I remember it well. It was my first time working in Customer Service. I had always been good at communicating with others. But when it comes to speaking with clients on the phone, things are a bit different. Scarier. He seemed anything but scared. He seemed perfectly at ease. He seemed to enjoy it.

He was a colleague of mine whom we can call Charles. I shared this with him at the time and to this day, whenever I think of Charles talking on the phone with a client, I picture him in a tuxedo, a flute of champagne in his hand, always laughing. Like a character out of a Fitzgerald book.

There it was, right in front of me — that’s how I needed to be to be amazing! That’s what I needed to say, that’s how I needed to laugh. And it failed. I failed. Miserably! But at the same time, this failure taught me a few valuable lessons about Customer Service.

Know yourself

It is said repeatedly that Customer Service Representatives (CSRs) should avoid reading from a script. This is also true if you are reading from someone else’s script. Clients want to talk to people, real people. People that, even if they have to say the same thing as the person sitting next to them, will say it in their own way.

So you see my perfect plan had gone somewhat wrong — rather than being the guy in the imaginary tuxedo with the imaginary champagne flute in hand, I had to be me.

Being yourself when you are a CSR can be hard. There’s the voice of the company, the tone they choose, the register you should address clients in. If you happen to be working for an outsourcing company you can add even more variables to it.

So here came another thing I realized about this job — you need to adapt. For this to happen while you remain real, while you remain yourself, you need to know yourself. So I started trying, testing. Even observing what the people around you are doing and saying can be a great help. See what you like in more experienced colleagues and adapt it to yourself and your way of working.

Personalization is key

One of the greatest paradoxes of a mass consumption society is that clients don’t want to feel like part of a mass. They want to be treated as individuals.

After knowing yourself, understand how you can get to know your client. In conversation, people will always drop pieces of information about themselves. Sometimes they’ll tell you, sometimes you’ll notice things on their tone or how they refer to specific situations.

Just as God is in the details, so is the good work of a CSR. Use that, personalize each interaction and establish a rapport, to give them the first thing they want — to talk to a person.

I once had a gentleman on a call tell me that I sounded smarter than my clients and that I shouldn’t. I hated him, but he was right. Because what he wanted to tell me was that I should make a client feel welcomed and comfortable.

How many of us have had the experience, when the internet is not working, of calling Customer Service just to be read an infinite menu of click here and click there? If you are able to follow all instructions without getting lost I’m sure the problem will be solved, but keeping up can be a difficult task.

It will always be hard to explain something technical or complex, so speak a language your clients understand. Most importantly, communicate in a way where rather than feeling like they were taught something, clients feel like something was shared with them.

Share the knowledge

We have all been through this — you go to a bank, you ask for something and there they come: those seemingly infinite minutes of waiting; the eternal sound of the keys being typed away on the keyboard; the mysterious looks the cashier gives the computer screen from time to time. By the time it ends, in my mind I’m going to be told I either have no money on my account or that I owe the bank a lot of money.

Processes are a great part of Customer Service. What information to collect, where to send it to, whom to have it checked by. Referrals, escalations, enquiries. CSRs live with this on a daily basis and much of it becomes automatic, you hardly think about it. But while you’re busy following processes, there’s a client on the other side who feels like they’re being left in a great void where they neither know what their issue is or how it is getting solved.

During my work as a CSR I have always found one thing to be essential — invite your client in and let them be part of the process. Solving their issue may involve several people, like Jane from Escalations, Mark from the Warehouse, or Gil from Head Office. But in most cases the only person your client will talk to is you. So as much as possible, share with them what you are doing, what still needs to be done and why things are being handled the way they are. You’ll have clients who will keep asking questions, others will just want things done. Once again — know your client and adapt.

You might even learn something from it. When you deal with the same issues eight hours a day, having an outside person asking questions or suggesting alternatives may help you figure out other, less obvious solutions.

We’re all in this together

As obvious as the answer might seem, I, much like Carrie Bradshaw, can’t help but wonder. Is solving their problems the only thing customers want?

Yes, but not just in any way.

I’ve worked for companies that avoided the word “problem” as much as Italians avoid pineapple on pizza. I’ve used “issue,” “situation,” and, my favorite of all, “matter.” Yet the starting point of each interaction with Customer Service is, for the vast majority of times, a problem. Clients have a problem and that’s why they call, write, or chat. They want their problem solved, but along the way they need to feel it will be solved.

This is why transparency is so important. Treating customers as real people, customizing each interaction with them and involving them in the process by sharing your knowledge with them — all make them feel valued and like they’re in safe hands.

This is what I’ve gathered from my experience as a Customer Service Representative. Know yourself, you are your own starting point. Know your client, that’s how you customize. Involve them, that’s how you create a relationship. Share the knowledge, that’s how you empower people.