In 2023, customer service is more important than ever. Just take a look at any recent research, and you’ll see that customer service is a key differentiator between brands:
- 54% of customers say customer service is a key factor in making purchasing decisions.
- 61% of customers say they would switch brands after just one bad experience.
- 64% of business leaders say customer service has a positive impact on company growth.
However, the ongoing training needed to always be leveling up, keeping up with consumer expectations and staying ahead of competitors is difficult to achieve. Which customer service techniques are most important, and how can you keep your team on top of their game?
In this article, we’ll outline some of the most effective customer service techniques, as well as four general principles you can follow to keep your customer service improving.
Which Customer Service Techniques Matter Most?
There’s no shortage of customer service techniques you can employ in your call center, but the most important ones fall under three key areas of service: empathy, explanation and engagement. In this article, our team of customer experience experts has rounded up the techniques we find the most useful in each category so you can level-up your customer service team.
Empathy is a core component for great customer service. Empathetic agents know how to listen and understand not only what the customer is feeling, but also why they’re feeling that way, enabling them to create solutions and help customers feel heard and known.
While soft skills like empathy can be difficult to teach, these techniques will help make it easier for your customer service team to practice empathy regularly during customer service interactions.
1. HEARD technique
The HEARD technique is a well-documented empathy technique for customer service, and it’s easy to create a HEARD rubric as well for QA processes. Doing so can help you evaluate more quantitatively how your customer service team is doing in providing feedback. The HEARD technique involves five steps to make customers feel seen and understood during their interactions:
Hear. The first step is allowing time for the customer to share their full complaint. It’s important for agents not to interrupt or try to problem-solve prematurely—instead, allow customers to simply share their frustration and story.
Empathize. Agents should show customers they understand, reflect back what they heard, and demonstrate a sense of connection and support.
Apologize. Apologizing, as necessary, can show a sense of empathy and can help the customer feel validated and heard in the situation. In addition, a sincere apology for something that went wrong, or for a negative customer experience, can help the customer feel more cared for.
Resolve. Only after completing the first three steps should agents try to make a resolution for the customer. Once agents have listened to the entire situation, empathized with the customer and apologized as needed, they can develop a solution that will be satisfying for the consumer.
Diagnose. Finally, customer service agents should take time to understand what led to the problem in the first place and provide feedback for the wider team, allowing them to help prevent similar problems in the future.
2. Active Listening Techniques
Another great way to train empathy for your customer service team is to train agents in active listening techniques. With active listening, agents are better able to:
- understand the customer problems
- make customers feel heard and understood
- demonstrate empathy
- create connection and relationships with customers
- strengthen brand affinity and loyalty
So, what is active listening? Active listening involves techniques like:
- paraphrasing the customer after they’ve spoken to demonstrate understanding
- asking clarifying questions
- using verbal cues (like saying, “mmhmm” or “yes, that makes sense”) to reassure them you’re listening as they speak
- staying engaged in the conversation
By providing ongoing training in active listening techniques, customers will feel more heard and understood by your brand, which is a key component of good customer service.
3. Use engaged body language (even over the phone!)
Another empathy technique is to literally demonstrate empathy through engaged body language. While this is especially important during in-person interactions, such as at an airline service desk or in-person at a store, it’s essential even if you’re speaking to a customer over the phone or via chat. Recent research has demonstrated that humans may be even better at detecting emotion and empathy from vocal exchanges than from looking at people’s expressions.
In addition, your posture and body language impacts your own ability to listen and demonstrate empathy—so agents who stay engaged with their body language and visual expressions, even over the phone, will be able to demonstrate higher levels of empathy.
One of the most important elements of customer service is, of course, the service—providing solutions, explanations and answers to customer concerns and problems. For great customer service, this requires not just explaining a solution, but also knowing what to explain.
For agents to be able to do this concisely and in a helpful way, they need to know:
- how to ask good questions
- how to problem-solve efficiently, and
- how to control the narrative given back to the customer
We’ll discuss techniques to manage all of the above in the following sections.
