How to Improve Customer Service (My Top 3 Secrets)

Every business, no matter how small, depends on great customer service to boost customer retention and future sales. If you’ve researched how to improve your customer service skills, you’ve probably seen a lot of the same tips. Practice active listening. Respond in a timely manner. Address the customer by their first name.

Most customer service representatives have heard this advice before. While these things are important for your customer interactions, the reality is that an exceptional customer service strategy will go much further than this.

In this blog, I’m sharing three of my top tips for how to improve customer service — and these are things that I feel like we don’t talk about enough.

Customer service agent sitting at the computer

3 Keys to Exceptional Customer Service

These three things have made a significant difference in how my companies offer great customer service.

Whether you manage a customer service team or you’re a representative yourself, these will apply to you.

There’s a bit of overlap between them, but it’s still worth discussing them individually.

1. Ask More Questions than You’re Probably Comfortable Asking

Because we know how crucial it is to achieve customer satisfaction as quick as possible, we tend to try to cut to the chase.

This means that customer service teams end up skipping out on a lot of valuable questions that would help them get to know their customers better so that they could help them even more.

Don’t look at it as being “nosy,” because it isn’t. You’re taking an interest in the customer and trying to help them as best you can.

Plus, remember this: People love talking about themselves and their problems. Asking questions improves the customer service experience — for both you and them.

Customer service team members working at their laptops

People will sometimes ask me, “Well, how many questions should I ask?” There’s no magic answer. Instead, you need to keep digging until you get to the very root of your customers’ problems.

An Example

Let’s illustrate just how helpful it can be to your customer service skills to ask questions.

Pretend that your brand sells dog toys. Most of them are made from very hard, durable, indestructible materials. A customer reaches out asking if you have anything soft and pliable, even if it isn’t the toughest.

You could just say, “Sure, we have this squeaky toy!”

Imagine, though, if you asked them why they prefer soft toys. The customer then shares that they have a dog who is mostly blind, so they want a toy that they can play fetch with but there’s no chance of the toy hurting the dog.

Not only can you now recommend the perfect toys for their pooch, but maybe you sell something else they might find helpful — like a halo guiding device that prevents the dog from walking into walls.

If you hadn’t asked more questions, this wouldn’t have been possible. That is great customer service.

2. Ask Follow-up Questions

This is about taking the information that the customer has already given you and pushing it just a little further. Think of yourself as an explorer. And on this expedition, the “treasure” you’re looking for is information.

The more you know about your customers (or potential customers), the better.

An Example

Let’s revisit our furry friend who can’t see all that well. What else might this dog need?

Well, if he’s visually impaired, it’s fair to ask if it’s an elderly dog. If it is, might this customer also need potty pads or diapers? Eyedrops? Vitamins for bone and joint health?

Happy golden retriever

Does the dog get extra anxious when the owner leaves, or when there are fireworks going off outside? Maybe you recommend a “donut” bed that swaddles them to help them feel more comforted.

Not only will this help you serve them in the present, but it’s also an excellent way to build customer loyalty in the long run!

If you want to improve customer service, you need to start thinking outside the box.

3. Never Answer a Question the First Time Around

“But if I know the answer, why not give it?!” That’s a fair question!

This isn’t about withholding the answer, nor is it about stalling or trying to trick the customer in any way.

It’s about getting the information you need to give the customer the best answer possible. It’s also about anticipating customer concerns perhaps even before they voice them. This is a pivotal part of a good customer service strategy and providing consistent customer satisfaction.

An Example

If that dog owner had asked if you have soft dog toys — and you said, “Sure! Here you go!” — that would’ve been the end of that customer service interaction.

However, what if you answered their question with a question?

  • “What breed is it?”
  • “What size is your dog?”
  • “How old are they?”

In fact, I would go so far as to tell you to never answer on the first go-around. You need more clarity.

Will this always change the response you end up giving? No, not necessarily. However, it certainly could — and that could very well end up having a big impact on your business.

Other Information You Should Gather

Remember, asking questions is part of a good customer service strategy. You’re not being nosy — you’re doing your job.

Here are some other questions that my customer service teams ask:

  • “Why are you calling us today?”
  • “How are you currently trying to solve this problem?”
  • “How did you hear about us?”
  • “What brand/company are you currently working with?”
  • “Who else are you talking to besides us?”
  • “When do you need this product or service?”
  • “Are you ready to move forward today?”

You don’t have to ask these rapid-fire. Let them unfold naturally as part of the organic conversation.

customer service team member improving customer satisfaction over the phone

Being able to use this information later on could also help you improve the customer experience and maybe even make a new sale. Let’s say you’ve got a customer this close to making the purchase, but the price is scaring them away a little bit.

You don’t need to “convince” them to purchase. All you have to do is remind them of what they already told you. Did they already acknowledge that what they’re currently doing isn’t working? That their current vendor isn’t getting the job done? That the results aren’t what they expected?

These are all great reasons for them to start doing business with you, instead.

Additionally, keep in mind that when you ask them about who they’re currently working with or other brands they’ve spoken to, this is a good time to get customer feedback and learn more about your competitors.

And speaking of customer feedback…

Good Customer Service… After the Fact!

Part of the customer service experience comes after the conversation has ended — in the form of gathering customer feedback.

How would the caller rate their experience on a scale of 1 (poor customer service experience) to 5 (excellent customer service experience)? How could the customer service rep have done better? Did the service call live up to their expectations? Do you leave customers happy when all is said and done?

Customer support doesn’t end when you hang up the phone. You need to think about the entire customer lifecycle. You’re trying to build a long-term relationship and develop that sense of brand loyalty.

Always gather customer feedback! You can easily do this via email.

Customer service team member sending an email to improve customer satisfaction

Wrapping Up

Learning how to improve customer service skills ultimately comes down to one thing: building the relationship.

Whether a current customer reaches out with a question about your product or service, or a potential customer is considering doing business with you, you will not find business success if you don’t provide excellent customer service.

Ask lots of questions, gather feedback about the customer experience with both your own brand and any competitors they’ve worked with, and always invest time, energy, and resources to improve customer service.

If your customer service agents do these things, then your company will develop a very strong foundation!

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Jonathan Baktari MD

Jonathan Baktari, MD brings over 20 years of clinical, administrative and entrepreneurial experience to lead the current e7 Health team. He has been a triple board-certified physician with specialties in internal medicine, pulmonary and critical care medicine. He has been the Medical Director of The Valley Health Systems, Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield, Culinary Health Fund and currently is the CEO of two healthcare companies.
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