So much of customer service training is focused on what we say to customers. We craft scripts, pitches, and develop language best practices to ensure a positive customer experience. However, body language and nonverbal communication play a large role in customer service too. It’s often not what you say, but how you say it that matters most.
In this post, we'll talk more about body language in customer service, including what role it plays, why it's important, and some best practices you can use to improve it with your team.
The 7-38-55 Rule
Public speaking coaches and body language experts have claimed that over 90% of communication is nonverbal based on a misinterpretation of the 7-38-55 rule. Developed in the 1960s by UCLA professor Albert Mehrabian, the rule states that just 7% of messages are communicated verbally, 38% through nonverbal communication, and 55% through visual communication.
Mehrabian found in his study that participants were better at interpreting messages when they were accompanied by physical cues and verbal tones, as opposed to neutral or passive body language.
His research aimed to find out how much we are influenced by tone of voice and facial expression when they are in conflict with what is being said. Mehrabian discovered that in cases of inconsistent verbal messaging, we tend to believe someone’s facial expression and tone of voice over the words they are speaking.
Executive Director of the Center for Performance Improvement, Ted Ings, sums up this point in his article stating “You always have to be aware of your nonverbal cues or tells because you do not want your body language and tone of voice to contradict your words. This undermines your credibility because when nonverbal and verbal communication is incongruent, people tend to respond to and accept your body language above your words.”
While body language may not account for 90% of our communication, it still plays an important role in customer service. In fact, if your company has brick-and-mortar stores, body language and verbal communication are two of the most important elements of customer service that you'll need to successfully support consumers.
Why Is Body Language Important in Customer Service?
Body language is important in customer service because it affects how customers will react to what you're saying to them. As we highlighted in the section above, so much of communication is delivered through body language, as well as one's tone of voice. In face-to-face customer service, reps need to control both of these skills if they want to consistently provide a delightful support experience.
Mastering the right body language is tricky when doing business remotely. As industries shift to conducting more business online, it’s becoming more important than ever that your body language adapts to a virtual setting.
Even SaaS businesses should pay attention to body language and tone of voice. Just because an interaction is happening over the phone or through a chat thread doesn't mean your body language isn't at play. If you're tense and frustrated, that affects the vocabulary you might use and how your tone might sound over the phone. If you're relaxed and optimistic, you'll be more empathetic to the customer's problem, even through a channel like live chat.
Now that we've covered why body language is important in customer service, let's look at some best practices your team can use to improve it.
13 Customer Service Body Language Best Practices
1. Maintain eye contact when the customer is speaking.
Eye contact lets a customer know that you're listening to what they're saying. By maintaining it when the customer is speaking, it tells them that you're paying attention to their story and recognizing the significance of their roadblock.
Your facial expressions also play an important role in how a customer will react. If you show compassion and empathy in your reaction, they'll know that you care about their problem.
2. Practice good posture.
Posture is typically associated with confidence. The better posture you have, the more confident you appear to the customer. This makes it more likely that they'll trust your solutions, especially when an explanation is a bit more complicated.
3. Smile when it's appropriate.
You should always look for opportunities to smile with a customer. Not only does this show that you're happy to help, but also that you feel optimistic about the case. Having a pessimistic or uninterested attitude lets the customer know that your attention is elsewhere and not focused on solving the problem.
4. Avoid unnecessary movement.
Fidgeting or making unnecessary movements can be distracting and take the customer's attention away from the case. Or worse, they could suspect you're uninterested in the conversation and more focused on another task.
When speaking with a customer or listening to their response, stand still, and limit motion to just your hands. Hand gestures can help portray a point and show your enthusiasm for the case. Just make sure you don't overdo it, as excessive hand gestures can be distracting as well.
5. Keep an open stance.
Keeping an open stance may seem like a small detail, but it does make you appear more approachable. When you face the customer — rather than turning away — you seem more engaged in the conversation. It's also easier to maintain eye contact when you're facing the person that you're speaking to.
6. Be conscious of your tone.
Tone can dramatically influence how your message comes across. It's important to keep your tone in check, especially when a support case isn't going as planned. Being monotonic can make you seem uninterested while being too enthusiastic can make you seem insincere. Find a happy medium with a casual, professional tone that's friendly and agreeable.
7. Avoid crossing your arms.
In some cases, crossing your arms can seem intimidating. It can look like you're trying to persuade the customer rather than helping them find a solution. To avoid this, try to keep your arms by your sides if you're not using them to illustrate a point.
8. Speak loudly, clearly, and confidently.
The volume of your voice can also indicate how confident you are in your response. Be sure to speak clearly and avoid mumbling. Pay attention to your cadence as well, as talking too quickly can confuse customers and leave them with more questions than answers.
9. Remove distractions.
If you’re on a video call or instant chat, give the customer your full attention. Just as you wouldn’t scroll through your phone in person because it comes off as rude, the same goes for virtual interactions. You can’t focus on the customer’s needs if you are distracted by your phone or reading an article while on a call. Customers will pick up on your disinterest.
10. Make eye contact with your camera.
When on a video call, it’s normal to focus on the face on your screen, but that can actually give the appearance that you are looking down. Bringing your gaze up towards the camera will simulate making eye contact. Keep your focus there even when it’s not your turn to speak. This lets the participant know you are engaged and paying attention.
Practice doing this before your call so you can see where your gaze naturally drifts and work to correct it.
11. Don’t overdo the gestures.
Talking with your hands works well in person, but you’ll need to change your approach when on a video call.
“On stage or at the front of a meeting room, large gestures are fine, but on screen, you are more effective when you keep your gestures close to your body and within the frame of the camera, ” explains author and body language expert Carol Kinsey Gorman.
12. Be an active listener.
In addition to eye contact, there are other physical cues you can use during virtual meetings. Nod to show you understand or agree. Lean in a little closer when it makes sense.
When someone else is speaking, pause and allow them to finish their thought before interjecting. If you have questions while they are speaking or need clarification, write them down and ask once they've finished making their point, or there's a natural break in the conversation.
13. Remember that email and chat can also convey tone.
Without vocal or visual cues to help convey tone, messages sent over email and chat can easily be misinterpreted. Do not attempt to make a sarcastic joke. Avoid writing in all caps. When in doubt about language, choose the most polite option.
Use Body Language to Boost Positive Customer Interactions
Our body language often sends a message before we open our mouths to speak. Practicing the tips above will help ensure that every customer you interact with walks away with a positive impression.
This article was originally published in June 2019 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.