4. Clarifying questions
Knowing how to ask good questions not only helps customer service agents get to the heart of the customers’ complaints, but can also help steer the conversation, as needed.
Clarifying questions are a great technique for customer service agents to understand exactly what the problem is and why it matters so much to the customer. Clarifying questions often follow the format of:
- “So what I hear you saying is….”
- “I understand that you feel ________, is that right?”
- “To clarify, you’re looking for….”
By repeating and rephrasing the customer’s concerns or complaints back to them as a question, you can ensure that you understand exactly what is bothering the customer while demonstrating empathy and understanding.
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5. Open-ended questions
Similarly, open-ended questions are another great technique to help your customers feel understood and cared for. Customers do not want to be treated like just a case number—open-ended questions are relational and demonstrate empathy, while allowing your agents to get the full picture of a customer complaint.
Open-ended questions are those which can’t be answered by a simple “yes” or “no.” For example, agents might ask,
- “Can you tell me more about what type of product you’re looking for?”
- “What solutions have you tried already?”
- “How has your experience with the product been up until this point?”
6. Probing questions
While open-ended questions can be helpful in developing a broader picture of the complaint or situation, sometimes agents need to get to the heart of the matter more directly. In such instances, asking probing questions is a helpful technique. Probing questions are ones that allow an agent to test hypotheses or troubleshoot with the customer. As a result, they’re more common—and more essential—in help desk or technical support roles.
Probing questions might look like asking,
- “I can see that your status is still set to offline. Have you tried resetting your desktop app?”
- “I think this might be caused by _____. Can we try _______?”
- “What does your screen look like when you click ____?”
7. Using problem/solution/benefit constructs
Of course, agents also need to understand how to explain solutions to customers in a helpful and friendly way. Knowing how to do so is just as important as knowing what the solution should be!
The problem / solution / benefit technique is a simple and effective way to teach agents how to explain solutions clearly and concisely. With this technique, you simply follow three steps:
- Restate the problem. “I can see that you’ve been having trouble creating new posts on your account.”
- Explain the solution. “I think we need to do a hard reset of some of your settings, which I can take care of on the backend, with your help.”
- Then provide the benefit. “This should only take a few minutes, and then your posting ability should be up and running again.”
It’s easy to teach, remember, and implement, and it’s clear and concise for the customer.
8. ELI5 Technique
Another great explanation technique is the ELI5 technique, also known as the “explain it like I’m 5” technique. This is most helpful in technical support or help desk roles, when agents often have to describe more complex, step-by-step solutions.
As the name suggests, the ELI5 technique asks the customer service agent to explain the solution in straightforward, simple steps that even someone with no awareness of the product or technology could understand. Importantly, the agent must be careful not to be condescending or belittling towards the customer. Instead, they should explain the solution simply, step-by-step and avoid industry jargon or assuming that the customer has background knowledge.
9. Positive Reframing
Finally, when asking questions or making an explanation, it’s important for agents to be able to frame the conversation and solutions positively, even if the customer is unhappy or frustrated.
This is especially important when the solution isn’t what the client directly asked for. Reframing the situation in a positive manner highlights what you can do for the customer as opposed to what you can’t do for them.
For example, take a look at the following chart:
|Negative Framing||Positive Framing|
|“Sorry, I can’t help, I’ll have to ask my boss.”||“I’d love to help with this, let me check in with my boss and see what we can do for you.”|
|“Unfortunately we don’t offer refunds.”||“So sorry that product isn’t working out for you! We’d love to find you something that’s a great fit. We’d be happy to take that back and exchange it for something you’d like more or for store credit so you can look around a bit more and then decide.”|
|“We don’t offer that product anymore, sorry.”||“While that product has actually been discontinued, we do have a new version of it with some helpful new features. Want to try out the newer version?”|
Engagement in customer service runs both directions—the agent should be engaged in their conversations and interactions with customers and, in so doing, the agent should help to increase customer engagement as well. By engaging the customer in every interaction, customer service agents can help to increase brand loyalty and affinity.
Customers in 2023 expect personalized service, so customer service agents should always be considering how to personalize their interactions.
