Improve Your Customer Communication Skills

Your technical skills might be excellent, but if you can’t master the art of communication, you’ll ultimately be hurting your business

Improve Your Customer Communication Skills

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Sometimes lost in discussions about tools, techniques and emerging technologies are the many soft skills this industry requires. For example, properly communicating with customers.

Here are some tips on customer communication compiled from various stories that have appeared in Plumber magazine and on www.PlumberMag.com.

Make sure that you’re speaking the customer’s language

This industry has its own vernacular, but you don’t necessarily want to be using those terms when communicating with customers. You’ll have an easier time if you learn to adjust to the way they speak.

On every job, write down the exact words that the customer says about the problem they’re experiencing. This will give you the fastest education in understanding the words that your customers use. Then, use that information when training employees and marketing your services. Review it regularly with your team, and train them to listen for those keywords and be able to discuss information in a way that is educational to the customer but not disrespectful. In your marketing, consider using some of that language to educate your customers while also promoting your services. For example, if there is a lot of sediment in the water, your customers might not think of it as sediment but as “dirty water,” and you can market to that feeling. “Sediment” is a clinical, professional term. “Dirty water” (or whatever term your customer uses) is more visceral and customers are more likely to respond to marketing that expresses it in that way.

Keep your phone game sharp

The initial contact with a customer is usually by phone, and that arena offers some unique communication challenges.

For example, you’ll want to be leery of the “long talker” — the customer who needlessly lingers on the other end of the line past the point where all necessary business has been conducted. A good tactic is to begin every phone conversation with a “thanks for calling” and a display of genuine interest in how the customer is doing. Allow for a minute of chitchat, then get onto business and how you can help with his or her problem.

The expression of interest at the start of a conversation gives people the feeling you don’t find them to be a burden. Communicating that is important, especially if the caller has been routinely blown off by others they've interacted with in the past. It works because long talkers almost expect you to rush the conversation and try to escape, just as everyone else does. But when you don’t follow that pattern, these people tend to be pleasantly surprised, and they have less of an urge to try to keep you on the line. The extra niceties shouldn’t take but a minute or two, and if you master them, you’ll find that your overall call length will decrease.

Make bad news more tolerable

There are going to be times when you have bad news to deliver to a customer. You may not have control over what exactly that news is, but you do have control over how you present it. And a lot of what a customer may perceive as “bad news” is because of how you communicate it. It’s possible to influence that perception. Consider these strategies:

  • Anticipate bad news. Generally, honesty is the best policy, but carefully think through how you’re going to present that honest truth so that it’s more palatable for the customer. Develop responses and techniques for dealing with bad news before you need them.
  • Communicate bad news quickly. It won’t go away, so the sooner it’s delivered, the more control the customer has over the outcome.
  • Deliver bad news calmly. Use a confident but soothing tone of voice and deliver the news using a moderated pace. The customer will sense your assurance and will react positively.
  • Accentuate the positive. Focus on what you can do for the customer, and offer options and choices.
  • Avoid trigger words. For example, starting any sentence with “you should” or “you can’t” comes across as shaking your finger at the customer and will almost certainly anger them. Better choices include, “we can,” “let’s do this together,” or “what I could suggest is ... ” 
  • Take responsibility. If you caused the problem, attempting to spread the blame for bad news to the client, or a subcontractor, will backfire.
  • Wait for a response. Listen and focus on what the customer is saying, taking notes and paraphrasing his or her concerns to confirm you understand what he or she is saying.

Remember that communication is more than just words

Communication is also about your tone and body language. When you show up to a customer’s home, be aware of this. For example, when a customer opens the door, are you towering over them on the steps and speaking loudly? Or are you a step back from the door and speaking pleasantly? As the knowledgeable expert, and a stranger in the person’s home (and also if you are a male entering the home of a female), it can be extremely easy to come across as dominant and aggressive even if that’s not what you intend. Practice your tone and body language so you appear professional and in charge without seeming overbearing.

Don’t overlook how you’re communicating through email

Email can be the hardest form of communication. There is no tone and inflection to typed words, so they can commonly be misconstrued. A few tips:

  • Don’t use smiley faces or emojis. They’re something people use to try to soften a message, but they should have no place in professional work emails.
  • Always turn on spellcheck. Misspelled words in an email look sloppy and are a sign that the person didn’t take his or her time. You don’t want customers thinking that it’s a reflection of how you would address their problem.
  • Use clear and concise sentences, and don’t type how you would talk. Clear and to-the-point sentences allow for quick responses. Phrases like “I seen” or “I would of” give a bad impression of the sender’s intelligence.
  • Have a signature block at the bottom of emails. It’ll drive people crazy if they can’t easily find contact information. Consider putting an office phone number, cellphone number, and email address under your name and title at the bottom of all emails.


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