“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

I’ve embedded that Maya Angelou quote in my business email signature line. It reminds me that making the customer feel valued should be at the heart of every customer interaction. That includes those difficult moments when the product or service wasn’t exactly what they expected.

Concentrating on the customer journey and customer satisfaction rather than the sale drives loyalty. Having a customer-centric focus is the first step to creating those positive interactions.

Overview: What is customer interaction?

Customer interaction is the dialogue that occurs between a business and a client. Before the internet exploded, in-person sales visits and phone calls were the primary methods of connecting with customers.

Today, opportunities for customer interaction are limitless. Here are a few examples:

  • Highlighting a customer on social media.
  • Responding to a social media message posted by a client.
  • Sending text messages.
  • Engaging in virtual networking.

A plan for customer interaction management is the first step in creating conversations that foster loyalty. Following these steps and tips, you can create interactions that motivate customers by making them feel good about doing business with you.

The 5 steps of the customer interaction cycle

Customers interact with businesses for multiple reasons. They might have a technical question or a broken part. Maybe they received an incorrect item, or they simply want to share their satisfaction. Each of those scenarios is an opportunity to implement these five steps.

1. Make them feel welcome

Think about how you interact with colleagues, friends, and family. Offering a greeting is always the first thing you do. Customers expect the same level of respect.

Think back to your last trip to the grocery store. Did the cashier say hello? If not, remember how cold the transaction felt when an employee skipped the greeting as they scanned and bagged your order? Carry that lesson into every customer interaction you have.

Here are a few suggestions to consider.

  • “Hello, my name is (insert name). Thank you for calling. What can I do for you today?”
  • “Hi, thank you for calling (company name). How may I assist you?”
  • “Thank you for the call. This is (name). How can I help you?
  • “Thank you for taking the time to contact us about (insert request/complaint/etc). How many I help you today?”
  • “We appreciate your business. Thank you for reaching out. What may I do to help you today?”

2. Clarify the request

You can’t offer a solution if you don’t know how a customer is thinking or feeling. The next step in the customer interaction cycle is truly understanding their needs or concerns. Pay attention to the details, and don’t allow distractions to interrupt real-time conversations. Use all clues, including the tone of their voice, to get a full picture of how they’re feeling.

These questions can help clarify a customer’s request.

  • “Please tell me more about what you mean by that.”
  • “What else should I know?”
  • “Are there any other concerns you have?”

3. Find common ground

Remember, the interactions aren’t about you. They’re about the customer. Offer information about options and alternatives for a feasible solution that can be agreed upon by both parties. Stay focused on an outcome that’s acceptable to the customer and doable by the company.

Unsure what to say in the heat of the moment? Try these for starters.

  • “Thank you for sharing your concerns. This is what I can offer you ….”
  • “Will this solution work for you?”

Make it clear to the customer if there are any steps they must take to complete the resolution you’ve offered.

4. Follow through on the promise

No one likes uncertainty. Once you’ve offered a solution and the customer accepts it, explain the details.

  • “We are happy to help you with (insert solution). You can expect a replacement to arrive in (number of days).”
  • “We will ship your (insert item) within 24 hours via UPS, so watch for a package.”
  • “Thank you for giving us a chance to correct (insert issue). Please note that you will see a credit appear on your credit card within five business days.”

5. Thank customers for reaching out

Let clients know how much you appreciate that they have communicated with your company. Offer a genuine thank-you to leave a positive impression at the end of an interaction.

These simple phrases show your gratitude for customers.

  • “Thank you for calling to make us aware of (insert issue).”
  • “We appreciate your interest in helping us serve you better and will take your feedback into consideration.”
  • “Thank you for your continued loyalty. We’re grateful to have the opportunity to serve you.”

Tips to improved customer interactions in your business

Remember the Golden Rule? The most common version is, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

Sounds simple, but in the heat of the moment, the best of intentions can go awry. When a customer calls to angrily complain about a defective item or is distressed about lost time or money, it’s a big issue to them. That can escalate to a negative response from your customer service staff.

Having a customer communication plan helps employees stay focused on offering solutions rather than emotions. Here are five tips to improve customer interactions.

1. Have a checklist for positive interactions

If you’re interested in how to improve customer service, start by creating a checklist. Train customer service representatives to follow the plan.

My customer interaction checklist includes:

  • Addressing the customer personally, even if it’s a first-time introduction.
  • Telling them my name.
  • Letting them know when and how they can get back to me.
  • Asking clarifying questions to be sure I understand their question or concern.
  • Proofreading written messages for errors and removing any negative words before sending.

2. Put yourself in their shoes

More often than not, customers are reaching out because they have an issue. Before getting defensive, think back to the last time you were disappointed by a product or service. Even if it was an inconvenience rather than an interruption, you were likely annoyed. Chances are your customers feel the same way.

Take it as a positive sign that they looked to you for a solution rather than just spreading negative reviews. This shows they’re giving you a chance to fix the problem.

3. Strengthen your communication

It’s hard to improve customer communication without knowing how well (or not) your current process works. Start by mapping out the customer interaction cycle with customer service software to close any gaps.

4. Show gratitude

It’s a competitive marketplace. Customers have endless choices when it comes to the products and services they need. Saying, “Thank you,” first and often lets them know you appreciate that they chose your brand.

Consider conveying your appreciation to customers for more than a purchase with this list of ideas thanking them for:

  • Their patience during delays
  • Their graciousness in understanding an error
  • Their continued loyalty
  • Their honesty in expressing a concern or issue

5. Bring empathy to the conversation

Whatever prompts a customer to call, it likely means they’re losing time and money. It may seem insignificant to you, but, to the customer, it could be costly. Acknowledging the imposition and apologizing on behalf of the company conveys a human connection and empathy.

6. Surprise your customers

Who doesn’t love a surprise? Unexpected small tokens of appreciation show customers they are valued. It doesn’t always have to be swag, a free product, or discounts. It could be a simple phone call to say thank-you for your business or a shoutout on social media. Also, a handwritten thank-you note or personalized email goes a long way toward improving the customer interaction experience.

Exceeding expectations

Taking a proactive approach to creating an effective interaction cycle leaves customers feeling satisfied even after an issue has arisen.

People feel valued when their opinion and feedback matters. Ask customers and your customer support team for their observations and experiences across a variety of interactions. A simple survey can illuminate areas for improvement and highlight what’s working well. Take it one step further by letting customers and staff know that changes have come from their recommendations.

Commit to raising your customer service standards through improvements in each interaction so your customers feel heard and valued. Chances are they will reward you with their loyalty and continuing business.