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991044: Communication Skills for Effective Customer Service

Unit 1 Importance of Effective Customer Service


Section 1.1 Overview
Customer service can be defined as all those things organizations do that promote customer
satisfaction, while eliminating/reducing customer frustrations. As logical as this sounds,
organizations are not always successful at satisfying customers. For example, who among
us hasn't been frustrated at some time by slow service in a restaurant or fast-food
establishment? Or, how about those times you have roamed around a retail store searching
for a clerk (an associate). And, if the above examples have not irritated you enough
already, imagine the last time you dealt with lost luggage or lost hotel reservations. And,
just how sincere and helpful were the employees representing the above-mentioned
organizations once your frustrations were acknowledged?
Section 1.2 Keep Customers Happy
Obviously, it is in best interest of organizations to learn their customers' needs and then do
their best to meet them. Why? It is simple. Satisfied, happy customers are return
customers. Furthermore, they typically mention their satisfaction to others (i.e., family
members, fellow workers, friends, etc.). This is the least expensive form of advertising
organizations can use. It is free. This, in turn, frees up some advertising dollars; a portion
of which can be used to fund ongoing customer service training for their employees.
Section 1.3 What's Wrong with Frustrating a Few Customers?
But, what's the big deal about losing a few frustrated customers? There are over six billion
people on the planet, and the net population grows daily. If an organization loses a few
customers, there are plenty more people who will replace them.
We all know that this would be a lousy business philosophy and an equally-lousy way of
treating people no matter how popular the product or service. The truth is that the cost of
losing customers is very high. On average it costs five times as much to attract a new
customer as it does to create a repeat customer. And, let's not forget the future lost
business that results from frustrated customers sharing their negative experiences with
others.
Section 1.4 The Cost of Poor Customer Service
When customers are not satisfied with an organization's level of customer service, they
typically choose to spend their money in competitors' establishments. Unfortunately, they
rarely voice their complaints to the offending organizations before taking their business
elsewhere. Thus, organizations often don't know they frustrated the former customer, how
they frustrated him or her, how they are frustrating current customers and/or how they will
frustrate future customers. They are left in the dark regarding matters they can't afford to
be uninformed about.
On average, 90 percent of all customers who have a complaint about a product or service
do not complain to the offending organizations. These former customers simply do not
return. On average each of these former customers voices his or her dissatisfaction to 20
people outside of the organization. Furthermore, the above-mentioned 20 people describe
the dissatisfaction to others also. Ultimately, an average of 100 people hear about the
dissatisfaction. Fortunately, approximately 70 percent of dissatisfied customers will buy
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991044: Communication Skills for Effective Customer Service

again from organizations with which they had a complaint if they believe their complaint has
been handled properly and promptly.
So, why don't more dissatisfied customers complain to organizations? Some frustrated
customers simply don't express their concerns to organizations because there are other
establishments nearby that will meet their needs properly and quickly. Others don't
complain because they are too busy to take the time to write or pay a visit to the
organization. Still others don't complain because they have written off the organization as
one that doesn't really care anyway.
No matter whether or not frustrated customers eventually return, organizations benefit from
learning about their customers' frustrations. At the heart of achieving this objective is
making it convenient for dissatisfied customers to communicate their frustrations. Staffing
organizations, Internet sites, and toll-free phone lines with well-trained, sincere, customer
service representatives is a good start. In addition, follow-up telephone calls inquiring about
the quality of customer service are very effective. For example, many hospitals call patients
shortly after they return home to see how they are doing and to inquire about the quality of
customer service they received.
Who among us, though, has not experienced poor customer service served up by front line,
under-trained (importance, attitude, & techniques), overworked, under-appreciated (by
both employers & customers), under-paid retail clerks (associates)? And, who among us has
not walked away grumbling about how we customers are paying the price for organizational
downsizing? Newspapers and magazines are filled with stories about customers'
dissatisfaction with sales and customer service representatives, who are struggling to get by
with limited resources. Many of my shopping experiences and those of my friends and
colleagues mirror the above description. How about yours? And equally important, how
about those of your customers and clients?
Section 1.5 The Role of Communication in Customer Service
It is not the objective of this course to address all components of customer service. For
example, this course does not discuss the role of product or service quality, timely product
or service delivery, product or service price, employee product or service knowledge,
warranties, etc. The purpose of this course is to share important communication techniques
that contribute to effective customer service. Customer service communication when
effective leads to return customers who voice their satisfaction to others. Poor customer
service communication typically results in lost customers and poor PR.
While it is true that what we say to customers is important, equally important is how we say
it and even when we say it. Obviously, most customers want organizations to say what they
want to hear; sometimes this is possible, sometimes it's not. When it's not, well thought out
alternatives soften the blow. But, how the words are spoken or written are equally
important. For example, the customer should hear an underlying theme of sincerity, caring,
genuineness, and helpfulness in the words. And, customers would prefer to hear these
words as soon as possible.
Throughout the remainder of this course, a variety of communication techniques that
contribute to effective customer service are presented. They are presented in four
categories: (1) oral and nonverbal techniques, (2) listening techniques, (3) written
techniques, and (4) other useful techniques.

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991044: Communication Skills for Effective Customer Service

Unit 2 Oral and Nonverbal Techniques


Section 2.1 Overview
The purpose of this unit is to provide oral and nonverbal communication techniques that
contribute to effective customer service. The oral communication section focuses on face-toface conversations, while information regarding telephone conversations is found in Section
5.8. The topic of feedback pertains to both oral and written communication and has been
given brief coverage in Section 2.2. Extensive coverage can be found in Section 5.6.
Section 2.2 Oral Communication Techniques
Oral communication techniques range from concerns about voice qualities and word choice
to pauses and speaking rate. In oral customer service settings what we say and how we say
it are at the heart of clear, effective communication.
Several oral communication suggestions that promote effective customer service follow.
Voice Qualities. What should your voice sound like when you are speaking to a
customer? Words such as friendly, warm, cheerful, and enthusiastic should quickly come to
mind. It is especially important that your voice communicates sincerity and concern
regarding customers' needs.
Even then, the best voice qualities are those that are not forced. For example, people who
genuinely enjoy helping customers tend to exhibit voice qualities that come naturally and, in
turn, are typically both appropriate and effective.
Word Choice. Oral communication also concerns itself with the actual words spoken. As
trite as it may seem, it is critical that words the customer understands are used. This
sounds like a common-sense suggestion, but one that is often overlooked. Some effective
word-choice suggestions follow:
In a society, indeed in a world, where customers' vocabulary levels vary so significantly, it is
easy to confuse, frustrate, embarrass, and even lose customers by speaking above them.
How can this be avoided? First, make attempts to understand each customer's vocabulary
level. Then, choose words accordingly. This sounds simple; however, it takes time, effort,
and a willingness to use words other than those you may typically use.
Customers can also be confused, frustrated, and embarrassed to the point of taking their
business elsewhere if inundated with specialized technical words (i.e., jargon, buzz words,
etc.) with which they are unfamiliar. Again, care needs to be taken to determine each
customer's level of familiarization with such words. If a customer is unfamiliar with such
words, replace them with synonyms. When there is no replacement word, at least describe
in layman's terms what each one means.
Also, don't forget how important it is to be polite. Words and phrases such as please, thank
you, and you're welcome, coupled with a sincere tone and a smile, greatly increase the odds
that successful customer service will transpire.

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991044: Communication Skills for Effective Customer Service

Speaking Rate. When speaking to customers, you are advised to speak at a rate of
approximately 150 words per minute. Most people can speak at a rate as high as 250 words
per minute, and some even higher. Speaking too fast, though, typically compromises clarity
and retention and may even frustrate customers who can't keep up. This is especially true
of situations where the customer has little familiarization with some or all of the information
being shared.
Pauses. When speaking to customers, well-placed pauses promote clarity and retention.
For example, if you want to give the customer a chance to catch up and/or to shift mental
gears before moving on to the next thought or topic, just pause. In addition, pauses can be
inserted for emphasis purposes. Some people pause immediately before stating a point that
they wish to emphasize. More often, people pause immediately after making the point they
wish to emphasize, thus providing customers the opportunity to reflect on what was just
said.
Feedback. Two-way feedback is critical to effective communication in customer service
situations. Both you and your customers are capable of confusing each other.
Communicating effectively on the first pass is challenging for everybody.
What can you do to encourage feedback from a customer? Near the beginning of the
conversation invite the customer to ask for feedback when clarification is needed.
Unfortunately, there are times when customers need clarification, but do not ask for
feedback. In such situations, you should initiate feedback by simply asking the customer if
he/she would like something repeated, restated, or further explained. Look for signs of
confusion no matter whether or not the customer asks for clarification. Customers are
typically confused if they: (1) frown, (2) scratch their heads, (3) sigh, and/or (4) pause at
length before responding to something you have said.
Another technique you can use to activate feedback is to routinely ask the customers if they
would like a point repeated, restated, or further explained. This is an especially important
technique when the information you are sharing is very complex and/or unfamiliar to the
customer.
Of course, there are times when you may not understand something a customer has said to
you. For clarification purposes, ask the customer to repeat, restate, or further explain what
is confusing you. Not only will you achieve clarification; you are taking seriously what he or
she is saying.
Interrupting Customers. Interrupting customers when they are speaking is typically
inappropriate and rude, unless you are seeking feedback. Even then, it is best to wait until
the customer has finished a thought or, at minimum a sentence, before jumping in.
Most people have a natural urge to want to interrupt others so they can share their
thoughts or opinions. However, most people learn to control this urge at a young age. It is
polite and professional to hear the customer out before sharing your thoughts and opinions.
Interestingly, approximately 95 percent of interruptions in U.S. organizations are credited to
males. And, they don't just interrupt females. They interrupt everyone.

