Customer Service Skills

4 Customer Service Building Blocks

There are four skills that are critical building blocks to providing successful customer service:

  • Listening - Actively seeking to understand your client's needs.
  • Questioning - Probing to get to the real issues in a way that invites the involvement of the client.
  • Reframing - Expressing your point of view in a positive way (or the art of saying no in a way that sounds like yes!)
  • Handling Emotion - Acknowledging anger and frustration without taking these emotions personally.


The five "levels" of listening are:

  • Ignoring
  • Pretending
  • Selective
  • Attending
  • Active

To listen actively you must:

  • Keep an open mind and empathize with your clients. Remember, clients are people to who have deadlines, problems and frustrations, at work and at home. They do not come close to having your level of knowledge or talent in your area of expertise, so what seems clear to you can appear to be mud to them. Listen to understand their point of view and temporarily withhold your opinions and judgements.
  • Show you are listening through body language (lean forward, eye contact) and through encouraging (but short) words and phrases, such as "I see" or "Uh huh."
  • Check your understanding by clarifying ("Are you saying...?"), paraphrasing ("As I understand...), and summarizing ("So your primary concerns are..."). This way you will make sure you are on track as well as let your client know you are listening and that you are interested in their problem.


There are two basic types of questions:

  • Close questions are answered with a yes or no or a specific piece of information. They are appropriate when you want to clarify or confirm your understanding, when you are looking for a specific answer, or when you want to guide the interaction in a certain direction.

  • Examples of closed questions:
    -- What is the model number?
    -- What day would you like this done on?
    -- Did that solve your problem?
  • Open-ended questions elicit longer explanations and involve the client in an in-depth conversation. They are best for probing into the facts and causes of a situation and for inviting input from the client.

  • Examples of open-ended questions:
    -- What ideas do you have?
    -- What would you like me to do about this problem?
    -- How can I help you?

When formulating a good question, remember the five W's:

  • Who was affected by this?
  • What would you like to see happen next?
  • When do you need to have the problem fixed
  • Where did the original problem occur?
  • Why do you think this is happening?


Reframing your statements as positively as you can will facilitate a smoother interaction with your clients and lead to greater client satisfaction.

The secret? Focus on what you will do for the client or what they can do to address their needs.

For an extra boost, include a reason or benefit of your approach - especially if your idea is not what the client had in mind.

Rather than: Reframe as:
I do not know I will find out
I do not have the time to handle this today I will come in first thing in the morning to fix the problem
We cannot process your request over the phone I will be able to process your request if you send me an email
That is not my job. You should check with Finance You can get help from Finance
I cannot help you until I get that information I can fix the problem more quickly for you if I have that information

Remember: Your facial expressions, tone of voice, and other non-verbal behaviors have more than ten times the impact than the words you use. Reframing is important, but so if acting as if you actually care.

Handling Emotion

Typical mistakes when faced with Emotion:

  • Ignore the emotion and attempt to continue with the interaction.
  • Meet the emotion with equal emotion.
  • Take the client's emotions personally and react with hurt feelings or defensiveness.
  • Invalidate the emotion or try to talk the client out of their feelings (e.g. "Calm down," "There is no need to get upset.").

Here are some good strategies for handling emotion:

  • Take it professionally, not personally - Keep your thoughts and actions focused on the issue or problem and away from yourself.

  • -- Example: Instead of thinking "She cannot talk to me that way," think "She is upset. This problem must be significant for her."
    -- Tip: Professional distance is easier to achieve if you master "the art of calm." Remember to breathe, stretch, smile and take care of yourself (diet, exercise, fun) to keep your stress level manageable.
  • Acknowledge that you heard the feeling expressed, not just the facts - When people express emotion, usually it is because they want you to recognize what they are feeling. View their emotion as information about them and how urgent the issue is to them. Use your active listening skills to let the person know you understand.

  • -- Example: "That must have been really frustrating." "I see how important this is to you."
    -- Tip: This step works best if you genuinely empathize with your client. If you use it just as a technique, you risk coming off as patronizing.
  • Shift the conversation gently toward problem-solving - Once you have given your client a chance to "vent," you can usually refocus their attention on solving the problem.

  • -- Example: "How can we solve this?" "So a good solution for this would be..." "Would you feel better about this if I could..."
    -- Top: If these strategies fail to reduce the client's emotional level you can:
    • Escalate your appeal (e.g. "I would like to help - please give me a chance.")
    • Address the behavior (e.g. "Stop yelling and I will help you.">
    • Call a time out and turn the issue over to someone else or return later.