Small Business Tips: How to Improve Your Customer Service Skills

Customer service is a crucial skill for all businesses.

As a client, which would you rather work with: A business that takes four days to respond to an email after two follow-ups about being overcharged, or a business that has a friendly customer service agent answering the phone, email, or live chat in minutes and immediately finds a solution for a delayed shipping date? 

Customer service is how you can differentiate your business from the competition, improve retention rates, sell more, and ultimately grow your business. 

And while it doesn’t sound all that difficult to be polite and answer your calls promptly, customer service is a skill that you need to actively develop to excel at it. 

In this post, we’re going to take a detailed look at how to improve your customer service skills to help your customers and your business thrive.

1. Think About Your Experience As a Customer 

Before you do anything else, think about your customer service experiences when you’re in the client’s shoes.

Start with the not-so-good. 

Remember the time you had to wait on hold for an hour and a half from Home Depot to ask about a package that never showed up after two months of waiting? Think about when you spent three days waiting on approval from an insurance company so that you could access a crucial scan or medication. Even the time when you called a company about a product that arrived broken, and they put you through the wringer before finally offering a partial refund.

And then remember the good.

How your local credit union always answers the phone quickly, apologized for the time when your check didn’t clear and set up detailed steps that both parties needed to take so that it would be resolved by the end of the day. The restaurant that sent pizza with a thin crust instead of a thick crust, so they sent delivery back out in twenty minutes with the right pizza, some sodas, and a dessert. 

Look at what you as a customer responded to, and what infuriated you

A customer service agent who isn’t trained well, for example, or who doesn’t understand company policies may hem and haw, trying to stall with a lot of wait times because they don’t know how to find a solution. A business owner or representative who has agency to repair a mistake and go the extra mile, however, earned a customer for life.

As simple as this is, learning from your own experiences is a powerful start, and it can motivate you to model exceptional customer service.

2. Practice Active Listening 

Active listening in person is relatively easy to do. You just need to nod your head, make eye contact, and engage appropriately. Just because the customer can’t see you nodding your head or that they have your full attention doesn’t take away from active listening over the phone, live chat, or email responses, however.

Active listening is really all about making sure that you’re paying attention to and understanding the conversation you’re having.

When needed, ask for clarification and verify that you understood correctly. “So I just want to make sure I understand– the order is showing as ‘in process’ but not shipped, is that correct?” can go a long way. The customer feels heard, and you know that you’re getting all the crucial details.

Throwing in comments like “I’m sorry, that is really frustrating” also shows that you’re listening, empathizing and that you care.

3. Address Each Customer Call Individually 

Each customer is an individual with unique problems and pain points, even if they all fit within your standard buyer persona. Someone whose check didn’t clear for $200 may seem overdramatic when they’re ready to tear the roof off your bank compared to the person waiting on a $3000 deposit. Maybe that person needed the $200 to pay for emergency surgery for their child, or their rent, or an almost-past-due credit card, and maybe the person with the $3000 deposit has a year’s worth of savings stashed away and it’s non-urgent. 

Treat each client as an individual, offering personalized customer service and solutions that work for them. This is how you set yourself apart and deliver outstanding (not just okay) customer service.

Here’s an example. Someone calls your business and says they no longer want the personalized dog collar they’ve ordered from you, because they already bought a different one. If your policy says that there are no refunds, you can decide whether or not to offer one. If someone calls, however, and says that they lost their dog and want to cancel, make sure that it doesn’t get shipped, offer a refund, and (if appropriate) send a quick condolences card. These two situations are not the same and should not be treated as such.

4. Focus On Solutions 

When you’re managing a customer service concern, you absolutely want to apologize for the inconvenience, frustration, and loss that it may have caused the customer. 

A bride whose dress didn’t ship from the designer when it was supposed to and now needs an extra $400 in rush fees to get it altered on time, for example, is going to be livid and you should be apologetic on behalf of the brand.

After apologizing though and showing that you understand why this is so frustrating for the customer, move forward, and focus on solutions. Try to offer personalized solutions whenever possible, as these are often the best fit and most effective.

In this scenario, let’s say the business owner is talking to the bride, and you try to see if one of two options would work for her. You could go back and offer a 10% discount on the initial purchase, refunding her the difference, which would cover the cost of the rush fee. You could also reach out to an alterations specialist who owes you a favor and who you know does quick turnarounds and get her an appointment there. These are personalized solutions to a specific problem, and the customer will hopefully appreciate them. 

When you focus on solutions, the exchange feels productive, and the customer is more likely to walk away happy with how it went. This is what you want to go for; leaving a positive memory even if they called in tears or upset.

5. Discuss Next Steps Clearly & Transparently 

Sometimes, customer service issues aren’t just resolved at the click of a button.

When my internet goes out, they can’t just say “oh look, we fixed it!” Instead, they apologize, might offer a discount for the amount of time the service has been down, and offer instructions for how to reset the modem. If that doesn’t work, they explain the next steps. First, they’ll send someone out to replace the box. If that doesn’t work, they’ll send someone out to replace the cables, too, and reinstall everything. They get you set up an appointment on the phone, but then tell you how to check the status of the appointment online or how to reschedule. They tell you what to expect, and how long it may take.

Whether your business is explaining the revision process on a graphic design, talking about shipping times and the process for an exchange, or steps needed to get a full refund approved, you want to be clear and transparent about what’s going to happen both on your end and the customer’s end. 

This prevents frustration, it feels transparent, and the customer is put at ease about what’s coming. Instead of being told “we’ll ship a replacement,” tell them “I’ve reordered a replacement for you right now, and emailed you the tracking number. You should have it within two weeks.”

Customer service may seem easy at a first glance, but it can be anything but. It’s actually a skill that you need to intentionally develop over a period of time.

Fortunately, by remembering your past experiences and by addressing each client as an individual with unique concerns, it becomes easier to offer extraordinary service every time. And trust us when we say that both you and your customers will notice the difference.

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