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991044: Communication Skills for Effective Customer Service

Section 2.3 Nonverbal Communication Techniques


Nonverbal communication techniques range from silent cues such as facial expressions and
amount of eye contact to appropriate body position. Nonverbal cues are considered to be
very powerful, very honest communication. Typically, if a customer perceives your spoken
words contradict your nonverbal cues, sincerity, honesty, and communication effectiveness
will be greatly compromised.
Several nonverbal communication suggestions follow:
Facial Expressions. Facial expressions that are most effective in customer service
situations are the same expressions that work well in most other settings. Your facial
expressions should be friendly, warm, cheerful, and most important of all, sincere. Smiles
work especially well and should be used generously. For example, always greet customers
with a warm, sincere smile.
The best facial expressions are those that are not forced. People who genuinely enjoy
helping customers typically exhibit facial expressions that are natural, appropriate, and
effective.
Yet there are times when organizational representatives' facial expressions should sway
somewhat from the above-mentioned description. In situations where a customer has a
serious complaint and/or is emotionally upset, friendly yet serious and sincere facial
expressions are most appropriate. In such situations, excessive smiling and expressions of
cheerfulness may irritate the customer. In these situations, customers may perceive
excessive smiles and cheerfulness from you as being inappropriate for the situation,
patronizing, and possibly insincere.
Eye Contact. Most American customers prefer to receive the same amount of eye
contact in business settings that they typically receive in most other settings. Exceptions
may be found in situations where couples are madly in love with each other or are in the
midst of heated arguments. In these situations, the amount of eye contact often borders on
staring, which is certainly overkill in customer service settings.
Prolonged eye contact or too much eye contact makes customers feel very uneasy. Most
immediately sense the inappropriateness. Some may even believe you are attempting to
intimidate them into submission; be it related to the business situation or some other
hidden agenda. No matter the perceived intent, be it real or imagined, prolonged eye
contact can quickly result in lost business.
Too little eye contact, though, can also be damaging. Besides sensing the inappropriateness
of such actions, customers typically form other negative perceptions. For example,
customers may believe that the reason you are giving them too little eye contact is because
you are trying to avoid them or their needs or hurry them along. Other customers may
conclude that you do not care about their needs and/or them.
Finally, organizational representatives should be familiar with the unique cultural desires of
customers as they relate to eye contact. For example, most Japanese women are
uncomfortable with receiving the amount of eye contact American males typically give. In
turn, in some Middle Eastern cultures, males give very little eye contact to females, which
may be misinterpreted by their foreign female customers. The point is that members of
organizations who make eye contact with cross-cultural customers should be both
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991044: Communication Skills for Effective Customer Service

knowledgeable of and sensitive to their global customers' expectations and needs as they
relate to eye contact.
Body Position. Body position can even impact communication effectiveness in customer
service situations. And, as can be imagined, body position norms vary among different
cultures.
When serving customers, position your body so it faces the customer. Furthermore, turn
your head so you are facing the customer. By doing so, you communicate attentiveness to
customers as well as reduce peripheral visual distractions.
The physical distance between you and your customers is also very important. American
customers and American businesspeople are typically most comfortable when they maintain
a distance of approximately one arm's length.
If you stand much closer than an arm length, the customer is likely to feel very
uncomfortable. This feeling is similar to the feeling most people experience when they find
themselves in a packed elevator with a group of strangers.
To stand much farther away from the customer than an arm's length is not advised either.
Customers perceive the inappropriateness of such actions. More importantly, though, is the
realization that too great a distance prompts both parties to speak louder. This can really
become a counterproductive shouting match if the customer is dissatisfied and you do not
fully control your emotions and actions.
If both you and the customer are seated, avoid placing him on the opposite side of a desk
from you. Arrange the chairs so you are both away from the desk. Sitting behind a desk
creates a power barrier that undermines relaxed, effective communication.
Finally, organizational representatives should be familiar with the unique cultural desires of
cross-cultural customers as they relate to body position. For example, people in most Latin
American countries are comfortable communicating at a distance considerably less than an
arm's length, with some preferring a distance of four-to-six inches. Obviously it is important
to be both knowledgeable of and sensitive to your global customers' expectations and needs
as they relate to body position: especially physical distance.
Touch. Touch can also impact the effectiveness of customer service communication. This
is especially important in U.S. organizations where sexual harassment, intentional or
unintentional, often results in litigation. Unexpected touches, no matter how innocent, can
also escalate emotions in already emotionally charged customer service exchanges. If the
situation is heated enough, innocent touches by organizational representatives can result in
fisticuffs initiated by the customer.
The best advice regarding touching customers is don't do it. The most common
inappropriate touches in business settings are on people's hands, arms, shoulders, and
backs. If you were raised in a family where such touching was the norm, learn to look for
and control these subconscious behaviors. In addition, maintaining slightly more than an
arm's-length distance from customers helps.
However, one form of touching, handshakes, is appropriate in most customer service
situations. Americans, for example, prefer a firm handshake. So, what does this mean? It
simply means that the grip should not be soft nor should it be so strong as to cause physical
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991044: Communication Skills for Effective Customer Service

discomfort. In addition, the handshake should last approximately two-to-three seconds.


Furthermore, the up-and-down motion of each party's arm should be approximately 12
inches in distance. A much-shorter range feels awkward, while much longer ranges are very
inappropriate and annoying.
Cultural differences also exist regarding touching. For example, Japanese people prefer a
bow to a handshake. People in some cultures will even greet others in business settings with
a hug, while others may even kiss a same-gender person on the cheeks. Furthermore, it is
taboo to touch an Indian child on the head.
Become both knowledgeable of and sensitive to your global customers' expectations and
needs as they relate to touching. Robert E. Axtell's book Gestures: The Do's and Taboos of
Body Language Around the World, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., is an excellent reference source
on topics such as touching and distance.
Distractions. In oral customer service situations (i.e., face-to-face, telephone,
videoconference, etc.) distractions should be eliminated or at least minimized. To do so,
take planning measures in advance of meeting with customers and exercise self-control
when with them.
Examples of planning measures to be taken before meeting with a customer include:

Turn off the ringer on your telephone.

Turn off the volume on your answering machine.

Have incoming phone calls forwarded automatically to your voice mail system.

Turn off your cell phone.

Turn your pager onto vibrator mode--not ringer mode.

Ask others not to interrupt you when you are with a customer.

Examples of self-control when with a customer include:

Don't answer your phone.

If you are talking with a customer on the phone, don't take incoming calls on another
line.

Don't respond to incoming pages.

Don't respond to knocks on your office door.

Don't encourage conversations with others that interrupt.

While all distractions and interruptions cannot be avoided, most can and should be. Failure
to control distractions is unprofessional and rude, and leaves customers feeling like a
"second-class citizen." Failure to control distractions can be especially volatile in emotionally
charged situations.

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991044: Communication Skills for Effective Customer Service

Unit 3 Listening Techniques


Section 3.1 Overview
Listening is possibly the single-most important communication skill that contributes to good
customer service in oral settings. Effective listening is at the root of determining customers'
needs and concerns in order to meet them.
Good listening implies three things:
An individual has a realistic attitude about the impact of listening. More specifically, the
individual understands the positive effects of effective listening and the negative effects of
poor listening on customer service as well as on her or his organization and career.
An individual is familiar with effective listening techniques and common listening
barriers. The individual does not merely view listening as an effortless, biological function
(hearing) that he or she has been performing well since birth. Instead, the individual
understands effective listening is a process that requires specific skills and techniques.
An individual is willing to work continuously at refining her/his listening skills. The
individual understands that effective listening will always involve effort combined with the
right attitude.
The remainder of this unit contains suggested listening techniques as well as a list of poor
listener types.
Section 3.2 Suggested Listening Techniques
Give your full attention to the customer who is talking. First, maintain an attitude that
the customer deserves your full attention. Then, avoid those actions that divert your
attention. Examples include daydreaming, faking attention, answering your telephone or
pager, making judgments about the customer's appearance, etc.
Be especially careful to avoid forming your response(s) to what a customer is saying while
he or she is speaking. Hear the customer out before developing and sharing your response.
This way you will be able to focus on all of the facts and details and nonverbal and
emotional cues the customer shares. In addition, you will be able to put the customer at
ease which includes, among other techniques, sharing reassuring nods and verbal
utterances (i.e., uh-huh, certainly, etc.) at appropriate intervals.
Listen for nonverbal and emotional cues as well as for facts and details. Facts and details
are certainly important components of any oral conversation; however, they alone do not
comprise the total message. Good listeners understand that nonverbal and emotional cues
also contribute to the total meaning. Effective listeners are thorough listeners who listen for
nonverbal and emotional cues as well as for facts and details.
Some people even suggest that males typically listen more for facts and details than do
females, while females typically listen more often for nonverbal and emotional cues than do
males. While these propositions sound interesting and very likely could and should be
debated in length, it is important to keep in mind that there is nothing physically unique
about either gender that prohibits people (males & females) from being thorough listeners.