This is a very broad technique though—after all, there are as many “right” ways to personalize experiences as there are customers. However, empowering your agents to personalize their service to customers will improve your CX on all fronts.
One key way to increase this across the board in customer service is to prevent your customer service from becoming too templated. While templates are helpful, many customers prefer a human element in their service interactions. Allow and encourage employees to speak personally and in an engaging and interactive way. Move away from rigid, impersonal templates and encourage customer service agents to see conversation templates as guidelines or structures, rather than a script to follow. This goes for both oral and written conversations!
11. Use customer’s names
This is a very simple, yet very effective technique—simply use customer’s names throughout the phone call! Sometimes referred to as the “meet & repeat” technique, once a customer says their name, ask your agents to repeat it in a follow-up greeting and throughout the call. Of course, don’t go overboard—just use it naturally to create connection and show a personal touch.
In addition, some brands have found great success with having their agents respond energetically and warmly when customers introduce themselves, as if they’re realized they’re speaking to an old friend. Even such small touches can help customers feel connected and welcomed by your brand. And, as with other techniques, these work just as well over the phone as they do for in-person encounters.
How To Improve Your Customer Service Technique
To put it bluntly, customer service expectations are growing each year. Especially after the pandemic, consumers report that they expect higher-quality service and generally expect more of brands than they did several years ago.
As such, brands who want to keep up with and outpace competitors need to continuously improve their customer service techniques. While the techniques above are tried-and-true for training or upskilling your agents, here are four big-picture tactics to keep in mind to improve your customer service techniques in the long-run.
Continue training your agents
Despite 78% of business leaders saying that customer service agents “play a vital role in customer retention,” less than 30% of agents say they feel empowered to do their jobs well.
Much of the disconnect lies in agent training—62% of agents say that having more skills-based training would help them perform better in their jobs. As such, brands who provide ongoing training will help their agents—and their customer service—rise above and beyond standard levels of operation.
Continuous training is a great way to help agents maintain and upskill their techniques—starting with the techniques in this article! Having agents do role play exercises, update scripts or FAQs, practice common scenarios or demonstrate new techniques are all helpful training exercises. Of course, many teams don’t take care of all of this in-house—outsourcing your customer service is an easy and efficient way to take care of hiring, training and maintaining a top-notch customer service team.
Automation is also an effective way to improve customer service, especially at scale. As customers expect more and more from their experience—faster response times, more personalization, instant answers—automation can help.
Not only can automation and AI speed up repetitive tasks for agents, it can also allow customers to make use of self-service options to get the answers they need faster, and at any time. Not only does this satisfy customers’ needs and preferences, it also allows agents to be more available for complicated customer situations that require a human touch.
In addition, automation and AI can help you personalize experiences—by routing customers to the best agent for them based on their profile or question category, developing personalized recommendations or helping agents understand sentiment in written messages.
Track and analyze your data
Knowing how to improve is one thing, knowing what and where to improve is another. When you have good data, you can get the answers to both of these questions and make your improvements more effective.
For example, operational data and CSAT or other customer experience metrics can show you what steps of your process to improve. Where are customers getting frustrated or becoming unsatisfied? Which of your operational metrics have the lowest results?
For example, if customers are often dissatisfied after phone calls, you can look to your operational metrics to uncover why, and then work to fix that area. What’s the average time in queue, and how can you work to lower it? How many times are customer needs resolved on the first call? By identifying and focusing on improvements in these key areas, you can exponentially improve your customer service.
Partner with an expert
Finally, partnering with or outsourcing your customer service to a team of experts can make all the difference for companies wanting to improve customer service quickly. With built-in experience and expertise, an outsourcing provider will take care of all the training and team management so that your agents are always up to speed and offering high-quality service.
Here at Global Response, we focus on customer-obsessed CX powered by a human touch. With over 40 years of experience in creating brand-loyal customers, our clients trust us to provide customer experiences that align with their brand and delight customers at every touchpoint.
Want to improve your customer service, fast? Connect with an expert at Global Response today and see how we can help grow your brand.