How Can I Improve Effective Telephone Skills

The 8 most important skills for excellent customer service

Despite technological developments, customer service remains largely a matter of human interactions. This means that the skills and characteristics of the people who work can make a huge difference in support.

Regardless of whether you want to hire a new employee, train your team or are looking for a job in customer service yourself: knowing the skills and characteristics that are important for this increases your chances of success.

Many skills can be learned, but people must already have certain characteristics or talent cannot help them deliver a great customer experience.

Shep Hyken

We asked a few gurus and experienced experts in the customer service industry and asked them what qualities a good service employee must have.


Userlikes Customer Success Manager Jörn believes that enthusiasm is the most important factor in order to be successful in customer service, sales or management.

Enthusiasm is contagious. In a neutral state of mind, meeting an enthusiastic person will cheer you up. If you are already happy, excitement makes you even happier. When you are upset, she reassures you that everything will be fine.

An employee who genuinely conveys enthusiasm does so in a way that is special, perhaps even unique, and that fits his style and personality. And while that can be lively or subdued, it will be real.

Steve Curtin, author of Delight Your Customers

Lack of enthusiasm will drag you down as well. I always have to protect my mood from the cashier in my supermarket - apathetically mumbling “Have a nice day” while she looks into the distance again.

Enthusiasm is a quality that depends to a large extent on your personality. But while it is difficult to excite a curmudgeon against his temperament, it is rather easy to rob a naturally enthusiastic person of their quality.

It's hard to stay enthusiastic when you're in a lousy work environment, surrounded by negative colleagues, where you are forced to follow bureaucratic rules or you are not challenged (probably the case in my supermarket).

Communication skills

When we fill customer service positions at Userlike, we pay attention to the applicant's communication skills before all other skills. This is expressed in written and oral form.

Write is one of the crucial soft skills that enables you to get your message across clearly and precisely in writing. This is especially important if most of your support is via live chat or email tickets.

If you have a choice of multiple applicants to fill a new position, always choose the better writer. It doesn't matter if the person is a designer, a programmer, a marketer, a salesperson or whatever; good writing skills will pay off. Effective, concise writing and editing results in effective, precise codes, designs, emails, instant messages, and more.

Getting Real, 37 Signals

We test writing skills by sending the applicants a Google document with sample questions from the service area about our product - they have an hour to answer. It used to be the step after the personal interview, but we recently changed the procedure.

We have had applicants who made a great first impression in the interview, but who really messed up the test because they wrote overloaded, incoherent and spelling mistakes. Applicants therefore first complete the written test before we schedule a personal interview.

Some good books to improve your writing skills are Everybody Writes, 100 Ways to Improve Your Writing, and How to Write Short.

Verbal expression is of course also important, especially if most of your support is over the phone or in person. Oral and written skills are often related - both require some empathy with the recipient - but they don't have to.

Paul Graham from Y Combinator wrote a meaningful essay on the differences between writing and verbal skills. Being a good speaker is less of a question of Content that you want to convey, rather than a question of yours social skills .

Graham sounds a bit negative in terms of verbal skills, but of course they are important for telephone or direct support. At Userlike, we check this aspect with our interview questions in a personal meeting.

In my post on communication techniques I have methods like What - what now - what now, problem - solution - benefit and ELI5 (in German: explain it like I'm 5 years old ) described.

Customer empathy / compassion

Empathy is often advertised as a key trait in customer service. It is easy to see why this is so: it is the ability to put yourself in the other person's shoes.

But as I pointed out in Forget Customer Empathy - Do This Instead, I would replace the word empathy with compassion. The finding is based on Paul Bloom's book “Against Empathy”.

He argues that empathy has some flaws that make it unsuitable for benevolent dealings - a quality that you definitely look for in customer service. In summary, this means: empathy ...

  • passes quickly. We have limited stamina for empathy.
  • only works for individuals, not for groups.
  • suffers from the ingroup effect and is therefore prone to discrimination.
  • can cloud your judgment to favor people who express their feelings.

Compassion, on the other hand, is the wish that everyone is well - without being affected by their misery. Dr. Bloom explains that it is a quality that can be developed through the metta meditation method, among other things.

While empathic people are only ephemera, compassionate people are able to do good over and over again.


Patience is the ability to accept or tolerate delays, problems or suffering without becoming annoyed or unsettled. Without a bit of patience, the service experience becomes an acid test for both the customer and the service employee.

The impatient customer service rep will feel a sense of constant annoyance that is reflected in their tone of voice. That in turn frustrates the customer.

Although some find it naturally easier than others, patience is a learnable skill. Psychology Today suggests the following steps to exercise patience:

  1. Recognize the state of impatience
  2. Explore what impatience feels like in your mind and body
  3. Start converting impatience into patience

Is It Possible To Be Too Patient With Customers?

From my experience in chat support, I know the tendency of some customers to talk beyond the point of productivity. If something is broken, there is no need to experience the 15 situations in which the broken product becomes a problem; it's just supposed to be fixed.

But that doesn't make impatience a virtue. Impatience will only create a vicious cycle of annoyance. In order for the service interaction to be both friendly and productive, you need to combine patience with verbal communication techniques to guide the conversation.

