10 Customer Service Commandments to Rule Them All

Sophia Bernazzani
Sophia Bernazzani



There's nothing more frustrating than a poor customer service experience.

Whether a customer has to deal with a frustrating phone tree, an incomprehensible bot, or repeating their personal information five times to five different agents, you might think it's hard to provide a great experience.

But it's actually not that complicated.

In fact, the simple power of words -- and attitude -- can make the difference when it comes to making, and keeping, your customers happy.→ Free Download: 61 Templates to Help You Put the Customer First [Download Now]

Here at HubSpot, we believe strongly in the power of words to make our customers happy. And because customer satisfaction is a measure of how products and services supplied by a company meet or surpass customer expectations, our team developed 10 rules to follow when helping customers. These rules are a great guide for any business that makes it the mission to provide great customer service, every time.

1. Listen to your customers.

Listening is the first step to understanding. Usually, everyone calling or emailing your customer service team has a problem to report -- and if you don't listen, you'll never find out the customer's problem.

Some customers might simply be frustrated and want to know that their complaint is being heard, and others might have issues you can quickly solve for them. Allow them to vent, empathize with their frustration and let them know you heard what they said. Once any emotion subsides, they'll be in a more receptive mood for advice, and you'll be able to guide them toward a resolution.

Research has shown that you feel positive about a conversation when you think the other party is engaged in active listening, and ideally, every conversation with a customer has a positive takeaway. So make sure to take the time to demonstrate that you're actively listening on calls, emails, and chat conversations when you can't show your customers. Respond to statements and questions to demonstrate your full comprehension, and repeat back what customers have said to make sure you both understand each other.

2. Teach customers how to solve problems.

Knowledge is power, and teaching customers how to solve their own problems and succeed empowers them and gives them a sense of control. Here at HubSpot, we help even the smallest of businesses take control of their website and transform operations -- and no matter who your customers are, you can teach them something new that will prove your value to them and make them appreciative.

If you teach customers how to break down and succeed doing a complicated process, instead of a frustrated customer, you've put them on the path toward satisfaction and better outcomes. And once they understand how to accomplish a task without help, they won't have to reach out as often for 1:1 assistance -- saving them time and helping them be more successful.

You can take the first step in providing customer self-service by adding a knowledge base to your website. A knowledge base is a series of customer-facing support articles that help customers troubleshoot common issues and roadblocks. That way, they won't even have to call or email your support team when they encounter a minor problem. They can start with your knowledge base then ping your support team if they're still stuck or confused. 

3. Pay attention to customer needs, goals, and concerns.

An important aspect of active listening is paying attention. Multitasking is great for productivity, but never forget -- the customer you're dealing with is your top priority.

If you miss the details of a problem and the customer needs to repeat themselves, they will feel ignored. Listening isn't just about hearing what they say -- it's about hearing all of what they have to say, too.

It's almost impossible for people to truly multitask -- doing several things at once usually just means you're doing them inefficiently. Instead, block off time on your calendar each day you can devote to completing tasks outside the customer service phone or email queue. That way, you can remain fully focused and attentive when you hop on a call or a chat with your customer.

4. Ask the right troubleshooting questions.

Getting to the bottom of the problem requires some digging. And sometimes, a customer will work themselves down a difficult path and only call about a solution for the immediate problem they see.

Your job is to find out what their larger goal is, and you can often make their life easier. They may be calling about a small problem today, but what they might really need is more support understanding how to use your entire service or software. Dig deep and ask questions to get a big picture view of the issue and a more comprehensive solution can present itself -- your customer will appreciate you taking the time and effort to help them troubleshoot on their own down the line.

5. Work towards long-term solutions, instead of short-term fixes.

We're here to help customers on their timetable -- so don't rush a customer off the phone.

You might think that you'll achieve better outcomes if you handle as many customer cases as possible in any given day -- which requires speedy and efficient handling of each phone call or email. But you should be taking extra steps -- and additional time -- to thoroughly and completely troubleshoot customer issues -- and give them more guidance and advice for success with your product.

Companies that invest in customers' success achieve better outcomes -- including happier customers and higher revenues. So when you're on a call, take your time, listen well, and be polite -- it might take longer, but you'll likely achieve better outcomes for your customer, your team, and your company.

6. Apologize and take ownership of problems.

Apologizing and taking ownership of a problem is one of the fastest ways to defuse an emotional situation -- even if it's not your fault.

You don't have to assume responsibility to truly apologize. Saying you're sorry any technical issue or general screw-up occurred doesn't mean it's your fault -- it says how you feel about what happened.

Remember, people want their feelings to be heard, understood, and respected. Apologizing for tough customer problems -- even if it's not your fault -- will help customers feel empathy and more willingness to collaborate on troubleshooting.

One of my favorite quotes isn't strictly about customer service, but it bears remembering:

"I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."

Maya Angelou said that -- and it makes sense, right? Don't apologize to a customer because it's your fault -- apologize so they feel better about a bad situation so you can work together to resolve it.

7. Focus on solutions, not on blame.

Whether it's a miscommunication, a system outage, or a misprinted invoice, mistakes can happen on your company's end, and it's important to apologize in those moments.

But when you're apologizing -- or explaining any backend issues that led to a customer problem -- never, ever blame another department or another member of your team. Instead, focus on finding a solution that will work to solve the problem -- and prevent it from happening again. It will make you -- and your organization -- appear more professional and reliable.

8. Put yourself in the customer's shoes.

Get to know the customer's business -- sometimes looking at the problem from a different angle will reveal a solution.

Empathy can go a long way, and finding out how the customer uses your products to achieve their goals might reveal a solution or new idea. Plus, it will make the customer feel appreciated and taken seriously when you respond to questions and queries with context and background information about their particular business and needs.

9. Treat free product users as customers.

The modern customer has a multitude of options when it comes to choosing products -- whether free or paid. It's easier than ever to conduct product research, sign up and subscribe, and start being a user -- without ever having to talk to a member of a sales team.

It's also much easier to stop being a customer -- with no-credit-card-required trials and easy-to-use mobile apps. Customers can cancel subscriptions the moment they wish to, which is why it's so important to assist free users as much as possible to show them the value of your product or service -- and, eventually, show them the benefits of upgrading.

The customer service your organization offers could convince them that your product is indispensable to their business -- so make sure you put the muscle behind all of your customer calls. When your customer succeeds, your organization succeeds, and teaching them how to use your free product offerings can help them achieve great outcomes -- and might make them upgrade.

10. Laugh, smile and have fun.

Pay attention to signals from your customer, and have fun with them if it seems appropriate. Share jokes, laugh, and match their tone and style to make them feel comfortable and at ease. If they're smiling when they hang up, you've done a good job.

For customer service rules to live by, read these customer support tips.

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