facebook twitter
Webucator's Free Customer Service Tutorial

Lesson: Customer Service Basics

Welcome to our free Customer Service tutorial. This tutorial is based on Webucator's Customer Service Training course.

There are many things that can be said about customer service, but one quote by Peter Drucker, management expert, rings particularly true:

"Quality in a service or product is not what you put into it. It is what the client or customer gets out of it." (http://www.customerservicepoint.com/customer-service-quotes.html)

Lesson Goals

  • Learn the definition of customer service.
  • Learn the difference between internal and external customers.
  • Learn how to interact with customers.
  • Learn to understand what the customer wants.

Defining Customer Service

Customer service is:

  1. Any interaction between the customer and the organization.
  2. Something that everyone in the company is responsible for. Customer service is not a single department in an organization!
  3. Important for both internal and external customers.

The goal of an organization should be that of positive customer interaction, resulting in satisfied customers and repeat business. The old adage of the "customer is always right" no longer applies, but that does not mean that customer service is a lost art. Even when customers are not right, they still deserve to be treated with respect and integrity.

Some things you can do to help you provide good customer service include:

  1. Use good listening skills. A good listener will take the time to hear what the customer has to say without interrupting and only then ask questions to clarify the issues the customer brings up. Good listeners pay undivided attention to the customer, showing him or her that, at that moment, he or she is the most important person the employee is dealing with.
  2. Look for ways to help the customer. Always be on the lookout for things you can do to assist the customer without being intrusive or overbearing. Pay attention to what is being said, and be prepared to go an extra step in order to resolve the customer's issue.
  3. Ask for feedback. Feedback can help you improve your service and give you information or ideas about new services you can provide. Also, asking for feedback shows the customer you care about his or her comments and opinions.
  4. Say you are sorry. If you make a mistake, or something goes wrong in a transaction, apologize. Customers will appreciate your honesty. When a customer complains, your job is to listen, express empathy, and apologize. Remember, you can apologize without accepting responsibility even when the error is on the customer's side. Telling the customer you are sorry he or she is having a bad experience and then moving forward and asking how you can help resolve it will let your customer know you care and want to work toward a solution.
  5. Do the unexpected. Provide something for the customer that was not expected. This is how you keep your customers coming back. Think about something that your organization offers that others don't and offer it to the customer. Another way to surprise the customer with unexpected service is to follow up after the interaction just to make sure everything is going all right. You might do this even if the interaction did not result in a sale or resolution of a problem.

Check for Understanding: Defining Customer Service

Duration: 5 to 10 minutes.

In this exercise, please read the following scenario and then answer the following questions.


Martha was late arriving at work one morning and, when she arrived, she found a customer, Mr. Jones, waiting for her. Mr. Jones was obviously agitated about something. The following conversation took place:

Martha: Oh! Mr. Jones, I did not know you were coming in this morning.

Mr. Jones: Yes, I have been waiting for you for over ten minutes! Are you always this late for work?

Martha: That's really none of your concern, Mr. Jones. Now, what can I do for you?


  1. Was Martha's response to Mr. Jones' question appropriate?
  2. What could she have done better in order to provide good customer service to Mr. Jones?
  3. When providing customer service, it is always important to:
    1. Treat the customer as though he or she knows nothing about the company.
    2. Understand that the customer is always right, no matter what.
    3. Go the extra mile, providing unexpected service.
    4. Resolve issues with the customers who spend the most money first.


  1. No, Martha's behavior is not appropriate.
  2. Answers will vary, but should include something about Martha apologizing and moving on to resolve Mr. Jones' problem.
  3. C. Go the extra mile, providing unexpected customer service.

Internal and External Customers

Not only are customers the people who pay you for your product or service, they are also the people you work with, the people you work for, and the people who work for you.

Internal Customers

Colleagues, superiors, and subordinates depend on you just as you depend on them so it is important to provide good customer service to them as you go through your work day. Some effective methods of providing good customer service to your internal customers are:

  1. Thank them. Showing colleagues appreciation for their work lets them know how important they are to the company and to you.
  2. Treat them with respect. Co-workers who are treated with respect will in turn treat customers with respect.
  3. Create a work culture that encourages internal customer service. A work environment that rewards respectful, polite behavior and discourages rudeness and other unprofessional behavior will foster good customer service skills and behaviors.
  4. Provide clear guidelines regarding roles and responsibilities. When employees know what is expected of them, they not only will perform better, but will also be more satisfied with their own work environment. That satisfaction will translate into good customer service practices, both internally and externally.

Communication is key to providing excellent internal customer service. In a business environment in which individuals work together, agree on methods of doing business, and cooperate rather than compete with each other to achieve common goals, internal customer service plays a huge role. Some of the benefits of creating an environment where internal customer service is practiced daily include:

  1. Increased productivity.
  2. Decreased costs.
  3. Improved communication.
  4. Higher employee morale.
  5. Goals aligned among departments.
  6. Better external customer service.

External Customers

An external customer is an individual or organization that either uses or purchases your product or service. They have a choice when making the decision to purchase from your organization and they take their business elsewhere if they choose.

