6 Customer Service Exercises for Daily Growth
Customer service is all about the interaction. But the skills that count can also be trained in solitude – distraction-free and laser-focused.
Whether it’s in answering emails conducting support chats – quick typing skills are a must for customer service reps. You can talk too fast to be understood, but even in real-time written communication, people will always read faster than you type. So, push your limits.
Consider adopting an established typing system. Although self-taught typists have cracked the speed of the standard touch system, the latter allows you to lift your eyes from the keyboard. A definite plus for chatting customer service reps.
This Ratatype post will get you started with valuable tips on finger position, body posture, and eye distance to the screen.
Then, exercise actual speed. Luckily, the effects of typing games on typing performance are undisputed. You’re training the very action you want to get better at.
Improve the mere physiological motion with word runs like that of 10fastfingers. Move on to TypingCAT’s more challenging and true-to-life game, which includes real sentences, punctuation and capitalization.
Design ethicist Tristan Harris wrote an eye-opening essay about how today’s technology is hijacking people’s minds in a constant battle for their attention. With a depraved quality of attention as one consequence.
In a similar observation, sound consultant Julian Treasure argues that we are “losing our listening”, storing only 25% of what we listen to. In written communication you can read back on what was said, but in verbal interactions you’re lost without the ability to process and categorize information effectively.
Treasure suggests five exercises for your ability to make meaning of sound:
- Three minutes of silence a day. Expose yourself to the thing you probably forgot exists in a world of constant information fire. Turn off all devices and lock out all apparent sources of noise - focus on the quiet for some time every day.
- The mixer. Sit down in a park or at a busy crossing and close your eyes. One by one tune in to the different sounds in the overall noise. A great exercise for your ability to control your listening focus.
- Savour. Listen to a mundane sound, the whirr of a rotating fan, a dripping tap, or the car motor’s hum while driving. Listen to find a rhythm or gradual change in it. An almost meditative action that grants you a fresh perspective on sound.
- Listening position. Listen to someone speak and view their words from different perspectives: active or passive, critical or emphatic, humorously or serious, find your own. A vaccination against misunderstandings.
- RASA: Receive - pay attention to the person’s words, voice, gesture. Appreciate - display alertness with little noises: “m-hm”, “aha”, “okay” etc. Summarize - paraphrase the words of the other. Ask - follow-up with questions to show interest.
In verbal communication there’s the dimension of voice, how you say things, and the one of content, the words you choose. Improving the content is a matter of learning communication techniques to structure your thoughts. Your voice, however, requires physical workout.
Breathing. A strong voice commands attention, radiates confidence and is well understood – crucial in customer service. Such a voice hugely benefits from the right breathing technique, which is belly-breathing.
Train this by standing up and inhaling into your belly while you keep your shoulders from lifting. Watch your belly rise and actively let it fall while slowly exhaling through pursed lips. After a few rounds, mix in voice while exhaling and feel the power that you’re able to put into it.
You can also perform the exercise lying down or sitting. Place one hand on your chest and one on your belly to feel where the air goes. The hand on your chest should remain still, the one on your stomach move up as you inhale.
Consciously focus on breathing through your diaphragm until it becomes a habit, the sonorous voice will follow. Check out this In Pursuit of Yoga post to learn more about the physiological and experiential aspects of breathing.
A tip for phone support: stand up during calls, this opens up your body for free and more powerful breathing and improves your voice performance.
Volume. If you just try to speak louder for a longer while, you’ll risk regretting it soon. You’re probably familiar with the dry or even hoarse throat resulting from a public speech in which you tried to captivate the whole place.
Apart from breathing, your volume depends on where the sound is amplified. To speak louder without grinding your pipes, exercise moving the sound processing away from your throat and to your mouth. Say “eee” in a low to medium volume and sense the location of the sound’s vibration. Try moving it to the right spot.
Another method is to produce a humming sound like “mmm” and shifting from soft to forceful (quiet to loud) and back. It works with vowels as well.
Clarity. Psychologically, mumbling is an ingenious form of data-compression. Subjectively, it usually prompts associations of laziness, indifference, and general sloppiness. So, about everything a customer does not want in a service rep.