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991044: Communication Skills for Effective Customer Service

Capitalize on your listening rate. Most people can listen at a much faster rate than
others can talk. Thus, when a customer is speaking to you, you are left with spare time that
you can use productively or unproductively.
Instead of allowing this spare time to be consumed by counterproductive activities like
daydreaming, use it productively. For example, mentally outline what is being said, relate
what is being said to the purpose of the conversation, and focus on the speaker's nonverbal
and emotional cues. These are all examples of techniques that help you focus your listening
and better understand what is being said.
Be open-minded. View listening situations as being learning experiences. Avoid being
quick to dismiss some or all of what a customer says because it is inconsistent with your
way of thinking. For example, a customer may voice a negative opinion about a product that
you think is wonderful. Instead of tuning out the customer's opinion, take the opportunity to
learn about possible product defects or drawbacks.
Having a closed mind and preconceived ideas about what the customer is saying typically
interfere with good listening and good customer service. Don't forget that minds are like
parachutes; they only work when they are open.
Control your emotional blind spots. Everyone has emotional buttons that can and will be
pushed when least expected. In customer service situations, like in most settings, both
parties typically suffer when emotional flare-ups go unchecked.
Here are some suggested ways to control your emotional blind spots when listening to
customers. In advance of talking with the customer, anticipate what the customer is apt to
say that is likely to set you off. Then, develop appropriate, non-emotional behaviors and
control. Also, mentally review the down sides of allowing your emotions to take control of
your words and actions. If the customer is emotionally charged, avoid feeding into it. When
a customer does upset you, take a couple deep breaths before responding. Finally, know
when to walk away from a heated or potentially heated conversation before saying things
you and your organization will live to regret.
Empathize with the customer. The better you understand the customer and what he or
she is saying, the more effective will be your listening and the overall customer service. For
example, learn about the customer and his or her concerns or needs in advance of your
meeting. Also, imagine yourself in the customer's position and think about how you would
feel and react.
Avoid saying to the customer that "you know exactly how he or she feels". Such
statements can be easily perceived as being patronizing and phony. In addition, be sure
there is vocal empathy in your voice as well as in your words. If your words are emphatic,
but your voice is not, the customer will likely conclude that you are insincere.
Put the customer at ease. Both parties benefit from customers who are at ease when
they are speaking. The customer is more relaxed and feels he or she has your attention and
interest. You and your organization also benefit from the increased quality and quantity of
information provided by customers who feel at ease. Finally, there is also a positive public
relations benefit.
There are several techniques that you can use to put customers at ease while they are
speaking. For example, if you are seated, lean forward slightly toward the customer which is
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991044: Communication Skills for Effective Customer Service

a sign of good listening. Other suggestions include: position your body and head so they are
facing the customer, maintain normal eye contact, and provide reassuring nods and verbal
utterances (i.e., yes, certainly, uh-huh, etc.) which should be varied.
Remove environmental distractions. There are several benefits associated with removing
environmental distractions. First and foremost is the respect for the customer and what he
or she is saying that is communicated through your efforts. For example, you communicate
respect for the customer when you allow your incoming phone calls to be picked up by your
answering machine rather than interrupting them. Furthermore, both the customer and you
can maintain a consistent train of thought during your conversation if avoidable distractions
are removed.
Some common distractions that should be avoided when customers are talking to you
include answering your telephone, pager, or door. Allowing another person to step in and
interrupt the customer or looking at your watch or clock frequently is also distracting. Also,
shuffling papers, doodling, fiddling with your computer, and not turning down background
music are also distracting.
Avoid the urge to speak too soon. It is natural for most people to want to have their
thoughts heard. Even as babies most of us were conditioned to speak out (cry) exactly
when we had a need.
Thus, in our zeal to share our thoughts, we need to be careful not to unwittingly interrupt
customers. Interrupting customers only tends to derail their train of thought and leaves
them feeling that they and what they are saying are not important.
Of course, it is appropriate technique to interrupt a customer if clarification of what he or
she has said is necessary. It is best not to fake understanding only to have your actions
uncovered further into the conversation. Finally, when interrupting is necessary wait until
the customer has finished a sentence or thought before jumping in.
Avoid content-related barriers. Good listeners avoid falling victim to common, contentrelated, listening barriers such as those listed below.

Arguing and/or debating with the customer. Fight the urge to debate and/or argue
with customers. The times when you are most susceptible to these counterproductive
behaviors are when customers say something that is inconsistent with your way of
thinking. We are all challenged to think before we speak in such situations. Good
listeners know when and how to exercise self-control.

Believing that there is little you can learn. Some poor listeners tune out customers if
they believe they are being told something that is either too elementary or that they
already know. While this may be true of some of what customers say, it is rarely true
of all that they are saying. Needless-to-say, tuning out customers for this reason is
very inappropriate.

Believing that you have too little knowledge and/or experience to understand. Some
poor listeners tune out customers if they believe what the customer is saying is
beyond their ability to comprehend. In such situations, rather than tune out the
customer, challenge yourself to apply your best focusing techniques. In addition, ask
the customer for clarification as needed. Finally, don't hesitate to restate some of the

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10

991044: Communication Skills for Effective Customer Service

customer's main points so you can determine if your perceptions and interpretations
are accurate.

Believing that what is being said is not interesting and/or entertaining. Most people
understand and accept the fact that all that is said in customer service situations is
not interesting and/or entertaining. It would be nice if most was because it is
naturally easier to pay attention when what is being said is interesting and/or
entertaining. When the talk is not, though, challenge yourself to apply your best
focusing techniques.

Avoid speaker-related barriers. Good listeners avoid falling victim to common, speakerrelated, listening barriers. Examples include being distracted by customers' appearance,
mannerisms, voice, gestures, facial expressions, and so forth. For example, overcome the
urge to focus even a small portion of your attention on a male customer's unusually high
voice or a female customer's excessive makeup at the expense of hearing and
understanding their message.
Good listeners focus their attention on the customer's total message; the facts and details
as well as the nonverbal and emotional cues. While they may be tempted to be distracted
by some of the above-mentioned, speaker-related barriers, they have learned to focus their
attention on the message not the speaker.
Section 3.3 Poor Listener Types
The following list provides an interesting way of reviewing some poor listening techniques. It
is almost impossible to read through such a list without seeing some of your own or others'
negative listening habits. Hopefully you won't see yourself in the list too often. The list
provides yet another means of analyzing your own listening abilities.
The Faker. This person pretends to be listening intently, but his or her verbal and
nonverbal responses signal the opposite. Fakers' body language is usually a give away. They
usually maintain poor eye contact, shuffle their feet, and slouch.
The Continual Talker. This person interrupts constantly, debates every issue, and
generally loves to hear herself talk.
The Critic. This person is quick to call the speaker's subject matter uninteresting, argue
about every little detail, and/or demean the speaker's delivery style.
The "I'm-In-A-Hurry" Listener. This person is rude enough to do other things while
listening. For example, he or she may shuffle papers; open mail; work on her computer;
and/or look at their door, watch, or clock frequently.
The "Hand-On-The-Door" Listener. This person gets up from his chair and moves toward
the door when he believes the conversation should be over. There the person stands, with
hand on doorknob, nonverbally indicating that the conversation should end soon.
The "Make-Sure-Everything-Is-Correct" Listener. This person listens very carefully for
facts and is the first to signal when an error has been uttered. Besides being very annoying,
this person rarely listens for nonverbal and emotional cues due to her tunnel vision
attention on spotting facts-based errors.

