Why customer courtesy matters (and 8 tips on how to nail it)
What compassionate customer service can do for your business.
Published September 28, 2020
Last updated March 14, 2022
When someone tells you they spent hours on the phone with customer service, it’s usually a horror story. We all know the tropes of the genre—torturously long waits, endless transfers, inescapable hold music…
But at Zendesk, some of our support agents take pride in their longest customer calls.
“We have one advocate who boasted that they spent two hours talking about Star Wars with an admin,” says Holly Vande Walle, Director of Training and Quality Assurance at Zendesk Global Customer Advocacy. “That admin is now a promoter for life because they had such a great experience with us.”
Your agents don’t necessarily need to have strong opinions about whether or not Han shot first—after all, some of them may be Trekkies. But they do need to have a willingness to engage customers in real conversation, as opposed to an incentive to rush through calls as quickly as possible.
If you’re serious about customer courtesy, you and your support team should offer more than table stakes customer service. Instead of the bare minimum, build a culture of going above and beyond for customers to keep them happy.
What is the definition of customer courtesy?
Customer courtesy refers to all of the words and actions that customer service reps use to show their customers recognition and respect.
Nailing customer courtesy isn’t about perfecting any one thing, but a whole bunch of things. Tone of voice, word choice, helpfulness, enthusiasm, respect—they’re all part of it.
Being friendly is easy when you’re talking to a friendly customer. It’s harder to keep that bubbly energy up when the person on the other end of the line is annoyed, angry, or aggressive. But that’s when it’s needed most: If a customer is frustrated from the start, it takes a lot of extra soothing to win them over.
The challenge of customer courtesy is constantly reminding yourself that the customer is always right—even when they’re wrong.
8 customer courtesy tips for support reps
1. Connect customers with agents ASAP
Have you ever called a business and gotten stuck on an automated phone menu? You’re just trying to connect with a human being, but the pre-recorded menu keeps directing you to more recordings.
Phone trees are good for handling massive volumes, but you don’t want customers listening to a recording forever. Set up your menu to connect customers with agents as quickly as possible. If staffing is the issue, see if you can have more reps on deck at peak hours.
A key component of courtesy is respecting a customer’s time. If you can’t handle a ticket right away, politely provide them with a reasonable timeline. Tell people on the phone how long they’ll have to hold, and respond to support emails and messages with a commitment to follow up within a certain time frame.
2. Start on a friendly note
You only get one chance to make a first impression. Give a cheerful “Good morning” or “Good afternoon” before introducing yourself to the caller. Use similar courtesy phrases in written communication channels—“I hope this email finds you well” or “How’s your day going?”
Unless the customer seems like they’re in a hurry, don’t be afraid to ask how they’re doing and engage in a little small talk. Instead of following call scripts to the letter, use them more as guidelines for fostering casual, natural conversations.
3. Don’t hide behind “we”
Use the pronouns “you” and “I” when talking to a customer. It sounds a lot more personal than saying “we” to refer to your whole company.
Not to mention, “we” can turn into a crutch for deflecting blame. Don’t say, “We’re sorry” when a customer shares a complaint—say, “I’m sorry.” People appreciate accountability (even if it’s not really your fault).
4. Give “verbal nods” when the customer is talking
Since you can’t make eye contact over the phone, do the next best thing: Remember to “verbally nod” when a customer is explaining an issue. The occasional “yeah,” “okay,” or “uh-huh” lets people know that you’re actively listening to them.
In live chat, a simple “got it” or “I see” serves the same purpose, ensuring customers that you’re following along.
Try to refrain from interjecting with a long-winded response, even if you think you know the solution right away. Wait until the caller has clearly finished talking to respond in full.
5. Show compassion
It’s easy to get bored when a customer tells you about issues that you handle all the time. But to them, the problem is important.
Step into their frame of mind and let them know you understand the seriousness of the problem. Validate customers’ complaints with phrases like:
- “You’re absolutely right.”
- “So sorry you had to deal with that.”
- “Thank you so much for highlighting this issue; I’ll work to get it resolved right away.”
It doesn’t matter how angry a customer is. You need to show every caller empathy to build their trust in your brand and service.
6. Always ask for confirmation
Customers hate having to repeat themselves. Keep the conversation smooth by checking in with them to make sure you understand their problem.
After they’ve explained their problem, tell them, “I just want to be absolutely sure that I fully understand what I’m hearing—you’re saying . . . ” At that point, describe their problem back to them. Invite them to correct you if you’ve mischaracterized what they said.
7. Let them know you’re on the case
Customers appreciate a speedy resolution to their issue. Match their sense of urgency with reassuring courtesy phrases like, “I’ll get on that right away.”
When solving a problem for someone over the phone, don’t allow too much dead air to pass while you’re working. Explain what you’re doing while you’re doing it. For example, you might say, “I’m currently pulling up your account details.”
Keep customers in the loop about each step you’re taking. Even if the issue is challenging, they’ll feel more confident that you can solve the problem if you share your approach.
8. End on a high note
You don’t want it to seem like you’re in a hurry to get off the line. Always ask, “Is there anything else I can help you with?” before ending the conversation.
If everything’s been resolved to their satisfaction, end on a cheerful note. Consider closing by showing your gratitude and saying, “Thanks so much for your patience today!”
Why is courtesy important in customer service?
Plain and simple, a lack of customer courtesy can wreak havoc on your retention rates.
A 2018 Zendesk study found that:
- 58% of consumers who had bad customer service experiences with a company stopped buying from them, and 52% switched to a competitor
- 48% of customers said they were unlikely to consider that company when making future purchases
- Over 50% of consumers said they told their friends, family, coworkers, and other contacts about bad service experiences (up from 40% in 2013)
As you can see, the damage done from negative interactions goes far beyond one lost customer. Consumers have become more likely to share how they feel about poor support experiences. And with the Internet, they have a massive platform to air their grievances.
At the same time, more customers are also sharing stories of good customer service interactions. In 2018, a full two-thirds of customers said they recommended products or services after a positive service interaction. Five years prior, just half of customers were spreading the good news.
Providing courteous customer service can also change buyer behavior for the better. Over half of all customers who had good service experiences said they purchased or used more products and services from the same company.
Subpar support can cost you a customer, and possibly everyone else they tell about their awful experience. But notable examples of customer courtesy can increase a customer’s loyalty, make them likely to buy more, and inspire them to brag to others about your company.
Commit to uncommonly courteous customer service
A little common courtesy goes a long way, and a little uncommon courtesy can go even farther. Whether it’s a surprisingly long and friendly customer conversation or a shockingly fast and thorough resolution, a great customer service interaction stands out. Customers notice when you go the extra mile—and they often tell others.