It’s very common for new workers to feel anxious or uncomfortable when stepping into a customer service role. Luckily, with practice and perspective, anyone can up their customer service game! Here are some tips to help you get started. 

Always practice professionalism 

One tricky thing about customer service is that it requires you to be “on” all the time. When you’re working with customers, being friendly and helpful is literally part of your job. If you’re having a good day and your customers are kind, that might be easy. But no matter how much you like your job, there will be times when having to be “on” will feel tiring, nerve-wracking, or otherwise difficult to maintain. 

Try to think about friendliness and helpfulness as professional skills. You won’t feel like interacting with customers all the time, and talking to them might make you nervous, but if you treat tricky interactions like any other work responsibility and turn frustrating customer complaints into problem-solving puzzles, that can take some of the pressure off. Customer service is social, so it can feel personal, but at the end of the day it’s a professional matter. Put your best foot forward, but remember that if a customer gets upset or has a question you can’t answer, that isn’t a personal failing on your part.  

Techniques for customer service excellence

Below are 4 customer service strategies to try if you’re unsure about where to start. Remember, customer service isn’t something you’ll learn overnight, but the longer you keep at it the more natural it’ll start to feel.  

  1. SSSSet the tone. These are the “four S-es” of customer service that help you start every interaction off on the right foot. The first S is smile: make eye contact and greet the customer with a smile (or a friendly nod if you’re wearing a mask). The second S is speak first: say hello or verbally acknowledge them in some way as soon as you see them. The third S is stay positive: always be friendly and upbeat. And finally, the fourth S is seek solutions. Be prepared to answer questions a customer might have. If they ask a question you can’t answer, don’t leave them hanging. Let them know that you will find a manager or someone else who can help. 

  1. Active listening. When talking with a customer, give them 100% of your attention. Let them finish before jumping in and try to focus on what they’re saying, not just how you’ll respond. When you do respond, start by reflecting back what they said. Try incorporating phrases like "It sounds like..." "I understand..." and "I hear you saying..." into your responses. 

  1. Reframe. Reframing means taking a negative statement and spinning it into something positive. Let's say you work at a coffee shop. You sell a variety of flavored drinks, but you're out of some of your flavor syrups and won't be back in stock for a few more days. If a customer orders something you're out of, don't just say “we don’t have the pumpkin latte right now.”  Instead, you can try something like: “the pumpkin latte will be back later this week, in the meantime, would you like to try our cinnamon flavor instead?” 

  1. The CARP model. CARP stands for Control, Acknowledge, Refocus, and Problem-solve, and it's specifically designed to help you handle upset customers. The Control in CARP has two meanings: self-control and controlling the situation. By practicing self-control (keeping your emotions in check and not taking things personally), you prevent the situation from escalating. If you keep your tone calm and assured, you’ll also signal to your customer that you’re capable of solving the problem. Next, Acknowledge means you take the customer’s complaint seriously. Listen actively and express understanding. Then, Refocus the conversation by moving from acknowledging their feelings to addressing the problem at hand. Finally, once you’ve taken these steps, you can suggest solutions, and work with the customer to Problem-solve.

(Note: although it’s rare, you might encounter customers who are downright hostile or abusive. This is never ok—no customer has the right to bully you or make you feel unsafe. You are within your rights to remove yourself from an unsafe situation, ask a co-worker for backup, and report abusive customers to your manager).  

Do your best in every situation 

Sometimes, customer service feels really daunting. If you’re new to it, it might feel that way all the time—for now. Remember that while not every interaction you have will be perfect, you do have the power to make your customers’ days better. Greeting every customer might feel weird, but it makes a difference for a lot of people. When customers are upset, you can’t go back in time and erase their problem, but you can make them feel heard now and help make things right. Think about tough situations as opportunities to turn unhappy customers into loyal ones. 

You might have to fake it till you make it, but with the right attitude and some practice, you can conquer your customer service fears!