How to Improve Problem Solving Skills in Customer Service

A hand holding a light bulb with the word solution written on it.

Keeping customers happy pays off.

Happy customers buy more, generate positive word-of-mouth advertising, and create great referrals.

Unhappy customers complain, and they do it loudly. What’s worse, for every customer that complains, 26 stay quiet.  

Delivering great customer service can be challenging, but why?

According to Jeff Toister of Toister Performance Solutions and author of three customer service books, there are five reasons why customer service is so hard:

  • It’s not instinctive
  • Our customers see what we don’t
  • It’s sometimes hard to be friendly
  • We aren’t good at multitasking
  • Directed attention fatigue

So how do we overcome these challenges?


“Every problem has a solution. You just have to be creative enough to find it.”

Travis Kalanick

One of the main reasons our customers do business with us is because we solve a problem for them.

Depending on your product or service, your business can help customers:

  • save time
  • save money
  • experience something new
  • feel comfort
  • become healthier

What problem does your business solve for your customers?

Problem -solving skills is vital to Customer Service

Solving a customers’ issue should be the goal of every one of your people.

But typically in the past, when an issue escalated to a certain point, help desk service or customer service reps (CSRs) were told to escalate these calls to a supervisor or manager.

Not today.

More and more companies are asking customer service reps (CSRs) to handle these types of issues, not managers.

That’s a big change for many CSRs.

It’s also a task CSRs can get right with the proper problem -solving skills training. Failing is not an option for CSRs. It’s just too costly.

What is the impact of poor customer service?

Companies lost $75 billion in 2017 from customers switching to competitors because of bad service. That’s up $13 billion from 2016. With customers demands increasing each year, it doesn’t take much to disappoint customers with poor customer service. Obviously, CSRs need to be at the top of their games to keep customers happy.

The Impact of Poor Customer Service

This guide offers tips on how to help your people solve customer service problems quickly, efficiently, and cost-effectively.

The guide covers the following topics:

  • Critical thinking in customer service
  • Rules to help customer service people think critically
  • Basic customer service problem-solving scenario
  • Concrete steps to solve a customer problem

Keeping customers happy can boost customer loyalty, corporate productivity, and business profitability—goals for every company out there.

“Fall in love with the problem, not the solution.”

Uri Levine

Critical Thinking in Customer Service

Delivering epic customer service is essential these days. But that’s easier said than done, given today’s more demanding customers.

Identify critical thinkers

To manage demanding customers requires someone highly skilled in troubleshooting—someone with the creativity to solve difficult problems.

All while under the pressure of the customer.

So, look for customer service people that are creative problem solvers when hiring new workers. These people have a penchant for thinking outside the box to solve problems.

That includes not just the ability to think rationally, but also the need to question the information given. Put simply, critical thinking is never taking anything for granted.

Build critical thinking skills

Customer service people can develop critical thinking skills with practice. In a post by Ransom Patterson on reveals seven ways people can improve critical thinking skills:

  1. ask basic questions
  2. question basic assumptions
  3. be aware of your mental processes
  4. try reversing thing
  5. evaluate existing evidence
  6. think for yourself
  7. remember you are not perfect

Apply these tips encourages critical thinking.

Another critical thinking technique CSRs can use is constructive controversy. A proven problem-solving method, constructive controversy helps you decide if a decision we’re making is the right one for you. Here’s more on this technique.

Critical Thinking is the key to creative problem solving in business.

Basic Customer Service Problem-Solving Scenario

Savvy businesses aren’t afraid to provide employees with customer service problem-solving training.

One aspect of this training is learning the four phases of a problem-solving situation and what to do during each phase. See below:

The 4 Phases of a Problem-Solving Situation

Listen to customers

Listening is the first step in solving customer’s problems. It’s also the most critical. But customer service people often need training to do it well.

If customer service reps don’t listen, they won’t know the nature of a customer’s problem and its impact on him or her.

Sometimes, all customers want is for CSRs to lend a sympathetic ear. Other times, they need more.

Also, CSRs need to let customers vent without interrupting them.

Acknowledge customer’s pain

During this phase, CSRs need to acknowledge they heard customers and “feel” their pain.

Paraphrasing the problem back to a customer says you’ve done that. It also makes sure everyone is on the same page. If CSRs don’t fully understand the issue, they may end up providing the wrong solutions. Saying something like “I’m sorry you had to call us to deal with this issue” also helps.

Offer alternative solutions

If the issue is merely an oversight on the customer’s part, no remedy is needed.