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991044: Communication Skills for Effective Customer Service

The "Finish-The-Sentence-For-You" Listener. This person thinks he knows exactly what


the speaker will say next. So, he is quick to blurt out the remainder of a speaker's sentence
or thought before or while the speaker says it.
The "I've-Done-One-Better" Listener. This person exhibits a form of one upmanship by
always interrupting with a better idea, experience, etc. For example, her story, of course,
always demonstrates more difficulty, worse conditions, and better results.
The "I'm-Bored" Listener. This person communicates his boredom with what the speaker
is saying and/or with the entire conversation. For example, he doodles, plays with pens or
pencils, shuffles papers, etc. This person's boredom is also displayed through his nonverbal
cues of which unenthusiastic vocal qualities and facial expressions are the most obvious.
The "Interruptions-Are-The-Norm" Listener. This person neither eliminates, reduces, nor
controls interruptions. Customers should either complain about her actions or simply take
their business elsewhere. This person ignores customers, while they are speaking, by
accepting phone calls, answering pages, allowing others to stop by during conversations,
etc.
The above list serves to remind us that poor listeners come in a variety of forms. Two
common denominators do stand out though. Each is rude as well as being a poor listener.
In closing, the right attitude appears to be the key to effective listening, while the wrong
attitude is the single greatest obstacle. The right attitude about the importance of good
listening and the amount of effort it takes to be a good listener is what opens up peoples'
minds to learning and practicing effective listening techniques. A poor attitude, on the other
hand, typically stands in the way of learning and practicing effective listening techniques.

Unit 4 Writing Techniques


Section 4.1 Overview
The purpose of this unit is to provide suggestions about how to enhance written
client/customer service communication. The focus will be placed on four related areas: (1)
favorable news messages, (2) unfavorable news messages, (3) select writing principles, and
(4) writing support software.
Section 4.2 Favorable News Messages
Favorable news messages are typically written in response to customers' requests for
information or some type of product or service adjustment. For example, a potential
customer may place a routine request for information about a product or service or a
current customer may request an adjustment because what you sold him did not work
properly. Favorable news messages imply that you are sending the requested information or
granting the requested adjustment.
Tone is important in these messages just as it is in other message types. If the tone is
appropriate, customers are typically receptive to the contents as well as to future business.
Words and phrases that best describe an appropriate tone are positive, sincere, tactful, and
conversational.
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991044: Communication Skills for Effective Customer Service

Using the wrong tone typically results in just the opposite effect. Words that best describe
an inappropriate tone are: negative, insincere, tactless, formal, rigid, preachy, cold,
defensive, condescending, belittling, patronizing, and arrogant.
Before mailing a favorable news message, simply ask yourself how you would react to your
tone. You will quickly determine if the tone is in need of repair or is acceptable as is.
The recommended overall strategy to be used when developing favorable news messages is
referred to as the direct or deductive approach. This involves:

Sharing the information or approval of the requested adjustment at the beginning of the
first paragraph.

Sharing supporting details and explanations in the middle paragraphs.

Remaining appreciative, forward looking, and friendly in the closing paragraph.

The basic outline for favorable news messages follows:

Opening. Tell the customer what he or she wants to hear in the first seven or eight
words of the first sentence of the first paragraph. By doing so, the customer is
immediately placed in a positive, receptive frame of mind and will typically read the
remainder of your letter. Avoid using a clich in the opening (i.e., As per your letter of
...). They contribute to an inappropriate, formal, non-conversational tone.

Middle. Present supporting details and/or explanations necessary for message clarity. If
the message involves granting an adjustment for a product that did not work properly,
don't sound begrudging. In addition, place emphasis on the adjustment not on the
problem.

Closing. Include an expression of appreciation, mention of future business opportunities,


and a friendly close. Avoid using worn out clichs in the closing paragraph (i.e. enclosed
please find, looking forward to hearing from you, etc.).

Logic alone would have us conclude that favorable news customer service messages are
typically effective. Most are; however, lack of attention to tone and/or including too few
details and/or explanations too often undermine writer's effort and goals.
Section 4.3 Unfavorable News Messages
Unfavorable news messages are typically written in response to a potential customer's
request for information you are unable to provide or some type of product or service
adjustment you cannot grant. For example, a potential customer may place a routine
request for information, but the requested information is not open to the public. Or, a
current customer requests a product or service adjustment you are simply unable to grant
because he or she misused the product.
Tone, as you can well imagine, is extremely important in unfavorable messages. If the tone
is appropriate (and the content logical), customers may return with future business. Words
and phrases that best describe an appropriate tone are positive, sincere, tactful, and
conversational. Among these words and phrases describing tone, sincerity is the most
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991044: Communication Skills for Effective Customer Service

important. If the customer perceives your words/message as being insincere, chances are
very good that you have lost not only their business, but also the business of everyone they
complain to about you and your organization.
Using the wrong tone in unfavorable messages is, at best, a waste of everyone's time in
addition to being inappropriate, unprofessional, and downright irritating. Such inattention to
tone will only serve to anger some customers or anger other customers even more than
they already are. The result is typically lost business from these customers and from all the
people with whom they share their dissatisfaction. Words that best describe an
inappropriate tone are: negative, insincere, tactless, formal, rigid, preachy, cold, defensive,
condescending, belittling, patronizing, and arrogant. Among these descriptive words, the
most damaging are insincere, tactless, preachy, cold, condescending, belittling, patronizing,
and arrogant.
Before mailing an unfavorable news message, simply ask yourself how you would react to
your tone. You will quickly determine if the tone is in need of repair or is acceptable as is.
The recommended overall strategy to be used when developing unfavorable news messages
is referred to as the indirect or inductive approach. This involves:

Remaining friendly and neutral, concerning the unfavorable news, in the first paragraph.

Providing reasons supporting the unfavorable news, stating the unfavorable news, and
offering alternatives if possible in the middle paragraphs.

Remaining positive, neutral, and forward looking in the closing paragraph.

The basic outline for unfavorable news messages follows:


Opening. The key to the opening paragraph is to remain neutral concerning the
unfavorable news. Unlike the favorable news messages, you do not want to break the
unfavorable news until after you have presented the supporting reasons. Furthermore, be
very careful not to hint at either an unfavorable or favorable response in the opening
paragraph. For example, to accidentally hint at a favorable response just sets the customer
up for a greater disappointment when the refusal is clearly stated later in the message.
If the customer has requested an adjustment, express an understanding of his or her
problem(s) but do not repeat the problem(s) so vividly that you make him or her relive, in
excruciating detail and pain, the problem and aftermath of a faulty product or service. In
addition, assure them that your organization values their business. Finally, avoid using a
clich in the opening (i.e., As per your letter of . . . ). They contribute to an inappropriate,
formal, non-conversational tone.
Middle. The middle paragraphs are the most critical in unfavorable news messages
because of the variety and importance of the information shared. For example, the
unfavorable news is shared in the middle section. If handled properly, return business is
likely to occur. If handled improperly, the customer will not be back and will very likely tell
several others about his or her experiences with your organization.
Begin the first paragraph of this section by stating reasons that support (lead up to) the
unfavorable news; but, do not give away the unfavorable news. The intent is that when

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991044: Communication Skills for Effective Customer Service

customers finally receive the unfavorable news, they will understand and accept the logic
supporting the decision and may be less emotionally involved.
Next, state the unfavorable news clearly. Don't skirt the issue by being vague. Be brief
though. Dwelling on the refusal only serves to upset customers more than they already are.
In addition, avoid using negative words in the refusal. Be especially careful not to use
accusing language (i.e., It is obvious that you did not read the instructions before . . . ).
In the supporting reasons and the refusal, avoid hiding behind company policy. It is so easy
to tell a customer that you can't grant his or her request due to company policy. To the
customer this sounds like you took the easy out. If the reason for the refusal is grounded in
a company policy, at least provide the customer with a clear, logical base by explaining the
policy and the reasons the policy was originally developed.
When possible, offer alternatives immediately after stating the refusal. This technique shifts
customers' attention away from the refusal, while sending a message to them that you care
about helping them.
If you are able to offer alternatives, place emphasis on the adjustment, not the problem,
and be careful not to sound begrudging. Offering alternatives in unfavorable messages is an
excellent customer service technique and extremely inexpensive public relations.
Closing. There are several items that are important components of an effective closing
paragraph in unfavorable messages, and some that should be avoided. For example, in the
closing paragraph, don't hint at, repeat, or restate the unfavorable news or apologize for
your decision. Doing so only serves to undermine the gains realized from sharing logical,
supporting reasons for the refusal and offering alternatives. The closing should be positive
and forward-looking.
Start the closing paragraph with an expression of appreciation for the customer's past
business. Then, move straight into talk of future business relations (i.e., mention of an
upcoming sale; include a catalogue, etc.). Finally, end this relatively short paragraph with a
friendly close.
Be extremely careful in the closing paragraph not to include carelessly developed
statements that undermine sincerity. For example, "At . . . customer satisfaction is our
number one goal." Such a statement will be perceived as being extremely insincere and
hypocritical. In addition, avoid worn-out clichs such as: "enclosed please find" and "looking
forward to hearing from you." These statements also ring of effortless insincerity.
One can quickly conclude that writing effective, unfavorable news messages is extremely
challenging. And, truth be known, even well-written, unfavorable news messages are not
always successful in terms of fostering future business relations. Many are though.
Keep in mind; however, that there are many down sides of hastily developed, ill-thought
out, unfavorable news messages. The most critical among them include loss of the
immediate customer's future business and that of his contacts who will certainly hear about
your organization's lack of commitment to customer satisfaction.