When thinking about your external customers, keep the following points in mind:

  1. External customers purchase our products and/or services from outside the company, not inside.
  2. External customers, even though they may be loyal, still have options to go elsewhere at any time.
  3. Marketing and advertising efforts are directed to external customers, not internal customers.

It is harder and more expensive to bring a customer back who was not happy with the treatment received than it is to maintain a positive relationship with current customers. As such, it is good business practice to make sure not only that your customers get the product or service they want, but that their experience is excellent. Happy customers will stick around and talk to others, and word of mouth advertising is not only the best advertising, it is the least expensive.

Negative news travels twice as fast as positive news. In order to ensure that word of mouth advertising is positive, follow these simple guidelines:

  1. Start with excellent internal customer service. Remember, happy employees will be more likely to treat customers with respect. Even employees who do not have direct contact with customers can impact the image of the company through their interactions outside the company, their treatment of other employees, and their loyalty to the company.
  2. Establish a positive company image. This can be done through marketing and advertising, community relationships, and positive interactions with customers.
  3. Treat customers as if they are people, not dollar signs. Relationships with customers do not stop when they walk out the door after making a purchase. You need to continue to build those relationships through follow-up contact and feedback so the customer knows where to come if the need for your product or service comes up again and so your customers know where to send their friends.
  4. Be responsive to concerns. When your customers come to you with problems or concerns, be ready and willing to quickly work toward resolution. Do not brush them off or ignore their complaints.
  5. Always be professional in your dealings with customers. Professional behavior in all interactions with your customer is always the right choice.

Check for Understanding: Internal and External Customers

Duration: 5 to 10 minutes.

In this exercise, please respond to the following questions:

  1. Which of the following is NOT a method of providing good customer service to internal customers?
    1. Treating them with respect.
    2. Creating a culture that does not encourage internal customer service.
    3. Providing clear guidelines regarding roles and responsibilities.
    4. Thanking them.
  2. Consider the following scenario: Although salary and benefits at XYZ Corporation are excellent, employee turnover is quite high. A review of exit interviews conducted by the HR department showed that employees did not stay with the company because they felt intimidated and threatened by some of the managers. Think about the effect this kind of behavior will have on external customer service. Write down your thoughts.
  3. External customers can be defined as:
    1. Individuals and companies who purchase our products and services.
    2. Individuals and companies who purchase products and services from other companies as well as ours.
    3. Individuals and companies who have no use for our products and services.
    4. A and B.
  4. Consider the following scenario: A customer calls with a complaint and asks to speak to a manager. The manager tells the employee to tell the customer that he is not in and that the customer should call back next week.Think about the effect this kind of behavior can have on internal customer service and write down your thoughts.


  1. B. Creating a culture that does not encourage internal customer service.
  2. Answers will vary, but should include the fact that employees who work in a negative environment, in which they feel intimidated and threatened, are not likely to provide good customer service because they aren't likely to be loyal to or care about the company as a whole.
  3. D. A and B.
  4. Answers will vary, but should include employees wondering about other things management might be hiding or lying about. If the customers are being lied to or avoided, how does management treat the employees?

Interacting with Customers

Customers come with all kinds of personalities. There are customers who:

  1. Are easy to get along with.
  2. Have unreasonable expectations.
  3. Seem to be always angry or upset.

No matter what kind of customer you are dealing with, the key is to treat him or her professionally and with respect.

The relationship with the customer needs to remain positive whenever possible. Following is a description of three kinds of customers and a discussion of how to handle each of them.

Amiable Customers

Characteristics of amiable customers include:

  1. They like to work with you.
  2. They ask many questions and are interested in you as a person.
  3. They like lots of attention.
  4. They like to hear suggestions from others.
  5. They avoid disagreement.
  6. They are generally easy to work with, but will not tell you if they are having a problem because they do not like confrontation.
  7. They may spend a lot of time visiting if you let them.

Strategies for working with amiable customers include:

  1. Listen carefully to what an amiable customer is saying. You may have to read between the lines to determine if there is a problem. If there is, then fix the problem without a lot of discussion.
  2. Keep your conversations with amiable customers focused. If they start to talk about unrelated things, you can say something like: "That is very interesting, and I would like to talk about that with you some other time. Right now, let's get back to the reason you called."
  3. When you do discover the problem an amiable customer has, be sure to reassure him or her that the problem is going to be resolved. Amiable customers depend on you to fix things without a lot of fuss and bother and need to be reassured that it will happen.

Aggressive Customers

Characteristics of aggressive customers include:

  1. They often speak loudly.
  2. They can be very demanding.
  3. They might even resort to slamming doors or pounding on a desk.

Strategies for working with aggressive customers include:

  1. Focus on getting aggressive customers to calm down before they escalate into anger.
  2. Don't focus on the things you cannot do, but rather on the things you can control. For example, if you cannot resolve the issue the aggressive customer brings to you, do NOT tell that customer you can't help them and that he or she needs to talk to someone else. Instead, calmly tell the customer that you will connect him or her to someone who can help them. Then do it. Don't expect the customer to make the call to the other person.

