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21 rules the best customer service teams know - and follow

The profession that great customer service reps practise entails much more than merely answering customer questions. The greatest reps are your foot soldiers, your people on the frontline of the battle - the battle of winning your customers’ hearts and minds! They’re your company’s ambassadors in flesh and blood, going above and beyond to create a great experience for each and every one of your customers.

Experience is everything. Customers are eight times more likely to talk about a negative customer service experience than a positive one. In today’s social media empowered world, this can very quickly result in widespread bad publicity.

Here are 21 rules that the best customer service teams follow to make sure none of this happens. From basic to great, how far do your reps make it down the list?

  1. Listen to your customer. Are we stating the obvious here? We sure are - but this is not just a cliché. Think about it: your customer has reached out and possibly paid for your service or product. S/he has every right to be the center of your attention. It’s just for a short period. Pay attention and do your utmost to help!

  2. Use your customer’s name. Personalization of the customer goes a long way. Too often customers feel like ‘just another number’. Scientific studies like this one have shown that certain areas of the brain light up quite like no other when we hear our own name. We love it!

  3. Communicate clearly. There is nothing more infuriating than a customer service rep who cannot communicate clearly. S/he is the customers’ direct line of contact to your company, and making things clear and simple for the customer will do wonders for your business.

  4. Act quickly. Nearly 3 in 4 customers expect complaints on Twitter to be answered within the hour. At least half of all customers with complaints will give repeat business if the complaint is resolved. And 95% will give repeat business if the complaint is resolved quickly. Basically, fast service is hard to argue with.

  5. Put the customer first. The customer potentially has the most power, so put him or her first. All it takes is one negative review to go viral to have dire consequences for your company.

  6. Always remain professional. Being polite and perfectly mannered is all well and good. However, taking professionalism to the next level is what can separate you from your competitors. Professional customer service is luxury customer service, and customers will recognise that.

  7. Make yourself knowledgeable. Customer service reps have to know everything about everything in their field of expertise (the products or services you offer), period. If the customer uses the product every day, then your team members should know what it’s like to use the product every day. Your team has to be ready for any curve ball the customer may throw at them. Knowledge is power!

  8. Get used to working under pressure. It’s hard to imagine what it’s like to do your job while you constantly have someone breathing down your neck. Good customer service reps manage this type of stress on a daily basis, and do not let it affect their productivity.

  9. Beam out confidence. Have you ever had a positive customer experience during which the customer service rep ‘umm-eddd’ and ‘eerrrd’ away? I bet you haven't; stammering reps don't inspire much confidence in their company. So sell the solution like a zen master! If you don’t know the answer to the problem, just say it: “I don’t know the answer to that right now, but let me find out for you.”

  10. Deal with each situation as if it's new. Even though situations get repetitive, there can be no short cuts in explaining the situation and why a particular solution is the best one. For customers, it's all new. Give the impression that his or her situation is unique (even if it’s not). Making every customer feel valued is the best way to guarantee a repeat sale.

  11. Ask the right questions. Great customer service reps know how to get to the heart of the problem by asking the right questions. It is not unusual for customers to be shy, vague, or clouded by anger in describing their problem, and good customer service reps recognise this and dig deeper. Effective questions also let the customer know that the representative understands the product and the potential problem.

  12. Negotiate. Great customer service reps are great negotiators. Why? Because the customer sees himself as more powerful in the relationship. The rep has to know how and when to say no.

  13. Read the customer. We’re not saying your customer service reps have to be psychic, but being able to pick up on customers’ emotions is a huge advantage. If they can read a customer, they can guide him or her at an appropriate pace, make negotiations easier, and make the customer feel heard.

  14. Be quietly persuasive. Good customer service reps guide customers to a decision rather than dictate it to them. You can achieve this through story-telling (where customers can relate their situation to yours), and adding personal touches to your relationship with the customer. Try making a small comment about things you have in common, or something else that naturally comes to mind whilst talking to your customer.

  15. Be empathic. Great customer service reps know that showing empathy is a good path to building trust between them and the customer. Being able to step back and understand the situation from the customer’s perspective is essential for diffusing difficult situations, and long-term customer retention.

  16. Focus on the YES. This doesn’t mean giving the customer whatever he or her wants. It means that there are always alternatives; ‘no’ is simply not an option. Zappos, a major online shoe and clothing shop, received a call from its CEO requesting a pizza be delivered to his hotel as a joke. Although it was completely out of the job description of the customer service rep, and unaware it was her big boss calling, she researched pizza restaurants in the area and had it delivered anyway.

  17. Recognise when to exceed expectations. In March last year, United Airlines went above and beyond the realms of customer service when a passenger on his way to see his mother one last time in hospital, was due to miss his connecting flight. The flight crew radioed ahead to the other plane to delay itself, so the passenger would make his flight.

  18. Ask for feedback. In terms of service, customers can also be just as valuable to us as we are to them. Understanding a customer's needs and wants is key to innovation and to delivering a five-star product. Listen to your customers, and they’ll tell you what they want.

  19. Sell the solution.Customers want to believe they are getting first class treatment. Great customer service teams provide options where possible, selling the best one (aka the one they want to sell). It shows customers they have really thought things through.

  20. Make sure to follow up. This is the bread and butter of customer service. Everything a customer service rep does after solving the initial problem counts as a bonus, and there is no speed limit on the extra mile. Following up with customers when they think they were just another annoying task in your day, can make a world of difference in making your service memorable.

  21. Surprise your customers. Good reps know that surprising customers is one of the best ways to make their company memorable. Even if it’s just a small gift voucher or freebie for your product or service, it allows the customer to get you know you better - and it’s cost effective.

If you’ve checked the boxes this far down the list, then your customer service team is on the right track. And so is your business. After all, the best way to be successful in business is providing great customer service. Happy customers are loyal customers!