The value of customer service communication skills

Customer service communication skills

Why customer service communication skills are fundamental to better customer relationships

Most customers have a call centre horror story.

Whether it’s being bounced around multiple departments to solve a simple problem or knowing the person on the other end of the ‘phone has absolutely no power to help you with your problem.

For a lot of customers, that cold feeling of despair is the rule rather than the exception.

Customer Service is in the difficult cavern between the needs and mentality of the customer, and the needs and mentality of the business. It’s the bridge between the corporation and the individual – and this is why customer service communication skills are absolutely vital.

Customer service teams need to be excellent interpreters

Having been exposed to a wide range of customer support centres, I think most customers would be shocked at how dedicated and customer-centric these environments are. There’s a lot of people who do care, who do want to help.

Too often though, they’re held back because they don’t have the skills to take on difficult situations with customers and turn them into something positive.

These teams need excellent communication skills because they need to understand two very different perspectives and navigate through to an amicable conclusion. This takes more than some simple plain english and good grammar – it needs advanced communication and soft skills.

They need to take two languages, mentalities and perspectives and translate one to the other. More vitally, translate it in a way that isn’t going to cause escalation, upset or frustration (which then gets vented at the nearest social media channel)

We wrote something on HP Sauce and how they managed complaints. If you want a great example of how to follow a basic complaint process to the letter and yet miss the point entirely it’s worth a look.

Communication skills mean better results

From the customers perspective customer service can often appear as a bulletproof vest to protect the organisation. To shield it from requests it feels are unreasonable or don’t directly improve the bottom line.

The issue with this is the negative equity it produces from every single customer who gets confronted with the brick wall of “no”. Equally, the impact it has on people working in those environments is significant – in culture and perspective.

Any negotiator will tell you then excellent communication and listening skills are a vital tool in getting a positive result.

It’s the same for any team that has a customer-facing role. You can convey the same message a million different ways and often the delivery is often the only thing standing in the way of a positive outcome.

No doubt, your customer service teams are trained on the basics. Basic business writing, how to sound empathetic, how to actively listen. But if that’s where it stops then you’re only doing the bare minimum.

How many issues with customers do you think your business could avoid if your customer care teams were better at communicating? Put it another way: How much money could your business save by avoiding escalations and repeat complaints from mis-communication? Customer Service communication skills directly impact the bottom line.

Empowerment through understanding communication

Do you remember the last time someone knew a lot more about something than you? For me it was at a wine tasting a few weeks back. I was fine while the topics were broad (and feeling thoroughly pleased with myself). But as the specifics got finer and finer I floundered. I started to feel a bit out of my depth and my body language and behaviour changed as I shuffled and mumbled my replies.

Now take that theory and apply it to conflict situations with customers.

Your customer service teams can no doubt manage the basics but when things get heated, or the situation becomes emotionally complex, do they flounder?

Do they metaphorically shuffle their feet?

Knowledge is power and when we’re confident and sure of ourselves it makes situations a lot easier to manage.

If your customer service teams feel out of their depth when customers complain they’ll cause more damage than good. If they don’t know how to handle an irate customer and navigate away from conflict you’re going to get more complaints than you need.

Empowering your teams with communication skills means they’re confident when they get into tricky situations. They don’t flounder or revert back to defensive language. They can manage a situation and resolve effectively.

Make customer service communication skills a priority

The dearth of communication channels available to customers has only increased the need for effective communication skills. Once upon a time the ‘phone ruled supreme. Now email, social, text and live chat are common place. The question is – have the skill sets of your teams moved with the times?

We run a training course on better written communication designed specifically for customer care teams. It’s fascinating taking people through the tools we use and seeing their response. All these people can write an email, all of them can use a keyboard and all of them can have a conversation on the ‘phone. But more often than not they come away with a real understanding of what it means to communicate effectively.

It’s not about grammar or spelling. It’s not even about Plain English anymore, which was a nice idea 10 years ago. It’s about understanding the complexities of interaction – of how we convey messages and explain things in a way people will understand.

Customer Service need communication skills because it’s an essential tool in their arsenal for ensuring your customers stay with you – and don’t wax lyrical on their social platform of choice about the “horrific customer service” they received when all it needed was a better understanding of how to communicate like human beings.

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James Freeman-Gray

I'm co-founder here at Rubuss. I work across service design, customer experience, complaints and cultural change. I'm also an executive coach supporting leaders to take a human-centred approach to empowering their teams.