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The Art of Talking to Customers: A Guide to Empathetic Customer Service

Good customer service is like being a good friend. It's not just about fixing problems, but also about really understanding and caring for the person you're helping. When someone comes to us with a problem, they want to be heard and understood, not just get a quick fix. This guide is like a friendly chat about how to talk to customers. It gives tips and examples so that every chat with a customer feels helpful and kind.

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Published onNovember 1, 2023
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The Art of Talking to Customers: A Guide to Empathetic Customer Service

Good customer service is like being a good friend. It's not just about fixing problems, but also about really understanding and caring for the person you're helping. When someone comes to us with a problem, they want to be heard and understood, not just get a quick fix. This guide is like a friendly chat about how to talk to customers. It gives tips and examples so that every chat with a customer feels helpful and kind.

1. Listen Actively

The foundation of any fruitful conversation, especially in customer service, is active listening. It's not merely about hearing words but truly comprehending the sentiment and details behind them. Active listening involves several key aspects:

a. Full Attention

Ensure that when a customer is speaking, you are completely focused on them, eliminating potential distractions. This not only helps in understanding the issue but also makes the customer feel valued.

Customer: "Every time I use your app, it crashes on me."
Service Provider: "I'm sorry to hear that you're experiencing this issue. Let me make sure I understand: does the app crash when you perform a specific action, or is it happening randomly?"

b. Refrain from Interrupting

Let the customer finish their statement before you respond. Interrupting can come across as dismissive or as if you're rushing to a solution without fully understanding the problem.

Customer: "I purchased the premium version, but I still see ads and..."
Service Provider (interrupting): "Have you tried restarting the app?"
Customer: "Let me finish. As I was saying, I still see ads and can't access premium features."

c. Confirm Understanding

Once the customer has conveyed their concern, it's beneficial to paraphrase or summarize what you've heard. This ensures that you've fully grasped the issue and offers an opportunity for any clarifications.

Customer: "I ordered a vegetarian meal, but I received one with meat. This is unacceptable as I have dietary restrictions."
Service Provider: "I'm truly sorry for the oversight. So, to clarify, you ordered a vegetarian meal but received a non-vegetarian one, correct?"

d. Non-verbal Cues

Active listening isn't just about the words you say but also your non-verbal responses. Nodding, maintaining eye contact (if in person), and using affirmative sounds like "uh-huh" or "I see" can reinforce that you are fully engaged in the conversation.

Customer (in person): "I've had repeated issues with my account, and it's becoming quite tedious."
Service Provider: [Nods] "I can see why that would be concerning. Let's dive deep into the account details and address this."

e. Avoiding Assumptions

It's crucial not to jump to conclusions based on partial information. Allow the customer to provide the full context before making judgments or offering solutions.

Customer: "I can't seem to get the discount applied to my order."
Service Provider (assuming): "Did you enter the promo code at checkout?"
Customer: "Yes, I did. The issue is that the code says it's expired, but I just received it in an email today."

Active listening is a powerful tool. It is not just for problem-solving but for building trust and rapport. By genuinely listening to a customer's concerns, you not only pave the way for effective solutions but also foster a sense of respect and understanding, which is invaluable in any business relationship.

2. Validate Emotions

Emotions play a pivotal role in customer interactions. Understanding and validating these feelings isn't just about empathy; it's about creating a connection that fosters trust and understanding. Validating emotions does not necessarily mean agreeing with the customer, but rather acknowledging their feelings and showing genuine concern.

a. Show Empathy

Put yourself in the customer's shoes and try to understand their perspective. This doesn't mean you have to agree, but showing empathy can ease tensions and pave the way for a more productive conversation.

Customer: "Every time I contact support, I get transferred multiple times. It's exhausting!"
Service Provider: "I can imagine how frustrating that must be for you. No one likes to be passed around. Let's try to resolve your issue right now."

b. Avoid Dismissive Language

Using words or phrases that belittle or dismiss a customer's concerns can escalate a situation. It's crucial to choose words that convey understanding and patience.

Customer: "Your website is so confusing. I can't find anything on it."
Service Provider (avoiding dismissiveness): "I'm sorry to hear you're having trouble navigating our website. Let's walk through it together."

c. Address the Emotion, Not Just the Issue

Sometimes, the underlying emotion can be more pressing than the actual problem. Addressing that emotion can lead to a more fulfilling resolution for the customer.