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991044: Communication Skills for Effective Customer Service

Section 4.4 View Effective Writing as Being a Multi-Step Process


The answer to the question "How do you eat an elephant?" is analogous to the writing
process. The answer is "one bite at a time." Good writing is similar. We do one step at a
time. Most writers cannot develop a well-written document in one pass (one writing). There
are just too many factors to take into account to do so effectively in one pass. But, when
writing is treated as a multi-step process, effective documents can be developed. The
writing process typically includes the following five steps:
Plan the document carefully. Be clear on your objective and analyze your audience
thoroughly. Then, develop an outline of the document. Don't rush this step.
Draft the document. This step involves getting your ideas out on paper or computer
screen without concern about grammatical, punctuation, and general writing errors.
Concerns about reordering segments should also be suppressed in this step. All of these
errors and concerns can be easily addressed in later steps. Techniques such as
brainstorming and freewriting are important to this step. Each technique encourages writers
to quickly move their ideas from their minds to their computer screens or paper.
Revise the document. While document content is determined in the planning and
drafting steps, true writing quality typically emerges in the revising step. It is in this step
that the writer can shift her attention away from brainstorming and freewriting activities
over to focused readings designed to determine if: (1) the message is appropriate to the
audience, (2) the message is clear to the audience, (3) any necessary information has been
left out, (4) any unnecessary information can be removed, (5) the tone is appropriate, (6)
the correct writing strategy was used, (7) basic writing principles were followed, and (8)
writing mechanics (i.e., grammar, punctuation, spelling, etc.) are addressed.
Format the document. Formatting involves setting up the physical presentation of the
document so it meets the expectations of its audience (i.e., margins, spacing, etc.).
Formatting follows the planning, drafting, and revising steps because it can be accomplished
easily following these steps. The idea is to keep your attention in Steps 1-3 on the many
activities involved in planning, drafting, and revising and not expend any thought or energy
on formatting.
Proofread the document. Proofreading involves taking final passes through the document
to catch obvious errors that were missed during the revising step. Good technique is to
conduct a separate proofreading for each of the following topics: content, writing style,
writing principles, writing mechanics, typos, and formatting. While computer software does
exist to assist writers with proofreading, these programs do not catch all possible errors in
the above categories. Writers must still allow adequate time for proofreading.
Section 4.5 Make Clarity Your Main Writing Goal
Effective writers analyze their audiences (receivers) which provides the base from which
they can develop clear messages. Clarity in this sense has two meanings/goals. The writer's
first goal is to develop messages receivers can understand. The second goal is to write
messages in which the meaning is perceived by receivers exactly as the writer intended it to
be perceived.
There are a host of threats to message clarity, but most can be remedied with attention and
effort. For example, avoid trying to impress people by using big words and a complex
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991044: Communication Skills for Effective Customer Service

writing style. Instead, use shorter words combined with a conversational writing style. In
addition, avoid using vague terms that have unclear meanings (i.e., soon, most, etc.). Also,
be careful when using company and/or industry-specific jargon. While people in your
company and/or industry know the meaning of these terms, many stakeholders with whom
you communicate in writing may not. Finally, one of the greatest threats to message clarity
occurs when writers include too little detail. This typically occurs when writers assume their
receivers know more than they do about the message topic and/or they rush through the
development of the message which causes them to leave out necessary details.
Section 4.6 Write Concisely
Concise messages are preferred by most businesspeople. The main reasons for this
preference are: (1) concise writing reinforces message clarity, (2) it typically takes receivers
less time to read concise messages, and (3) it typically takes less time for effective writers
to write concise messages.
Some suggested techniques for writing concisely include:

Replace long words with short words as long as meaning is not changed in the process.

Eliminate words and phrases that can be removed without affecting the meaning of the
message. (I.e., "At the present time we are using your equipment." Remove the words
"At the present time" and capitalize the letter "w" of the word "we.")

Avoid unnecessary redundancy. Repeating a word is appropriate when your intent is to


emphasize a point, but if emphasis is not the purpose such repetition is wasted words.

Avoid a writing style in which the dominant sentence structure is compound and/or
compound-complex. Look for ways to say the same thing in a simple sentence.

Look for opportunities to integrate visual aids into written messages, letters and memos
as well as business reports. Points that would take several sentences and/or paragraphs
to communicate in words can often be communicated more concisely and effectively
through well-developed visual aids.

Section 4.7 Include Visual Aids in Letters


Visual aids are used frequently in presentations, meetings, and written reports.
Businesspeople understand that visual aids spark audience interest, improve audience
understanding and retention, and provide a means of communicating more concisely.
The use of visual aids in business letters, though, has been far less noticeable. The same
benefits mentioned above can be realized with business letters also. Break the habit and
look for opportunities to integrate visual aids into customer service letters.
Thanks to the development of good, affordable presentation/graphics software and graphics
features built into word processing programs; we can now produce high-quality visual aids
for written documents, meetings, and presentations in short order. Increasingly,
businesspeople are expecting writers, meeting participants, and presenters to use software
to produce visual aids.

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991044: Communication Skills for Effective Customer Service

Section 4.8 Enhance Written Communication by Using Writing Support Software


Writing support software is comprised of programs that are capable of (1) enhancing the
quality of written documents, (2) enhancing the appearance of written documents, and (3)
speeding up the writing process. Sample programs include word processing software,
document analysis software (grammar checkers), and idea generators/outliners.
Word processing software (i.e., Word and Word Perfect) is the most powerful of these tools
in that its features fit the writing process (see section 3.4) so naturally. For example, in the
drafting step writers should not be concerned with grammatical problems. Such problems
should be corrected in the revising and proofreading steps. Word processing programs make
it easy for writers to do so. Most word processors also include built in spell checkers and
thesaurus programs. Be especially careful with the spell checker feature. While spell
checkers flag most misspelled words, they miss some that are not in their dictionaries. Use
them, but also look for spelling errors during the proofreading step after you have used the
spell checker.
Document analysis software (i.e., Grammatik and Power Edit), often referred to as grammar
checkers, are very helpful also. These programs scan documents developed using word
processing software and suggest to the writer where he or she might consider changes.
These programs scan for a host of potential problems including grammar, punctuation,
spelling, writing style (i.e., too wordy, overuse of passive voice, etc.), jargon, and so forth.
This is all done in a matter of seconds. Like spell checkers, document analysis software has
its limitations. These programs will catch most errors, but may miss a few or indicate that
something is an error when it is not. For example, these programs typically consider any
use of the passive voice to be an error. If you the writer purposely used the passive voice as
a de-emphasis technique, then it is not an error. Just be sure that after taking the
document analysis software input into consideration, the final revising and proofreading
passes are completed by you or another human.
Section 4.9 Consider the Impact of Message Transmission Timing on
Communication Effectiveness
People typically communicate most effectively when they are not rushed, upset, tired, etc.
Most people do not communicate effectively and efficiently when rushed, upset, and/or
tired. In addition, most people are more or less alert during certain portions of the day (i.e.,
some are more alert during the mornings and others in the afternoon).
Good communicators attempt to control the timing of message development and
transmission so as to enhance the effectiveness of their communication. In turn, they also
attempt to delay reading/listening to incoming messages until a time they are alert and
open-minded. Businesspeople can't control the timing of all of their outgoing or incoming
messages, but can control the timing of some. A good place to start is with the more
important messages.

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991044: Communication Skills for Effective Customer Service

Unit 5 Other Useful Communication Techniques


Section 5.1 Allot Adequate Time for Audience Analysis
It is imperative that you acquire as much understanding of your customers as possible.
While good audience analysis requires time and effort, the result is typically more effective
communication and fewer misunderstandings, fewer mistakes, and fewer hard feelings.
As a means of analyzing communication partners, it is recommended that you develop a
series of questions regarding topic areas such as: his communication abilities, knowledge,
needs, expectations, anticipated reaction to your message, etc. Then, answer as many of
the questions as thoroughly as possible before developing messages.
Good communicators understand that once they have analyzed their audience thoroughly
they may need to adjust their communication style to fit their audience's needs. Good
communicators are flexible communicators.
Section 5.2 Incorporate Basic Communication Principles into Your Communication
There are a variety of basic communication principles that should be adhered to when
developing messages. Most are expected (i.e., keep written and oral messages concise),
and most, when used properly, enhance communication.
Several of the more important communication principles are listed below.

Make message clarity your prime objective.

Avoid using vague words that can result in misinterpretations and misunderstandings
(i.e., soon, several, etc.)

Target your choice of words, appearance, etc., to your audience.

Weave the words so as to create in the receiver's mind a visual picture of your
message.

Avoid using sexist language.

Use a positive, courteous, professional tone. Avoid a tone that communicates anger,
frustration, or resentment and/or is patronizing or condescending.

Develop concise messages, but not at the exclusion of details needed for message
clarity.

Use emphasis and de-emphasis techniques to improve message effectiveness.

Use an active voice most of the time, but remember that the passive voice provides
an excellent de-emphasis technique.

