Communication Skills for Customer Service

Declan Mulkeen

11 Feb 2011

Recently, you can’t seem to turn on the TV without coming across programmes putting to right the customer service skills of restaurants, hotels or retail operations. The BBC, for example, has renowned chef, Michel Roux and fashion guru, Mary Portas cracking the whip on the catering and retail sectors.

Communication is key

Excellent customer service is all about communication. Demonstrating to our customers that we are listening to them and value their feedback, combined with the ability to convey clear messages with warmth and empathy will enhance our customers’ experience, however transitory. Basic principles such as making your customer feel at ease, listening attentively or knowing when to say sorry can all make the difference and, more importantly, make our customers feel that they are important to us. Research shows that happy customers not only come back but also tell other people to come and try us out! So why do some many organisations, be they retail outfits, restaurants or large banks get it so wrong and so often? Very often the answer is in the communication skills training that they provide their staff and the ongoing coaching and support that ensures standards are kept high.

The mirror technique

The real secret to successful communication lies in the ability to gauge your customer’s own communication style and expectations and then to mirror and respond appropriately. For example, when dealing with a customer on the telephone, you may find that some customers require more than just an answer to their issue but also wish to make “small talk”. Others, however, are not interested whatsoever and want their transaction dealt with quickly and efficiently. Equally, it is important to think about how you address your customer, use humour or even deal with complaints.

Some people are instinctively more attuned communicators than others but this doesn’t mean that the relevant skills cannot be developed. Many organisations now provide communication skills training courses for their customer service teams which can cover everything from basic communication techniques through to more advanced empathy skills programmes.