Stress management

Stress is simply a part of customer service due to the pronounced variance.

Of course, stress is omnipresent in other areas as well. Take developers who have to deliver projects by a certain date. But with a realistic deadline and the right planning, it is at least theoretically possible to meet the deadline without stress.

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In service you will always face stress. Customers can come all at once, some will be angry about something, others will be difficult to understand.

In addition to long-term negative health effects, stress can become a problem as it temporarily lowers your intelligence (IQ) and emotional (EQ) quotients. As a physical reaction to danger, stress pushes you into fight or flight mode. IQ and EQ are of minor importance when a crocodile is after you.

But it doesn’t chase you wild animals. A customer yells at you over the phone or you get another chat while you are already taking care of 4 chats. It is at such moments that your mental quotients come in handy.

Psychologist Kelly McGonigal studies the effects of stress. She found that stress only negatively affects those who perceived him as negative . People who perceived stress as something that helped them get their work done , were actually healthier than those who were not stressed at all.

In another TEDx video, Alan Watkins uses heart rate measurements to demonstrate how breathing techniques can help you manage stress. The aspect of positivity and negativity also plays a role here.


In chat support, you often have to deal with three or more chats at the same time. With phone support, you often need to look up information while the customer is talking to you. Many would say that this requires “multitasking skills”.

However, studies show that multitasking does not actually exist. Multitasking can only take place if:

  1. At least one of the tasks has been learned in such a way that it can be completed automatically.
  2. The tasks occupy different areas in the brain.

Taking notes while listening to a customer is possible as you only translate the language into another format (voice in writing). What you, however Not write an email to customer A while you are on the phone with customer B.

This has to do with the fact that these activities both use the language processing part of your brain. If you try to combine the activities, you may find that you are typing what you wanted to say all at once - and vice versa.

A more precise term would be Serial tasking - quick change from one task to another.

In chat support, it is quite normal to chat with several customers at the same time. But you're not really multitasking. You quickly switch back and forth between the different chats and give your customers the impression that all of your attention is focused on them.

Serial tasking requires flexibility. This cognitive ability decreases with age, which is why support centers often look out for young people. But it is also a quality that you can train. Lumosity offers a few free games to exercise your flexibility.


Charismatic people are attractive. People want to interact with them, which is why it is desirable to have them on your support team. If your support rep is personable, it will also be beneficial for the company.

In The Charisma Myth, Olivia Fox Cabane examines charisma and gives tips for its development. It identifies three parts:

  1. Presence - be present in the conversation.
  2. Power - the possibility of being able to change something.
  3. Cordiality - having the best of intentions with people.

Presence. The ability to focus solely on the person you are interacting with. It makes people feel like they are being heard and are important. A service employee who is present assures your customers that their concerns will be heard.

Makes. Teaching the ability to change something. Presence will make you look friendly, but without power, it can make you look submissive. Power with service employees, gives the customer the feeling that his concern is being taken care of. It is easy to remove this important aspect from your service staff by depriving them of the ability to make decisions. Few sentences are as degrading as " I have to clarify that with my boss.

Warmth. Make it clear that you wish the other person only the best. It's similar to compassion, although it is possible to be compassionate without it showing through your voice or body language as such.

Clients come to me with a sense of urgency and an honest desire to understand how to properly run a program and get results. That only works if customers trust my skills.

Sarang Bhatt, Wootric

Corporate knowledge

Customers need support because they lack the necessary knowledge. You have a question and you are contacting support for an answer. It is logical that in-depth knowledge of the company and its products will increase the quality of service in the form of better and faster answers.

A common mistake in customer service training is sticking to the What -Maintain level. What are the features? What are the delivery costs? A really helpful employee is an employee whose knowledge Why Level reached. Why did we build the features as they are? Why do we have a longer delivery time than the other providers on the market?

The Why is a powerful weapon in support due to the power of “Because…” reasoning .

In a Harvard University study, researchers asked people standing in line if they could skip the line. They used three variations of the same question:

  1. "Hello. I have 5 pages. Can I use the printer? "
  2. "Hello. I have 5 pages. Can I use the printer because I'm in a hurry? "
  3. "Hello. I have 5 pages. Can I use the printer because I need to print something? "

Option 2 (94% success rate) naturally beats option 1 (60%): You can put yourself in the shoes of someone in a hurry. The minimal difference between options 2 (94%) and 3 (93%) was surprising.

People are generally willing to just accept answers, but we want to know why. Imagine the following customer question: " Why did you shorten your return period? "A" what-level "answer would be:" The management decided to do it. “That's probably why, but it won't convince a customer.

Now imagine a service employee who can give you a Why -Answer could give: " We've been offering this for an extended period of time, but too many customers have abused the policy. We couldn't keep it up without increasing our prices, so we decided to shorten the period.

Such a declaration ensures understanding on the customer side and at the same time shows him that he is being taken seriously.

The right skills and characteristics in customer service not only ensure more satisfied customers, but also more fun at work. May this list help you train, highlight, or choose the right traits.

This article was originally written by Pascal van Opzeeland and translated into German by Mara Küsters.