Communication Skills in Customer Service

  • Post last modified:19 January 2022
  • Reading time:24 mins read

Why Are Communication Skills Important in Customer Service?

Customer service efforts are designed to ensure the prompt and efficient delivery of quality products and services to customers, as well as the effective recovery from any service-related issues that may arise. In dealing with customers, communication is essential, whether it is face-to-face, over the phone, via email or, increasingly, through online channels.


Verbal Communication Skills

Words are powerful tools of communication. Indeed, word choice can easily influence the thoughts, attitudes, and behaviour of the people listening to us. Similarly, proper attention to the language of others can give us insight into what it is that they are really saying, helping us to respond appropriately and effectively.

In this module, we will discuss important verbal communication skills like the art of listening, asking questions, and communicating with power Effective verbal or spoken communication is dependent on a number of factors and cannot be fully isolated from other important interpersonal skills such as non-verbal communication, listening skills and clarification.

  1. Communicating with Power
  2. Opening Communication
  3. Reinforcement

Communicating with Power

Power in communication refers to the ability to influence, persuade, or make an impact. Powerful communication is associated with self-confidence, credibility, and effectiveness. The following are some ways you can communicate with power verbally:

  1. Stick to the point. Powerful communication is not about saying as many things as you can in a given period of time. Rather, it is about sticking to what is relevant to the discussion, and getting your message across in the shortest but most impact laden way possible.

    Get rid of fillers like “uhm…”, “you know”, or “actually” in your delivery, and avoid off topic statements. Just provide the bare bones the ideas your audience would be most interested in knowing, or the ones that promote your intentions best.

  2. Don’t be too casual. Note that phrasing appropriate when talking with friends is not necessarily appropriate for business related meets. The use of slang, street talk, and poor grammar can detract from your credibility, especially if you’re mingling with potential clients, employers, and business partners. Events that require you to come across as impressive may require the use of industry specific jargon and a formal tone so adjust accordingly.

  3. Emphasize key ideas – Stress the highlights of your communication. For example, people who are delivering a sales pitch should emphasize the main features of their product or service. Those who are presenting their opinion on an issue should explain the crux of their arguments, and build from there. Even if you’re merely expressing interest or congratulations, make sure the person you’re talking to would remember what you have to say.

    Emphasis in verbal communication comes in many ways, including repetition of key points, giving specific examples, accenting particular adjectives or nouns, or even directly saying that “this is really a point I want to emphasize.” Tailor fit your communication to your audience. A powerful communication is one that.

  4. Connects with one’s audience. In this case, minding the readiness, attention, age, and educational level of your audience is very important, so that you don’t overwhelm or underwhelm them. Social skills are primarily about flexibility; the better you can adjust to changes in your audience profile, the better off you’ll be.

  5. Connect. Power in communication is sometimes determined by the quality of your rapport with others. You may need to “warm up” your audience, make them comfortable, and show them that you sincerely want to talk with them. The more others see you as “one of them”, the better their reception of anything that you have to say will be. Your non verbal communication can be a big help in connecting with others.

Opening Communication

In many interpersonal encounters, the first few minutes are extremely important as first impressions have a significant impact on the success of further communication. Everyone has expectations and norms as to how initial meetings should proceed and people tend to behave according to these expectations.

If these expectations are mismatched, communication will not be effective or run smoothly, and some form of negotiation will be needed if relations are to continue. At a first meeting, formalities and appropriate greetings are usually expected: such formalities could include a handshake, an introduction to yourself, eye contact and discussion around a neutral subject such as the weather or your journey may be useful.

A friendly disposition and smiling face are much more likely to encourage communication than a blank face, inattention or disinterested reception.

Reinforcement

The use of encouraging words alongside non-verbal gestures such as head nods, a warm facial expression and maintaining eye contact, are more likely to reinforce openness in others. The use of encouragement and positive reinforcement can:

  • Encourage others to participate in discussion (particularly in group work).
  • Signify interest in what other people have to say.
  • Pave the way for development and/or maintenance of a relationship.
  • Allay fears and give reassurance.
  • Show warmth and openness.
  • Reduce shyness or nervousness in ourselves and others.

Effective Listening

Active listening is an important skill and yet, as communicators, people tend to spend far more energy considering what they are going to say rather than listening to what the other person is trying to say. Although active listening is a skill in itself, covered in-depth on our listening pages, it is also vital for effective verbal communication.

