We’ve all endured terrible customer service at one point or another: long wait times, trouble reaching a human being on the other end of the line, or lack of customer support when products or services fall short of expectations.
Even just one frustrating customer service experience can turn consumers away from a business. In fact, a Qualtrics XM Institute study of more than 33,000 people in 29 countries released in November 2022 found that, on average, 35% of consumers say they cut back on spending with a company after a poor customer experience – and 15% report abandoning the business altogether. All told, bad experiences are putting $3.1 trillion in annual consumer spending at risk globally, Qualtrics estimates.
How can you ensure your business provides a consistently positive experience, so you can stand out from your competitors? By embracing the key principles of emotional intelligence, you can help your employees make stronger connections with customers to build a loyal following.
What Is Emotional Intelligence?
People with high emotional intelligence can identify, understand, and manage their own emotions, as well as the emotions of others. A person’s emotional intelligence can be honed through training and practice. Though it can be valuable in any facet of life, emotional intelligence is a key component of outstanding customer service. Boosting your customer service team’s emotional intelligence involves coaching employees to work on:
- Self-awareness: Emotionally intelligent people are self-aware enough to understand their emotions and how they impact others.
- Self-regulation: By self-regulating their emotions, people express how they feel in an appropriate manner, allowing them to be thoughtful about how they influence others.
- Social skills: Strong social skills, such as active listening and good verbal and nonverbal communication, can help people build meaningful relationships.
- Empathy: People with empathy have the ability to understand another person’s feelings, so they can see things from that person’s perspective.
- Motivation: Highly motivated people tend to be action-oriented, often setting goals, striving to improve their performance, and working toward specific achievements.
Building your company’s customer service skills in each of these areas can help your business attract and retain customers to drive growth.
Though it can apply to any facet of life, emotional intelligence is a key component of outstanding customer service.
Why Emotional Intelligence Matters in Customer Service
How your customer feels after interacting with your company has a direct impact on their perceptions of your brand.
In a 2022 study of more than 9,000 U.S. consumers by Qualtrics, a customer’s feelings were found to be the biggest driver of consumer loyalty. Customers who had a positive experience were nearly five times more likely to both trust and buy additional merchandise from a company than those who had a negative one. Plus, consumers who were delighted with their experience were 10 times more likely to recommend a brand than those who were upset.
By harnessing strong emotional intelligence skills, your customer service team can better empathize with, understand, and respond effectively to customer needs and emotions. In turn, this can increase customer satisfaction, improve how customers perceive your company, and even benefit customer loyalty.
How to Improve Your Customer Service Skills
Here are five strategies for boosting the emotional intelligence of customer service representatives, all with the goal of improving their customer service skills and driving growth for companies.
1. Be aware of how you sound.
Gaining emotional intelligence starts with becoming more self-aware, so that you understand how you come across to others. For example, some customer service reps may be too eager to demonstrate their expertise about a company’s products and services, confidently conducting their customer interactions with crisp authority and taking charge of the conversation.
What they may not realize is that they are being overbearing. Customer service representatives who lack self-awareness may unintentionally dominate the conversation, preventing customers from getting a word in edgewise about the product features they prefer. These customers, who may feel as if the representatives are steering them in the wrong direction, may grow impatient and quickly head for the door.
To help boost customer service skills, companies can conduct mock interactions that reveal effective ways to listen to customers’ needs and respond accordingly. For example, you can train customer service reps to read customers’ emotions by paying attention to cues that a customer is eager to make a purchase, as well as signs that it’s time for the employee to back away and give the customer more space to make a decision.
2. Practice regulating your emotional response.
Customer service reps are bound to encounter demanding – or even rude – customers. After all, many consumers reach out to customer service only when they have a problem and are upset with a company.
Rather than react with irritation and risk escalating a customer’s anger, skilled customer service representatives calmly respond with a positive message. This can help frustrated customers feel at ease, and can diffuse an interaction that starts off tense.
Even minor changes to conversational patterns can go a long way toward improved customer service skills and better customer relationships. For example, if a customer contacts your team to express irritation that a product appears to be out of stock, rather than simply confirming that the product is unavailable, try providing some reassurance: “That product is on back order and will be available next month. I can place an order for you now and provide free shipping to your home as soon as it arrives at our warehouse.”
You may not be able to solve every problem instantly, but by handling a customer’s complaint in a patient and polite manner, you can help customers feel that you’re doing everything you can to address their concerns.
3. Harness social skills by listening closely.
Rather than pushing their own agenda, people with strong social skills listen closely to others, show interest, and communicate with warmth and sincerity. In a 2023 Khoros study of more than 1,000 customers, 75% said their favorite brands responded to questions promptly with personalized and helpful answers.
To respond appropriately, you need to take the time to truly listen to customers who are confused or frustrated – how else could you understand what they need? Great customer service skills reflect active listening skills, such as repeating the problem back to the customer in your own words to show that you’ve heard them. Consider using phrases like, “It sounds like you’re saying …” and “Just to make sure I’m understanding the issue correctly…”
When interacting with a customer in-person, you can show you’re actively listening in nonverbal ways, too; for example, by turning away from your computer to give the person your full attention, and maintaining eye contact while you take in what they’re saying.
4. Express empathy.
When customers are experiencing a problem related to your products and services, expressing empathy is an important way to make customers feel heard. People who express empathy are able to put themselves in the customer’s shoes and understand how the customer feels.
How can you acknowledge an inconvenience the customer is experiencing and show you’re concerned? Respond to their issues with, “I’m sorry you’re having trouble,” or “I can understand why you’re upset,” or “I hear you, and I’m here to help.”
If the company made a mistake, take responsibility for the problem, apologize, and pledge to make the situation right. People with superb customer service skills not only understand what customers need and how they feel, but they also enjoy going the extra mile to do what it takes to make their customers happy.
5. Help your team stay motivated.
You can keep your customer service reps motivated to perform by helping them break down their goals into step-by-step chunks. Consider pairing them to work with partners, as this can help them remain accountable to one another.
Offer positive feedback, as well as constructive criticism and suggestions for improvement. And make sure to take time out to celebrate people’s accomplishments, both big and small. Rewarding the team’s successes will motivate people to work even harder to improve their customer service skills.
The Bottom Line
Your customer wants to be treated like a human being, not a number. Customer service representatives can hone their emotional intelligence and improve their customer service skills by empathizing with customers, communicating respectfully, and resolving complaints smoothly, allowing your business to build a loyal customer base and continue to grow.
A version of this article was originally published on December 26, 2017.
Photo: Getty Images