9 Great Customer Service Books That Aren't About Customer Service
Most books about customer service aren’t worth your time. They’re often repetitive, full of clichés and written by out-of-touch gurus.
That’s why we don’t like to rely on customer service books at Userlike . We believe that good service is multidisciplinary, so our favorite books focus on honing certain people skills like negotiation, persuasion, confident speaking and overcoming cultural barriers.
Here you’ll find a compilation of our picks, which are perfect for managers and agents alike. Not only will they improve your team’s service quality, but you will also gain a deeper understanding of human behavior and how to communicate effectively.
"Charisma Myth" by Olivia Fox Cabane
This book won’t turn you into the next Gatsby , but it’ll help you be more present and warm in interactions with others. Olivia Fox Cabane, who possesses impressive credentials , outlines the three components of charisma — power, presence and warmth — and gives examples of each using well-known leaders.
The book acknowledges that it takes internal development to be a truly charismatic person and that it’s often an acquired behavior. Yet there are actionable measures you can take to appear more charismatic, like being conscious of your body language, tone and the care with which you choose your words.
Though the book gives you tips that you can try right away, the reality is that genuine charisma develops over time. But in customer service, altering the way you speak and present yourself, even if inauthentic to your character outside of work, can help you avoid the negativity bias and being misinterpreted.
What you’ll learn: The four charisma categories, mindfulness techniques and tips for preparing yourself mentally and physically for maximum charisma.
"How To Talk To Anyone" by Leil Lowndes
This book is an irresistible collection of tips to keep at your desk for when you need a little change in your customer service routine. Leil Lowndes organizes her advice into nine parts, which cover tactics you can use to be more aware of your own social behavior and become a better conversationalist.
For example, are you changing up your smile depending on the person you’re greeting? Did you know that echoing the way your conversation partner speaks makes them feel like you share their values, attitudes and interests? These tricks may seem artificial (and sometimes like common sense) when reading them, but are naturally used by many engaging people.
To be honest, Lowndes’ writing style and anecdotes are cringy and outdated at times — who says “whoozat” and “whatzit” anymore? But most of her advice is timeless, which is why we like this book.
What you’ll learn: Charming body language, engaging phrases to guide conversation, ice breakers and how to stand out in a crowd.
"The Culture Map” by Erin Meyer
As an American living in Germany, I can empathize with the frustration, confusion and misinterpretation in cross-cultural business. And whether you’re working in your home country or abroad, you’re bound to interact with people from an entirely different culture than your own, especially in customer service.
Erin Meyer breaks down the most notable cultural differences in business based on her collective research data from over thirty different countries. The book features relatable anecdotes and insight into how professionals from other countries behave in business.
No matter where you’re from, “The Culture Map” will help you consider the complexity of others and not just write them off as rude customers . The differences in business-acceptable behavior across the world is more significant than you may realize.
However, it’s important to note that the book lacks substantial academic research and is rather a presentation of Meyer’s studies, findings and personal experiences. She also doesn’t mention or categorize every region of the world — most notably, Africa. The focus is on Europe, the Americas and Asia.
What you’ll learn: How other cultures conduct business, cross-cultural managerial styles and detecting invisible barriers in the business world.
"Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It" by Chris Voss
The author, Chris Voss, worked as an FBI hostage negotiator in high-stakes situations. Who better to learn negotiation from than a guy who has been in intense risky situations and came out on top?
This isn’t an academic book by any means, but it is organized into nine effective principles you can use to be more persuasive. Voss teaches you why you shouldn’t view the other side as the enemy (which is sometimes difficult to do in customer service) and how to negotiate with confidence and effectiveness.
He combines lessons with his stories from working in the FBI, which is interesting but difficult to relate to from a customer service perspective. But the purpose is rather to show how empathy and psychological techniques (as opposed to problem-solving skills) can steer negotiations in your direction, while maintaining good relationships.
What you’ll learn: Negotiation tactics, gaining trust, recognizing behavior patterns, calming people down and empathy.
"How to be Heard: Secrets for Powerful Speaking and Listening" by Julian Treasure
Julian Treasure’s TED Talk on how to speak so that people want to listen has over 23 million views, which is unsurprising once you start watching. He is someone you can’t help but want to emulate and learn from.
Funny enough, his video on how to listen better has considerably less views (2.5 million), which supports Treasure’s claim that people take it for granted. Thankfully his book addresses both. Despite being aimed at public speakers, his advice is easily applicable to customer conversations.
Not only does the book give you granular tips on how to speak with confidence and control, but it drills in the power of listening. It’s something our society struggles to value, and can be difficult for most depending on their upbringing. If your parents failed to listen to you as a child, this could seep into your adult life.
Treasure’s advice is crucial for good customer service. It may be difficult to give your full attention to a customer when their problem is one you’ve already heard before. But responding with empathy (and being able to speak with confidence, especially in difficult scenarios) is a valuable skill.
