12 Tips for Building Rapport with Customers

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Swetha Amaresan
Swetha Amaresan



After being on the phone all day every day with customers, it can start to get monotonous. Every conversation can feel repetitive and uninteresting, which can lead to overall job dissatisfaction.

building rapport customers: image shows two people talking on their phones

No one wants to feel bored at their workplace. However, when in a customer-facing role, you have the opportunity to engage in fascinating discussions with new individuals.

To make the most of these experiences, here are some helpful tricks for building rapport with your customers.

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12 Tips for Building Rapport with Customers

1. Learn to pronounce their name and address them correctly.

First of all, the worst thing you can do, right off the bat, is mispronounce a customer's name. Mistakes happen, and most people will be understanding of that, but it's best to avoid this scenario whenever possible. If you know you're going to be calling a customer who has a trickier name, ask a coworker or manager if they've spoken with that person before. If not, try to have them introduce themselves first.

After that point, it's your responsibility to pronounce their name correctly. If you couldn't hear their name properly when they first state it, have them repeat it by saying something like, "I'm sorry, I didn't catch that. Could you repeat your name for me?" Most customers will appreciate your effort to address them properly, and this will set off your rapport on a positive note.

2. Be mindful of pronouns.

Going along with the theme of names, some may not be as obvious when it comes to identifying proper pronouns. You want to always use the appropriate pronouns when speaking with a customer. To avoid any awkwardness or confusion, also leave it to the customers to address their pronouns themselves.

If they don't state their pronouns to you, and you're still unsure, it's best to completely avoid using pronouns at all. When speaking directly to someone, it's unlikely you'll ever need to use their pronouns. This is merely an added measure to show respect for an individual and how they personally identify.

3. Break the ice by introducing yourself.

Rather than jumping right in to discuss the problem your customer is having, why not start by spending some time to get to know each other? Icebreakers aren't just for summer camp and first days of class; they can also benefit your interaction with a customer. The best way to do so is by telling them who you are beyond your role as their support rep.

If the customer's problem ends up being a long-term occurrence, you'll want to develop a relationship with the customer. By having a foundation built right from the start, your customer will feel more comfortable working with you -- and your company -- again in the future.

4. Be empathetic to the problem(s) they are facing.

Whether your call is proactive or reactive, the majority of these customers are on the phone with you because they've faced some sort of problem with the product or service your company provides. So, be prepared to use customer empathy for whatever issue they are having.

When you've spoken with tens of customers about the same issue, it can be easy to wave it off as something normal or irrelevant. Or, when the issue seems paltry, you may get defensive. However, treat every customer interaction as anew and unrelated to any past ones. By showing that you are empathetic to the struggles they are facing -- no matter how seemingly large or small -- you can ensure a more positive conversation moving forward.

5. Actively listen and respond off-script.

On many customer calls, representatives might be used to reading from a pre-written script. These scripts are beneficial when your mind goes blank or if you're unsure of wording. Otherwise, though, they should be out of sight and out of mind.

Customers can clearly tell when you're speaking from a script. It makes you sound robotic and apathetic -- two traits you never want to associate with customer service or support. Put away the script and actually listen to what the customer is saying. Wait until they're done speaking and respond in your own words. Listen and reply as if that customer were your friend explaining a problem to you. This one action can go a long way in making your conversation more welcoming and authentic.

6. Allow angry customers to vent freely.

It's normal as a customer support rep to want to have a response to everything a customer says. In the middle of a long-winded rant, you might have the urge to cut them off and dive into finding a solution. However, sometimes, it's best to take a step back and simply let them go off.

Consider when you've had the urge to simply vent to a friend. You're often not looking for a clear solution and you're definitely not looking for someone to prove you wrong or make you see the opposing point-of-view. The same can go for a customer. Some angry customers just need to let it all out, so let them do so by simply listening. When they're finally done, you can begin diffusing your angry customer.

7. Restate their problem in your own words.

There's nothing more infuriating than when you give a long-winded, exasperated explanation of your problem to a customer support representative, just to have them respond immediately with, "I understand, but…" and a defensive reasoning that implies they actually don't understand.

Instead, after actively listening to the customer's product or service complaint, try to restate the problem in your own words. For example, a good way to do so is by saying, "So, from what I'm hearing, your main problem is that your system is working at half-speed, which makes it difficult to open multiple applications at once. Is this correct?" This gives the customer the chance to either correct you -- which makes the situation clearer in your mind -- or confirm that what you comprehended was spot-on.

8. Mirror the customer.

Positivity is usually key on a customer call. However, it can be infuriating to be dealing with someone who is excruciatingly sunny. Imagine if you're having a bad day and feeling very frustrated when an issue pops up with your new product. The last thing you want is to be on the phone with a customer support rep who is incredibly joyous and keeps reminding you to see the best in the situation.

Rather, take the opportunity to mirror your customer. If they seem to be in a good mood, then that's great -- you too can crack jokes and be positive. However, if they seem to be very upset or angry, veer towards being sympathetic and understanding. You can still be friendly while matching their mood.

9. Be genuine.

When you are speaking on the phone with the clearly-defined relationship of support rep and customer, it can be easy to fall into a pattern of being a bit inauthentic. You want to empathize with your customers, but you've heard the same problem three times today. Thus, you put on a face of being empathetic, while you're internally screaming.

It's hard to be told to be genuine, as that already seems like a recipe for dishonesty. However, this is a tip to internalize for any profession. You can be yourself in the position; after all, although you represent your company, it is still you and only you who is interacting with that customer. And that is pretty special. Just remember to be honest with yourself and your customers; no customer support rep is perfect, and it's okay to make mistakes, as long as you have the best intentions.

10. Engage in personal conversation -- to an extent.

Sometimes, you end up speaking with a customer with whom you really connect. During your icebreakers, or even during your rapport, you might end up learning a lot about each other on a personal level, which can really benefit your overall employee-customer relationship and make for a more positive experience.

However, at the end of the day, you have to remember that your customer is strictly a customer. As much as you might enjoy interacting with them, you should never cross that line. If a situation emerges in which you want to start a personal friendship with a client, make sure to speak with your manager first about protocol and ensure that future conversations occur outside of the workplace.

11. Word phrases in a positive light.

You may frequently find yourself in the position of having to tell customers something they don't want to hear. Perhaps, you don't know the answer to their complicated question. Or, you simply do not have an appropriate level of expertise to handle the issue at hand. Whatever it may be, this can often leave you feeling panicked.

It's easy to get flustered and quickly say, "I'm not sure" or "I'm sorry, I'm new." These responses have a negative connotation and can leave the customer wondering why the person supposedly dedicated to "supporting" them doesn't seem to have the answers. However, phrasing is key. Turn those phrases around by saying, "I'm not sure of the answer, but I will find out now and get right back to you" or "I'm going to check in with a coworker on the best way to approach this problem." You're basically saying the same thing, but these phrases come across as more professional and positive and less concerning to customers.

12. Ask for help if you're unsure of how to respond.

Last of all, if you truly don't know how to answer a customer's question or solve their problem, don't feel that the weight of that issue is on your shoulders. You are on a team for a reason. Customer support is rooted in collaboration, so make the most of that opportunity.

If you're going to tell a customer, "I don't know, but I'll find out," then you should actually find out. It's okay to not have all the answers, but it's definitely not okay to not try your best to find the answers using the resources at hand. The best employees know when to ask for help, which helps them learn and grow better.

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