Getting the right tone in customer service: some do’s and don’ts

Tone is one of the most important aspects of a successful customer service interaction; when recalling the interaction later, customers won’t remember the words that you used, but they will remember the tone and how it made them feel. And yet, getting the right tone can be challenging – as customer expectations can vary widely. 

So what steps can you take to ensure that your customer service team is getting the right tone in interactions with your customers? Here are some dos and don’ts to keep in mind:

DO: Communicate naturally

When surveyed, 65% of consumers responded that they preferred customer support interactions that used a casual tone. This finding was consistent across all ages and demographics.

When interacting with customers, agents shouldn’t be required to speak formally, because when agents are required to change how they speak that discomfort comes through in their interactions. Instead, instruct agents to speak to customers using the same style of language they would use in talking to a friend. That will make your agents more comfortable, which will improve customer engagement.

DO: Be aware of context

While most customers prefer casual communication, there are times which being casual can be interpreted as insensitive – especially if your customer is calling to inquire about an issue that is delicate or painful (such as calling to purchase a sympathy gift, or to discontinue service for a family member that is ill). Agents should also avoid casual communication when they have to say no to a customer, as negative messages delivered with a casual tone are perceived as insensitive or condescending.

When agents begin a new interaction, they should be aware of the tone and level of formality and callibrate accordingly. If a customer begins a text chat with use of slang and emoji, then more casual communication is probably welcome. But if a customer is overly formal or clearly upset about something, then a more formal and empathetic tone is more appropriate.

DO: Use correct grammar

Grammar is important for clear communication in all types of customer service, but it is especially critical in text-based customer service where a stray comma or misspelled word can entirely change the meaning of what is being said. Answering customer inquiries quickly is important, but ensure that your agents are taking the time to monitor their communication to ensure that what they are saying is grammatically sound.

DON’T: Use idioms, especially in text communication

Because we live in a multi-cultural society, the customers who contact you might not always be fully fluent in your language. As such, it’s best to avoid idioms, as they can end up unnecessarily confusing customers.

DON’T: Use platitudes

Nothing sounds more insincere than a platitude like “we value your business” when a customer is already irritated with your service. Avoid platitudes and stick to more genuine forms of communication.

DO: Take responsibility 

People tend to perceive messages that come from anonymous sources more negatively, especially when those messages are conveying negative information. If you have to convey some “bad news” to a customer, such as telling them about a price increase or a shipping delay, don’t hide behind a moniker like “The Customer Service Team”. Take accountability by attaching your name to the communication. You’ll get much less blowback when your customers feel that bad news is being delivered by a person that is taking responsibility, rather than a faceless extension of the larger customer service team.


DON’T: Be defensive

Dealing with angry customers can be difficult – especially if they are angry with you at the start of your interaction with them. However, it’s important to remember not to get defensive; by the time a customer calls because they are angry, it doesn’t matter if the problem they are facing is your fault. What matters is that they want to have their problem addressed, and they want to feel heard and validated.

So start by apologizing and expressing sympathy for the customer’s feelings, then do what you can to make the situation right.

Unfortunately, there’s no “right” answer

It’s important to remember that these tips are only guidelines. One of the biggest challenges in customer service is that there is “correct” answer that will work for 100% of your customers. People differ greatly in expectations and outlooks, and the situations that your agents handle aren’t all going to be the same. Above all, encourage your agents to exercise their empathy, and to apologize when they get things wrong. You aren’t always going to get it right, but you can always work towards doing and being better.

Want to learn more about how you can improve your digital customer service? Contact us to speak with one of our digital engagement experts. Or request a demo to see the ITC omnichannel digital customer service platform in action.

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About the Author: Anna Kreider