Customer service is a critical element of any successful business, but it’s frequently mishandled by companies trying to do the right thing. There are hundreds of customer service tools available, but you can’t solve all your customer service problems with technology alone.
Similarly, you can hire as many people as you want—but if they’re not trained or adequately prepared, they’re not going to help you.
For many businesses, improving customer service is a matter of getting back to basics. That’s why I’ve compiled this list of the 51 most important customer service tips every business needs to succeed. While you’re at it, make sure to check out our big list of customer service quotes!
Feel free to browse this list by category, or take in all the tips from top to bottom.
Table of Contents
- Customer Service Tips: The Basics
- 1. Use the right tools.
- 2. Allow multiple communication channels.
- 3. Empower customers to help themselves.
- 4. Use automation (sparingly).
- 5. Have a plan for common concerns.
- 6. Surprise customers with exceptional service.
- 7. Send IRL thank-yous.
- 8. Develop a thick skin.
- 9. Follow up until you get a resolution.
- 10. Make it easy to contact you.
- 11. Always solve problems as soon as possible.
- 12. Treat customer service as a company-wide imperative.
- 13. Be consistent in your approach.
- Customer Service Etiquette
- 14. Smile.
- 15. Use positive language.
- 16. Make customers feel validated.
- 17. Know how and when to apologize.
- 18. Admit to mistakes.
- 19. Always use “please” and “thank you.”
- 20. Call customers by the right name.
- 21. Respond promptly.
- 22. But be patient.
- 23. Show empathy.
- 24. Correct customers carefully.
- 25. Don’t redirect people.
- 26. Don’t keep customers on hold.
- 27. Never interrupt your customer.
- Customer Service Communication
- Customer Service Teamwork
- Customer Service Tips for Ongoing Improvement
Customer Service Tips: The Basics
We’ll start with some basic customer service tips that should apply to your entire organization:
1. Use the right tools.
There are hundreds of customer service tools you can use to improve your efficiency, extend your reach, and simply coordinate your team—but not all of them are worth using. Be choosy with the tools you acquire for your team, and be careful not to overwhelm your team with too many options—or else productivity could suffer. Check out our list of the best customer service tools!
2. Allow multiple communication channels.
Email is my favorite communication medium, and it’s the preferred channel for brand communication for most modern customers. However, it’s not the right channel for every customer or every situation. Make sure you’re able to field requests from customers across a variety of different channels, including email, chat, phone calls, and even social media.
3. Empower customers to help themselves.
More than 73 percent of customers now want self-service technology; they want to be able to help themselves whenever possible. This saves time, limits interaction, and can ultimately result in higher satisfaction. You can’t depend on customer self-service channels exclusively, but do invest in them; even simple measures, like the addition of an FAQ page or knowledge base, can have a massive positive impact.
4. Use automation (sparingly).
Automation has a place in customer service. You can send customers emails that acknowledge their question has been received, or set up alerts so you never forget to follow up. But much of the power of customer service relies on human-to-human interaction—so be careful not to automate so much that the personal connection is lost.
5. Have a plan for common concerns.
Most companies have to deal with the same types of inquiries, over and over; customers will be asking the same questions or coming to you with the same concerns. Try to anticipate these inquiries, and have a plan for how to address them; for example, you can have canned responses ready to provide to people asking common questions, or a detailed FAQ page that will handle most concerns.
6. Surprise customers with exceptional service.
The best way to make an impact with customer service is to surprise people with how attentive you are. Customers will come to you with a certain expectation of service; if you can blow those expectations out of the water, they’re never going to forget you—and they’ll likely tell their friends about you, too. Exceptional service doesn’t have to be expensive; it can simply be more attentive or more constructive than people are used to.
7. Send IRL thank-yous.
Customers are always surprised to get something unexpected in the mail, especially if they’re used to interacting with your digitally. It’s a pleasant surprise that can work wonders for your brand. Send your customers a card, a small gift, or just a thank-you message to let them know you care about them. Depending on the situation, you can also use this as an apology or a way to make things right.
8. Develop a thick skin.
You and your team members need to develop a thick skin. You’re inevitably going to deal with people who are angry, impatient, and/or rude. Understand that these people aren’t mad at you; they’re mad at the situation. And be prepared to adopt stress management techniques that can help you cope, even under the most strenuous conditions.
