10 Essential Customer Service Skills

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A caller’s first impression of your company is formed by how well that call is handled by the person who answers it. You are a “Welcoming Committee of One” for your organization.

Here are ten simple, yet crucial reminders for delivering exceptional customer service on the phone.

Skill #1 — Answering a Business Call A three-part greeting will get your calls started smoothly. The three parts are: buffer words, the company or department name and your name. A pleasant buffer phrase such as “Good Morning,” or “Thank you for calling XYZ Company,” sets the stage for the call. It is less important information, though, than the other two parts, so it’s not critical if it gets cut off by your caller at the beginning of the conversation. Follow that buffer phrase with the name of the company or department and then your name. The caller assumes that you are going to help them when you answer the phone, so they will tell you how you can help without your asking. It’s unnecessary to use the phrase “How may I help you?” and anything you say after your name, erases your name. Skill Example: (You) “Good morning. Acme Dynamite. This is Andre.”

Skill #2 — Putting a Caller on Hold Be sure to let the caller know why you need to put them on hold, ask if they are able to hold and then wait for a response. Callers hate being ordered to hold with no control over the situation. If the caller is not able to hold, handle their needs by offering options, such as a call back. Skill Example: (You) “I’ll need to pull up that information from the database. It might take me a few minutes. Are you able to hold?” (Caller’s Response) “Yes, thanks!”

Skill #3 — Thanking the Caller for Holding When a caller has to be put on hold, or gets dumped immediately into a hold queue when they call, it’s very frustrating. You can ease that frustration and put the call on a positive path by thanking the customer for holding. This reconnects with callers and puts the conversation back on a positive path. It puts your organization head and shoulders above average. Skill Example: (You) “Thank you for holding. Rubio Insurance, this is Marco.”

Skill #4 — Monogramming the Call People enjoy hearing their name, so using it helps set a positive tone for the call. Skill Example A: (Caller’s Request) “Hi. My name is Chris Dixon, and I need to change an order I placed yesterday.” (Your Response) “Sure, Chris, I’ll be happy to help. My name is Karen. What do you need changed?” Using the caller’s name and saying it correctly is an efficient way of letting them know you intend to assist. Don’t be afraid to ask for help with pronunciation and spelling. It signals to the caller that you are willing to take time to give good service. Skill Example B: (Caller’s Request) “Yes, would you please tell him that Bob Rebzinski called?” (Your Response) “I’m sure a lot of people misspell your last name, and I don’t want to be one of them. That’s spelled how, sir?”

Skill #5 — Avoiding Excuses Callers want solutions, not excuses. What excuses annoy customers the most? Things like, “Our computers are down,” or “Sorry but that’s our policy.” Take responsibility for all the calls you answer and tell your callers that you intend to help. If you receive the first contact with the customer, take 100% of the responsibility to guide the caller to a place where there will be a resolution. Rather than telling a customer, “That’s not my department,” here is a better way. Skill Example: (Caller’s Request) “This is Mr. Whitfield. I have some questions about the invoice I received.” (Your Response) “Hi, Mr. Whitfield. Thanks. You’re actually going to need to speak with Keisha in our billing department. I’m in the service area, but I can go ahead and connect you, and, just in case we get disconnected, Kesha’s extension is 292. Are you able to hold?” (Caller’s Reply) “Sure.”

Skill #6 — Giving Spoken Feedback Signals Use a combination of different words and short phrases to acknowledge that you heard and understand what the caller has said. Be sure to mirror back some of what the caller has said. Spoken feedback signals are even more important on the phone than face-to-face. Without them, customers wonder if you are listening, if they’ve been disconnected or if you are even able to help them. If you are adding notes on the computer, tell the caller, so they know the typing sound they hear is related to their call. Skill Example: (Caller’s Request) “I’d like to have my things packed up by your movers on the 23rd in the morning. (Your Response) “Good. I’m jotting this down. All right. Got it. Pack on the 23rd in the morning.” (Caller Continues) “Right. We’ll need the packers to come in first and pack my dishes. So they need to be very careful when they pack my dishes.” (Your Response) “Sure. I understand. I’ll mark that on the order: ‘Be very careful when we pack the dishes’.” (Caller’s Reply) “Good. Thanks for being so thorough. I appreciate it.”

Skill #7 — Being Prepared The motto, “Be Prepared,” is not just for Boy Scouts. Very little will make you look like an amateur faster than not being prepared to take a message when you’ve answered a call. Keep paper and a pen or pencil next to your phone at all times. Writing a message word-for-word is the best way to make sure you don’t mangle it. Skill Tip: Being prepared: The reality is that not everyone likes to leave a message on voice mail. Always be ready to take a message or information from a customer.

Skill #8 — Controlling the Conversation If a caller gets off subject, take control of the conversation. Rapport-building is good, but it is your responsibility to build rapport while remaining in control of the call. If things get off track, ask a question related to the purpose of the call as a subtle buffer to get it back on track. Customers appreciate your handling their needs efficiently. Here’s a call that needs to get back on track. Skill Example: (You) “When would you like us to deliver your new monitor?” (Caller’s Response) “Well, let’s see, I have an uncle coming into town. He’s a professional fishing guide, and, in fact, his specialty is shark fishing. You ever go deep sea fishing?” Skill Example A. Controlling the conversation (with a gentle, related question): (Your Reply) “You know, I haven’t, but that sounds very interesting, and it would be a great reason to set up everything early, wouldn’t it? In fact, you might want to set up your monitor before your uncle comes in. So, do you want us to deliver that new monitor Wednesday afternoon or Friday morning?”

Skill #9 — Avoiding Mouth Noises Mouth noises annoy and alienate the other person. The mouthpiece of a telephone is a microphone that amplifies sounds on the receiving end. While on a call, don’t eat, drink, hum or chew gum. Skill Tip. Work to avoid annoying mouth noises.

Skill #10 — Leaving a Positive Last Impression A positive last impression counts as much as a good first impression. End your conversation on a positive note. Let callers know you are glad they called and that you look forward to hearing from them again. This last impression is often the way they remember the entire call. Skill Tip:(You) “I’ll let our crew member know, and he’ll take care of it for you. He’s very good. We appreciate your business, Ms Clinton. Thanks for calling.” (Caller’s Response) “Thank you!” (Your Reply) “You’re welcome.”


© We encourage you to distribute this message to colleagues. When you’re ready to empower your staff with proven customer service and team building skills, please let us know.