Seven Easy Ways to Build Rapport with Customers

Rapport is one of the most important customer service skills.

It helps customers feel better about your service. They relax and are easier to serve because they like you. And friendly interactions help you sustain a positive outlook throughout your day.

Here's how rapport is defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary.

a friendly, harmonious relationship

especially : a relationship characterized by agreement, mutual understanding, or empathy that makes communication possible or easy

So how exactly do you build rapport?

You probably know some of the basics: smile, be friendly, and make a little small talk when you get a chance. You might even try to learn and use customer names.

Want some more advanced skills?

More than 5,500 customer service professionals from around the world subscribe to my Customer Service Tip of the Week email. I asked subscribers and my LinkedIn followers to share their favorite techniques.

Here are seven of my favorite suggestions.

A customer is shaking hands with an advisor.

Talk about their interests

Patty, who works in circulation at a library, likes to get customers talking about themselves.

"I try to pick up on their interest, whether it is cooking, art or camping etc. People like to talk about themselves and this makes them a friend."

This is great technique because Patty is absolutely right—people feel comfortable talking about themselves. It helps put them at ease and makes you more likable when you show a genuine interest in something they care about.

Ask about their projects

Dawn is a customer service representative at a company that sells manufacturing equipment. Dawn's customers all make things, so Dawn likes to ask about their projects. This opens the door to getting customers to talk about themselves.

"Asking what my customers are making always starts a conversation. It gives the customer the feeling that I'm truly interested in them and I learn fascinating things about the people I serve."

This technique is similar to Patty's approach. In this case, Dawn is asking a work-related question that has two potentially good results. The first is it helps build rapport since people like to talk about themselves or what they're working on. The second benefit is it helps Dawn better understand the customer's needs.

Share something about yourself

Kristan, a Senior Director at a software company, breaks the ice by sharing a little about herself to encourage clients to open up about themselves. 

Kristan might ask a client, "Are you experiencing the same week I am?" during the busy back-to-school season.

"School is starting back this week so it's been crazy getting everyone out the door on time [in the morning]. Then I learn if they have children, a hobby if weather is great for gardening, or whatever topic and I try to infuse that in future conversations."

You can sometimes break the ice by doing something first, like sharing a little about yourself. What I really like about Kristan's example is it's simple without oversharing. Adding just a line or two such as, "It's been crazy getting everyone out the door on time," encourages the customer to share something about themselves.

Wish them a happy birthday

Andrew works in technical support, and sometimes needs to ask customers for their date of birth. 

"If a customer’s birthday is within about two weeks of the current date I’ll wish them a happy late or early birthday."

Customers are generally surprised and appreciative when he acknowledges their birthday. Using Andrew's two week suggestion, you'll be able to use this technique fairly often without over using it.

Ask your customer for suggestions

Derrick, a sales manager for a hospitality company, likes to ask customers for suggestions when he knows he'll be traveling to their city.

"I typically discuss their favorite restaurant in their town. If I've been there it's an easy one. If not, I keep it on my list of places to visit. This works so well that when I went to a new town for a visit, the manager struck up a conversation with me and said 'Sarah said you would be coming to check us out.' This really helped cement the relationship and I typically have great meals, too!"

People like to be an expert, so asking customers for advice can make them feel comfortable and naturally inclined to want to help you.

Pay your customer a compliment

Rachael is a consultant who builds rapport with clients by paying them a genuine and sincere compliment.

"I go with fashion sometimes. Appreciating a customers fashion builds a foundation for an easy rapport with customers. It can be their eye glasses, wristwatch, or even their hair."

Some people may be concerned about crossing the line from paying someone a compliment to being unprofessional and flirtatious. 

Rachael's advice for avoiding this trap is to stick with something you know and make the appreciation genuine. For example, you might comment on a customer's watch if you are familiar with the brand or truly admire the style.

Ask about their name

Viraj is a corporate trainer who recommends asking customers about their first name.

"When I come across a name that is different or unique, I politely pop a question: ‘That’s a unique name—I am curious where it comes from or what it means.' More often than not you get great background for the name and get the person to open up."

I've often used a similar approach when signing one of my books after a speaking engagement. Whenever I encounter someone with an uncommon name, such as "Sunshine," I'll comment that they're the first Sunshine I've met that day. This often draws a laugh and opens the door for them to tell me a little more about themselves.

Take action to build rapport

Rapport is one of the four customer service skills that I think are most important for customer service professionals to have.

I encourage you to experiment with these suggestions. Find out which ones work naturally for you. Perhaps some even work better than others, while some might not be appropriate for your situation.

Keep in mind these seven suggestions are just the tip of the iceberg. There are many other ways to build rapport. 

In fact, I'd appreciate it if you shared your own suggestion in a comment!


How to Follow-up with Customers Like a Pro

Follow-up can be the difference between relationship-driven service or a mere transaction. 

A Customer Service Tip of the Week subscriber recently emailed to tell me she had stopped receiving the weekly tips. The subscriber wanted to know why they had stopped and how she could continue to receive them.

The challenge was everything looked fine on my end. Her email was correct in my email management system, her subscription was active, and the emails were being sent each week with no errors.

So I sent her my typical advice for situations like this: check your spam folder.

That's where the emails usually land when they're not being received. But I made a note to follow-up the next Monday to see if the issue was resolved. I'm glad I did.

