Customer Service Skills: Tone

Authored by Kayla Brehm

Published on October 23, 2014

Your car breaks down as you drive home. When the mechanic arrives, they hop out of their car, saunter up to you, and say “Sorry about that bro. Bad luck.”  You’re late for date night, frustrated at the unexpected delay, and now a mechanic is talking to you like you’re one of their buddies watching football on Sunday. Not good.

New scenario: Your car breaks down. You take it in to get fixed and the mechanic (same one from before) bounds up to you and embraces you when you stop in for an update. Smiling broadly, they announce that you’re customer 1,000,000 and you’re getting all of your repair work done for free. Very good.

Same person, same tone, totally different emotions. The difference? The context. According to customer service software review website Software Advice:

There is a basic human component to it: when we’re happy, we want to connect with people. If an agent is formal when we’re happy, it feels distant. Conversely, when we’re being denied something we want, formality creates some much needed distance.

55% of communication comes from body language, 38% comes from tonality, and the remaining 7% is the actual words. In most customer service interactions, body language is removed, so your tone is 83% of how the customer will go away feeling from the interaction.

The question now, is how to balance being friendly and appropriately casual during positive interactions, and formal during negative interactions in the best way possible.

Things to avoid:

Things to do (depending on interaction):

Naturally, different businesses have different requirements. A financial services company may want to stay formal, regardless of the interaction. On the other hand, a video game company can establish a more casual baseline during customer interactions.

The key consideration for customer service leads when hiring is the emotional intelligence (EQ) of the person they’re considering for the role. A company should establish guidelines for how formal to be during a bad interaction, and how casual to be during a good one, and hire people with the social acumen to apply the correct guidelines to different situations.

Tone is everything in customer service, and developing two voices is key to maximizing customer satisfaction. Have a great day!

Tell us a story about when tone has affected a customer service interaction you’ve had! Let us know in the comments or @helpdotcom.

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