a very important aspect of their position. This section is devoted to learning about effective customer service skills, and why they’re so important.
These skills, which can easily be learned, are capable of making or breaking a company’s customer service reputation.
The following areas are where customer service skills should be taught and followed through with:
- Understanding why customer service is so important in the first place;
- Effective communication with customers;
- Effective listening skills;
- How to handle complaints;
- Dealing with frustrated or angry customers;
- Looking for new and innovative ways to improve customer service;
- Caring for customers, helping and empathising with them;
- Having a complete understanding of company processes and systems;
- Working effectively as a team member;
- Problem solving skills;
- Correct questioning techniques;
- Thorough product knowledge;
- Good presentation skills;
- Effective ways of handling stress;
- Techniques in assertiveness;
- Encouraging self-motivation;
- Other customer service skills such as patience, kindness, openness and helpfulness.
We know that customer service skills are capable of being learned, and we must remember that, as leaders, it’s up to us to learn them and pass these skills on to others.
It’s clear that, for the survival of any business, ongoing customer service training for employees (and management) is an absolute necessity.
Sometimes coaching by existing staff members can work well and many people find that learning from other people’s experience is the perfect way to acquire new skills
Having a workforce that is trained and constantly updated on customer service skills is a huge asset for any business, and should always be a key area of investment for any business.
Customer Service Skills for Email Communication
B we’ve listed effective customer service email skills and ways of improving your email customer service and helping set you apart from the rest
Skill #1: Speedy Response
Ensure that all tickets are either resolved or escalated within a certain period of time. The time you first reply is all important, so clearly define expectations with your staff members, and with your customers. Systemic triggers (or alarms) are very important to make sure tickets don’t get old. When you receive an update from product, engineering, or operations, ensure that a systematic process is in place to update customers.
Skill #2: Be Concise and To-The-Point
Remember that the reader of your email is reading many, many emails, so do them a favor and make your message concise and to-the-point. People, especially today, just don’t have the patience to read a lot of unnecessary verbiage. You’re not trying to impress with you great writing skills; you’re actually trying to help your customers. If you type words that feel irrelevant, then get rid of them. Your customers will appreciate it.
Skill #4: Personalize Your Emails
All emails should have their own personality: don’t be robotic with your emails, because it’s offensive to customers. They need to know that their email came from an actual person, so use your own voice and approach. You’ll be reflecting your company’s philosophy and persona in your own way, but when closing the message use a signature based on the resolution and tone of the interaction.
Skill #5: Create Online Rapport With Your Customers
Providing excellent customer service entails establishing rapport with your customers. Doing this tells your customers that they’re not just a source of income to you. You’ll be more likely to receive valuable feedback and have them stay with your business in the event of any service mishaps. Most business professionals understand how to quickly build rapport with people: look the person in the eye, have a conversation, get to know them.
Skill #6: Send Confirmation Receipts
Confirmation receipts should be sent to all emails received by your customer service section. This response should indicate how long they will have to wait for a reply: if you have an online knowledge base ensure you clearly show the URL to enable the customer to try and resolve the issue himself.
These skills are vital but you also need the right tool.
If your organisation needs a better way to manage email support, we recommend you check out Keeping.com.
Customer Service Skills for the Phone
When you pick up the phone to make a call, there’s no body language to see and the tone of voice and the words you use become the full story. It makes sense that the message you send to a customer using a phone is communicated entirely by the tone of your voice.
As an example:
- Using a flat, monotone voice tells the customer that you’re bored and have little or no interest in what they’re saying;
- A low pitch and slow speed to your voice say that you’re depressed and ‘please leave me alone’;
- An emphatic and high-pitched voice indicates that you’re enthusiastic about this conversation;
- A loud tone with abrupt speed indicates that you’re angry and not ready to accept any input;
- Drawn-out speed and a high pitched voice says you can’t believe what you’re hearing.
Once a customer hears the tone of your voice it doesn’t take them long at all to pick up on your attitude: in fact it takes only seconds of initiating the phone-call for them to know whether they’re call is welcome, or not. Having the right phone etiquette is therefore vital.
With some people you only have to say ‘Hello’ and you already know that this is not going to go well.
You don’t want to deal with someone who sounds so flat, so bored. Perhaps you hang up and dial again, hoping that just maybe someone else might answer the phone.
One of the most important skills anyone in business can acquire is to develop excellent telephone skills – in both words and tone of voice.
We’re now going to cover some skills that can turn you into a winner at using the telephone.
5 Ways to Improve Your Telephone Skills
#1: Always Have a Positive Tone
If you want to make your customer feel comfortable and relaxed during their conversation with you, you must adopt a positive and friendly tone of voice. By being natural, enthusiastic, helpful, and attentive you’re providing good customer service. When you answer the phone with your greeting, smile as you offer your greeting: it’s true that a smile can be ‘heard’ through a telephone. By smiling as you connect with your customer you’ll begin a positive interaction and allow for a friendly and productive exchange.