The following points are essential for effective and active listening:

  1. Arrange a comfortable environment conducive to the purpose of the communication, for example a warm and light room with minimal background noise.
  2. Be prepared to listen.
  3. Keep an open mind and concentrate on the main direction of the speaker’s message.
  4. Avoid distractions if at all possible.
  5. Delay judgment until you have heard everything.
  6. Be objective.
  7. Do not be trying to think of your next question while the other person is giving information.
  8. Do not dwell on one or two points at the expense of others.
  9. The speaker should not be stereotyped. Try not to let prejudices associated with, for example, gender, ethnicity, social class, appearance or dress interfere with what is being said.

Questioning

If communication is the exchange of information between two or more people, then questions are a way to elicit the specific information that you are looking for. But more so, well-crafted questions make for an engaging conversation.

It can establish rapport, spark interest and curiosity in others, break new grounds, and communicate your own sincerity in learning what people around you have to say. Here are some tips in asking questions effectively: Ask! First of all, don’t be afraid to ask questions! Sometimes shyness, concern over making a:

  1. Fear of being perceived as a busy body, can keep us from asking questions. While some subject matters are not appropriate conversation pieces in the early stages of a conversation there is nothing wrong in asking questions per se. Start with your inherent curiosity about people, if you’re genuinely interested in a person, you won’t run out of things to ask. Ask open questions. There are two kinds of questions based on the scope of the answers they.

  2. Elicit: closed and open questions.

  3. Closed questions are questions answerable by yes or no. Example: “Are you happy with today’s presentation?”

  4. Open questions, on the other hand, are questions that require a qualified response. Open questions are usually preceded by who, when, where, what, how, and why. Example: “What is it about today’s presentation that you find most engaging?”

For better effectiveness, think of what you and the person you’re talking to needs in your stage of the relationship, and asks him or her questions that can address that need:

  1. Closed Questions
  2. Open Questions
  3. Reflecting and Clarifying
  4. Closing Communication

Closed Questions

Closed questions tend to seek only a one or two-word answer (often simply ‘yes’ or ‘no’) and, in doing so, limit the scope of the response. Two examples of closed questions are “Did you travel by car today?” and “Did you see the football game yesterday?”

These types of questions mean control of the communication is maintained by the questioner yet this is often not the desired outcome when trying to encourage verbal communication. Nevertheless, closed questions can be useful for focusing discussion and obtaining clear, concise answers when needed.

Open Questions

Open questions broaden the scope for a response since they demand further discussion and elaboration. For example, “What was the traffic like this morning?” or “What do you feel you would like to gain from this discussion?” Open questions will take longer to answer, but they do give the other person far more scope for self-expression and encourage involvement in the conversation.

Reflecting and Clarifying

Reflecting is the process of feeding back to another person your understanding of what has been said. Although reflecting is a specialized skill used within counselling, it can also be applied to a wide range of communication contexts and is a useful skill to learn.

Reflecting often involves paraphrasing the message communicated to you by the speaker in your own words, capturing the essence of the facts and feelings expressed, and communicating your understanding back to the speaker. It is a useful skill because:

  1. You can check that you have understood the message clearly.
  2. The speaker gets feedback as to how the message is received.
  3. It shows interest in, and respect for, what the other person has to say.
  4. You are demonstrating that you are considering the other person’s viewpoint.

Closing Communication

The way communication is closed or ended will, at least in part, determine the way a conversation is remembered. A range of subtle, or sometimes not so subtle, signals are used to end an interaction. For example, some people may avoid eye contact, stand up, turn their body away, or use behaviours such as looking at a watch or closing notepads or books.

All of these non-verbal actions indicate to the other person that the initiator wishes to end the communication. Closing an interaction too abruptly may not allow the other person to ‘round off’ what he or she is saying so you should ensure there is time for winding up.

The closure of the interaction is a good time to make any future arrangements. Last, but not least, this time will no doubt be accompanied by a number of socially acceptable parting gestures.


Nonverbal Communication

Communication is not just about what comes out of our mouths. In fact, what we don’t say our body language, voice intonation and use of silence often send a louder message to other people than the words we say.

Unless we actively practice non-verbal communication skills, we can’t really be sure if we’re actually sending the message that we want to send. Interpersonal communication not only involves the explicit meaning of words, the information or message conveyed, but also refers to implicit messages, whether intentional or not, which are expressed through non-verbal behaviours.

Types of Non-Verbal Communication

When we communicate, non-verbal cues can be as important, or in some cases even more important, than what we say. Non-verbal communication can have a great impact on the listener and the outcome of the communication. There are many different aspects of non-verbal communication including:

  1. Body Language
  2. Posture
  3. Eye Contact
  4. Facial Expression
  5. Para Language
  6. Closeness and Personal Space (Proxemics)

Body Language

Body language refers to the messages we send to other people through our posture, facial expressions, gestures, and bodily movements. It is believed that a listener pays more attention to body language than verbal messages.

