Improve Communication Skills for Customer Service

13 min read
Jul 30, 2015
  • Post on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • Post on LinkedIn
  • Post on Reddit
  • Copy link to clipboard
    Link copied to clipboard
Improve communication skills

You can upgrade your good customer service to great by speeding up your support. After all, fast communication is one of the most important customer service skills.

It’s all about scale. Once you get everything right when talking to one customer, it’s time to do it with six other customers, at the same time.

To handle that kind of workload, you need improve communication skills in your team. Things like mental and technical shortcuts, better understanding of what customers need and changing the way you form your replies will allow you to save time and better help your customers.

And when you have more time, you can use it to help a greater number of customers. By shaving a couple minutes here and there, you will be able to take on more and more cases or even take the initiative and offer proactive customer service.

Read on to see how to make that happen.

Get 140 days of chats in 30 days of work

One of the best things about online customer service tools like live chat or help desk is their ability to scale.

When compared to a more traditional means of helping your customers, for example, a call center, it really shows how small improvements can make a big difference for the speed of your support.

To show you how much you can get from using live chat efficiently, we did a bit of testing in our customer service department and compared one week's worth of work, which is around 400 hours, with a call center.

Call center agents are able to get around 33 to 40 minutes of talking in one hour of work. This is due to the switching, routing, lunch breaks and other interruptions. It translates to around 220 to 267 hours of actual conversations with customers over 400 hours of work time.

These brackets seem to check out when compared with one of our partner call centers, which gets around 237 hours worth of calls in 400 hours of work.

During the same 400 hours, our agents managed to have over 860 hours of chats. This amounts to getting 140 days of chatting in a normal, 30-day month! Bear in mind, that our agents also have lunch breaks and experience other interruptions so it's not like they are constantly chatting.

What’s the catch? There is none. This kind of efficiency can be reached without any loss in quality.

The biggest detriment to the efficiency of a call center is simply using the phone to communicate with customers. Even if they managed to get rid of the downtime, they would only be able to get 400 hours of calling in their 400 hours of work.

When using something like live chat to get in touch with customers, there are no such barriers. Thanks to the fact that you can chat with multiple customers at the same time, you can turn one hour of work into two and more hours of chatting.

10 ways to improve communication skills

Using tools like live chat or email will immediately put you ahead of the more traditional forms of contact. To get even more out of your customer service, you need to get more efficient.

We use these 10 methods to improve our communication with customers. With a bit of passion and a good deal of practice, you also can improve communication skills of your agents and start bending time to get your 2 hours worth of chats in 1 hour of work.

Here’s what you need to do to speed things up.

1. Use short, simple sentences.

Don’t complicate your replies. Preparing long replies will not only take a long time to type in for the agent but also to read for the customer. Make your job and your customers’ lives easier by offering shorter answers.

If you need to explain how to do something, try to split your reply a bit – one sentence for one step. This makes your replies easier to follow as the customer can simply look to the next step on the list instead of having to scan a block of text for a solution.

Don’t go into too much detail. If a customer needs a quick fix to make your payment form cooperate, don’t bore them with explanations on how everything is set up.

Try to gauge what customers need to know. If a piece of information can help a customer solve a problem, don’t hesitate to include it. However, if it’s optional, it might be a good idea to skip it to make your reply shorter.

2. Use canned responses

If you often need to write the same reply over and over, try creating a canned response for that reply. Canned responses are pre-made replies that can be quickly recalled during a chat or when replying to an email or a ticket.

They are a bit like cheat sheets. However, in this case, you won’t get busted by your teacher when using them!

Canned responses will allow you to significantly cut down on your reply time. Instead of having to write the same 100-character-long reply to a particular question, you can simply enter a canned response with just a few characters or a couple of clicks.

Over time, you can develop a list of answers for the most common questions you get. When you notice that a particular question is asked often (questions about payments, shipping, sizing, promotions etc.), add it as a canned response.

You can also use them to shorten generic phrases too. Instead of writing Thanks for getting in touch with us and have a great day, you could simply write #thanks and get the same message.

Canned responses can make each contact with a customer much faster. Just don’t go overboard with them and don’t turn into a robot that uses only pre-made answers, especially if they are on the longer side.

3. Order your cases by priority

Another way to improve communication skills is keeping a certain order to the support cases you handle for customers. As a rule of thumb, the customers that wait the longest should be your top priority as the risk of bad experience is the biggest for them.

To avoid making people wait forever for an answer, make sure to always handle older cases first (if a solution is possible) and then work your way down to newer requests.

In the long run, this will save you time because you won’t have to explain why you didn’t reply faster. Dealing with emails and tickets that are fresh takes less time as you won’t have to dig as deep to solve them.

This logic is especially useful for dealing with email or ticket responses. Some messages can get buried if you receive tons of emails/tickets. It’s important to remember about those messages and deal with them ASAP.

In LiveChat, the chats are colored to help you decide on priority.

Chat priority organization in LiveChat

Green circles represent visitors who have received an answer or just asked their question. Chats with those visitors don’t require immediate attention.

Red circles represent customers who asked a question and have been waiting for an answer for some time. Agents should respond to these conversations first.

Finally, there are the Gray circles that represent visitors who either went AFK or left your chat.

4. Use application shortcuts

When handling support cases, you need to perform certain actions tens or even hundreds of times each day. Just imagine how much time you could save if you could make those actions a bit faster with keyboard shortcuts.

For example, instead of clicking on a visitor portrait to bring up a different chat you could simply use a shortcut that would switch you to the next chat.

