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Essential Customer Service Techniques for Better Communication

There are many ways to approach customer service techniques. Some focus on the processes and procedures that guide interactions, while others emphasize the way companies communicate with customers.

The definition of customer service techniques can sometimes feel blurry, encompassing a wide range of related but disparate practices. However, the underlying goal for all of these practices is always the same – to ensure that customers receive superior assistance every time they speak with your customer service teams.

For the purposes of this article, we'll define customer service techniques as the strategies used to facilitate positive interactions and increase customer satisfaction

Our focus will be on enhancing effective communication, including through practical techniques, illustrative examples, and recommended best practices, all aimed at elevating the quality and efficacy of your customer conversations.

What are customer service techniques?

Customer service techniques refer to approaches that businesses use to provide excellent service and support to their customers through effective communication. These techniques are designed to guarantee customer satisfaction, cultivate robust relationships, and achieve issue resolution as quickly as possible.

Customer service techniques: How to improve communication with your customers 

1. Practice active listening

Active listening is a powerful customer service technique that supports comprehensive understanding. It involves fully focusing on the customer’s words and engaging in attentive observation.

When using active listening, support representatives should be listening not just to the specific issue a customer is raising, but also to their point of view, level of urgency, and other important contextual details. 

By actively listening in a thoughtful, engaged manner, reps communicate a sense of value to their customers and show that they genuinely care about resolving their issues. Customers feel heard, rather than hurried along, and reps are able to gather vital details that help accelerate the entire customer service process.

💡 Here are some tips to actively listen to your customers:

  • Be fully present in the conversation.

  • Pay attention to non-verbal cues.

  • Don’t interrupt the customer.

  • Listen without judging or jumping to conclusions.

2. Provide proactive communication

Proactive communication refers to communicating in advance to avoid problems or to inform others of important information. In the context of customer service or customer support, proactivity refers to a strategic approach to helping customers before they need to contact a support team – and possibly before they even realize they have an issue or question.

When practiced consistently and institutionalized within your teams, proactive communication empowers self-service and minimizes the amount of contact customers need to have with support teams. Automated guidance gets in front of issues and improves the customer experience from the start.

According to the study Drive Conversational Experiences For A Future‑Ready Customer Support Strategy, by Forrester Consulting on behalf of Intercom, 59% of support leaders and decision-makers find a lack of proactive support to be a barrier to conversational support at scale.¹

Service tools and techniques, such as interactive product tours and automated messages, facilitate proactive communication and assimilate it into preexisting processes.

💡 Here are some tips to provide proactive support:

  • Onboard new customers with guided product tours or tutorials.

  • Anticipate common issues and roadblocks by providing contextual help messages.

  • Educate customers on new features through automatic messages.

  • Alert customers proactively to known system issues, outages, or bugs.

  • Continually identify opportunities to push helpful, contextual information to customers.

3. Summarize and repeat

Summarization is a key customer service technique that follows right where active listening leaves off. 

When a customer presents an issue, the representative carefully listens to understand all relevant details and confirms accuracy by recapping the core points in their own words. This allows the customer to verify whether or not the rep is accurately comprehending their issue.

Summarization also entails outlining the assistance being provided. Recapping proposed solutions or next steps keeps the customer informed on progress, relieving any potential uncertainty about how the problem will be resolved.

This twofold customer service technique is central to quality service. Representatives clearly communicate their level of understanding while letting customers speak to the accuracy of their summarization.

💡 Here are some tips on summarizing and repeating:

  • Restate both the problem and assistance being provided for a two-pronged summary that customers can validate.

  • Allow customers to confirm that their issue is being understood completely through summarization.

  • Keep customers informed on the progress of resolving their problems through clear summarization of subsequent steps.

4. Build rapport through mirroring

While traditionally used in sales, rapport techniques also benefit service teams when handled properly.

In face-to-face conversations, rapport is commonly referred to as mirroring, where one person matches the other person's body language. For instance, if a customer is speaking rapidly and using animated gestures, subtly mirroring these behaviors can facilitate instant connection.

For online customer service, the goal is to mirror a customer's tone, language, and communication level to convey understanding and alignment. 

Match the customer's conversational style by observing cues like formality level, messaging brevity, and vocabulary choices. Adopting their style shows that you are focused on their needs and perspectives.