Body movements can be used to reinforce or emphasize what a person is saying and also offer information about the emotions and attitudes of a person. However, it is also possible for body movements to conflict with what is said. A skilled observer may be able to detect such discrepancies in behaviour and use them as a clue to what someone is really feeling.

Posture

The way we sit down, stand up or even walk can also communicate. For example, slumping in a chair is often considered as a sign of inattention and or disrespect. Walking with one’s head and shoulders down can be interpreted as a sign of nervousness or low self-esteem. Withdrawing to a fetal position can also be indicative of fear and or depression. The puffing of one’s chest has been traditionally interpreted as pride.

Eye Contact

Eye contact is considered one of the most important aspects of non‐verbal communication. Steady eye contact often indicates attention to the person one is in conversation with, as well as a willingness and sincerity to connect.

The lack of eye connection can be viewed as defensiveness, nervousness and or social withdrawal. Many say that our eyes are the “windows to our soul”, and that one can tell if an individual is happy, sad, or angry simply by looking at their eyes.

Facial Expression

It is believed that there are universal facial expressions for different emotions, most of which have an evolutionary basis. For example, anger is often indicated by sharp stares, crunched eyebrows and the baring of teeth. Sadness, on the other hand, can be denoted by teary eyes and drooping lips. Note though that the expression and perception of emotions tend to vary from culture to culture.

Para Language

Para-language relates to all aspects of the voice which are not strictly part of the verbal message, including the tone and pitch of the voice, the speed and volume at which a message is delivered, and pauses and hesitations between words.

These signals can serve to indicate feelings about what is being said. Emphasizing particular words can imply whether or not feedback is required.

Closeness and Personal Space (Proxemics)

Every culture has different levels of physical closeness appropriate to different types of relationships, and individuals learn these distances from the society in which they grew up. In today’s multicultural society, it is important to consider the range of non-verbal codes as expressed in different ethnic groups.

When someone violates an ‘appropriate’ distance, people may feel uncomfortable or defensive. Their actions may well be open to misinterpretation.


Etiquette

The three fundamental elements that form etiquette include language (in writing or verbal form), behaviour and costumes. The basic forms of etiquette vary depending on a number of factors such as living conditions, historical traditions, cultural mindset and ethnic customs. The variation of these factors resulted in the four common types of etiquette:

  1. Protocol
  2. Courtesy
  3. Manners
  4. Etiquette and the Tourism Industry
  5. Greeting Etiquette of Meeting People from Different Countries
  6. Handshake
  7. Bow

Protocol

It is the code of behaviour in showing respect and friendship to each other in the course of interpersonal, social and international contacts.

Courtesy

It is the usual form in expressing greetings, regards, wishes and sympathy in daily life and sometimes in special socializing occasions. The expressions may vary from country to country due to regional and ethnic differences.

Examples include nods and handshakes which are commonly accepted all over the world or putting palms together in India (Namaste), or hugging and kissing in Europe and America.

Manners

It is the behavioural code in expressing modesty, respect and friendship among people by using words, facial expressions and gestures. The forms of manners include:

  1. Appearance, grooming and deportment.
  2. Language and style of conversation.
  3. Apparel, clothing, hairstyle.
  4. Facial expression and gestures.
  5. Ways in dealing with people, attitude, etc.

Etiquette and the Tourism Industry

During a visit, there are always interpersonal contacts including contacts between tourists, tourists between tourism staff, and tourists between local residents of the host country. These contacts are diversified in nature, we need “etiquette” to manage our behaviour, enhance mutual understanding and friendship.

The tourism industry must provide tourists with quality service etiquette in addition to the provision of tangible products and services such as transportation services, accommodation services and recreational facilities.

Quality customer service etiquette aims to help tourism services staff to understand the different types of protocol, courtesy, manners and ceremony. Therefore, quality customer service etiquette is one of the essential factors for the tourism industry in meeting the customers’ demand for service satisfaction.

Greeting Etiquette of Meeting People from Different Countries

Handshake

Handshake originated in Europe. It was meant to reassure each other that neither person held any weapons. Handshake is commonly accepted in most countries. Therefore, a decent handshake is a good way to show happiness when meeting a foreign guest. However, never use your left hand or both hands to shake hands with an Indian because they never use their left hand except when using the washroom.

Bow

In some Asian countries such as South Korea (Republic of Korea) and Japan, people usually bow with their hands placed flat on their knees when they meet a friend. Bows are usually accompanied by verbal greetings.

The graceful motion should be ensured when making a bow. We should determine the form of etiquette depending on the country, religion and personal background of the person receiving the greetings. Otherwise, we may probably offend other people.

Certainly, it would be safer if you express pleasant facial expressions first and observe the intention of the other party before determining which form of etiquette would be appropriate.

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