Article | 15 min read

20+ techniques to provide good phone customer service

What makes a good customer service call? Get our best phone customer service tips for increasing satisfaction and brand loyalty.

By Hannah Wren, Staff Writer

Published August 5, 2016
Last updated October 27, 2022

Even in the age of texts, DMs, and embedded messaging, customers still want the option to contact customer service over the phone. In fact, more than 90 percent of organizations surveyed in our Customer Experience Champions report provide phone support.

Customers increasingly prefer to interact with businesses over emerging channels like messaging and chat, yet they often want to hear a human voice for higher-stakes problems. Good phone customer service is important because it can:

  • Improve your brand’s reputation
  • Help you retain customers
  • Bring in additional customers through word-of-mouth
  • Increase customer lifetime value
  • Help you stand out from competitors

However, it’s important to make sure that phone methods aren’t the only way to provide customer service—ensure your business is also incorporating chatbots, help centers, and other types of convenient, digital support channels.

To increase customer satisfaction over the phone and sharpen your customer service phone skills, follow these best practices and tips.

What makes a good customer service call?

Good customer service call

There are three key components to a good customer service call, according to Josefina Madrigal, a phone support guru and former call center advocate at True Link, a fintech company offering financial support to vulnerable seniors, people with special needs, and those recovering from addiction.

The agent works to understand the problem

“A good customer service call starts with understanding the problem,” says Madrigal. This requires the agent to use active listening skills and have customer context handy so they can pull up relevant information quickly and understand the full story. With phone support software like Zendesk’s own, agents get insight into details such as contact information, account type, past support conversations, and order history to personalize solutions and ensure customers never have to repeat themselves

The agent can resolve the customer’s issue quickly

“If a call is under five minutes, that’s a good indicator that you were able to help the customer quickly,” says Madrigal. In fact, 60 percent of customers surveyed in our Customer Experience Trends Report said that speed was the most important factor of good customer service.

The customer is left happy at the end of the call

Following up a call with a customer satisfaction survey is one way to determine if a customer felt pleased with the call. But if a customer doesn’t reach out again with the same issue, that usually means they were happy with your support too, according to Madrigal. A good service recovery program can help rectify the situation in the case that a call doesn’t go as expected.

Phone customer service etiquette: 20 ways to make your customers happy over the phone

There are two levels to phone customer service: Your agents have to interact with customers directly, and the company has to provide the right tools and technology to equip the customer support team to do their job well. Success requires taking a few key steps at both levels.

Here are 20 ways to make your customers happy over the phone, plus some tips on what not to do.

1. Have context at your fingertips

2. Connect your phone system with other channels across the business

3. Answer calls promptly

4. Avoid technical jargon

5. Become data-centric

6. Invest in quality call center technology

7. Use active listening

8. Reduce background noise

9. Communicate hold time

10. Set up routing rules

11. Mirror your customer’s tone

12. Give customers a call-back option


13. Reflect and validate

14. Acknowledge the problem

15. Be patient

16. Keep customers updated

17. Know how to handle emotional callers

18. Prepare an escalation plan

19. Take notes as you go

20. Take breaks to prevent burnout

How conversational support can transform customer service

Learn more about providing seamless conversational service for your customers.

1. Have context at your fingertips

Having customer context handy is a key component of a good customer service call, according to Madrigal.

However, your agents aren’t magicians and can’t pull your customer’s information out of a hat. They need call center software that surfaces customer details automatically, such as their:

  • Purchase history
  • Email address, in case the agent needs to send a receipt or other email confirmation
  • Support history, so the agent can reference previous issues for a better-personalized call

Sometimes, a call might turn out to be from customers you already have a record with. When agents can check if this customer already has another user record in your system (e.g. from a ticket created via email), they can merge the phone and email-based user records.

Take it from 99designs, which uses Zendesk’s call center software. “Just based on a caller ID, an agent knows exactly who the client is and can pull up what they’re using our site for,” says Zach Kulas, Director of Global Support. “Agents can help the client find exactly what they’re looking for without asking, ‘What’s your email address so I can search our admin tool for you?’”

2. Connect your phone system with other channels across the business

High-performing customer service teams offer a range of channels, beyond email and the phone. But when call centers operate in silos, it creates an inconvenient customer experience that forces customers to repeat themselves, wait on hold, or be bounced between departments. It also slows down agents’ workflow.

Take this customer story from Harry’s—In addition to phone support (which comprises 50 percent of its ticket volume), Harry’s offers email, live chat, and social media support, and is constantly exploring how to segment its channel mix to meet customer needs.

