July 2, 2013

20 Customer Service Tips You Need to Know

20 Customer Service Tips You Need to Know

Customer service tips are a dime a dozen on the web, but how many of them actually provide real value?

Sure, “be polite” is good advice when dealing with customers, but it’s also obvious and lacks the data and case studies to provide further insights.

That’s why today we’re going to take you to the frontlines, where we’ll look at proven advice on improving your customer service that you might not expect to hear. Below, you’ll also find research, consumer data and case studies on why these tips work.

Remember to check out the links for more in-depth reading, but for now, let’s dive in!

How to Interact with Customers

1. Utilize the Element of Surprise

According to psychologist Norbert Schwartz, when it comes to creating reciprocity, the effect isn’t dependent on cost. He found that as little as a dime could make a difference, showing that it really is the thought that counts!

The secret ingredient is surprise: An act of kindness leaves a bigger impact when it is unexpected.

Look for opportunities—whether out of the blue or automated—to surprise customers with a follow-up freebie or some sort of treat that is otherwise unmentioned on your site.

2. Find Common Ground

There’s a psychological concept called implicit egotism that says we generally like people more if they are like us. In customer service, recreating this “liking” can often be achieved by finding common ground.

When new customers email me, I often look at their business/website to see if we immediately share anything in common. As an example, I recently spoke to a customer and found out that they sold tennis equipment.

As a player, I made note of it and we shared a laugh about what it’s like playing with rookies. Relationships with customers are built one step at a time, and the first step is simply getting to know them.

3. Give Credence to Complaints

Although nobody likes dealing with customer complaints, a variety of data shows that between 70 to 90 percent of customers are willing to do business with you again if you can successfully resolve their issue the first time around.

To stay consistent, use the CARP method of dealing with unhappy customers:

  • Control the situation
  • Acknowledge the dilemma
  • Refocus the conversation
  • Problem-solve so the customer leaves happy

If you are receiving the same complaint repeatedly, be sure to make note of it. It’s likely a more prevalent problem than you realize, since only 4 percent of dissatisfied customers ever speak up (on average).

4. Use Positive Language

Positive language is a great way to avoid accidental conflicts due to miscommunication. While the actionable change here may be subtle, the effects are quite drastic.

Let’s say that one of your products is backordered for a month and you need to relay this information to a customer. Consider the following responses:

  • No positive language: "I can't get you that product until next month; it is back-ordered and unavailable at this time."
  • Positive language: "That product will be available next month. I can place the order for you right now and make sure that it is sent to you as soon as it reaches our warehouse."

Directing the conversation away from the negative aspects and instead focusing on the proposed solution helps customers accept the situation and reduces the odds that they will be upset.

5. Slow Things Down

From consumer research to psychology studies, the importance of not rushing your service has been clearly argued on this blog.

Customers have explicitly said that they care about service quality and the competence of the staff far more than the speed of the service. This was clearly evidenced when customers were polled on why they stay loyal to a brand and why they leave a brand.

To be sure, speed is still important, but it falls well behind service quality in terms of why customers stayed with a business and why they would leave.

6. Know How to Close

The ability to “close” is one of the most essential service skills that you can have, and it is severely underrated. I’m not talking about closing a sale; I’m referring to how you close a conversation with a customer.

The fact is, leaving an issue unresolved is one of the last things that customers want to deal with, so taking the time to confirm that every issue brought forward has been solved is critical in sending them away happy.

Your willingness to do this shows the customer three important things:

  1. That you care about getting it right.
  2. That you're willing to keep going until you get it right.
  3. That the customer is the one who determines what “right” is.

So make sure you and your team always get to a place where your customer says, “Yes, I’m all set!” before you close a conversation.

7. Use Your Best Channels

Cultivating an authentic online presence begins with objectively acknowledging your strengths. This applies to customer service as well. You have to first identify what channels are important for customers to see how you can become more efficient in using those channels.

For example, hosting companies need great live support because when sites go down people need help fast. However, if your business could benefit from removing a channel altogether to better scale a more efficient channel, you should do it both for your benefit as well as the benefit of your customers.

As strange as it may seem, consolidating your support channels may actually generate more feedback, since research has shown that too many options can be demotivating.

8. Get Out of Their Way

Sometimes the best way to provide a fantastic experience for customers is to simply get out of the way.

While it may seem informal, using content as a form of service is beneficial for those customers who prefer self-service as well as for educating customers who want to dig deeper into your product without reaching out to you.

A variety of case studies have shown us that self-service has become more popular over the years, so it’s hard not to imagine that at least part of your customer base would prefer to use a tutorial rather than reach out to you (no matter how good your service is!).

9. Show Them You Care

When a customer decides to invest in your business, act like you give a damn!

