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We learn our communication skills from a young age and these are mastered over the duration of our life. It sounds easy to say that communication skills are invaluable in customer service, this is easy to say but more difficult to do.

Communication is not only a means of passing on information from one person to another but it is also a manner of expressions. There are two ways to communicate this is verbal and non-verbal. Non-verbal consists of things like body language and the gestures that you make whereas verbal are the use of words.

When you meet someone for the first time you will often jump to a conclusion about them and they will about you. First impressions count! You only have one opportunity to make a first impression, to build a successful rapport this impression must be positive. Whether you meet someone for the first time over the phone or in person, the initial impression can set the tone for the entire customer experience.

When we communicate we must remember that this is a ‘two-way street’ and that it involves both parties following a number of key principles.

Body language may only seem appropriate when you are dealing with a customer on a face to face basis but body language must be considered in all situations. Body language includes facial expressions, eye contact, gestures, posture, non-verbal signals and appearance. Your personality needs to shine through when you are communicating by smiling and by appropriately using humour you will come across as approachable and friendly.

Taking the time to smartly dress for work will not only meet your companies dress requirements but it will also empower you for the day ahead and gives a professional vibe to both your customers and colleagues. Poor body language has the complete opposite effect, a good example is rolling your eyes or frowning. This will have a negative impact on your voice and your overall persona.

Listening skills are just as important as your speech. Never interrupt your customer, make notes on what they are saying and repeat this back to them to confirm your understanding of what they have said. Ask relevant questions that are linked to what they have said. Try to ask open questions which will allow you to explore their query further. Try to avoid jumping to conclusions as these can be incorrect.

Empathise and sympathise with your customers. Empathy is the ability to mutually experience thoughts, emotions and direct experience of others whereas sympathy is a feeling of care and understanding at the suffering of others. Try to put yourself in their position and think about how you would like to be treated if you were in this situation.

Where your customers feel they have a complaint, allow them to talk openly, so that you will be able to understand their point of view.
Don’t be afraid to apologise, if something goes wrong or if a customer is dissatisfied. By apologising it does not mean that you are admitting fault,
Phrases like ‘I’m sorry that you feel that way’ this apology is for the way they are feeling, not accepting blame. Never be negative about your own company, this is not professional.

In this communication section, we need to cover both oral and written communication.

Oral communication looks at the way you speak and the tone that you use. When you are communicating you need to make sure that you are clear and concise. Avoid using jargon or slang words as this can easily confuse and often embarrass the customer. The way you communicate needs to be appropriate, you may well be aware of technical phrases but your customer probably is not!

Written communication, this will usually be via email. Always take time to check your spelling, grammar, punctuation and the construction of your sentences. Errors in written communication are hard to resolve, so try not to make them in the first place! Take the time to read through your work and if in doubt ask a colleague to quality assure this work before it is sent.

Think about the words that you use when dealing with customers ‘can I help you?’ is much more positive than ‘may I help you?’ We need to be positive in our language and promote professionalism throughout the customer experience.

Your customer must be confident that you know what you are doing and that you can resolve their query. There may be times where you do not know how to resolve a complaint, in this case, make notes and take ownership. Advise the customer what will happen next and make sure this happens. If you are unable to resolve an issue immediately the customer will usually be sympathetic as long as you keep them informed.

One final point is to always make notes on the commitments and discussions that you have had with customers. This is so that should they make contact when you aren’t available then one of your colleagues will be able to assist them.