The reason a customer contacts Harry’s is paramount to the customer service team and the company at large. Every ticket, regardless of channel, goes into a single, connected system and is tagged with a root cause. This enables Harry’s customer service team to prioritize tickets based on the root cause and ensures every ticket is routed to the right agent for the task.

When you’re able to connect all your support information under a single, connective layer of tissue, it also makes it easier for agents to work with other teams across the business since everyone has the same source of truth for customer information.

3. Answer calls promptly

To improve customer relations, make it a goal to answer calls as promptly as possible—no one wants to hear your hold music for 20 minutes. If customers wait for too long, they’re likely to give up. Be sure to answer within the first few rings.

To help customers get a hold of your team, you can consider adding more online options for them to get in touch with you. You can also allow customers to schedule a callback call or incorporate an IVR that enables customers to self-serve via the phone.

4. Avoid technical jargon

Refrain from using technical jargon while on a call with a customer—this isn’t easily understood by everyone. Jargon can make conversations less clear for the customer, and can sometimes be isolating and come off as condescending.

Keep language simple, clear, and straightforward. Avoiding technical jargon can help reduce frustration on the customer’s end.

5. Become data-centric

Keep phone support metrics

Successful phone customer service starts with defining measures of success. Ensure your call center technology makes the following metrics easy to pull and understand:

  • Average handle time
  • Missed and declined calls
  • Transfer rate
  • Abandoned in queue
  • Average speed of answer

Being aware of this data and what the data is telling you can help guide future calls and identify room for improvement.

6. Invest in quality call center technology

Top-performing support teams invest in quality customer service technology. At the most basic level, you’ll need call center technology that ensures optimal voice quality. Some technologies include:

  • VoIP providers: Follow their recommendations for optimal voice quality. For example, wired connections and headsets tend to provide better voice quality than wifi-connected or Bluetooth-connected headsets.
  • Contact center as a service (CCaaS): This is a cloud-based software solution for company contact centers. The CCaaS is expected to reach $10.8 billion globally by 2028, according to Research and Markets.
  • Once you choose the right call center software, it’s all about soft skills. “When you have good call center software, it’s easy for agents to learn the tech part, and then once you have that down, it’s all about using your people skills,” says Madrigal.

7. Use active listening

“Listening to customers to try to get to the root of the problem is one of the most important call center skills,” says Madrigal. “I listen to the customer and what they need help with and then repeat what they said to confirm that I understand.”

After the customer has given you their story, repeat it back to them to make sure you understood it correctly. If your connection is poor, you may want to ask the customer to spell out critical information (better than asking them to repeat it multiple times).

Additionally, don’t interrupt the customer when they’re venting about an issue.

8. Reduce background noise

Another tip for great phone customer service is to eliminate distracting noises in the background. This is especially important if you work from home and face the day-to-day noises that happen around the house. Ensure you’re in a private space in a quiet area.

Be sure to avoid going on speakerphone because it can pick up background noises.

9. Communicate hold time

Before you put someone on hold (to look something up or ask a question, for example), get confirmation that it’s OK to do so. As a general rule, you shouldn’t leave a customer on hold for more than two minutes without checking back, even if it’s to say it may take longer.

If you already anticipate that it will be a longer hold, let the customer know ahead of time. Offer to call them back if they prefer, or consider giving them the option to hang up and continue the conversation via a digital channel if waiting will be inconvenient for them.

Communicate hold time, baton handoff

10. Set up routing rules

Make sure you set up routing rules so you and your team are on the same page about transferring calls. Zendesk’s intelligent routing allows you to route calls to specific groups or to set a specific default.

Be sure not to transfer the calls too often. It’s better to be 100 percent sure that the person you’re transferring the customer to will have the correct information.

Additionally, avoid giving answers you don’t have—transferring the call can quickly get the customer to someone who does have an answer.

11. Mirror your customer’s tone

When chatting with a customer, aim to mirror their emotion and tone. However, this doesn’t mean yelling back if a customer starts yelling at you. Sometimes, an initial increase in intensity or volume may aid the interaction at the beginning—but be sure to quickly bring it back down. Strive to be yourself, and create quick rapport with the way you mirror.

Madrigal recommends trying to sound enthusiastic, but not in a way that doesn’t feel authentic. “Just try not to use a monotone voice,” she says.

Don’t: Lean on scripts—doing so can make you sound robotic and won’t always be the best way to guide a conversation.

12. Give customers a callback option

Sometimes, the volume of customers calling and the bandwidth to get to each customer promptly is out of your control. In this case, it’s best to offer customers a callback option.

Customer callback is sometimes known as a virtual hold—this helps reduce the number of customers who are on hold and gives customers the option to hang up the phone and have the agent call them back once available.