Adhere to the rules of writing mechanics. Appropriate use of grammar, punctuation,


and spelling are still at the heart of effective communication.

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991044: Communication Skills for Effective Customer Service

Section 5.3 Avoid Communicating Biases, Prejudices, and Stereotypes


Most people understand how improper such statements are in any form of business
communication and how damaging they can be to business relations. Of course, business
personnel should avoid incorporating such statements whether direct or implied, whether
intentional or accidental.
It is human nature, though, to observe others and how they behave and then form mental
comparisons and judgments. The challenge is to keep such attitudes out of business
communication. How can this be accomplished? First, watch for such statements when
planning and developing messages. Then, set aside appropriate time to revise messages
giving special focused attention to spotting and eliminating such statements before the
messages are transmitted. In addition, have another person read or listen to your messages
before transmitting them.
Section 5.4 Learn How to Communicate Effectively With Others in Multicultural and
International Environments
U.S. businesspeople are challenged daily to communicate clearly and effectively with people
of other cultures. This challenge can be seen in the multicultural makeup of the workforce of
most U.S. organizations as well as in international business.
The benefits of learning about others' cultures and their unique communication behaviors
and desires go beyond the ability to communicate with them effectively. We also
communicate respect to them. By exhibiting, through our actions, knowledge of their
cultures and communication behaviors and desires, we typically gain our communication
partners' respect. Such a show of respect typically leads to improved business relations.
Several of the more important cross-cultural communication guidelines are listed below:

Analyze and understand your own culture, subcultures, and communication behaviors
and desires before studying others'. (You can understand and appreciate others' needs
better if you first understand your own.)

Understand how people of other cultures perceive your culture, subculture, and
communication behaviors and desires. (For example, it is typical in Latin cultures for
businesspeople to want to visit with a foreign business partner about non-business
matters, as a means of getting to know her as a person, before discussing business.
From such visits they attempt to determine if the other party is a person with whom
they would like to develop a long-term business relationship. U.S. businesspeople,
however, typically like to get right down to business, because they operate on tight
schedules and equate time with money. If the U.S. businessperson attempts to force
business talk from the start with a Latin businessperson, she may damage the potential
business relationship and may be viewed as "pushy".)

Learn all you can about your cross-cultural customers' communication behaviors and
desires. Also learn as much as possible about your business partner's country and
culture. (For example, learn about the country's political system, beliefs/religion(s),
history, educational system, social customs, climate, geography, etc.) Such knowledge
will be very useful in conversations in business and social settings, gain your business
partner's respect, and contribute to a successful business relationship.

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991044: Communication Skills for Effective Customer Service

Learn about your cross-cultural customers' attitudes about the use of electronic
communication technology. (For example, some cultures prefer face-to-face
communication, while others are receptive to e-mail messages and faxes. Then there are
others who expect initial contact to be face-to-face and once a relationship is established
are receptive to e-mail communication, teleconferences, etc.)

As a general rule, when writing to or conversing with business partners from another
country, keep messages as short and simple as possible. Uses short simple sentences
and avoid slang. In addition, since the chance of the confusion is increased, make
feedback an active part of the communication activity.

Learning about others' cultures and communication behaviors and desires requires quite a
bit of effort, but the results are typically very interesting and fruitful.
Section 5.5 Constrain Emotions
Unrestrained negative emotions typically threaten communication effectiveness. When
negative emotions go unchecked, communicators often write or make damaging statements
and/or respond emotionally and defensively to others' messages. This is typically not a
problem with routine, positive, non-controversial messages. But, messages that contain
negative news and/or very controversial content are extremely susceptible to emotional
interference.
When upset, message developers may be tempted to create messages that express
emotions such as anger, resentment, and/or frustration. Their words may even be viewed
as being mean spirited, spiteful, petty, patronizing, and/or condescending. Most people
have the creative ability to develop messages like those described above and some might
even take pleasure in doing so. However, we all know on a logical level that they should not
develop and transmit such potentially damaging messages.
The challenge is to keep negative, emotions-based statements out of messages. First
postpone developing messages susceptible to emotional interference until you have "cooled
off" and can develop them objectively and professionally. Next, look for damaging emotional
statements when planning and developing messages. Then, set aside appropriate time to
revise messages with the intention of eliminating such statements before the messages are
transmitted. In addition, have another person read or listen to your messages before
transmitting them with the purpose of catching problems that have gone unnoticed.
Receivers of upsetting messages may also be tempted to create responses that express
emotions such as anger, resentment, and/or frustration. If not controlled, their messages
may also be viewed as being mean spirited, spiteful, petty, patronizing, and/or
condescending. These people, like all communicators in such situations, must strongly
consider pushing the "delete" button on their keyboard before pushing the "send" button.
Receivers of upsetting, emotionally-charged messages are also challenged to leave
negative, emotions-based statements out of their messages. As mentioned above, they
should also postpone responding to upsetting messages until they have "cooled off" and can
develop them objectively and professionally. They need to also look for damaging emotional
statements when planning and developing such responses, then set aside appropriate time
to edit out potentially damaging statements before messages are transmitted. Finally, they
should also have another person read or listen to their responses before transmitting them
with the purpose of catching problems that have gone unnoticed.
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991044: Communication Skills for Effective Customer Service

Section 5.6 The Role of Feedback in Customer Service


Customer service feedback has two distinctly different purposes. One type has as its
purpose seeking clarification, while the other seeks opinions. Descriptions of each are
presented below.
Encourage feedback for clarification purposes. Ideally, feedback for clarification purposes
should be encouraged, given, and received willingly by all parties to the communication
process.
Use feedback in oral communication settings. Feedback is more commonly initiated in
oral communication settings than in written situations. In oral communication settings, all
parties to the conversation are typically quicker to ask for clarification and/or to notice signs
of confusion in their communication partners. Face-to-face and telephone conversations
lend themselves well to initiation of feedback.
As was mentioned in the unit on effective listening (Unit 3), observe customers' nonverbal
and emotional cues as well as listening to their words. It is the confusion we sense in
customers' nonverbal and emotional cues that typically signals us to initiate feedback.
Confusion is typically occurring when customers: (1) frown, (2) insert unusually long pauses
before responses, (3) scratch their heads, and/or (4) sigh.
Another technique you can use to initiate feedback is to periodically ask customers if they
would like a point repeated, restated, or explained differently. This is an especially
important technique to use when the information you are sharing is very important,
controversial, technical, complex and/or unfamiliar to the customer.
Encourage customers to initiate feedback also. For example, near the beginning of a
conversation, invite the customer to ask for feedback when clarification is needed.
Customers are more likely to ask for feedback, and feel comfortable doing so, if you simply
invite them to do so at the beginning of the conversation. In addition, at the end of the
conversation invite them once again to ask any final questions and to contact you if
questions come to mind later.
Finally, there are times when you do not understand something a customer has said.
Possibly the customer spoke too quickly or his thoughts were poorly organized. The reason
is not important. What is important, though, is that you ask the customer to repeat, restate,
or explain more thoroughly what is confusing you.
Use feedback in written communication. Feedback for clarification purposes should also
be encouraged, given, and received willingly by all parties in written customer service
situations. Several suggestions on how to encourage feedback are presented below.
Accept the fact that most messages are not totally effective on the first pass. The
communication process is very complex and any communication is automatically threatened
by the vast differences among communication partners. Encourage regular feedback.
Be willing to build time into your schedule to request feedback. After writing a customer,
allow time to answer their questions when they contact you, and don't rush the responses.

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991044: Communication Skills for Effective Customer Service

Create and maintain an environment in which all parties are comfortable requesting
feedback and find it easy to do so. Unfortunately, when customer service is conducted in
writing, feedback is typically initiated less often than in oral settings. One way to change
this is to remove the hassles for customers so they will write back or call you if they have
questions.
Make it easy for customers to ask for feedback. For example, provide easy-to-find, toll free
phone numbers customers can call. Of course, this approach will not work well if they are
left on hold for very long. Make sure there are enough people staffing the phones who can
either answer customers' questions or forward their calls to you or someone else that can
provide answers.
If calls must be routed through your answering machine or voice mail system, return their
calls as quickly as possible. Customers get irritated if they wait at length for a return call as
well as when they have to be routed through several people in order to finally get some
answers.
Another feedback alternative is e-mail. In written messages you send, mention this
feedback alternative; among others. In addition, provide your e-mail address, and then
check your e-mail messages daily so you can provide timely responses. Customers are
justifiably irritated when organizational representatives do not respond to their e-mail
messages in a timely manner; thus, leaving them wondering if the company doesn't care or
if their message has been lost in cyberspace.
Take the initiative to ask if feedback is needed if a customer does not contact you following
receiving your written message, yet you sense that some confusion has likely occurred. In
such instances, contact the customer and simply ask if clarification is desired. This
technique should be used especially in situations where the message content is very
important, controversial, technical, complex and/or unfamiliar to the customer.
Encourage feedback for opinion purposes. Another type of feedback associated with
customer service has as its goal soliciting customers' opinions and ideas regarding products,
services, and how they are being treated. It is quite possible that you are familiar with the
following examples of opinion soliciting methods. Furthermore, use several methods
simultaneously. By virtue of using several, you will receive a greater number of responses.
In addition, most customers typically feel more or less comfortable with some methods; so,
provide a wide range of choices.
Customer service counters. Customer service counters are relatively effective because
customers can have a face-to-face conversation with customer service representatives.
They are not very effective, though, if they are understaffed forcing customers to wait in
line for very long.
Customer service telephone numbers. Customer service telephone numbers are most
effective when: (1) a toll-free number is provided, (2) the number can be easily located,
and (3) there are a sufficient number of people staffing the phones. Unfortunately, some
U.S. organizations give lip service to the value of customer service and believe it
appropriate to leave customers on hold for as long as one hour.
Customer service Internet sites. Customer service Internet sites (web addresses) are
increasingly used as methods of soliciting and providing opinions. This method can be used