Any action that requires clicking could be potentially sped up by using a shortcut. This can be anything from opening a new browser tab to finding a particular file. You will be able to support customers faster if you know your way around your applications and their shortcuts.

Give it a go and try using shortcuts for actions you use often. You can make a list of shortcuts and pin it by your screen to learn them faster. Once you get the hang of if, you won’t even want to touch your mouse because it will seem so slow.

5. Copy and paste parts of customers' messages

When it comes to shortcuts, the two most popular and useful are Ctrl + C and Ctrl + V – the good old copy/paste combo. You probably already use them to make your life easier: when you want to look something from an article up without having to type it in in Google.

In the same way, you can use copy and paste to speed up chats with your customers. For example, when a customer asks for a particular product, you don’t have to write the name of the product by hand if you want to include it in your reply. Simply copy and paste it and add the missing information, e.g. price of the product.

Be on the lookout for phrases that you can use in a reply to make chatting or responding to an email or ticket a bit faster.

6. Using customers’ words

The next thing you should work on when you want to improve communication skills is spotting and using keywords and names customers use in relation to your business. This can be a name the customer has for a particular product, or something else they mixed up a bit. For example, instead of saying summer sale they could be calling it a summer discount.

To make your message more clear, you don’t necessarily have to correct the customer. If you are sure what the customer means, adapt and go with the conversation. If they want to call your promo codes discount thingamajig, go with it and tell them where they should enter their thingamajig to get that 10 percent off their purchase.

In situations where you are not sure what they mean, ask them to confirm. Or even better, try to lead the customer and ask if they mean a particular thing. Once you get a confirmation, you can continue to talk about a problem in the customer’s words to make your reply easy to understand.

7. Learn how to type faster

If there is one thing that will help you when you want to improve communication skills in your company, it would be faster typing. Customer service agents spend a whole lot of their time typing. In fact, most of their day will comprise of typing in chat, email and ticket replies.

To improve your typing speed, you should start with the basics like proper hand placement. Covering the A, S, D and F keys with one hand and the J, K, L and ; keys with the other hand will allow quick access to the whole keyboard.

When typing, avoid looking at the keyboard. After a while, your muscle memory will kick in and you will simply know which finger you need to move to reach a particular key.

Start slow and check for mistakes. You want to reinforce proper typing habits and get rid of the negative ones. You can do that only if you pay close attention to what you type. You can use tools like Typing Speed Test to check on your progress.

8. Gather and use customer data

You can skip large parts of a conversation just by having access to additional customer information. For example, instead of asking for customers’ order IDs, you could pull them from a CRM or your database.

It’s like calling a stranger vs. calling and old friend. When you call someone for the first time, there are the greetings, the introductions and honorifics before you can say what you really want. On the other hand, when you call an old friend, you can simply say sup and move to your point.

Knowing how to use customer information is an important skill that can give your agents a huge head start as they don’t have to begin their conversations with the same questions.

There are a couple ways you can collect and then use this kind of data.

You can gather it during pre-chat surveys that are filled with fields like name
, email or order ID. Depending on what your agents need to solve support cases, you can ask for different information. For example, if your customer’s email is essential to solving a problem, you should ask for it straight away.

You can also use a CRM service to manage your contacts. They will allow you to create profiles for customers that can be then filled with useful data. You can also integrate your chat with your CRM to get the best results: the emails customers use to sign in to your chat can be used to automatically pull all related data and display it in live chat.

Customer data displayed in LiveChat using an integration with Nutshell

9. Get a second monitor

If you are looking into additional data to speed up conversations with customers, think about displaying it on another screen.

You can switch pretty quickly between your main customer service tool like chat and your CRM using the Alt + Tab shortcut, but it’s still slower than simply looking to another screen.

You can have your chat, email or help desk on one screen at all times to quickly react to new enquiries and use the other monitor to look up data on customers, check your website and all other things you need to do.

It’s a simple fix that will save you the need to use Alt + Tab a couple of hundred times each day.

The Chat Shop agent using two monitors to support customers

10. Know your limits

If you get too many cases at one time, you will start rushing. When that happens, it’s easy to make mistakes. And you can be sure that your customers will notice the drop in quality!

Don’t go overboard with your efforts to make things more effective. Start small and pick up more cases only when you feel confident with your current workload.

It’s good to have a backup plan in case you take on too much. For example, you could have a colleague on standby to help you when things go out of hand.

In LiveChat, you can set up a fallback plan that will automatically transfer any chat if the visitor didn’t receive an answer for a set amount of time.

This helps in situations where you already have several chats that require 100 percent of your attention. The chat is simply moved to the next free agent.

When it comes to tickets and emails, you should always know if you don’t have the time or resources to solve your cases. If you happen to get emails or tickets you know you won’t be able to respond to, make sure another agent picks them up.

Try to beat our time

Once you start to improve communication skills and the speed of your support starts picking up, you will find that you have more and more time for either a larger number of support cases or other work-related activities. You can also focus on development in other areas, like improvement of your sales skills.

When you improve communication skills in your company, you don’t have to stop just at customer service . Your internal communication can also get boosted by using the right tools.

I’m no expert, but I’m sure all this time warping and stretching would leave Flash really impressed. Make it your personal challenge to beat our score of 2 hours of chatting to every 1 hour of work. And when you do, make sure to let us know that we’re slacking!

Photo courtesy of Katie Krueger via Create Commons.

Get a glimpse into the future of business communication with digital natives.

Get the FREE report