13. Reflect and validate

When a customer is frustrated or upset, it may be harder for them to absorb what you’re saying—even when it’s the right answer or helpful information.

First, listen to help them calm down. After saying all they need to say, they’re more likely to be receptive to hearing the solution you offer, even when it’s not what they’d like to hear.

14. Acknowledge the problem

Let customers know that you fully understand their issue and the reason behind the call—this helps ensure that they feel heard and demonstrates that you’re taking ownership of the issue that caused the customer inconvenience or frustration.

By acknowledging the problem and showing empathy, you can help make the customers feel like they can trust you with their issues since you understand them.

15. Be patient

Give the customer the time they need when asking them to provide you with more information. Being patient is also useful when a customer is calling to complain. Allow them to get their story out; interrupting will only make them more upset.

As Madrigal pointed out, it’s important to let customers vent if they need to, even if you understand the issue right away. People often need to finish expressing themselves before they’re ready to proceed.

16. Keep customers updated

Keep customers updated

Keeping customers updated with information is also an important aspect of phone customer service. This could mean keeping customers in the loop about when they should expect:

  • A follow-up
  • Updates about a new campaign or product
  • Shipments
  • Additional information via email or other channels

Customers appreciate knowing when they’ll receive something and this helps eliminate the back and forth that can occur when they ask for an update themselves.

17. Know how to handle emotional callers

Another helpful phone customer service tip is to know what to do if you experience an angry or upset customer. Below are some helpful tips you can use if you come across this situation:

  • Stay courteous and calm
  • Let the customer vent
  • Keep the tone of your voice in check
  • Stay neutral and avoid reacting
  • Don’t be afraid to say no

During these emotional calls, it’s essential to not take things angry customers say personally.

18. Prepare an escalation plan

If following the tips above didn’t remedy an emotional or angry customer, it’s important to know who you can escalate calls to if the caller asks to speak to a manager.

If you’re a support manager, expect that you’ll need to do this sometimes, and at inopportune times. If no manager is available, apologize and escalate the ticket to a superior with a summary of the issue.

19. Take notes as you go

Note-taking will help you capture the details of the customer’s issue and decrease the amount of time you spend wrapping up after the call. Solid notes can also provide you with information you’ll need if the customer plans to follow up, such as timelines that were discussed during the call.

Additionally, with the right call center software, agents can share notes.

20. Take breaks to prevent burnout

Tips to prevent burnout

Many agents can experience call center burnout. However, there are steps agents and their managers can take to keep themselves and their teams motivated.

To help reduce burnout, Madrigal takes breaks in between calls. She says this is especially important after speaking with an angry customer: “If you come out of a heated call, make sure you take time to gather yourself and then go back when you’re ready.”

Other ways you can help reduce stress and burnout from customer service calls are to:

  • Provide support for employees without micromanaging
  • Invest in a better call center technology
  • Address unfair treatment
  • Lighten unmanageable workloads
  • Improve communication and clarify roles

Phone customer service: Things to avoid

Many factors go into proper phone customer service etiquette, including some things you shouldn’t say or do. Here are some tips on what not to do when leading phone calls with customers:

  • Downplaying customer concerns

    In phone customer service, never downplay a concern a customer has. Every concern should be treated fairly. Even if the customer is wrong, disregarding their feelings can come off as harsh and can exacerbate the issue. Ensure you stay as calm as possible and help them find a solution no matter the concern.

  • Reading from scripts

    Don’t rely on scripts when leading your customer calls—this can come off as robotic and ingenuine. Prioritize making each customer call a unique experience tailored specifically to the person you’re chatting with.

  • Interrupting the customer

    Nothing is more important than practicing patience with the customer you’re speaking with. Interrupting while a customer speaks shows that you’re not listening or interested in the customer’s concern. Be sure you wait until they’re finished speaking before responding.

  • Overpromising or giving wrong information

    In good phone customer service, it’s important to give only answers that you know for a fact. Overpromising or giving wrong information can break trust with the customer and reduce customer satisfaction.

Why phone calls shouldn’t be your customer service team’s only calling

It’s important to remember that following these steps and tips can help you not only provide strong customer service but also build customer loyalty and retention. You should also keep in mind that your business can’t rely solely on phone calls when it comes to customer service—you should implement a variety of strategies for a well-rounded customer experience.

Zendesk can set your business up for success with an omnichannel customer service solution that’s easy to use and scales with your business. Level up customer satisfaction with streamlined software that provides support anywhere, anytime.

How conversational support can transform customer service

Learn more about providing seamless conversational service for your customers.

How conversational support can transform customer service

Learn more about providing seamless conversational service for your customers.

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