Courtesy can mean a lot. It goes a long way in day-to-day life — and even longer in the context of customer service.
Customer courtesy can be the difference between winning new business for free and losing current business altogether. It's something that needs to be instilled in your support reps' training and daily operations.
Here, I'll provide a picture of why courtesy is so important in customer service and offer some strategies reps can and should use to improve their customer courtesy.
Customer courtesy is the sum of various behaviors a company's support reps engage in to show customers they're valued and being heard. The hope is that demonstrating customer courtesy will help a business build customer loyalty and facilitate free promotion through positive word of mouth.
It can be tough to stay patient with certain customers — anyone who has ever worked in customer support can attest to that. That's why every service rep at your company must be equipped with the skills and strategies necessary to remain composed and courteous throughout every interaction they take part in.
By being courteous to customers, reps can create a better customer experience and increase customer delight. This, in turn, will positively impact the bottom line at your company. And the data shows it, too. According to Zendesk’s research, 75% of customers will buy more from a company that offers a good customer experience.
Why Is Courtesy Important in Customer Service?
Your customer service reps are on the front lines when it comes to shaping the public's perception of your business. Their demeanor speaks to the character of your company. If you want to project a positive image and retain customers, your reps need to be patient, easygoing, and — above all else — courteous.
Remember, no one wants to have to call customer support. The fact that someone is getting in touch with you means they're dealing with a problem. If you can help them work through their issues with patience and compassion, you can build trust between them and your business. And that trust will translate to referrals, recommendations, and a glowing brand image.
How? Customer courtesy often translates to loyalty, and loyalty often translates to new business. Customers — like anyone else — want to be treated with respect and decency. If your support department's operations consistently deliver on those principles, your customers will know that you value their business and that you appreciate them individually.
If they can expect that kind of attention, they'll see your business in a positive light.
They'll stick with you and, more importantly, speak highly of you. Excellent customer support is one of the best ways to turn a customer into an evangelist — a voice that consistently vouches for and promotes your business.
Word of mouth is still one of the most powerful resources for business promotion, and outstanding customer service can facilitate it. In fact, 81% of marketers said that exceptional service was the best way to generate positive word of mouth.
Customer courtesy is the bedrock for all of that. If your reps aren't careful, compassionate, and calm with customers, they won't be able to provide service that customers will be excited about — not enough to talk your business up to their friends, at least.
How Reps Can Improve Customer Courtesy
- Ask the customer how they would like to be referred to.
- Practice active listening.
- Commit to every problem — even the ones you solve all the time.
- Use personal pronouns.
- Be empathetic.
- Walk the customer through what you’re doing.
- Escalate the issue to the right party.
- Express some gratitude and offer more help when you sign off.
1. Ask the customer how they would like to be referred to.
There's a personal element to customer courtesy that you always have to account for. Let the customer know they're talking to a real person with a real interest in solving their problem.
Defaulting to calling them "sir" or "ma'am" can seem cold or calculated. Have them tell you how they want to be addressed. Doing so can add another dimension of authenticity and courtesy to your service interaction.
After, be sure to use that mode of address during the interaction. If the customer gives you their name but you don’t use it throughout the interaction, it’ll seem like you asked for no reason.
2. Practice active listening.
Hashing out a problem with a customer is a two-way street. If you want them to listen to you, you have to listen to them. It's crucial to learn and refine your active listening skills. Gently interject with short phrases, like "yes," "okay," "I see," or "go on" to facilitate the conversation. Let the customer finish speaking before troubleshooting. Ask questions, and rephrase their explanations of their issues in your own words.
Customer courtesy doesn't mean much if the customer doesn't feel like they're being heard. Active listening shows you're doing just that. It lets them know you care about them and the concern at hand.
3. Commit to every problem — even the ones you solve all the time.
As a support rep, it's almost a given that more than one customer will come to you with the same issue. Sometimes, you're so used to addressing that repeat issue that you can seem jaded when solving it for customers. It's tempting to take your foot off the gas in these cases, but you can't. You have to treat every issue with urgency and compassion — even the ones that come up all the time.
Customer courtesy occurs on a personal level, and you have to treat every customer accordingly. Give them a full, personalized support experience that they'll want to talk about — no matter what problem they come to you with.
4. Use personal pronouns.
Just like asking a customer how they want to be addressed, using personal pronouns will increase the personal element of customer courtesy. Use terms like "I" and "you" — avoid the term "we." Saying "we" in reference to the company as a whole comes off as impersonal and callous.
Show you have an interest in the customer as a person — not a revenue source. Customer courtesy is, in large part, a conversational art. Very few people refer to themselves as "we" in everyday conversation.
5. Be empathetic.
Chances are that you’ve dealt with an issue similar to your customer’s in the past. You may have needed to return an item and reach out to a company’s service team, or you may have needed to troubleshoot an issue with your order. Regardless of the industry you work in, you can do wonders to increase your courteousness by practicing empathy and seeing the issue from your customers’ perspective.
Even if the customer acts rudely toward you, you’ll be able to respond in a calm and self-possessed manner by understanding where they may be coming from. If customers exhibit poor behavior, it’s not necessary to excuse them — everyone needs to act courteously during a customer service interaction. But it is important to understand them.
And remember, if the customer is acting so poorly that it’s difficult to be courteous, feel free to transfer them to your manager when possible.
6. Walk the customer through what you’re doing.
If you’re on a call with a customer, let them know that you’re actively solving the issue by walking them through what you’re doing.
Don’t let there be silence between you and the customer, unless there’s nothing to say. If you’re trying to access their order history, you could say, “I’m accessing your orders right now.” Something so simple can go a long way in making the customer feel like you’re taking proactive steps to find the issue and resolve it.
7. Escalate the issue to the right party.
No one wants to hear that there’s nothing you can do for their issue. If it’s truly not within your power to fix the customer’s problem, be sure to escalate the issue to a party who can. This simple act of courtesy will take the customer service experience from serviceable to delightful.
It will show that you’re committed to helping the customer solve their problem, and that you’ve identified the right person who’ll be able to help them.
8. Express some gratitude and offer more help when you sign off.
In the interest of customer courtesy, your goodbye should be some combination of an expression of gratitude and an offer for further assistance — something like, "I'm happy I could help you out today, [name]. Is there anything else I can assist you with?" Let them know you're grateful for their business and always available for them should they need more help.
Customer courtesy will make all the difference.
Customers want to know they're valued — not just valuable. And the key to customer courtesy is conveying that you believe that. Demonstrate that you care through your conduct. Go the extra mile to make their experience that much easier.
Editor's note: This post was originally published in April 2020 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.