While customer appreciation may feel like a lost art, it offers an opportunity for you to remind customers that you are a business that is worth buying from and that you plan to earn their loyalty.

There are many ways to thank your customers without breaking the bank, and these small gestures of your appreciation will not only leave a lasting impression on them, but it will also encourage them to share their experience with your company (a win-win).

Need some inspiration on ways to show your appreciation to customers? We’ve got you covered: Check out our free guide on 25 Ways to Thank Your Customers.

10. Practice Clear Communication

The art of clear communication is often more difficult than it seems.

Avoiding language that sounds passive-aggressive, clearly stating why customers are being transferred, and avoiding slang or technical jargon are of paramount importance here.

For example, which one of the following statements do you think is more acceptable to customers?

  • You are getting transferred. Your call is very important to us.
  • You will be transferred to our ____ specialist who will be better able to answer your question.

One offers customers a reason for the transfer that is to their benefit, whereas the other is a vague statement that ends with a turn of phrase that customers are sick of hearing.

11. Drop the Formalities

We cover this in depth in our brief guide to sending better support emails, but the most important tip for this section is understanding that your customers are people, too, and they don’t want to be spoken to like they are the Queen of England.

Consider the following lackluster example (from a real company, so names have been removed):

Bad Email Example

The customer is literally treated like a number, and terms like “correspondence” create the feeling that a letter is being written to a 16th century nobleman.

Instead, get friendly, personable and casual. A simple follow-up email like this works much better:

Good Email Example

12. Streamline Your Communication

As much as I trumpet the importance of taking some extra time with customers, what shouldn’t be slowing you up is a clunky support process that wastes precious minutes for no reason.

Create a workflow that lets you have fast access to the tools you need. I personally keep Help Scout, Trello and our customer’s information open whenever I’m tackling support emails.

A few additional tips for streamlining: Set up common responses with tools like TextExpander, have important resources bookmarked and close by, and remember that time is still of the essence!

Building a Service-Oriented Business

13. Follow Up with Customers

In today’s digital world, a handwritten thank-you note means a lot to new customers.

Consider this handwritten note that Jawbone sent to a new UP customer:

Thank You Note from Jawbone

It was retweeted 100+ times and built an immense amount of goodwill with the customer, and also potentially with the hundreds of people who saw the message (and now the tens of thousands of people who read the Help Scout blog!).

What other 2-minute task creates as much ROI as that?

14. Invest in Great Service

Creating a customer-centric culture is of foundational importance for building a business that customers love.

The quality of your service will never surpass the quality of those who provide it.

If you plan on out-supporting the competition, plan on investing heavily in the team, tools and tactics to deliver.

In the same way you invest in rock stars for your product and marketing teams, make sure your happiness heroes want to win as much as you do, and then invest in them!

15. Leave Employees with a Game Plan

Red tape is bad for service, that much is certain, but leaving employees without any guidelines or structure is simply a disservice to them and your customers.

Even experts agree that without a playbook, your team may end up running around calling audibles that may lead to disaster.
 Instead of scripts, opt for guidelines; instead of monitoring, opt for coaching; and instead of hard limits, opt for educated judgment calls supported with a service framework.

What should your employees do if a customer complains and wants a discount? Create a few scenarios and outline some suggestions instead of just leaving them in the dark.

16. Encourage Unique Opportunities

Ask your employees to seek out ways in which they can WOW customers when special requests come in.

You already know that a memorable moment in customer service doesn’t have to break the bank, so if customers request something special or if employees notice an opportunity to do something out of the ordinary, encourage them to follow through. That extra effort goes a long way in creating customer loyalty.

17. Get Data-Driven

Did you know that 80 percent of businesses believe that they are providing a superior service experience ... but that only 8 percent of customers agree?

Going with your gut is not the way to do things when it comes to measuring customer satisfaction. You can’t only be guided by data, but you do need to make use of pertinent information when deciding your next course of action.

To achieve this, you can use reporting features in your help desk software, install KISSmetrics to see how people are using your support content, and try out tools like Hively to see what customers think of your support experience.

18. Create Smarter Systems

A flood of feedback from customers does you no good (even if it’s all praise) if you don’t have a system in place to manage it.

Do all of your employees know (and have access to) old feature requests? Do they know where and how to place feature suggestions? Does the team know what’s being worked on and what has been passed on?

Make sure they do, and you’ll find they will be much better suited for assisting customers and won’t be tied down to a cumbersome feedback filing process.

19. Talk to Customers

Getting feedback from customers allows you to get a handle on what matters to them and whether or not you are delivering it.