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991044: Communication Skills for Effective Customer Service

by customers who purchase products or services using the traditional methods as well as
those who buy over the Internet.
In addition, potential customers use Internet sites to ask questions and share opinions prior
to making purchasing decisions. The success of this method also depends on how quickly
customers receive responses, the quality of those responses, and whether or not the
customers believe their opinions are taken seriously.
Suggestion boxes. Suggestion boxes are still an inexpensive way of soliciting customers'
opinions and ideas. Place them in a very visible location and provide plenty of pens. In
addition, provide some structured response forms / comment cards (i.e., How was the
service? Excellent, Average, Poor) as well as unstructured response forms. You may even
consider setting up a kiosk where the customer can key his or her opinions and ideas into a
computer.
Written surveys. Written opinion surveys are effective if you accept the fact that your return
rate will probably be very low. You can increase the return rate and quality of the
responses, though, by keeping the surveys short, providing easy-to-answer questions (i.e.,
check-off format), offering incentives, and providing return postage. Most people are busy
and have many good reasons for not completing your survey.
Telephone surveys. Like written surveys, expect a relatively low response rate. Some of the
reasons for this include: people's busy schedules, not catching people in when you call,
calling on inappropriate days and at inappropriate times, and the flood of telemarketing calls
that lead many people to screen all calls through their answering machines.
At minimum, place telephone survey calls on appropriate days and at appropriate times.
Very few people wish to be disturbed on weekends or holidays, no matter whether it is legal
in their state to do so. And very few like being called before 9 a.m. or after 5 p.m. no
matter what time zone they live in. (And, know what time zone you are calling.) The
effectiveness of telephone surveys depends, in great measure, on the degree of common
sense and common courtesy that is exercised.
Focus groups. A focus group is a group of customers that meet with organizational
representatives and share their opinions, ideas, and suggestions. Since most people lead
busy lives, be extremely sensitive to the frequency and length of these meetings as well as
the meeting day of the week and time. It is best to have the customers participating
determine frequency, length, day, and time.
In addition, dispensing tangible incentives and other forms of recognition typically
contribute to the success of focus groups. Finally, be a good listener when involved with
focus groups and be sure to use some the participants' suggestions. If the participants do
not feel like you're listening and/or never see results, the group will soon disband.
Section 5.7 Handling Customer Complaints in Oral Settings
Whether justified or not, customers will complain at times, and they are not always pleasant
when they do. When you feel like dismissing complaining customers by showing them the
door, stop for a moment and think about the information shared in Unit One, Section 1.4
(The Cost of Poor Customer Service). While showing the complaining customer the door
may feel good momentarily, it will cost your organization current and future business.

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991044: Communication Skills for Effective Customer Service

In most situations it is simply more logical to work with a complaining customer and arrive
at an amicable solution. After all, his or her complaint may be perfectly legitimate. Of
course, there may be exceptions. For example, customers who are being very abusive,
swearing excessively, and/or implying or making physical threats may not be worth saving.
In such situations, it may be in your best interest, and that of your colleagues, to end the
conversation. Fortunately, most customers act rationally, making it possible for us to deal
with their complaints. So, how do we handle complaining customers effectively? Several
suggested techniques follow.
Listen to customers concerns. Customers with complaints have a strong desire to
express their concerns. This means you should hear them out before interrupting with
questions, recommended solutions, reactions, etc. You may feel the urge to jump into the
conversation during this early stage to offer a solution or even rush them, so you can get to
your turn to speak. Such actions typically cause more damage than good. Most customers,
first and foremost, need to tell their story and let off steam.
Your role at this stage of the conversation is to listen well. (Unit 3 describes many excellent
listening techniques.) By doing so, you communicate respect for customers, learn of their
concerns, and contribute to a calmer, more-productive exchange.
Show some empathy. When possible, sympathize with customers before they begin
voicing their concerns, while they are voicing their concerns, and afterwards. For example,
before customers share their concerns, tell them that you are interested in hearing their
concerns. While customers are talking, share the appropriate facial expressions and other
nonverbal cues (i.e., nods) that communicate that you understand and are taking their
complaints seriously. After they have shared their concerns, thank them for doing so and
reassure them that you are taking their complaints seriously.
As was mentioned previously, don't overlook the value of nonverbal and emotional cues. For
example, the tone of your voice and facial expressions will quickly communicate to
customers that you do or don't care about their concerns no matter how appropriate the
spoken words.
Get all the facts. This is accomplished, in part, when the customer is sharing his or her
concerns at the beginning of the meeting. Other facts are acquired later when both parties
are exchanging ideas and opinions. Be careful not to rush customers and/or rush through
the questions you have and the ideas and opinions you wish to share. If one or both parties
rushes or is rushed, all of the facts needed to arrive at a workable solution, suitable to both
parties, will be not be available.
Here are some suggested ways of not rushing the conversation at the expense of acquiring
needed facts. Listen effectively, avoid talking too fast, invite the customer to ask questions,
use words the customer understands, and ask the customer to repeat or restate what you
said.
Arrive at a solution. Typically, the most effective solutions are those that you and the
customer develop together. Such an approach takes into consideration both the customer's
and your needs and desires as well as contributing to a solution both of you can live with. It
is best to start out by asking customers to share their recommended solution. This approach
places them at center stage where they do not feel that you are attempting to force your
solution upon them before they have shared theirs. This simple approach places them in a

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991044: Communication Skills for Effective Customer Service

more receptive, more flexible frame of mind when you eventually share your recommended
solution.
When appropriate, also consider generating some alternative solutions following the same
guidelines presented in the previous paragraph. It is good to have agreed-upon, backup
solutions to turn to if the initial solution fails. It is not uncommon for a course of action to
sound good on paper only to fail miserably when put into action.
Develop an agreed-upon course of action and then implement it. Once a solution has
been agreed on, the next step is determining the necessary course of action. When possible,
involve the customer in the development of the course of action. This approach tells them
that you are interested in their input, and it increases the chances that the plan will be
carried through on successfully. Finally, implement the course of action.
An important feature of developing solutions and courses of action collaboratively is that
when they don't work out, neither the customer or you are in a good position or frame of
mind to blame the other party for forcing them into a poor plan.
Follow up on the course of action. Once the course of action has been implemented,
follow up on it to see if it is playing itself out like you and the customer intended. This is a
very important customer service and public relations technique. Beyond providing you with
a means of determining the effectiveness of the agreed-upon course of action, it provides
you with one more opportunity to communicate to the customer that you truly have taken
his or her concerns seriously. This approach is no different than that used by medical
doctors who, following surgery, call you at home to see how you are doing or auto repair
shops that call after doing repairs to see how your car is working.
Other techniques for handling customer complaints effectively. Other techniques that
typically contribute to effective outcomes and future business include:

Use appropriate nonverbal cues.

Observe customer's nonverbal and emotional cues.

Avoid using jargon that may confuse and frustrate customers.

Don't be patronizing or condescending in your words and tone.

Don't be accusatory in your words and tone.

Be friendly and polite.

Put a genuine smile in your voice as well as on your face.