Responding with this kind of reflected empathy and comparable language helps establish trust and connection, even through channels that might appear limited in their ability to convey these rhetorical features.

💡 Here are some tips to build rapport with your customers:

  • Learn customers' names and pronouns, and address them accordingly.

  • Allow angry customers to vent without interruption.

  • Mirror customers' tones and energy levels for balanced interactions.

  • Maintain optimism and a solution-oriented approach, even in difficult situations.

  • To help foster a connection, look for common ground or other similarities whenever possible.

5. Ask effective questions

Customers may not always express their problems with absolute clarity. This is where the role of probing questions becomes crucial as a customer service technique.

Probing gently through attentive dialogue helps uncover issues rapidly. By narrowing down pain points, representatives facilitate faster resolution.

These probing questions are designed to help you get the right information. They will prompt your customers to take action and help them visualize how to close the gap between where they are and where they want to be.

💡 Here are some tips on asking effective questions:

  • Start with open-ended questions to allow customers to share key details in their own words.

  • Ask follow-up questions that build on the customer's responses for deeper insight.

  • Inquire about circumstances surrounding an issue to determine underlying causes.

  • Keep questions concise, direct, and neutral in tone, dispensing with any unhelpful or even counterproductive assumptions.

Examples of communication techniques in customer service

While we’ve covered a few of the best customer service techniques that embrace a broad communication approach, other strategies adhere to a more specific, structured order. These well-known methods, which we’ve highlighted and summarized below, have the potential to significantly enhance your team's customer interactions.

HEARD technique

When handling dissatisfied customers, using the HEARD method provides an organized, empathetic approach.

HEARD stands for the following steps:

  • Hear: Actively listen without interruption to fully comprehend concerns.

  • Empathize: Relate to customer experiences and validate their perspective.

  • Apologize: Accept responsibility for unmet expectations.

  • Resolve: Provide immediate solutions aligned with customer priorities when feasible.

  • Diagnose: Analyze root causes to prevent recurrence and continuously reinforce positive outcomes.

This framework guides representatives toward swiftly de-escalating tense interactions. By comprehensively addressing each priority, from active listening to continuous improvement, representatives can build positive relations in the midst of even the most challenging cases.

ELI5 technique

The ELI5 (Explain Like I'm 5) technique helps support teams provide instructions to customers in a simple, easy-to-understand manner.

When a customer experiences a technical issue and needs assistance, applying the ELI5 technique ensures they can understand the steps necessary to resolve it. The name implies evaluating instructions at a basic level that a young child could grasp.

It's important to note, however, that reps should always communicate respectfully without talking down to customers. The goal is to use plain language without employing unnecessary amounts of jargon, while clearly outlining each step. For example, rather than saying "Take a screenshot," explain the process:

  • Turn your device screen on.

  • Press and hold the bottom buttons at the same time until you hear a click.

  • You should now see an image of your screen.

“What? So what? Now what?” technique

When assisting customers with technical problems, structure guidance in a direct but easy-to-follow manner. Clearly laying out the issue, reason, and solution can be a successful approach to guiding your customer.

  • Start by clearly stating the problem: "You're experiencing issues logging into your account." 

  • Then, explain the underlying cause in simple terms: "Passwords weren't recently changed, so the system requires a reset for security purposes." 

  • Finally, give the specific action to take: "To solve it, please choose and enter a new password."

Keeping explanations concise yet connected allows the customer to understand what's happening at each step in the process.

Best practices to improve communication with customers

Now that we've addressed several of the best customer service techniques for clear, effective communication with customers, let's review some best practices to apply these skills during real interactions.

Understand your customer journey

Professionals must be keenly aware of the complete customer journey if they want to successfully utilize customer service techniques that drive positive interactions. 

The customer journey covers all touchpoints a customer experiences with a brand, from initial awareness of a product or service, research, evaluation of options, and purchase decision, through ongoing engagement following the sale.

By understanding each step in this journey, you can gain valuable insights into what motivates customers and what might frustrate them. Possessing this knowledge allows you to apply the appropriate communication techniques at each stage to build rapport, provide value, address concerns, and ensure customer needs are consistently being met.

Provide conversational support

In today's digital era, conversational support has emerged as another viable approach to resolving customer inquiries. This technique involves engaging with customers through messaging-based interactions and prioritizing real-time or asynchronous connections.