What you’ll learn: The HAIL method, how to use storytelling to be heard and tips for being an active listener.
"Difficult Conversations" by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, Sheila Heen
Customer service is a landmine for uncomfortable situations. But there are ways to get through awkward or agonizing conversations with less stress and achieve better outcomes.
The book breaks down conversations into a three-part outline: what happened, feelings and identity. You learn approaches you can take that don’t depend on manipulative tactics to influence others. Instead, the authors teach you how to effectively express yourself and think from other perspectives.
Much of the advice in this book requires a certain level of trust with your conversation partner. You may have to share your company’s vulnerabilities in order to make a point (we cannot do x because we lack y), or admit your own.
What you’ll learn: How to understand other’s logic, start conversations without defensiveness, keep a level head when being attacked and how to decipher conversations.
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"Getting To Yes" by Roger Fisher, William Ury, Bruce Patton
Going into negotiations with the sole purpose of winning may not do you any good. This book explains how you can creatively solve problems so that everyone gets something out of it.
“Getting To Yes” is a trusted classic (if you consider things from the 80s as “classic”) for beginner negotiation learners, which is why it’s been revised and updated over the past years. It’s a good technical read for anyone who feels walked all over in confrontations or needs clever ways to come to agreements.
One difficult aspect of customer service that it touches on is setting aside your ego. Customers can get pretty ugly and resort to ad hominem attacks, which this book gives you tips for overcoming, including scripts and contingency plans.
What you’ll learn: Longstanding negotiation techniques, how to get what you want without hurting relationships and how to use tools you already have to be a better negotiator.
"Getting Past No" by William Ury
The word “no” has such finality. While it’s often impolite or immoral to press someone after they’ve said it, there is a way to ethically overcome this barrier in customer service.
William Ury, co-founder of the Harvard Negotiation Project , gives tips for keeping a cool head and turning a “no” situation into a bargaining one. This book, like others mentioned in this list, focuses on using fair communication instead of manipulative tactics.
The book breaks negotiation down into a five stage process, which I guarantee you’ll be itching to try. The advice is methodical without being overly specific, making it easy to apply to every type of negotiation; anything from pitching product add-ons to getting your kid to eat vegetables.
Of course people are different and strong personalities may make a lot of this advice difficult. But if you need a framework for making fair deals, you’ll find this book helpful.
What you’ll learn: Five-step negotiation process, how to deal with bad negotiators, tips for making it difficult for others to say no and how to get past your feelings and take control of the situation.
"The Laws of Human Nature" by Robert Greene
This book is equal parts fascinating and painful to read. Robert Greene gives psychological insight into human behavior patterns, which reveals the good and ugly sides of people.
Greene’s examination of human behavior teaches you how to understand others and their motivations by first understanding your own. Acknowledging and accepting our own flaws will make it easier to avoid becoming a pawn in someone else’s scheme, or be a better person to work with.
This book doesn’t give you a quick-fix strategy (it’s almost 600 pages), but it provides insightful answers to how humankind thinks, feels and behaves. If you’ve ever wondered what compels a customer to take their anger or frustration out on an agent trying to help them, then this book could help.
What you’ll learn: How to find out the intentions of others by observing their rationale and background, how to master your emotional self and how to make greatness from your flaws.
Famous books we chose not to include and why
The following are the books you commonly see in recommendation lists. They’re popular for their inspirational stories and tried and true tips, but chock full of confirmation bias .
If you’ve read one customer service book, then you’ve pretty much read them all. Because service interactions are so situational, there’s only so much you can gain from the anecdotes that beef up the pages of your standard business book.
Here are the popular ones we think are past their prime:
“The Starbucks Experience” by Joseph Michelli
This book had the potential to examine Starbucks’ global service impact, but instead focuses on its Western service culture. Because of its lack of actionable insight and excessive praise for Starbucks, it reads more like a Chicken Soup for the Soul book — more inspiration than concrete customer service help.
“How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie
If you want to sound like a used car salesman, read this book. There are some good ideas in it, but its advice on how to be disingenuous and to focus only on results, not the relationship with the customer, doesn’t coincide with today’s customer service principles .
“The Nordstrom Way” by Robert Spector
This book from the 90s was helpful in its prime, but is outdated for customer service today. It’s a collection of success anecdotes rather than concrete business advice written by authors who worked for Nordstrom. We smell a little bias.
“The Thank You Economy” by Gary Vaynerchuk
This book aged like milk. Its information is common knowledge: Use the internet to create, maintain and monetize customer relationships. And if you’re sensitive to typical business/marketing language (i.e. you hate it), then this book is one to avoid.
“The Effortless Experience” by Matthew Dixon and Nick Toman
This book focuses on the call center model and not face-to-face or digital interactions, so the advice is very limited in use. It also makes the classic business book mistake of repeating its lessons.
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