Customer: "I feel like I'm being ignored. I've sent multiple emails with no response."
Service Provider: "I'm truly sorry you felt that way. Being left without answers can be unsettling. Let's address your concerns right now."

d. Use Reflective Listening

This technique involves reflecting the customer's feelings back to them, which can help in both understanding and validating their emotions.

Customer: "I'm really angry about the unexpected charges on my bill."
Service Provider: "I understand your anger regarding the unexpected charges. Let's review the bill together and clarify any discrepancies."

e. Offer Genuine Apologies

A genuine apology can go a long way in mending fences. However, it's essential that the apology comes across as sincere and is accompanied by a solution or a way forward.

Customer: "I was assured that this issue would be resolved by now, but it hasn't."
Service Provider: "I sincerely apologize for the oversight and any inconvenience caused. Let's delve into this immediately and ensure it's sorted."

Validating a customer's emotions is about humanizing the interaction. It's a reminder that behind every complaint or query is a person with feelings and concerns. By addressing these emotions, customer service providers can not only resolve issues more effectively but also build lasting relationships rooted in trust and mutual respect.

3. Personalize the Interaction

In an age of automation and scripted responses, a personalized touch can distinguish your service from the rest. By tailoring your interaction, you signal to the customer that they're not just another ticket number, but a valued individual whose concerns matter.

a. Use Their Name

Addressing the customer by their name creates a connection and makes the conversation more personable.

Customer: "I haven't received my order confirmation yet."
Service Provider: "I'm sorry about that, Mr. Johnson. Let me check the details of your order and provide you with an update."

b. Recall Past Interactions

If a customer has had previous interactions with your service, referring to those can show that you value their continued patronage.

Customer: "I'm facing the same issue with my account again."
Service Provider: "I remember you mentioned this last time, Ms. Perez. I apologize for the recurring inconvenience. Let's get this resolved once and for all."

c. Offer Tailored Solutions

Rather than providing a one-size-fits-all solution, try to offer advice or solutions that cater to the specific needs of the customer.

Customer: "I'm not tech-savvy and struggle with these updates."
Service Provider: "No worries, Mr. Lee. I'll guide you step-by-step, and we also have beginner-friendly tutorials that might be helpful for you."

d. Acknowledge Special Occasions or Milestones

If you have data indicating a customer's anniversary with your service or a special occasion, mentioning it can add a unique touch.

Customer: "I need to upgrade my plan."
Service Provider: "Of course, Mrs. Patel. And by the way, happy 1-year anniversary with us! We appreciate your trust."

e. Be Adaptable

Every customer has a different communication style. Some might be formal, while others might prefer a more relaxed tone. Adapting to their style can make the interaction smoother.

Customer (informally): "Hey there, got a tiny issue with the app. It's acting kinda wonky."
Service Provider (matching the tone): "Hey! Sorry to hear that. Let's sort that wonky issue out for you."

f. Offer Additional Personalized Recommendations

If appropriate, suggesting products or services based on the customer's history can enhance their experience.

Customer: "I loved the book I ordered last time. Any similar recommendations?"
Service Provider: "I'm glad you enjoyed it, Mr. Garcia. Based on that choice, you might like [specific book title]. Many of our customers who liked your previous pick also enjoyed this one."

Incorporating personal touches into your customer interactions not only addresses their immediate concerns but also fosters loyalty. When customers feel recognized and valued, they're more likely to have a positive perception of your brand, leading to long-term relationships and word-of-mouth recommendations.

4. Offer Tailored Solutions

A critical aspect of outstanding customer service is the ability to offer solutions that are specifically tailored to the customer's situation. It demonstrates that you've listened, understood, and are actively working to meet their unique needs. Generic responses can feel impersonal and can give the impression that the customer's concerns aren't truly being addressed.

a. Present Multiple Options

When feasible, offering multiple solutions gives the customer a sense of control and involvement in the resolution process.

Customer: "The software I purchased isn't compatible with my operating system."
Service Provider: "I apologize for the inconvenience. We can either offer you a version compatible with your system, or if you prefer, provide a full refund. Which option works best for you?"

b. Anticipate Follow-Up Needs

Think a step ahead to offer comprehensive solutions.