Assertive customers are often mistaken for aggressive customers. Assertive customers are direct, but generally much calmer when asking for something. They like quick resolution and direct answers and will not spend a lot of time chatting, but they are not apt to be rude or obnoxious.

Angry Customers

When an aggressive customer does not achieve what he or she wants through simple aggressive behavior like using a raised voice or making unreasonable demands, his or her behavior might escalate into anger. Angry customers are very difficult to deal with because they are so involved with their angry emotions that it is hard to get through to them.

Strategies for working with angry customers include:

  1. Remain calm and respond politely.
  2. Echo their concerns to show you understand them.
  3. Show empathy by apologizing politely for their situation and what they are feeling.
  4. If they do not calm down, consider telling them you are not able to continue working with them because of the way they are acting, and asking them to come back another time.

Handling Stress

People respond to stress in different ways. While some people have a higher threshold for stress than others, all people deal with stress. Some guidelines to keep in mind for handling stress when working with customers are:

  1. Ask yourself what it is that you can control or change about the situation. If the situation is one you have no power to change, there is no point in continuing to work on it. Both you and the customer will become even more frustrated. When this happens, it is time to involve someone who does have the power to control or change the situation.
  2. Ask yourself what it is you want to achieve by continuing. Once you have determined your goals or desired outcomes, you will have something to focus on, which will decrease the level of stress.
  3. Discover what actions must be taken to achieve the desired outcomes. If you focus on specific actions that will help you achieve the desired outcome, you will spend less time focusing on the behavior that caused the stressful reaction.

Check for Understanding: Interacting with Customers

Duration: 5 to 10 minutes.

In this exercise, please respond to the following questions:

  1. Of the following kinds of customers, which one prefers to avoid confrontation?
    1. Angry customers.
    2. Aggressive customers.
    3. Amiable customers.
    4. None of the above.
  2. What is a benefit of asking yourself what is needed to accomplish the desired outcomes of a customer interaction?
    1. A reduction in stress.
    2. More customers.
    3. Improved customer service.
    4. A and C.


  1. C. Amiable customers.
  2. D. A and C.

Check for Understanding: How Would You Handle It?

Duration: 5 to 10 minutes.

In this exercise, please review the following conversation that took place between Maria, a customer, and Raul, an employee.

Raul: Good afternoon. This is Raul. How may I help you?

Maria: This is the third time I have tried to contact your company. Your stupid computer answering system is completely impossible to get through! I want to talk to a human! Right now!

Raul: Hey, lady, I am a human! Now what do you want? We are really busy here, you know.

Maria: Look, young man, you don't have to be rude to me! I am a customer, and I have rights! Now, put someone on the phone who can help me!

Raul: I am on the phone with you now, but I can't help you unless you tell me what is wrong. So, what do you want?

Maria: Well, this is the last time I ever use the services your company provides! Good bye!

Raul: Good riddance!

  1. What went wrong in this conversation? Where did it get off track? How would you handle Maria?


  1. The conversation took a bad turn when Raul was rude to Maria after she complained about the phone system. Raul should have responded to Maria professionally in order to move past a discussion of the phone system and on to the reason for her call. For example, he should have said, "I am sorry about your experience with our phone system. What can I do to help you?"

Understanding What the Customer Wants

Often what a customer says and what the customer really means are two different things. The same thing happens when we are talking about customer wants. It is important to listen carefully to customers to understand how their wants and needs relate to the products and services you have to offer.

For example, when you go to the cell phone store to purchase a new phone, the salesperson could:

  1. Assume you want a new smart phone with all the features available.
  2. Ask you what you would like to do with your phone so he or she can help you decide on the right one for you.

If that salesperson is practicing good customer service skills, he or she not only will ask, but will also listen to your response and show you phones that will meet your needs.

Some questions to ask yourself when trying to determine what a customer wants include:

  1. What are a minimum of three things the customer has stated he or she needs? One of these things should not be price requirements. Some examples of needs might be convenience, ease of use, portability, timeliness, perishability, or attractiveness.
  2. What was said to convince you of these needs? Listen to the customer; don't just recite the benefits of your product or service. Knowing the attributes of the product or service is not enough; you also need to know how the needs of the customer relate to the product or service.
  3. When closing the sale or deal, how did the customer respond? In closing a sale or deal, it is always a good idea to ask if there is anything more you can do for your customer. Listen to the response; you may discover that the customer has another need that you can accommodate.

Check for Understanding: Understanding What the Customer Wants

Duration: 5 to 10 minutes.

In this exercise, please respond to the following questions:

  1. Customer needs and wants are the same thing.
    1. True.
    2. False.
  2. When trying to determine what the customer really wants, it is important to do what?
    1. Listen to the customer.
    2. Focus on what your product or service provides.
    3. Avoid discussion of the price of the product or service.
    4. Convince the customers that the product or service will meet their needs, regardless of what they are.


  1. False.
  2. A. Listen to the customer.