9. Follow up until you get a resolution.
Some customers won’t directly tell you if you haven’t solved their issue. It’s up to you to follow up with them and make sure their issue is resolved. In some cases, this may take many attempts, but if you don’t follow up, they may remain indefinitely dissatisfied with your work.
10. Make it easy to contact you.
You want customers to contact you; otherwise, you’ll never receive their feedback. To encourage people to reach out when they have an issue or a concern, make it easy to reach out to you. Make your Contact page prominent, and include many available channels. Ideally, customers should be able to reach you with a single click.
11. Always solve problems as soon as possible.
This should be common sense, but it’s a principle that many customer service teams neglect; always solve problems as soon as you can to increase customer satisfaction. Faster resolutions mean your customers will get what they want sooner, their interactions will be less stressful, and they’ll remember your brand and customer service agents more favorably.
12. Treat customer service as a company-wide imperative.
You might have a customer service department, and designated customer service agents, but it’s important to treat customer service as a company-wide, department-agnostic imperative. Each team member, in every department, should be ready and willing to improve customer perceptions and experiences.
13. Be consistent in your approach.
In some ways, customer service is an adaptive strategy; you’ll need to respond to each situation uniquely. But it’s still important to have documented policies and procedures in place. Each customer should get the same, top-quality treatment, and each of your agents should be following the same directives.
Customer Service Etiquette
Business etiquette can make or break your customer interactions. Make sure you follow these important etiquette-focused customer service tips:
It shouldn’t surprise you to learn that smiling has massive psychological benefits—both to the giver and the receiver. Smiling instantly makes you feel happier, and can set a positive tone for the interaction to come. Best of all, you don’t even need to be meeting in person; smiling when talking over the phone actually makes your tone sound more positive. Yes, people can “hear” your smile!
15. Use positive language.
Speaking of positive, use positive language when possible. Positive language focuses on what you’re doing, or what you can do, rather than what you can’t do. For example, instead of saying, “We can’t meet your deadline of Friday, but we’ll try to make it Saturday,” say, “We’re equipped to complete this work by Saturday, and will do what we can to expedite the process further.”
16. Make customers feel validated.
In most cases, an angry or complaining customer just wants to feel heard and validated. If you argue with them or dispute what they’re saying (even if they’re wrong), they’re just going to get more entrenched in their combative position. Instead, use phrases that make them feel heard. “I understand.” “You have every right to feel that way.” “I’d be upset, too.” This language can disarm them, making them more receptive to what you have to say. Then, of course, work to find a solution.
17. Know how and when to apologize.
A single apology can go a long way. In any situation where a customer feels wronged or slighted, offer a sincere apology. It doesn’t need to be over-the-top, but it also shouldn’t be trite. Make sure you convey your understanding of the situation, and acknowledge the company’s wrongdoing.
18. Admit to mistakes.
Too many companies and employees within the company are afraid to admit to error; they want to be seen as perfect, and believe that admitting mistakes is a sign of weakness. In reality, admitting mistakes is one of the best things you can do. A simple statement like, “we dropped the ball on that. I’m very sorry, but we’d love the chance to make it up to you,” expresses humility while validating the customer.
19. Always use “please” and “thank you.”
This is a simple etiquette rule that shouldn’t need repeating, and applies to far more than just customer service. Use polite words like “please” and “thank you” whenever possible for more pleasant interactions.
20. Call customers by the right name.
Make sure you’re referring to your customers by name; this makes them feel personally acknowledged, and connected to the conversation. When beginning an interaction, ask them for their name and see how they present it. Depending on the context of the interaction, the nature of the customer, and your brand personality, you may want to address them by their title or by their first name only. Generally, first-name exchanges are casual and friendlier.
21. Respond promptly.
Whenever you get a call, email, or other request from a customer, try to respond as quickly as possible. If you take too long, your customer is going to grow resentful. Fast responses result in higher customer satisfaction. Personally, this is one of my favorite customer service tips because it really works!
22. But be patient.
At the same time, don’t necessarily rush to find a solution. If your customer feels “pushed through” the system, they’re going to feel unheard and faceless. Treat each customer as if they’re you’re only customer, and give them plenty of time to talk about their issues.