But if the situation is the company’s fault or a product or service fails, you may need to offer alternative solutions.

Resolution is critical.

In this case, the customer not only didn’t get what he or she wanted but also were inconvenienced. That’s a bad combination no matter how you look at it. Going above and beyond by resolving the issue and offering a free product or service, a special coupon, or a gift voucher goes a long way with customers.


After agreeing on a solution, CSRs need to execute. Then, you need to follow up. That ensures that customers end up happy with the resolution and are satisfied with the outcome. If they’re not, then customer service people need to find a way to satisfy them.

Understanding these phases of a successful issue resolution is crucial when dealing with unhappy customers. It’s the “secret sauce” to keep buyers happy.

Extra: Be prepared

In addition to this approach, you may want to have some prepared responses to seven stock questions customers ask. They’re questions that almost every company gets:

  1. Why don’t you have it in stock?
  2. Why didn’t you or your company tell its customers?
  3. Why did I pay less the last time I was here?
  4. Can I have a refund because of this problem?
  5. You did it last time I was here?
  6. You said the problem/product was fixed?
  7. You said you’d call me when the problem was fixed.
Can I have a refund?

Providing stock responses to these questions not only helps customer care people follow company guidelines but also keeps customers happy.

How to Handle Customer Service Issues: 9 Steps

Problem-solving often seems straightforward, but that’s not always the case. Sometimes, it’s complicated. Having workers well-versed in problem-solving skills and techniques for customer care representatives helps. Approaching issues in a systematic way simplifies the problem-solving process.

Below is a 9-step process that can help CSRs resolve even the most complex customer service issues:

How to Handle Customer Service Issues: A 9-Step Guide

Identify the problem

The key to doing this is to ask the right questions. Below are some customer service problem-solving interview questions:

  • What is this call really about?
  • Is there an underlying issue causing the problem the customer isn’t aware of?
  • What does the customer want us to do?
  • Is the issue being made worse by a known problem or bug?
  • Is this issue identifying a repeated customer service problem or is it a new issue?

These questions can help CSRs pinpoint the real problem. It’s not always what customers think. Acknowledging the customer’s pain, as we said above, also helps.

Find out what customers need

Try to understand how customers see the issues involved and try to get a solid understanding of his or her needs. If appropriate, ask customers what they’ve done to resolve the issue.

Find out how the issue impacts the customer

Understanding how an issue affects a customer is crucial. It helps CSRs not only connect with the customer but also prioritize tasks.

Clearly define the root of the problem

Having identified the problem in steps 1 to 3, you now need to understand what caused the problem. By identifying the cause of the problem, you will have a better idea of how to solve it. Also, you will know how to avoid a simialr problem in the future.

Produce possible solutions

Knowing the problem, your customer care person needs to start brainstorming solutions. They also need to find out what solutions other co-workers may have used to solve the problem. CSRs can then generate a list of potential solutions.

Evaluate each solution and pick the best

Evaluate all the solutions. Decide if you have the resources to implement it, how much the solution costs, how long it will take to execute it, will it resolve the issue, and if it follows company policy.

Plan the solution’s implementation

Some solutions are easy to execute. Others are harder. For harder solutions, think about who will execute the solution, what will it costs, when and where you will execute it, and how will it be implemented. Also, double check out the benefits of the solution.

Discuss the solution with customers

Having nailed down the solution’s details, discuss it with the customer. Walk through it with him or her step by step and ask for feedback. Be ready to adjust the plan. Execute the solution — After the customer approves the solution, it’s time to execute it. Follow up to certify the progress of the solution, that you’re meeting any deadlines and where you stand with the budget. Re-work your plan, if necessary.

Analyze the results

Having finished the implementation, analyze the results. Use quantitative and qualitative data, if available. Can you improve the solution? Also, ask the customer if the resolution met their expectations. That’s critical.

This ten-step process may seem a bit much for call center agents, technical support people, and customer care representatives to tackle. But using it works.

Having customer care people go through it step by step helps your CSRs quickly resolve customer issues the first time that customers call. Track resolution time to see how your CSRs are doing.


Resolving issues when customers contact your business keeps them happy.

Happy customers buy more, generate positive word-of-mouth advertising, and create outstanding online referrals. On average, a happy customer tells nine people about their experience with you.

Keeping customers happy is the secret to boosting customer loyalty, increasing profitability, and differentiating you from competitors. Doing those things can take your company to the next level.