The importance of communication in customer service

Written by mary tucker-mclaughlin
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The importance of communication in customer service
Communication is critical. (communication image by Louise McGilviray from Fotolia.com)

Good marketing skills will help you make the first sale; customer service skills will keep your customers coming back. Communication is the key to providing good customer service. Most people think of communication as the ability to speak clearly and to be understood. However, other elements of communication, including the ability to listen and the ability to empathise, are equally if not more important in customer service. Good communicators listen first before speaking.

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Listening

Listening is more than hearing what someone has to say. It involves a keen awareness of nonverbal and verbal communication. Good listening takes practice and involves a number of techniques. Give your full attention to the customer. Stop what you are doing and look the person in the eyes as they are speaking. Help by asking the customer questions. At times, we all have difficulty expressing ourselves. Asking questions helps the speaker identify ways to clarify what he is saying. Support the customer. Avoid judging. Help the speaker to feel confident about what he or she is saying. Listen to what she is saying and not how she says it. Finally, manage your reactions to the customer. Criticising the speaker will have a chilling effect on his ability to communicate with you. Listen first, and then carefully respond with out passing judgment.

Responding

In responding to the customer, a good technique to ensure that you are understanding her correctly is paraphrasing. Paraphrasing involves simply responding by repeating what the speaker said in your own words. For example. "So if I understand you correctly, the refrigerator that you purchased from us is not maintaining the temperature setting and the contents are then freezing. Is that correct?" This simple technique will ensure that you and the speaker agree about the situation you’re discussing.

Choosing the Right Words

When speaking with customers, always avoid words that are emotionally charged. For example, instead of referring to someone as "anal retentive," you could refer to them as "detail oriented." Use "I" statements instead of "you" statements. Often, a statement beginning with "you" can make the receiver defensive. Instead of saying "You should stop buying things that don't fit you and then trying to return them." You could say, " I understand what you're saying is that the clothes you buy at our store never seem to fit you and then you have to return them." By using "I," you have now accepted some responsibility in the situation and are working toward a beneficial solution.

Insight on Written Communication and Email

Because there is no face-to-face communication with written communication, we have to be even more careful in crafting our messages to customers. Some tips for communicating clearly in writing include using simple, conversational language. Be as brief as possible while still explaining your subject thoroughly. Avoid emotionally charged words. Avoid the temptation to "flame" in e-mails or to use all capital letters as if you are yelling at the person. Use shorter paragraphs in order to keep the communication focused.

Nonverbal Communication

According to a study by Albert Mehrabian, a UCLA professor, more than 90 per cent of our communication is nonverbal. Nonverbal communication includes dozens of elements: the tone and pitch of our voices, the speed at which we speak, our clothing, posture, hand gestures, eye contact and more. Customer service representatives should be aware of their nonverbal communication with clients at all times. The wrong tone of voice, a hurried voice, lack of eye contact and bad posture can jeopardise relationships with clients. Sending the wrong message nonverbally can change the perception of a verbal message. For example, a sarcastic tone of voice when saying "May I help you" completely changes the way a customer perceives this seemingly innocent greeting.

Empathy

Empathy is a learnt response. It is different than sympathy, as you are actually placing yourself in the other person's situation versus feeling sorry for them. Responding to customer complaints with empathy requires thought and practice. Try to imagine yourself in the speaker's position. For example, the refrigerator she purchased stopped working, and she has been without a refrigerator for two days waiting for your repairman. A sympathetic listener would respond by saying " I'm sorry to hear that." An empathetic listener would respond by saying. "That sounds awful. I can't imagine having to move everything out of the refrigerator to the neighbour's house, especially with a baby to feed in the middle of the night." The empathetic listener has validated the speaker's feelings, and the speaker may now feel more relieved and comfortable.

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