Customer Service Skills: Using Emotional Intelligence to Make a Connection

Worried that you're losing customers due to poor customer service skills? Promoting strong emotional intelligence skills may help keep that from happening.
December 26, 2017

NewVoiceMedia, a cloud service company based in England, set out to research the impact that customer service skills have on overall profits for U.S. businesses. (The study included a sample size of 2,003 adults from the United States.)

Their 2016 study estimates that U.S. businesses are losing $62 billion per year through poor customer service. This is up from $41 billion in 2013.

How can you make sure that your business is not a part of this trend of losing customers to your competitors? One of the initiatives that you can take is to focus on increasing the customer service skills in your company. To that end, consider adding emotional intelligence training and coaching to develop your customer service people and help them make a connection with customers.

Emotional intelligence deals with two major areas. The first is what I perceive, or fail to perceive, when I am interacting with a customer. That's self-awareness and awareness of others. The second is what I do, or don't do, during that interaction. That's empathy and relationship management. 

Customer service skills in each of these areas can be helpful. Let's take a look at a few examples.


In emotional intelligence, it all starts with raising awareness of how we come across to others. 

You may have customer service reps who have mastered the ins and outs of your company's product or service. They conduct their customer interactions with crisp authority. They like to show the customer that they have the knowledge and expertise, and consequently, they may be outspoken and take charge of the conversation. 

Give the customer their moment. Let them finish their story and wait a few seconds longer to hear their last word.

What they may not realize is that they may come across as overbearing and maybe even irritating. For example, they may explain things beyond what is necessary, talk too much and prevent the customer from adding a word in edgewise. That may drive the customer out the door fast.

It's safe to say that most skills taken to the extreme can become liabilities. Emotional intelligence is about understanding this key concept. Help your staff gain insight into how they might come across and what their blind spots might be.

Awareness Of Others

A key aspect of emotional intelligence in a sales or customer service situation is being able to sense how others feel during an interaction. 

As part of your steps in improving the customer service skills in your company, consider training people on how to become adept at recognizing customers' emotions so that they can manage their customer service interactions more effectively.

For example, think about training customer service reps to pay attention to when a customer might show impatience at overly long explanations. That can lead to customer annoyance. Or training people to understand when a customer doesn't like to feel pushed and needs more space to make a decision.

This can all be a part of developing an awareness of what's going on with the person you're talking to, whether on the phone or in person.


Empathy is a core skill of emotional intelligence and can be particularly valuable in a sales or customer service interaction. 

Empathy is the ability of customer reps to put themselves in the customer's shoes. There are three aspects to this: One is cognitive empathy, that is, understanding where the customer is coming from, what their needs are. A second is emotional empathy, or making an effort to understand how the customer feels

And thirdly, taking it to the next level, is what is known as empathic concern. Those who have superb customer service skills not only understand what the customer needs and how he or she feels, but they also have a strong service orientation. That is, they enjoy going the extra mile to actively show the customer that they care and want to help. They express concern for the customer and show it in their actions. 

Consider training your people to understand these three key areas of empathy so that they can use this as part of their development.

There are many ways to practice empathy. A fundamental technique is listening. But it's not enough to listen without interrupting. A key skill here is to train people to listen to the last word. Give the customer their moment. Let them finish their story and wait a few seconds longer to hear their last word. 

Making people feel truly heard is one of the key customer service skills. It goes hand-in-hand with making people feel important and appreciated. That can go a long way to making the customer want to come back.


Customer service reps may feel pressure to provide the proverbial "service with a smile." That need to suppress any feelings of irritation or annoyance at rude or demanding customers can take its toll. This is the stress that may accompany the emotional labor inherent in service jobs. (Emotional labor is defined as the work of managing feelings and expressions in order to fulfill the requirements of a job.)

Emotional intelligence training may be useful in helping customer service reps to manage the stress of emotional labor and be more relaxed. A relaxed employee, in turn, may be better able to create positive emotional states in themselves and in the customers they interact with. They may even be in in a better frame of mind to forge a positive connection with customers.

There are many emotional intelligence initiatives you can introduce to help employees better manage their emotions. This can include relaxation and physical conditioning programs, meditation and stress and time management training. One area that can be particularly effective is training people in using a few grounding tactics. Training employees to pay attention to their body by focusing on their breath, the weight of their body on the chair or their feet on the floor can help minimize stressful reactions in the moment.

In that vein, consider providing employees with a toolbox of emotional intelligence resources that they can easily access. Consider using mindfulness and grounding apps such as HeadSpaceSmilingMind or StopBreatheThink.

Among all the necessary customer service skills, emotional intelligence may play a pivotal role in engaging your customers on a human level and making them feel good about doing business with your company.

Read more articles on customer relations.

Photo: Getty Images