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Article 7 min read

Why customer courtesy matters (and eight tips for how to nail it)

What compassionate customer service can do for your business.

By Patrick Grieve

Last updated September 28, 2021

When someone tells you that they spent hours on the phone with customer service, it’s usually a horror story. We all know the tropes of the genre – torturously long waits, endless transfers, inescapable hold music…

But at Zendesk, some of our support agents take pride in their longest customer calls.

‘We have one advocate who boasted that they spent two hours talking about Star Wars with an admin,’ says Holly Vande Walle, Director of Training and Quality Assurance at Zendesk Global Customer Advocacy. ‘That admin is now a promoter for life because they had such a great experience with us.’

Your agents don’t necessarily need to have strong opinions about whether or not Han shot first – after all, some of them may be Trekkies. But they do need to have a willingness to engage customers in real conversation, as opposed to an incentive to rush through calls as quickly as possible.

If you’re serious about customer satisfaction, you and your support team should offer more than basic customer service. Instead of the bare minimum, build a culture of going above and beyond for customers to keep them happy.

What is the definition of customer courtesy?

Customer courtesy refers to all of the words and actions that customer service reps use to show their customers recognition and respect.

Getting customer courtesy right isn’t about perfecting any one thing, but lots of different things. Tone of voice, word choice, helpfulness, enthusiasm, respect – they’re all part of good customer service skills.

Being friendly is easy when you’re talking to a friendly customer. It’s harder to keep that bubbly energy up when the person on the other end of the line is annoyed, angry or aggressive. But that’s when delivering good customer service is needed most – if a customer is frustrated from the start, it takes a lot of extra soothing to win them over.

The challenge of delivering great customer service is constantly reminding yourself that the customer is always right – even when they’re wrong.

Eight customer service tips for support reps

Connect customers quickly

1. Connect customers with agents ASAP

Have you ever called a business and been stuck on the automated phone menu? You’re just trying to connect with a human being, but the pre-recorded menu keeps directing you to more recordings.

Phone trees are good for handling massive volumes, but you don’t want customers listening to a recording forever. Set up your menu to connect customers with agents as quickly as possible. If staffing is a problem, see if you can have more reps on hand during peak hours.

A key component of delivering customer service and courtesy is respecting their time. If you can’t handle a ticket straight away, politely provide them with a reasonable timeline. Tell people on the phone how long they’ll have to hold, and respond to support emails and messages with a commitment to follow up within a certain time frame.

Start on a friendly note

2. Start on a friendly note

Use positive language and give a cheerful ‘Good morning’ or ‘Good afternoon’ before introducing yourself to the caller. Use similar courtesy phrases on written communication channels – ‘I hope this email finds you well’ or ‘How’s your day going?’

Unless the customer seems to be in a hurry, don’t be afraid to ask how they’re doing and engage in a little small talk. Instead of following call scripts to the letter, use them more as guidelines for fostering casual, natural conversations.

Don’t hide behind 'we'

3. Don’t hide behind ‘we’

Use the pronouns ‘you’ and ‘I’ when talking to a customer. It sounds a lot more personal than saying ‘we’ to refer to your whole company.

Not to mention, ‘we’ can turn into a crutch for deflecting blame. Don’t say, ‘We’re sorry’ when a customer shares a complaint – say, ‘I’m sorry’. People appreciate accountability (even if it’s not really your fault).

Verbal nods

4. Give ‘verbal nods’ when the customer is talking

This is an important component of listening skills and the occasional ‘yes’, ‘OK’ or ‘absolutely’ lets people know that you’re actively listening to them.
Since you can’t make eye contact over the phone, do the next best thing: Remember to give a ‘verbal nod’ when a customer is explaining a problem. This is an important component of listening skills and the occasional ‘yes’, ‘OK’ or ‘absolutely’ lets people know that you’re actively listening to them.

In live chat, a simple ‘I understand’ or ‘I see’ serves the same purpose, assuring customers that you’re following what they’re saying.

Try to refrain from interjecting with a long-winded response, even if you think you know the solution straight away. Wait until the caller has obviously finished talking before responding in full.

Show compassion

5. Show compassion

It’s easy to get bored when a customer tells you about problems that you handle all the time. But to them, the problem is important.

Empathise with their state of mind and let them know that you understand the seriousness of the problem. Validate customers’ complaints with phrases like:

  • ‘You’re absolutely right’.
  • ‘I’m so sorry you had to deal with that’.
  • ‘Thank you so much for highlighting this issue – I’ll make sure it’s resolved straight away’.

It doesn’t matter how angry a customer is. You need to stay calm and show that you understand how customers feel. Show every caller empathy to build their trust in your brand and service.

Ask for confirmation

6. Always ask for confirmation

Customers hate having to repeat themselves. Keep the conversation running smoothly by checking with them to make sure that you understand their problem.

After they’ve explained their problem, tell them, ‘I just want to be absolutely sure that I fully understand what you told me – you were saying that…’ At that point, repeat what you’ve been told. Invite them to correct you if you’ve mischaracterised what they said.

On the case

7. Let them know that you’re on the case

Customers appreciate a quick resolution of their problem. Match their sense of urgency with reassuring courtesy phrases such as, ‘I’ll sort that out straight away’.

When solving a problem for someone over the phone, don’t allow too much dead air to pass while you’re working. Explain what you’re doing while you’re doing it. For example, you might say, ‘I’m just pulling up your account details’.

Keep customers in the loop about each step you’re taking. Even if the issue is challenging, they’ll feel more confident that you can solve the problem if you share your approach.

End on a high note

8. End on a high note

You don’t want it to seem like you’re in a hurry to finish the call. Always ask, ‘Is there anything else I can help you with?’ before ending the conversation.

If everything’s been resolved to their satisfaction, end on a cheerful note. Consider closing by showing your gratitude and saying, ‘Thanks so much for your patience today!’

Why is courtesy important in customer service?

It’s simply that a lack of customer courtesy can wreak havoc on your retention rates.

A 2018 Zendesk study found that:

  • Fifty-eight per cent of consumers who had bad customer service experiences with a company stopped buying from them, and 52% switched to a competitor
  • Forty-eight per cent of customers said that they were unlikely to consider that company when making future purchases
  • Over 50% of consumers said that they told their friends, family, colleagues and other contacts about bad service experiences (up from 40% in 2013)

As you can see, the damage done by negative interaction goes far beyond one lost customer. Consumers have become more likely to share how they feel about poor support experiences. And with the Internet, they have a massive platform on which to air their grievances.

At the same time, more customers are also good customer service stories. In 2018, a full two-thirds of customers said that they recommended products or services after a positive service interaction. Five years prior, just half of customers were spreading the good news.

Providing courteous customer service can also change buyers’ behaviour for the better. Over half of all customers who had good service experiences said that they purchased or used more products and services from the same company, becoming a loyal customer.

Poor support could cost you a customer, and possibly everyone else they tell about their awful experience. However, notable examples of customer courtesy can increase a customer’s loyalty, make them likely to buy more and inspire them to tell others about your company.

Commit to uncommonly courteous customer service

A little common courtesy goes a long way, and a little uncommon courtesy can go even further. Whether it’s a surprisingly long and friendly customer conversation or a shockingly fast and thorough resolution, a great customer service interaction stands out. Customers notice when you go the extra mile – and they’ll often tell others about their best customer service experience.

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