23. Show empathy.
Empathy allows you to show that you understand a person’s emotions. If your customer is upset, think about how you would feel in their situation, and express that feeling to them. Mirroring your customer’s emotions can instantly forge a connection, so you can work together to find a solution.
24. Correct customers carefully.
Occasionally, customers will have incorrect information, or will make a claim that simply isn’t true. You may need to correct them, but if you do, do so carefully. Instead of “That’s wrong. I’m looking at the information right here,” try something like, “It seems like you may have been misinformed. Here’s the information I have.”
25. Don’t redirect people.
Have you ever sought customer service, only to be redirected from one person to another, having to repeat your problem each time? It sucks. Don’t give your customers that same experience. Obviously, some redirection may be necessary to get them to the right department, but try not to do this more than necessary, and try to minimize the number of times they need to repeat themselves.
26. Don’t keep customers on hold.
Your customers are busy, just like you are, and they don’t want to waste time. Avoid keeping customers on hold indefinitely when they call in. Pay attention to wait times, and do whatever it takes to get them down.
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27. Never interrupt your customer.
This is one of the most important customer service tips for communicating over the phone. Some customers will be chattier than others, and may end up repeating themselves, or talking through their problem even after you’ve sufficiently understood it. Even so, it’s vital that you don’t interrupt them; let them talk however long they want to talk, and interject only if absolutely necessary. Your customers need to feel heard.
Customer Service Communication
If you want to resolve more problems, you’ll need to communicate effectively. These communication-focused customer service tips will help you do it:
28. Be clear.
Clarity means your statement is easy to understand and unambiguous. In writing, this means being straightforward and using the right words to describe what you mean. In speech, this also means enunciating clearly. In writing, double check your words to make sure they read as intended, and in speech, think carefully about what you say before you say it.
29. Be concise.
If the message conveyed is the same, shorter messages are better than longer ones, since they’re faster and harder to misinterpret. Try to keep your communications as concise as possible.
30. Be yourself.
Many customer service agents adopt a persona to get through the day, mimicking what they think a professional sounds like. While you’ll certainly have to put on your best “professional face” in some situations, it’s also important to be yourself. Customers want to speak to a human being, with personality, whenever possible. It’s all about authenticity!
31. Provide easy formatting.
If you’re writing an email to your customer, use formatting to your advantage. Leave plenty of white space between your paragraphs (keeping your paragraphs short), and use numbered and bulleted lists to separate items cleanly. Additionally, consider using bold and italic formatting to call attention to specific areas.
32. List next steps.
Where do we go from here? Every customer interaction should end with an explanation of what’s going to happen next; that could mean instructing the customer to do something, or describing what you’re going to do.
33. Speak like your customers.
Try to mirror your customers when possible; speak the way they speak and write the way they write. Obviously, that doesn’t mean intentionally mimicking their accent, which could be taken as derogatory. Instead, analyze their tone of voice; are they casual or professional? Are they short and to-the-point, or do their sentences flow more freely? Mirroring these features can make you instantly more likable.
34. Ask critical questions.
Get closer to a solution by asking your customer important questions. For example, “has anyone helped you with this yet?” or “what steps have you tried already?” It shows you’re paying attention and can drive the conversation forward.
35. Don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know.”
Sometimes, your customer will ask you a question you don’t have the answer to. If put in this situation, some people try to muster an answer, even if it’s inaccurate or incomplete. Instead, lean into the “I don’t know.” Expressing your uncertainty gives customers more confidence than a stumbling, improvised answer. Just make sure you also follow up to get the “real” answer, when possible.
36. Always provide additional resources.
When resolving a customer issue, you’ll try to provide the most concise information possible. However, it’s also a good idea to provide additional resources if the customer wants to review them. For example, you can attach a document to your email for further reading, or link the customer to a good FAQ page to learn more about the subject.
37. Close the conversation appropriately.
The last interaction you have with a customer will leave a lasting impression, so close the conversation appropriately. Make sure you’ve resolved the issue, and make sure the customer also understands the interaction to be complete. Also, make sure it ends on a positive note; you can easily do this by thanking the customer for their time and/or patience.