Make sure your voice, facial expressions, and all other nonverbal cues project sincerity and
don't contradict your words.
Learn how to deal with difficult people (difficult personalities) effectively. First, we might
ask, "What constitutes a difficult personality?" Unfortunately, some people believe a difficult
personality is one that is not a clone of their personality. This is a very unrealistic attitude.
We all differ, and every one of us has at least one personality quirk that is likely to upset
somebody else.
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991044: Communication Skills for Effective Customer Service

Instead of writing off people whose personalities vary significantly from yours, learn to deal
with them effectively and positively. This is especially true when dealing with complaining
customers. Anticipate that they will be aggressive or overly-detail oriented or dominating or
one of many other challenging personalities. Then, learn how to work with each of these
personalities both effectively and positively. There are numerous books, journal articles,
audiocassettes, and videos on the topic that you can access. A good place to start is with
the three-videotape series entitled "How to Handle Difficult People" distributed through
National Press Publications, (1-800-258-7248).
Section 5.8 Communicating with Customers on the Telephone
While telephone conversations with customers do not provide the communication richness of
face-to-face meetings, they are certainly commonplace. Possibly the biggest drawbacks of
telephone conversations for all communication partners are (1) the absence of visual
nonverbal and emotional cues and (2) the temptation to do other things while engaged in
the conversation (i.e., open mail, sort papers, doodle, write memos, etc.).
Furthermore, we're not talking here about basic telephone usage alone. We must also
concern ourselves with appropriate usage of answering machines, voice mail systems,
speakerphones, computer-generated calls, telephone menus, placing callers on hold, and
cell phones. Alexander Graham Bell might be surprised if he knew how much people have
complicated his simple invention. None-the-less, it is important to know how to use the
telephone and all its features and variations properly.
What follows are several suggestions regarding telephone usage that will enhance customer
service. These suggestions do not repeat several of the effective oral communication tips
that were presented previously in this course (especially Unit 2), although they apply to
both settings. For example, speaking rate, use of pauses, and initiating feedback are not
discussed below but are also important in this oral communication setting.
General Telephone Usage
Be an excellent listener. You will need to listen very carefully for oral-related nonverbal and
emotional cues (i.e., vocal inflections, pauses, sighs, etc.) since visual nonverbal and
emotional cues are not available.
During telephone conversations, avoid distractions such as tapping your pen or pencil,
eating, drinking, chewing gum, smoking, reading e-mail, writing memos, doodling, opening
mail, etc., when engaged in telephone conversations. Each of these distractions
compromises your ability to understand and meet customers' needs.
When placing a call to a customer, introduce yourself and state the purpose of your call near
the beginning of the conversation. This will focus the remainder of the conversation.
Use good manners when answering the telephone. For example, say hello and identify
yourself. Don't answer by saying, "Who is this." or "Yeh." What you say initially and how
you say it establishes in the mind of the customer the tone for the remainder of the
conversation. The tone should be professional, friendly, and courteous.
Use a good telephone voice. It can be described as being: polite, courteous, friendly,
pleasant, confident, competent, enthusiastic, and sincere. Some people even suggest that
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991044: Communication Skills for Effective Customer Service

you should smile while conversing on the telephone because it will reinforce a pleasant,
friendly voice. Finally, use your normal conversational voice. Don't use a fake voice. Most
people can tell if you're faking it. The result is typically the loss of trust and respect.
When placing a telephone call, allow the phone to ring several times (five or six) before
hanging up. Give the customer a chance to get to his or her phone.
Don't place business calls during dinnertime, evenings, before 10 a.m. on Saturdays or on
Sundays or holidays. In this era when mailing and phone lists are routinely sold to
organizations without permission and far-too-many telemarketers call at all hours of the day
and evening, most people cherish uninterrupted private time. It comes as no surprise that
many people (potential customers) screen out telemarketing calls using one form of
technology or another to reduce the onslaught of often-inconsiderate, telemarketing calls.
They are tired of the inconsideration.
Don't let your computer place your calls. It is extremely rude and impersonal to expect a
person to listen to a computer-generated voice tell them to wait for you, the human, to
come on the line. If you haven't already experienced it, prepare yourself for the day a
computer-generated voice on your phone asks you to hold for a computer-generated
message. This type of call is placed every day in the U.S., and somewhere there are
executives raving about how cost effective the approach is.
Answer your phone, in person, when possible. This sounds logical; however, many people
have gotten into the habit of allowing their answering machines, voice mail, and computergenerated response systems pick up their calls. People are becoming increasingly alienated
by these approaches because of their impersonal nature and lack of responsiveness.
Return calls as soon as possible. When you are unable to take an incoming call, at least
return the call as quickly as possible. The longer customers are left waiting for your return
call, the more likely they will believe you don't care about them, their business, and/or their
concerns.
Thank customers for returning your call. Do so at the beginning of the call right after you
identify yourself. It is simple. Simply say, "Thank you for returning my call." Or say, "I
appreciate your returning my call."
Speaker Phones
Minimize the use of speakerphones. Many people get nervous when they know you are
using a speakerphone. Some are nervous merely because they have not been subjected to
speakerphones before and are uncomfortable with the newness. Others get nervous
because they are uncertain about who all is listening to the conversation at your location.
No matter the cause, when people are nervous they typically do not share the quantity and
quality of information they would otherwise.
If you use a speakerphone, eliminate background noises. Noises that would not typically be
heard through traditional phones are often picked up by speakerphones. These distractions
need to be controlled.
If you use a speakerphone, use a good quality system that allows for clear voice reception
and good volume control. Just imagine the frustration of attempting to communicate
effectively when a poor-quality speaker system is used.
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991044: Communication Skills for Effective Customer Service

Placing Callers on Hold


When possible, don't place callers (customers) on hold. Most people don't appreciate being
placed on hold and are especially turned off when left on hold listening to elevator music or
dead air for more than a minute.
Before placing customers on hold, ask them if they want to be placed on hold. Don't assume
every customer wants to be placed on hold. Too often we place calls only to have the first
words spoken to us be "hold please" followed immediately by silence or elevator music.
Instead, identify yourself then ask customers if they would like to leave a message, call
back later, or have you return their call in lieu of being placed on hold. Also, ask them with
they are calling long distance or on a cell phone. If they are, long waits on hold can get very
expensive.
If you place customers on hold, check back with them periodically (i.e., every minute) so
they know you have not forgotten them or that they have been disconnected. Each time you
check back with them, ask if they would like to continue to wait, leave a message, call back
later, or have you return their call.
Avoid placing calls where you ask customers to hold for a computer-generated message.
You have probably received one or two already. The introductory words are typically:
"Please hold for an important message." It is bad enough to be on hold waiting to talk to a
person; but to wait for a computer is pretty darned impersonal.
Avoid placing calls where customers' first contact is with a computer message that asks
them to hold for a message, which could be from another computer or a living, breathing
human being. This is a very impersonal way to provide customer service and is not well
received by most customers.
Don't put customers on hold midway through conversations simply to answer an incoming
call on another line. This is the height of rudeness. This behavior discredits what the
customer is saying at the time. Instead, route incoming calls on other lines straight into
your voice mail system or answering machine and get back with them later.
Telephone Answering Machines and Voice Mail Systems
Check your incoming messages every hour or two and return the calls promptly. Otherwise,
customers feel unimportant.
The message callers will hear when they reach your answering machine or voice mail
system, instead of you, should be brief. For example, "This is Laura Dillon at Walker
Industries. I am unable to answer your call now, but will call back as soon as possible.
Please leave your name, phone number, and a brief message." Long messages tend to
frustrate callers. Furthermore, most people do not address all of the items requested in long
messages.
The message callers will hear when they reach your answering machine or voice mail
system, instead of you, should also indicate whether or not there is a time limit on their
response and, if so, what it is.

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991044: Communication Skills for Effective Customer Service

Anticipate being connected with customers' answering machines or voice mail systems when
you place a call. (Only one third of all business calls actually make it through to the
intended receiver on the first try.) So, plan your response before placing each call so you
can leave an effective message.
When you place a call and are connected with a customer's answering machine or voice mail
system, keep your response as brief as possible. Keep in mind that some answering
machines and voice mail systems limit the length of time you have to leave your message,
so you might be cut off mid-sentence if your response is not well thought out and brief.
When you place a call and are connected with a customer's answering machine or voice mail
system, slow down your rate of speech, pronounce words clearly, and avoid speaking softly,
so the customer can comprehend your entire message. Slow up even more when sharing
names, phone numbers, fax numbers, pager numbers, Internet addresses, and geographical
addresses. Pronounce peoples' names and address names very carefully. In addition, spell
them out. Finally, repeat all numbers also. Responses left on answering machines and voice
mail systems are often unclear simply because those who left them spoke too fast, too
softly, mumbled, did not spell out names, and/or did not repeat numbers.
Telephone Menus
When developing telephone menus, make sure to include a menu choice the customer can
choose at any time that will connect him or her with a person. Furthermore, mention this
choice at the beginning of the message. Don't make them listen through a long menu before
you finally share the live human option. Menus that do not have a live human option often
frustrate customers whose questions can't always be pigeon holed into one of the menu
options.
Develop short telephone menus. The longer a caller has to listen to a menu, the greater the
chance he or she will hang up and go away.
Cell Phones
Consider not placing or receiving cell phone calls while you are driving a vehicle, especially if
the conversation is emotionally charged and/or the road conditions are hazardous or
congested. To do so poses obvious safety hazards to you and your passengers and all of
those other drivers and passengers nearby. In some states it is against the law to use a cell
phone while driving. If you must place or receive a call on the road, pull over. Another
option is to invest in a voice-activated, hands-free cell phone.
Before placing cell phone calls, plan out your messages. Get right to the point and keep
them brief.
Consider not placing cell phone calls about sensitive topics. There are some serious privacy
issues associated with cell phones. The messages can be easily tapped. For example, don't
ask for customers' credit card numbers on a cell phone call.

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