16 Tips from World-Class Customer Service Teams

Kind words are worth much and cost little. This creates opportunity: when you can’t out-spend the competition, the solution is to out-support them.

When customer service is given the credence it deserves, only then do companies get to see what “word of mouth” is all about.

15 tips for outstanding customer service

While strict rules restrain creativity and spontaneity, that doesn’t mean you should avoid best practices altogether. There are a number of customer service tips that have been used time and time again to create great experiences. You need to know about them.

After years of working at Help Scout and talking to industry-leading support managers, I’ve noticed 15 recurring tips that all of the best support departments have in common.Are you looking to start or grow a career in customer support? Read our free career guide ➝

1. Your customer service team needs the right tools

There is just no substitute for knowing your customers. The right support tools make it easy. You’d be surprised at the number of meaningful conversations you can have when you no longer have to stumble around in the dark.

It’s frustrating to be on the receiving end of support when the team isn’t outfitted correctly. I watched such a scenario unfold a while back with brand new software I was using. Like many growing companies, they falsely believed that Gmail was “okay for now.”

Unfortunately for me, the conversation played in the same vein as the following:

Email conversation without context

Why pester when you can delight?

You risk ruining your first impression when you treat your customers like Comcast treats people calling in: “Can we have your personal information, account information, blood sample, and deepest fear?”

With Help Scout, you can avoid this situation entirely through using features like built-in customer profiles.

Help Scout conversation

There is a reason why tools like Gmail fail for customer service.

2. Practice clear communication with customers

Excellence in anything increases your potential in everything. There are few positions for which this applies more than support—clarity in communication is paramount because it affects everything you do.

Styling affects communication. Tone affects communication. Common mistakes to be made are using passive-aggressive language (“Actually…”) or confusing customers with slang, colloquialisms, or technical jargon.

Here’s another: which one of the following statements do you think is more appropriate?

  • You are being transferred. Your call is very important to us.
  • Hey Jane, I’m going to introduce you to our customer success specialist who will be better able to answer your question!

Easy. One is a trite platitude that people are sick of hearing. The other explains to customers why the transfer is to their benefit. Wording makes all the difference.

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3. Speak as your customers do

Chase Clemons of Basecamp makes this point with gusto in A Brief Guide to Sending Better Support Emails, but the quick takeaway is that your customers want conversations, not “correspondence.” You’re not talking with the Queen of England.

Consider the following disappointing example (names have been removed from this real email):

Bad email example

The customer is literally treated like a number. The overly formal tone creates the feeling that a letter is being written to a 16th century nobleman—is this an “inquiry” or a conversation with a real person?

Be friendly, personable, and casual. A follow-up email like this works better:

Good email example

4. Always use positive language

Positive language is a great way to avoid accidental conflicts sprung from miscommunication. While the change is subtle, the effects are drastic.

Say one of your products is backordered for a month and you need to relay this information to a customer immediately. Consider the following responses:

  • Negative language: “I can’t get you that product until next month. It is back-ordered and unavailable at this time.”
  • Positive language: “That product will be available next month. I can place the order for you right now and make sure that it is sent to you as soon as it reaches our warehouse!”

Redirecting the conversation from negative to positive places focus on the proposed solution. When the outcome takes center stage, it reduces the odds that customers will be upset.

5. Give credence to customer complaints

Harsh words are not always indicative of insight, and complaining customers are not always a sign that something is wrong. Be that as it may, sometimes great feedback is buried within the vitriol—give credence to every message.

To stay consistent in tone and process, use the CARP method:

  • Control the situation.
  • Acknowledge the dilemma.
  • Refocus the conversation.
  • Problem-solve so the customer leaves happy.

Receiving the same complaint repeatedly is the beginning of a narrative. This shouldn’t dictate what to do next, but it will begin to reveal what requires your attention.

6. Avoid helping customers at breakneck speeds

“What builds a stronger tie to Arby’s may not be whether a customer receives a sandwich in less than three minutes,” says Gallup researcher William J. McEwen. “Speed won’t compensate for a cold, tasteless sandwich or for rude and incompetent service.”

Make sure your service isn’t leaving a bad taste in customers’ mouths, either.

Take time to ensure first-contact resolution becomes a priority. There is nothing customers appreciate more than getting helpful advice the first time around.

7. Know how to close a conversation

The ability to close improves every single interaction. This is not closing a sale, it’s closing the conversation with a customer.

Leaving an issue unresolved creates unnecessary problems. Data suggests as little as ~4% of dissatisfied customers will ever speak up. Not everyone will communicate what is bothering them—often because you haven’t communicated that you care.

Your willingness to correctly close a conversation shows the customer three important things:

  • You care about getting it right.
  • You’re willing to keep going until you get it right.
  • The customer is the one who determines what “right” is.

“Is there anything else I can do for you today? I’m happy to help!” Always look for small opportunities like this.

Make sure you and your team always get to a place where, “Yes, I’m all set!” rings loud and clear.

8. Keep standards high and response times low

Inbox zero needn’t be a zero-sum game. Delighting users is impossible when the team’s morale is being crushed under the weight of a cluttered inbox.

Keep it simple, sunshine. Since basic, common questions are where your keystrokes go to waste, start by addressing them with scalable templates.

Saved replies are valuable to a support department because the whole team builds on them. Set guidelines for identifying common questions and when a saved reply can and should be created.

The more you add, the more useful your saved reply collection becomes.

Help Scout save replies

9. Help customers help themselves

Great customer service should always be available, even when you aren’t.

When done right, self-service is personal at scale. View your help content as a top-tier reply from your support team made public for all to see and benefit from. Screenshots, videos, styling and more ensure your frequently asked questions will get frequently loved answers.

While impressive efforts like VHX’s documentation will take you some time, the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, and the journey to a useful knowledge base starts with your first article.

Help Scout Docs makes it easy. A few clicks auto-magically creates a logically organized help portal made to look as beautiful and usable as your own product.

Help Scout docs

10. Make use of strategic automation

“Filtering” can sound worrisome in the realm of customer service, but it more accurately serves as direction. Customers receive the best support possible when they are sent to the right place the first time around.

With Workflows, you can trigger automatic filtering through subject line keywords. This offers a number of advantages:

  • Make iterative improvements. Want to keep response times down to ~6 hours? Set up a Workflow to remind the appropriate user(s) so that messages don’t sit and collect dust.
  • Highlight opportunities to ‘Wow!’ By setting up a folder and a Workflow for a keyword like “Refund” in the subject line, you’ll add a streamlined way to salvage potentially lost customers. Special conversations (“Upgrading,” “Canceling my account”) let you provide superb support at key crossroads.
  • Better manage VIP customers. It’s helpful to filter enterprise or long-term customers to their own folders to ensure timely responses. They may have different needs; set them up for success by getting them out of the main inbox.

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