What’s more, asking to repeat means effort and so does riddling about the meaning of a sound. A simple way to fight the mumble is by reading out loud for some time every day, ten to fifteen minutes should work already. Test your progress by using self-recordings of your sessions.
Actors use tongue-twisters as a routine exercise to practice clear enunciation. Wade Bradford listed 36 ones that cover pretty much all the sounds you’ll encounter in the English language. Sneak peek:
- The free thugs set three thugs free.
- Little lucky luke likes lakes, lucky little luke likes licking lakes.
- Peter Prangle, the prickly pear picker, picked three perfectly prickly pears.
Try to repeat the tongue-twisters five, then ten times in a row and you’ll benefit from clearer articulation. And yes, that’s why they asked you to do these language-stunts as a kid.
Handling a number of different conversations and channels at once is a daily challenge for customer service reps. This is commonly but improperly called multitasking. We don’t handle similarly taxing tasks simultaneously, but rapidly switch from one to another.
According to the dual process theory, however, we can run some tasks on autopilot while focusing on others. Drummers and car drivers are proof of that.
When training your multitasking skills, the goal is to reduce the mental effort for getting back into a task, likely a conversation. It doesn’t matter whether you’re switching back from auto to manual pilot or from paused to active.
Entrepreneur.com’s Nadia Goodman argued that the more tasks are alike, the lower the required effort for switching between them. Consequently, the ability to organize tasks so that similar activities are bundled makes for better multitasking.
Writing to-do-lists is a great exercise for your ability to prioritize and categorize efficiently. Mike Renahan from HubSpot shows how to run a quick impact vs. effort analysis to test your structuring skills afterwards.
Researchers are torn when it comes to the effectiveness of brain training games, but it’s safe to say that the playful approach is highly motivating. A popular specimen to hone multitasking skills is Lumosity’s Train of Thought.
5Name remembering exercises
We emphasized the benefits of addressing people with their names in our post on customer service phone tips. A strong name memory is a valuable addition to any customer service rep’s skill sheet.
We commonly have trouble remembering names because we never actually stored them in the first place. Being introduced to new people is a social situation in which we rather focus on getting the first impression right. We focus on a firm handshake or what to say next, names just fly past.
Larry Prevost developed a three-step-system to remember names based on Dale Carnegie’s famous manuals:
- Impression. Listen and pay attention to the details and characteristics of the name, become genuinely interested in the person behind it. If you didn’t understand, ask the other to repeat the name.
- Repetition. Repeat the name immediately when you hear it. The reproduction will let them resonate in your mind. Go on to use the name in the following conversation.
- Associations. Create an image in your mind that’s connected to something firmly fixed in your memory, like the face of famous figures of the same name.
Again, there’s an exercise game. Try out Lumosity’s Familiar Faces, which reenacts a typical customer service scenario with you behind the counter.
6Exercises to better connect with strangers
Most of us aren't too comfortable with talking to strangers. Most of us aren't too comfortable with talking to strangers. In customer service, that’s your bread and butter. So you'd better be comfortable with it.
Self-proclaimed stranger-approaching-lover Kio Stark held a motivating talk on the benefits of challenging our inherent discomfort. She also outlined some exercises to make you more comfortable and successful talking to random strangers. The five exercises:
- Watch and learn. Go to a public place and watch people go about their daily businesses. Jot down your thoughts on their looks, clothes, behavior. Understand how assumptions form.
- Make contact. Go to a crowded place and make eye contact, then use phatic expressions to every person you pass by on a defined path. Observe people’s reaction.
- Play a lost tourist. Act like you don’t know your way around and ask for directions. Ask people for their phone number – “just in case”.
- Ask a question. Approach random strangers with a disarmingly intimate question, like “what are you afraid of?” or “do you ever feel hopeless?”. Listen and ask follow-up questions if they enjoy talking.
- Be an outsider. Enter a place filled with people who are totally not your ‘scene’, where you’re noticeably off the norm. How do people react to you? Try to make contact.