But you cannot simply rely on unsolicited emails and surveys to really get to know your customers. Reach out to your superstar customers, conduct user tests, and create follow-up emails that ask for candid responses (“Thanks for downloading our guide! What other sorts of content would you find useful? Let us know by replying to this email!”).

These methods break down the digital barriers and let you hold genuine conversations with customers.

20. Take a Top-Down Approach

Are your leaders and managers practicing what they preach?

The key to delivering Whole Company Support is to create a focus on customers that permeates all levels of your business, from your management team down to the frontline players who deal directly with customers.

Make sure the captains of your team are performing the way they expect the troops to perform.

What Would You Add?

Now I want to hear from you! What other customer service tips do you depend on to deliver great service?

Let us know in the comments below, and thank you for reading!


Written by Gregory Ciotti Greg ciotti

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Susan Rowe Jul 2

We thank you for your tips!

Stanley Jul 2

Another great post by Gregory!

I`ll be sure to pass this on to by customer support team and get this into our culture.

- Stanley

Manuel Jul 3

Thanks for this round-up, I think the biggest impact is still to show that there is a human at the helpdesk end willing to solve your problems with care. We try to avoid pre-written answers or text blocks as much as possible and try to be honest about any problems or intentions involving the customer. Simple rule: make it human.

Evan Mills Jul 3

Like the phone commercial interviews of 8-year olds, even they know that fast is better than slow (in service terms, too). The title of Point 5 should be: "Quality, Quickly" instead. For example, we have a team member that gives exceptional, detailed service and we even get letters applauding his efforts. However, the three people in line behind this thrilled guest are livid because they can't even reach the window for a transaction. Generally speaking, your "just focus on quality" tip is too general...

Jana Skutkova Jul 3

Gregory, your tips are very usefull, I read them carefully and share them on FB as well. Thank you for helping to creat better customer services in many areas.

Anwell Steve Jul 12

Wow! Great tips buddy! I just realized that being polite and showing your kindness is not the only thing to provide a great customer service, but there are a lot more. A great customer service is hard to maintain but by following these 20 tips will surely create a customer satisaftion. Thanks!

Paula Jul 16

Hey Gregory Wonderfully crisp and always interesting!! Hiring a virtual assistant can also be a great way to handle those busy times of the year or to get the extra help you need for occasional projects.

Sarah Johs Aug 22

Very nice suggests. I believe that we have been doing our best in assisting the customers. But then, your blog has widened up quoting with a few more points that can bring success at greater rates.

Thanks for sharing this Greg!


That is good buddy, we have to treat customer as much as possible because without them the pre- determined goals and objectives can not be attained.

k.eswaran Sep 28

more valuable exposures to develop customer care.Tnanks!

Ian Zafra Oct 7

Great tips Gregory! Simple and yet very effective. I'm a firm believer of providing great after sales support services so Tip 19 should be a must do on everyone's list.

Bonnie Woods Oct 30

I really enjoyed this article. It provided me with great tips on what to do in customer service areas.

Adam Methew Dec 23

Great tips , well conceptualized articles and right customer service support is really good for your business. For example when any customer visit your website, live chat support team guide the customer and give all the information about your business and products and answer all questions.

Kayla Crain Jan 22

I found this post and started reading it to prepare for Future Business Leaders Of America (FBLA) and this goes great with our event called Client Service! Thank you so much for these great tips I can use in my event!

-17. Year old Junior in a High school

edwin Jan 31

We all have this instinct of going online to search for a particular phone number. That www.phoneinlookup.com may have appeared in our inboxes and we would like to know who the person is behind the number.

Andrew Feb 27

I do some work in staff training, and I end up focusing a LOT on customer service, especially your point #15 - providing staff with guidelines or a road map for dealing with customer service situations. I totally agree that you can't script it, that just comes off way too robotic. Guidelines for dealing with a situation are easy to learn and follow, and the more you do the better you get at it!

sue Mar 16

After working in marketing for 15 years, I found one of the most important tools to use is your SMILE. And yes, even on the phone, people can HEAR your smile. Starting out I was required to make calls on retail stores on behalf of the client. I found making sure I was smiling each time I introduced myself and presented the information really made things go more smoothly.
The other thing I really appreciated was an answering system at a business that was easy to navigate. Stores with humans who answered the phone immediately gave a very positive impression with the words: "Good Morning, This is Business Systems. How may I direct your call?" It gave one a chance to explain why one was calling if one wasn't sure which person would be most helpful. And it weeded out the calls that didn't need to be referred to busy managers if someone was simply calling for store hours or directions.
Being retired now, I still try to reinforce good customer service when I receive it, both to the store personnel and by filling out the customer service response cards. Managers need to know when good and bad customer service occur in their businesses, and the employees themselves need to know. The positive reinforcement of a positive comment to an employee is priceless.

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