38. Keep customers updated.
Some issues require ongoing follow-up—like if their order has been inexplicably delayed. Use automatic alerts to make sure you reach out to this customer in a timely manner, even if you don’t yet have the information they need. Never let your customers feel they’ve been forgotten.
Customer Service Teamwork
39. Set individual and team goals.
Your team should work collaboratively toward common goals, but at the same time, each individual member of that team will have strengths and weaknesses to work on. Accordingly, the best approach is to set both individual-level and team-level goals for your people to achieve.
40. Unify your team.
Spend time unifying the team, through teambuilding activities and by instilling a team-focused mentality. Each customer service agent should feel like they’re a meaningful part of a bigger whole, and should feel like they belong.
41. Actively listen to complaints.
Occasionally, your customer service agents will have complaints; they may need to vent about a particularly frustrating customer, or they may be dissatisfied with a specific approach you’ve taken in the past. Take the time to actively listen to them, and consider incorporating new changes based on their feedback. Additionally, ensure that your call center operations are optimized for efficiency. By equipping your team with the necessary tools and training to handle customer inquiries effectively, you can address their feedback and make improvements in a positive way.
42. Offer flexibility.
Customer service agents typically have to work set hours, so they’re available for customers at reliable times. But beyond that, offer whatever flexibility you can. Allow agents to choose their own breaks, and give them autonomy over any job responsibilities you can.
43. Reward and foster positivity.
Positive attitudes are contagious. If even one member of your team carries a positive attitude and an optimistic outlook, it will have the potential to spread to your other team members. Call out examples of positivity and reward them.
44. Allow time to de-stress.
Every customer service agent will have especially stressful calls, and especially stressful days. You need to afford them time to destress. Make them feel like they can take breaks when they need them, and give them in-office opportunities to relieve stress as well (like with a recreational area).
45. Provide adequate training.
Did you know that 88 percent of top-performing customer service teams invest heavily in agent training? It shouldn’t be a surprise. Customer service agents universally perform better when they have ample training to guide their efforts.
46. Make team members comfortable with your products and processes.
Before they ever interact with a customer, your agents should thoroughly understand your products, your services, and your business model. Don’t make them talk to people about a product they don’t fully understand.
47. Invest in your best people.
Some of your customer service agents will shine more than the others; do whatever you can to retain them. Consider rewarding them with bonuses or raises, or offering them promotions to team leader-style positions.
Customer Service Tips for Ongoing Improvement
No matter how good you become at customer service, there will always be room for improvement. These analysis & measurement-focused customer service tips can help you:
48. Measure your results.
Make sure you have tools in place to measure your results. How quickly are you responding to customer queries? What are your customer service response time rules? What is your customer retention rate? How is that rate changing over time?
49. Collect customer feedback.
Quantitative data is useful, but don’t neglect qualitative data. Collect customer feedback to get a better picture of their perspectives, through follow-up surveys and quick questions like “was this information helpful?” Certain customers may be unhappy no matter what, but pay attention to common themes across your entire customer base; what are people satisfied and unsatisfied with? Refer to our list of the best customer feedback tools to find the right software for you!
50. Analyze your performance.
Give your customer service agents the opportunity to analyze their own performances. Implement customer service rules and hold your team accountable for them. Review recorded calls and email chains, and look for any areas that could be improved. Could the tone or wording be better? Does response time need improved?
51. Experiment with new approaches.
While it’s important to be consistent in your customer service approach, it’s also important to experiment with new approaches. Try out new tools, new tactics, and new styles of engagement (perhaps using one or more these top customer engagement platforms); do these new additions create value or better experiences for customers?
So there you have it! 51 customer service tips and tricks.
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Jayson is a long-time columnist for Forbes, Entrepreneur, BusinessInsider, Inc.com, and various other major media publications, where he has authored over 1,000 articles since 2012, covering technology, marketing, and entrepreneurship. He keynoted the 2013 MarketingProfs University, and won the “Entrepreneur Blogger of the Year” award in 2015 from the Oxford Center for Entrepreneurs. In 2010, he founded a marketing agency that appeared on the Inc. 5000 before selling it in January of 2019, and he is now the CEO of EmailAnalytics.