5 Ways to Excel in Customer Service Both In- and Out-of-House
When we think of customer service, the emphasis is on the
customer. (Duh, right?) However, we don’t often talk about those interpersonal
skills when it comes to in-house communications.
How do you broach the topic when you feel that a coworker
isn’t doing their fair share? How do you mediate a difference of opinion
between two team members? How do you ask Beth from accounting to stop nuking
fish in the office microwave?
Whether it’s a billing issue from a customer or a conflict
with a coworker, these 5 communication tips hold the key to successful
1. Listen Before Speaking.
A sympathetic ear is an anatomical requirement in customer
service. Giving customers a space to vent and voice their concerns is essential
to the job. It’s important that the customer feels like they’re being heard,
but at the same time, it’s equally vital that the customer service
representative has a chance to clear up any confusion, ask questions, and
ensure that both parties are on the same page. One of the key skills required
in customer service is being able to effectively negotiate that balance between
listening and speaking.
That’s why I always find it best to take the time to fully
listen to a complaint before providing feedback. Instead of interrupting the other person’s
train of thought, I jot down notes as they speak. After they’re finished, I ask
questions and address the issues they’ve brought up.
When communicating with coworkers, I employ the same
strategy. There are always two sides to every story, and while I already know
what I want to say, I don’t know what the other person may be thinking or
experiencing. In any interaction, I always try make sure that everyone is able
to say their piece without interruptions. Everyone should feel that their
contributions are heard and appreciated. In conflicts, especially, no one
should feel like they’re being shouted over or intimidated into silence.
2. Give Timely Updates.
Nothing is worse than feeling like your emails are just
being sent into the abyss. Days go by and still no response.
Every good customer service rep knows that even a simple, “I
received your message, and I’m working on a solution,” goes a long way toward
assuring a customer. A timely response to calls, emails, and texts isn’t just
polite, it’s expected. Now that everything is digital, there’s no excuse for
This goes for communicating with coworkers as well. It’s
always a good idea to send updates and set a timetable for project
deliverables. If that deadline may be delayed, you should always give a heads
up to everyone else who may be affected as soon as you become aware of the need
for more time.
3. You Don’t Have to Know Everything, But You Do Need to Find Out.
Of my many skills, omniscience is not one. It’s fine to say,
“I don’t know,” but your follow-up should always be, “But I’m surely going to
Sometimes you’ll encounter a question that you don’t have an
immediate answer for. It happens to the best of us. Your next step should be to
dig in and figure out how to find that answer—whether that’s by asking a
coworker or doing some research on your own.
On that same note, it’s okay to ask for assistance from your
team or a team lead. That’s what they’re there for—to support you and the
company and to ensure everyone can succeed. Yes, it can be intimidating to ask
for help, but everyone has been in that situation at one point or another. The
key is to develop a sense of self-awareness for when you should dig in and
figure things out for yourself vs. when you should ask for a lifeline.
4. Practice Positivity.
The way you say something is often just as important as what
is being said. You want to guide the conversation to a place where the customer
feels as though their concerns are in good hands, that something is being done.
It’s up to you to put the focus on the positives or the solution, rather than
Negative Language: I can’t get you an answer until
tomorrow until our IT guy gets back from vacation.
Positive Language: I can get you an answer to that
question tomorrow, and I’ll email you back as soon as I know. In the meantime,
I’ll get started on the other things we talked about.
No one wants to hear what you can’t do. They want a
solution. The subtle shift to positive language places an emphasis on that
solution rather than the roadblocks.
So, next time there’s a snag in a team project, try
reframing the issue in a positive light. Not only will it keep others in better
spirits, it will allow them to see you as a problem-solver (rather than a
5. Remember That You’re All on the Same Team.
In customer service, it’s never a matter of “me vs. the customer.”
It’s always “us vs. the problem.” (Yes, this is a common piece of relationship
advice, but it applies here as well.)
While you may encounter more than your fair share of
frustration from customers, they’re not really mad at you. They’re mad at the
problem. In truth, you both want the same thing—for the problem to be resolved.
Whether it’s a customer or a team member, the same rules
apply. Although you may have a difference of opinion, you should never view the
other person as you adversary. Put your ego aside, and focus on the best way to
solve the problem, even if it means acknowledging that you were wrong.
It doesn’t matter if you work at the front desk or in the
back office, at the end of the day, everyone should have a grasp on the basic
tenants of customer service. Even if you never interact with a customer, honing
this skill will help to minimize miscommunications.