Customer: "I'm traveling and forgot my charger at home."
Service Provider: "I understand how crucial that is. We can quickly ship a replacement charger to your current location. Additionally, would you be interested in a portable power bank for emergencies during your travels?"

c. Provide Immediate and Long-Term Solutions

Sometimes, an issue might require a temporary fix before a permanent solution can be implemented.

Customer: "The video tutorials on your platform keep buffering."
Service Provider: "I'm sorry for the inconvenience. For an immediate solution, you can lower the video quality. In the meantime, I'll report this to our technical team to ensure smoother playback in the future."

d. Acknowledge If You Don't Have an Immediate Answer

It's okay not to have all the answers instantly. What's important is to commit to finding a solution.

Customer: "Do you have vegan options in your new product range?"
Service Provider: "I appreciate your patience. Let me check with our product team and get back to you with a detailed list of our vegan offerings."

e. Incorporate Feedback into Solutions

If a customer offers feedback or suggestions, try to integrate them into your solution.

Customer: "Your mobile app is great, but it lacks a dark mode, which strains my eyes at night."
Service Provider: "Thank you for your feedback. While we work on incorporating a dark mode, might I suggest using your device's built-in screen dimming or blue light filter for a more comfortable viewing experience?"

f. Go the Extra Mile

Sometimes, a little extra effort can turn a negative experience into a positive one.

Customer: "I missed the discount period for the product I wanted."
Service Provider: "I understand how disappointing that can be. As a gesture of goodwill, I can offer you a special discount code valid for the next 48 hours. Would that help?"

By focusing on tailored solutions, you not only address the customer's immediate concerns but also demonstrate a genuine commitment to their satisfaction. This approach fosters trust, loyalty, and often leads to positive word-of-mouth referrals.

5. Empathize and Relate

Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. When it comes to customer service, expressing genuine empathy can be the bridge that connects the service provider to the customer, humanizing the interaction and creating a bond of trust. Relating to the customer's experience helps them feel that they're not alone in their struggle and that you're genuinely interested in helping them.

a. Acknowledge Their Feelings

Recognizing the customer's emotions can make them feel seen and valued.

Customer: "I'm overwhelmed with all these features. I don't know where to start."
Service Provider: "I can see how it might feel overwhelming with so many options. Don't worry, I'm here to help simplify things for you."

b. Share a Personal Experience

Sometimes, letting the customer know you've been in their shoes can be comforting.

Customer: "I'm nervous about making an online purchase for the first time."
Service Provider: "I remember feeling the same way when I made my first online purchase. Rest assured, our platform is secure, and I'll guide you through the process."

c. Use Comforting Language

The words you choose can have a significant impact on how the customer feels.

Customer: "I accidentally deleted important files from my account!"
Service Provider: "Oh no, that must be stressful! Let's work together to recover those files."

d. Be Patient and Reassuring

Sometimes, customers just need reassurance that everything will be okay.

Customer: "I'm scared I've lost all my data after the system crashed."
Service Provider: "I can imagine how worrying that must be. Let's go through the recovery process together, step by step."

e. Offer Encouragement

Boosting the customer's confidence can sometimes be as valuable as providing a solution.

Customer: "I don't think I'll ever get the hang of this software."
Service Provider: "It's natural to feel that way when trying something new. With a little guidance and practice, you'll become a pro in no time."

f. Validate Their Experience

Let the customer know that their feelings and experiences are valid.

Customer: "Every time I reach out, I have to explain my issue all over again."
Service Provider: "That sounds frustrating. I apologize for the inconvenience. Let's ensure we resolve your concern this time around."

By empathizing and relating to customers, service providers can create a supportive environment where customers feel valued and understood. This approach not only fosters trust but also increases the likelihood of repeat business and positive reviews.

6. Follow Up

Following up with a customer is a testament to the dedication a company or service provider has towards ensuring complete satisfaction. It’s a gesture that communicates, "We care about you even after the immediate transaction is completed." It's not just about solving the present issue, but about nurturing a lasting relationship.

a. Confirm Resolution

Reaching out to ensure that the initial problem was resolved shows responsibility and accountability.

Service Provider: "Hello Ms. Fernandez, we addressed the glitch you reported in our app last week. Have you noticed any improvement since the update?"

b. Check on Additional Needs

Sometimes, resolving one issue might lead to another, or the customer might have further questions.