Be aware of your vocal qualities as you speak: try to control the rate of your speech, the overall timbre of your voice, and your pitch. We understand that the average person speaks at a rate of 130 – 150 words per minutes, so try to match this while on the phone. If you speak too fast it may be quite difficult for your customers to understand your message, and when you speak too slow it conveys the impression that you might be lazy and slow. It’s an interesting exercise to time yourself to see just where your speech rate falls, plus it will give you an idea if you need to slow down when speaking, or bring it up just a notch.
A high pitched voice indicates youth, and sometimes doesn’t suggest an authoritative figure. On the other hand a low pitch can sound quite harsh, particularly when speaking on the phone. Try to find a middle ground, whilst varying the inflection in your voice so you sound interested and natural. Keeping a monotone sounds unenthusiastic, and boring.
If you can control these factors and keep smiling, you’ll ensure your customers feel welcomed and comfortable discussing their business matters with you: in other words, you’ll be providing great customer service!
#2: Speak Clearly
There’s nothing more frustrating and annoying than speaking to someone on the telephone who doesn’t understand what you’re saying, or you don’t understand what they’re saying. These issues are arising more and more in this multicultural world of ours, and to say it’s frustrating is really an understatement. It provides a conversation that is full of tension and the call loses all productivity. These problems arise not only because of language difficulties but also because people are lazy conversationalists and don’t speak clearly, or concisely.
Try to speak clearly on the phone – always. Use simple words and phrases and enunciate your words. Don’t use complex words just because you can. You’re not trying to confuse your customer: you’re trying to provide them with excellent customer service. Slang words like yeah, um, dude, mate, all bring the tone of the conversation down. Instead of using these slang words, just pause for a moment while you gather your thoughts – then continue speaking.
Eating or chewing gum while speaking on the phone is quite offensive; the caller doesn’t need to be a mind-reader to know that you’re having your lunch or chewing on gum whilst speaking to them on the phone. It’s all about respect, and how we’d like to be treated ourselves.
#3: Be Genuine and Sincere
Your telephone conversations must be sincere. When you say ‘hello’ or ‘good-morning’ be sincere. Scripted greetings mostly sound false and inauthentic. Include your name, the company’s name, and your offer of assistance the moment you pick up the phone. If you’re working on a switchboard or you’re receiving a transferred call, tell the caller the name of the department you’re in so the client has the right information. By doing this you’ll ease the customer into the exchange and they’ll know that you’re available and ready to help.
Into the middle of the conversation your caller will be looking for genuine answers. Your answers must be presented in a positive manner, avoiding injecting any negativity into the exchange at all. Phrases like ‘Just a second’, ‘I don’t know’ or ‘I can’t do that’ are not acceptable. Advise the client how long completing their task will take, and let them know what you can do, instead of what you can’t. By answering your customer with positivity and sincerity you’ll be able to satisfy them, and if you’re dealing with an angry caller your positive approach will be very calming.
#4: Use Their Name
The moment you hear a customer’s name, use it. Write down their name; abbreviation of their name, or their initials, and this will help you remember their name as you progress through your conversation: now the tone of your discussion will be personalized.
It’s important that you use their name while having a conversation, so try to include it naturally throughout your conversation: don’t be too obvious and abuse the use of their name. Also, and this is important, ask for the correct pronunciation of their name: customers appreciate this; plus it’s just good manners. You may also want to ask for the right spelling, if appropriate. It’s always much nicer speaking to someone who calls you by your name: again – great customer service!
No. 5: Leave Your Customer Happy
When you finish a conversation on a positive note it will leave a lasting and positive impression, and a happy customer. To achieve a nice ending to a telephone call, before you hang up ensure that your caller completely understands the information you provided. Ask your customer ‘Is there anything further I can do for you’? Answer all their questions to the best of your ability to ensure your customer’s total comprehension and satisfaction. Do they require any information in the future? If they need to call back, provide appropriate times when they should call, and who they should ask to speak to.
Complete your conversation in a friendly manner, saying ‘It was nice speaking with you’, or ‘Have a nice day’. Your customer now knows that you were happy servicing them and would be happy to do so in the future. Perhaps the phone call started out as an uneasy or angry call, but when you provide friendly, helpful telephone information it can positively transform the outcome of a phone-call.
When you communicate effectively and respectfully with your customers you’ll achieve better sales and better relationships with your customers. Whenever you’re dealing with customers over the phone, always try to be helpful, positive, and do your best to comply with their wishes.
Sometimes all a customer needs is for you to empathize with them: they just want to be heard.
Customers (and this means us, because we’re customers too) know when we’re being treated with respect, and when we’re not being treated with the respect we deserve. Great customer service translates into more sales and more repeat customers. And isn’t that what business is all about: trying to sell more of your product or service.