This post looks at why customer follow-up is important, when you should follow-up, and how to remember to follow-up when you have a busy schedule like I do.

Notepad with the words “Don’t Forget to Follow Up” typed on it.

Why is follow-up important in customer service?

The benefits of following up with customers include confirming problems are resolved, preventing future issues, and building stronger relationships. Companies often gain far more customer feedback when they follow up after a service interaction.

Confirm Problems Are Resolved

Follow-up allows you to verify problems are resolved, and learn from situations when they aren't.

I followed up with my subscriber the following Monday. She had checked her spam folder and the emails weren't going there. So I dug deeper to do some more research.

That's when I learned my first response was incomplete. The other solution I should have suggested was to check with her company's IT department to make sure their email servers weren't blocking my email.

It turned out that was the issue. She planned to follow-up with her IT to see if it could be fixed. In the meantime, she subscribed using her personal email address so she could continue receiving the weekly emails.

I learned from this experience and updated the template I use to respond to this type of issue. Here’s the old template:

Old email template for responding to subscribers who don’t receive my emails.

The new template includes a more complete set of options:

  • Check your spam folder

  • Check with your IT department

  • Subscribe with another email address

Revised email template for replying to subscribers who aren’t receiving emails

I'm not alone with my inadequate email response.

A 2019 study from SuperOffice found that just 20 percent of companies fully answered a customer's question on the first reply. The same study discovered that only 3 percent of companies followed up after responding to a customer email. 

Without follow-up, it's difficult for these companies to learn from mistakes like I did.

Next Issue Prevention

Follow-up can help customers avoid future problems.

The Customer Service Tip of the Week subscriber mentioned that she was forwarding my weekly tips to her team. This meant that if she wasn't receiving them, her team wasn't receiving them, either.

So I forwarded her the current week's tip so she'd have it while we tried to figure out why she wasn't receiving the automated emails. I also sent her some additional advice on how to prevent people from accidentally unsubscribing her, since the "unsubscribe" link in each email remains active when you forward it.

When you reconnect with a customer, try to anticipate additional problems they might experience and offer solutions to those as well. This turns your service from reactive (responding to a problem) into proactive (preventing a problem).

Build Relationships

Follow-up allows you to build rapport with customers.

I followed up with the subscriber again the next week. She confirmed the email had come through via her personal email address, so our solution would work until her IT department could tell the company's email servers to allow my emails to go through.

It would have been great to solve the problem on the first try, but our email exchange helped us develop some rapport. She even bought a copy of my Customer Service Tip of the Week book!

Even a simple check-in message can let a customer know you care. It helps them see you as a person and not just the other end of a transaction.

When should you follow-up with a customer?

The timing depends on the situation. It could be immediately after you solve a problem, after a critical event, or after a designated period of time such as 24 hours.

Immediately

Some situations call for immediate follow-up, especially when you are serving a customer face-to-face. 

You can see a great example of immediate follow-up in this short video on tending to customers' emotional needs. Pay particular attention to the vignette that starts at the 2:45 mark, where the barista masterfully de-escalates an angry customer and then follows up to ensure she's happy.

After a Critical Event

There are times when it makes more sense to wait for something specific to happen before you follow up with a customer.

For example, my Customer Service Tip of the Week email is sent out each Monday. So it makes sense that I wait until after the next email is sent before following up with the subscriber again. 

When I worked in the catalog business, my team would run a report of any order that had been upgraded to express shipping. We figured any order sent express was particularly important to the customer. So we would track the order to ensure it showed delivered, and then call the customer to verify everything was okay.

Designated Period of Time

Sometimes, it doesn't make sense to follow-up immediately, but there isn't a specific event you're waiting for. In those situations, you can follow-up after a set period of time such as 24 hours.

I recently interviewed Andrew Gilliam, an ITS Service Desk Consultant at Western Kentucky University who increased his team's survey response rate by 370 percent. The secret was a small change in how follow-up emails were sent.

Customers received an automated follow-up email 24 hours after an issue was resolved. The old message focused on confirming the customer's service ticket was closed. The new message asked the customer for feedback on how the ticket was closed, and invited customers to reconnect if there was still a problem.

You can watch the full, 20 minute interview here.

How to remember to follow-up with customers

People often fail to follow up because they simply forget. An automated reminder can prompt you at the right time to reconnect with a customer.

Here are a few examples:

Use your CRM system. Many customer relationship management (CRM) systems allow you to set follow-up reminders. That's how I usually remember to follow up with someone. I go into my CRM and set a reminder as part of post-contact wrap-up work. The reminder is automatically triggered whenever I select, such as 24 hours later or the following Monday.

Use a reminder app. You can set reminders on your smartphone to trigger at specific times. For personal tasks that aren't appropriate to enter into my CRM, I like to use the "reminders" app on my Mac. The app automatically syncs with my iPhone, and I can use it to trigger reminders on specific dates and times.

Automate it. Some follow-up tasks can be automated. When people subscribe to my Customer Service Tip of the Week email, it automatically triggers an email that confirms the new subscription and provides some tips for getting the most out of the emails.

Take Action

Follow-up doesn't happen by accident. I encourage you think through your own follow-up process:

  • What are situations where follow-up is appropriate?

  • When should you follow up with your customers?

  • How can you ensure follow-up happens?

You can test my follow-up process by subscribing to my Customer Service Tip of the Week email. If you do, you'll find an additional follow-up in my welcome email that I haven't mentioned here.