Service Provider: "Good day, Mr. Lee. Now that we’ve set up your new device, do you have any questions about its features or functionalities?"

c. Gauge Overall Experience

This can provide insights into areas of improvement and can be a valuable feedback mechanism.

Service Provider: "Ms. Patel, on a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate your recent support experience with us?"

d. Offer Additional Assistance

Showing the customer that you’re there for them beyond the initial issue can enhance trust.

Service Provider: "Hey there, Mr. Gomez. We sorted out the billing discrepancy. Is there anything else related to your account that you'd like assistance with?"

e. Thank Them for Their Patience

A small gesture of gratitude can go a long way in maintaining goodwill.

Service Provider: "Thank you for your patience while we resolved the server issues, Mrs. Turner. We truly appreciate your understanding."

f. Provide Updates

If an issue requires time to address, keep the customer in the loop about the progress.

Service Provider: "Hello Dr. Kim, just a quick update: we're still working on retrieving your data and making good progress. We'll keep you informed."

g. Reiterate Availability

Remind customers that you're always there to help, reinforcing the idea of ongoing support.

Service Provider: "Ms. O'Brien, I'm glad we could resolve the shipping issue. Remember, you can always reach out if you have further concerns in the future."

Incorporating follow-ups into the customer service protocol not only addresses immediate concerns but also emphasizes the brand's commitment to its customers. This proactive approach fosters loyalty, encourages repeat business, and strengthens the overall customer relationship.

7. Stay Calm and Professional

Handling difficult customers is an art in itself. The ability to stay calm and professional, even when faced with aggression or frustration, is essential in diffusing tension and finding a productive solution. Remember, customers might not always be upset with you personally, but rather with the situation or the product. Here are some strategies and examples to maintain composure:

a. Acknowledge their Emotion

Before diving into solutions, recognize the customer's feelings.

Customer: "I can't believe you overcharged me again!"
Service Provider: "I understand your frustration, Mr. Bailey. Let's go over the charges together and rectify any discrepancies."

b. Avoid Arguing

Engaging in a back-and-forth can escalate the situation further.

Customer: "Your product is a complete waste of money!"
Service Provider: "I'm sorry you feel that way, Ms. Rivera. Can you share more about what went wrong so we can assist?"

c. Use a Calm Tone

The tone of voice can often influence the direction of the conversation.

Customer: "Every time I call, I get transferred five times!"
Service Provider: "I understand how that can be frustrating, Mr. Kim. I'm here now and will do my best to assist you."

d. Ask Open-ended Questions

This encourages the customer to provide more information, diverting their attention from the emotion to the issue.

Customer: "Your app keeps crashing on my phone!"
Service Provider: "I'm sorry to hear that, Mrs. Patel. Can you tell me more about when this happens so we can find a solution?"

e. Offer a Genuine Apology

Even if the mistake wasn't yours, apologize on behalf of the company.

Customer: "I've been on hold for 30 minutes!"
Service Provider: "I truly apologize for the wait, Dr. Lewis. Let's address your concerns right away."

f. Set Boundaries if Necessary

While it's essential to be accommodating, it's also crucial to ensure the conversation remains respectful.

Customer: "You people are incompetent and useless!"
Service Provider: "I understand you're upset, Mr. Gomez. I'm here to help, but I'd appreciate it if we could keep the conversation respectful."

g. Redirect to a Solution

Shift the focus from the problem to potential solutions.

Customer: "Your delivery service is always late!"
Service Provider: "I'm sorry for the inconvenience, Ms. Nguyen. Would you prefer a different delivery method or time slot in the future?"

By mastering the skill of staying calm and professional, service providers can transform potentially volatile situations into productive conversations, ensuring that customers feel heard and valued.


In simple terms, talking to customers is all about being kind, understanding, and really listening to what they're saying. It's like having a chat with a friend where you make sure they feel heard and understood. When customers come to us with problems or questions, they're just looking for someone to help and understand them. So, when we chat with them, let's remember to listen carefully, make them feel valued, and find the best way to help. By doing this, we not only solve their immediate issue but also build a lasting, positive connection. Keep this friendly approach in mind, and you'll be a pro at talking to customers in no time!

Good customer serviceTalking to customersArt of talking
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