Customer Service Skills for Retail
As a store owner, it’s your responsibility to ensure that all your staff members are providing excellent customer service to the public.
How do you know what good customer service really is? And how do you explain to your employees that this is what you expect of them? How do you get them to understand your vision for your company, and have them excited to be a part of that?
The most important rule for great customer service in retail is that every person who walks into your store is entitled to your respect, your assistance, and your attention.
It doesn’t matter whether they do, or do not, purchase anything that day. Sometimes this is not an easy lesson to teach and to follow through with. But when you’re successful in teaching your staff this valuable aspect of customer service your sales will inevitably increase.
Basic Customer Service Skills Every Employee in Retail Must Follow
The following skills are vital for those working in a retail environment
Every Customer Should Be Greeted
The sales clerk should acknowledge every customer as they walk into your store. ‘Welcome’, ‘Hi’, ‘Hello’; even ‘Good Morning’ or ‘Good Afternoon’. Be pleased to see this customer in your store and make them feel welcome: if you know the customers’ name, then certainly use it.
It’s simple to be friendly to people who are friendly in return; the difficult part is to be friendly to those customers who are not friendly, or even antagonistic. If you have employees who are friendly to everyone, all the time, you’ll see your sales figures improve.
Allow the customer to browse for a few minutes, then ask if there’s anything you can help them with. As customers, we all need assistance in finding things in stores – a different colour, a different size, and so on. As an employee of the store it’s your duty to find out what this customer is actually looking for, and then help them find it. Some customers act stand-offish because they don’t like to ask for help, or they’re embarrassed, but when help is offered they’re usually very grateful.
Employees must be careful, though, that they don’t ‘pester’ their customers. No customer likes this, and when it does happen most will walk out and leave the store. When a customer implies that they don’t need or want your help, leave them alone. If they’re still in your store (say) 10 or 15 minutes later you could check in to see if there’s anything you can help them with.
It’s a big no-no to ever badmouth your competition, other employers or other customers. Don’t put-down any products while trying to sell another one. When an employee badmouths someone or something it creates a very uncomfortable atmosphere, with the customer usually wishing they could just escape. Don’t put your customers in this awful position: it’s awkward for them, and it makes you look small-minded and mean.
Don’t Just Point To a Product
This is an interesting aspect of poor customer service, because it actually happens a lot. A customer walks into a store, can’t find what they’re looking for, so approaches the counter and asks the clerk if they have a certain product. Sure, she says, pointing, it’s over there on the back wall. This is terrible customer service.
Walk the customer to the product they’re looking for. It stops the customer from feeling awkward and wishing they’d never stepped into your store, plus it also gives you a chance to chat. Who knows, perhaps there’s something else they need as well, and you can help them with that.
Suggest an Alternative
If your store doesn’t carry a certain product requested by a customer, say so, and then suggest a viable alternative. It may be that you never carry that product, or perhaps it’s on back-order, or not available any more. In any case, it’s very acceptable to offer the customer another product.
Offering good customer service means that, when this customer leaves your store, they’ve either purchased another product that they’re happy with, or you’ve offered them an alternative, like –
- We’d be happy to ‘special order’ that product for you;
- I’m sorry, we don’t carry that product, but we do have this one which could suit your needs perfectly; or
- We don’t carry that product, but try ‘So-and-So’ across the street.
Up-Selling and Cross-Selling
A good employee will try to determine what the customer really wants. Once they have gained this knowledge, and if it’s appropriate, they can then try cross-selling or up-selling.
This is when the store clerk attempts to persuade the customer to buy a more expensive item to improve sales for the business. This is a tricky technique, because it can either work very well, or it can be disastrous. It all depends on the skill of the staff member. The main thing to know about both cross-selling and up-selling is that these techniques can’t be used ‘across the board’: they can only be used when the situation is exactly right.
As an example: A gentleman enters a small clothing store, looking to purchase a suit: he advises the clerk he wants to spend about $200. The employee should show the gentleman suits ranging in price from $150 to $300. It could well be that the $200 was not a fixed limit, but more of a ‘soft’ limit and that the gentleman really wants a nicer suit. He just didn’t have enough information to make this decision. In this instance, up-selling is a very acceptable practice because the employee is assisting the gentleman make an educated decision.
There are many tactics you can use to increase sale but cross-selling works exceptionally well. It is when the employee suggests related services or products to a customer who is considering a purchase. The best example of cross-selling is in the fast food industry, where purchasers are asked ‘Would you like fries with that’? It’s a great customer service tool because usually when we walk into a fast food restaurant we’re not really sure what we’re going to buy.
A Nice Way To Finish
A farewell greeting is a nice touch: ‘Have a great day’ or Thanks for coming in’ leave customers feeling appreciated. It’s also another very important part of excellent customer service.
This post is part of a series on Customer service: