Article

Call center etiquette for support agents

Follow these tips to make your brand stand out and your customers feel truly cared for.

By Emily Vince, Senior product marketing manager

Published April 28, 2020
Last updated September 3, 2020

When a customer has an issue with a brand, they’ll often get on the phone to resolve it. According to The Zendesk Customer Experience Trends Report 2020, nearly 70% of consumers opt to resolve their support issues over the phone.

How do you keep the interaction as positive as possible? With proper call center etiquette. When you’re able to communicate with customers in a way that makes them feel supported and understood, you can turn a problem into a positive experience. The following 10 call center etiquette tips will help you communicate in a way that makes customers feel truly cared for and represent your brand in a favorable light.

1. Keep the conversation positive

Negative language only tells customers what can’t be done. It’s neither productive for you as a support agent, nor is it comforting for the customer. Proper call center etiquette is to keep the conversation positive by telling the customer how you can potentially solve their problems. Focusing on good outcomes builds customers’ trust in you and motivates them to stay on the phone. Try out positive phrases like, “I can certainly check on that for you” or “Let me find out for you,” to show the customer you’re eager to help.

And remember, body language can translate over the phone, so don’t forget to smile! Grinning while you speak can help you sound friendlier and keep you in a positive mindset while assisting a customer.

2. Listen, listen, listen

At the very beginning of every phone call, practice active listening without interrupting your customer, so you fully understand their issues. Listening is key to call center etiquette as it also gives upset customers a chance to express their frustration and feel heard.

If your customer is having a hard time explaining their issue, consider asking open-ended questions that encourage your customer to elaborate on what they’re saying. Listen closely to get to the bottom of what’s really going on, so you can effectively identify a solution.

3. Be patient

All too often, customers will lash out at call center agents. Effectively supporting these customers—without escalating their frustration—requires patience. Before responding to a frustrated customer, take a deep breath to reorient yourself and calm down. Remind yourself, it’s not personal. The customer is upset with their situation, not you.

Ask yourself, “What’s the next step? What can I do right now to help resolve my customer’s issue?” This will help you stay focused on the solution rather than the problem, allowing you to resolve tickets more quickly and efficiently.

4. Acknowledge the customer’s issue

Customers want to feel heard. If they don’t feel you like “get it,” they aren’t going to see the point of staying on the phone with you. Assure your customers that you understand their problem by repeating back the issue they describe in a supportive way.

It’s good call center etiquette to acknowledge the steps your customers have already taken to try and solve the problem on their own. As a support agent, this will help you narrow down the root cause of what’s going on and make your customers feel acknowledged.

5. Respect your customers’ time

Your customers are busy. They expect to be able to resolve their support issues in a time frame that’s convenient for them. In fact, 51% of consumers expect a response from a call center agent in *under 5 minutes*. Aim to answer every incoming customer support call within two to three rings. To reduce resolution time (how long it takes to solve a customer ticket), have a list of common support questions and answers up on your screen when answering calls.

It also helps to have a few resources handy that you can send to the customer after the call. If there’s an article or a video that a customer can use to problem-solve on their own, let them know it’s an option. By keeping a list of resources readily available, you’ll be more likely to resolve support tickets quickly.

6. Communicate hold times

Customers should know how long they’re expected to be on hold. Otherwise, they may start to get antsy or even hang up out of frustration from waiting. Keep them at ease by communicating hold and transfer times. You might say, for example, “I’m going to connect you to our service department now. They should be with you in less than five minutes.”

If you have to put a customer on hold to find an answer, check in with them every minute or so to let them know you’re still there (e.g., “I apologize for the inconvenience; I’m still looking up your information but will have an answer for you in just a moment”). Hold times are sometimes unavoidable. Check-in with your customers to keep them engaged and let them know you care.

7. Loosen up

Relying too heavily on call scripts can make support agents sound robotic. Keep the conversation feeling natural and relatable by utilizing these call script best practices. For example, instead of reciting call scripts word-for-word, think of them more as guidelines.

Keep the call conversational and relatable by adding your own flair to scripts, like a personal anecdote that relates to something your customer said. And finally, pause regularly to check in with your customers when using call templates or scripts. This will keep the communication two-way and avoid making the customer feel “talked at.”

8. Adapt your communication style to the customer

Different customers prefer different communication styles. Listen for cues to determine how your customers want to engage with you and respond accordingly. If a customer is chatty, try making small talk with them. Reciprocate their questions to keep the conversation going.

On the other hand, customers who use terse language might be hoping to get off the phone as soon as possible. Respond accordingly by skipping the chit-chat. Demonstrate you understand the customer’s needs by saying something like, “Let me sort this out for you as quickly as possible, so you can get on with your day.” Mirror your customer’s communication style to build rapport with them and keep the conversation flowing.

9. Walk them through your solution

Customers need to be clear on what your solution is and how it’s going to solve their issue. Communicate your plan of action, so the customer feels like the call was helpful and productive. Explain the steps you’re going to take in layman's terms. Avoid technical or product jargon, as this will only confuse your customers. And, most importantly, explain the reasoning behind your solution. This helps you establish a sense of expertise and trust with your customers.

You might say, for example, “I'm going to access your account to see if you have the most updated version of our software. Working off an outdated version can cause the problem you're having for x, y, and z reasons. From there, I'll run a diagnostic check to make sure the issue isn't on our end.” Once you’ve finished walking your customer through your solution, stop and ask them if they understand. This will give your customer a chance to speak up if they’re still confused, so you can address questions and make sure they leave the call satisfied.

10. Don’t be afraid to tag in help

While you always want to be proactive when offering support, be honest with yourself about your limitations. The last thing you want to do is keep a customer waiting on hold for 20 minutes while you try to figure something out on your own.

If you’re unable to find a solution to your customer’s problem in a timely manner, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Ask for another agent to join the call, or get a manager involved. You’ll shorten the amount of time it takes to resolve a customer ticket, and you’ll learn new problem-solving skills from your teammates.

Drive better customer experiences with proper call center etiquette

A negative customer support call experience could cost you customers and negatively affect your reputation as a brand. Avoid this scenario by aiming to make every support call as positive as possible for customers. Start with the 10 call center etiquette tips above.

Just remember to let yourself recharge every now and then. Even if it’s just a few deep breaths between calls, this time will help you reset so you can better support the next customer.

As you build your experience, continue to look for innovative ways to resolve support issues and leave your customers happy and satisfied.