Whether a customer pauses the conversation and returns later, switches channels, or interacts with different support representatives, the continuity of information remains intact. Customers don't have to repeat themselves, saving them time and frustration.

All of this is key to applying communication techniques in customer service. Reps can have natural dialogues, build rapport, summarize, and probe for questions to allow conversations to flow smoothly across sessions.

Download our guide: The Ultimate Guide to Conversational Support to transform your support team into a value driver.

Show empathy toward your customers

Empathy is a core skill for addressing customer needs effectively. As companies scale, it's easy to lose sight of the challenges customers face daily, but showing empathy during interactions can strengthen relationships and keep reps connected to their customers. 

Leaning on and utilizing empathy can be especially impactful when dealing with frustrated or even angry customers

These types of difficult interactions can feel unpleasant, but remembering to feel for your customer and appreciate their perspective and specific circumstances can help you remain focused and provide strong, unflustered support. That doesn’t necessarily mean offering quick, knee-jerk apologies, though; rather, it’s about consistently trying to connect on a human level.

Conveying empathy allows representatives to solve problems collaboratively with their customers. Displaying care and validating emotions can defuse tensions, and customers will feel heard and be appreciative of the solutions-driven mindset they’re being presented with.

Offer personalized communication

Personalized support creates positive outcomes for businesses and customers alike. Research from McKinsey & Company found that 76% of consumers consider personalized communications an important factor when evaluating brands. Additionally, 78% said such content makes them more likely to make repeat purchases.

Intercom's Customer Service Trends Report 2023 also highlighted the value of personalization: 89% of support leaders see it as a competitive differentiator

Teams that engage in personalization are over twice as likely to see higher customer satisfaction and nearly twice as likely to experience gains in customer retention and loyalty.

By tailoring the customer experience based on purchase history and previous interactions, businesses can demonstrate, through communication techniques in customer service, that each individual matters to them.

Personalization and more: Find out the 10 elements of excellent customer service you must know.

Know absolutely everything about your product

Representatives can only support customers as far as their own understanding reaches. Keeping your support professionals educated on all aspects of the product through ongoing training helps foster more knowledgeable reps that can provide superior assistance to customers. 

Thorough product knowledge provides the foundation for addressing customer challenges in meaningful ways. It also gives your reps the confidence necessary to handle a diverse and sometimes unpredictable array of situations and inquiries.

Take a project management SaaS product, for example. Support agents should be able to demonstrate how to customize workflows, manage tasks across projects and teams, and generate customized reports. They must also grasp how the software integrates with other applications.

Collect context upfront through AI and automation

In any customer interaction, gathering the full context as quickly as possible sets the stage for more effective support or service. 

For example, customers with issues may first try solving their problems through self-service using an AI-powered chatbot. However, if the chatbot cannot resolve the matter, it efficiently transfers the customer to a human representative.

The transfer of support is seamless for customers. During the initial chatbot interaction, key details about the customer, the issue, and troubleshooting steps already taken are automatically captured. This ensures customer service representatives have all the necessary context as soon as the case is transferred to them.

Having this information upfront allows representatives to apply better customer service techniques. With relevant details collected by tAI, reps can quickly get a full understanding of the customer's situation and needs, diagnose the problem efficiently, and propose viable solutions to the customer.

Learn more: How AI for customer support helps your team and your customers.

Elevate your customer service with Intercom

While customer service techniques remain vital to successful businesses and effective customer service teams, today's customers expect much more. That's why it’s becoming increasingly critical for support teams to leverage an all-in-one platform.

Intercom combines an AI chatbot, help desk, and proactive support capabilities to elevate not only your customer interactions but also empower your support team with the best tools and techniques available in the world of customer service.

Check out all of Intercom's features for yourself: Start your free trial or ask for a demo today.


1. Forrester Consulting, Drive Conversational Experiences For A Future-Ready Customer Support Strategy 2021. Forrester conducted an online survey with 523 global customer support decision-makers with responsibility for strategy and technology purchasing decisions.

2. McKinsey & Company, Next in Personalization 2021 Report. McKinsey surveyed 1,013 people, sampled and weighed to match the US general population 18+ years.

3. Intercom, Customer Service Trends 2023. We commissioned an independent market research firm to survey a random sample of 1,775 global customer service leaders and decision-makers. The study’s margin of error is +/- 2.3% at the 95% level of significance.