28 Effective Ways to Build Rapport With Customers and Clients

rapport on chalkboard


Building rapport with customers is about creating a common bond of trust over the phone.

So, you must learn to empathize with your customers, have a genuine interest in their situation, and make them feel valued. This is so important to providing good service and increasing sales.

Note, there is no such word as ‘repor’ or ‘repore’. If you’re looking for advice on ‘building repor’, or how to ‘build a repor’, to help improve your customer service calls, the correct spelling is ‘rapport’ and you can find out more about this relationship-building technique in this article.

What Is Rapport Building?

Kim Ellis
Kim Ellis

As Kim Ellis, Chief Learning Architect at Go Ginger Learning Solutions, explains in her Interactive Training Sheet – Building Rapport, the meaning of rapport is:

“A close and harmonious relationship in which the people or groups concerned understand each other’s feelings or ideas and communicate well.”

Being great at building rapport can give you lifelong benefits, such as:

  • Improved collaboration in meetings or groups
  • Smoother interactions with colleagues
  • People wanting to work with you or be around you
  • If you’re a salesperson, it could help you increase your sales

For more on the meaning of building rapport, you can also watch this video, where Christine Knott explains what rapport is and why it is important:

This came from our webinar on How to Improve Rapport With the Customer.


How to Build Rapport With Customers

Here are some tips and advice on building rapport with customers, along with snippets of advice from our readers.

1. Get Their Name First

Debbie, one of our readers, suggests asking for the customer’s name first, rather than a reference number or address to help establish rapport:

“It is easy to get the details we need after we have their name. This makes the customer feel like an individual and advisors feel as if they are speaking with a person, not a caller.”

It is equally important to get the customer’s name right, as Carolyn Blunt, from Davies Learning Solutions, says: “many people accidentally call me Caroline and when they do that they completely lose rapport with me. This is because they haven’t paid enough attention or cared enough to get that right.”

So, Carolyn instead suggests another rule, that “if the customer has an unusual name, write it down phonetically when the customer is saying it instead of reading it off the CRM system.”

2. Speak With a Smile

Smiling has been proven to release endorphins in the brain and consequently to lift the smiler’s mood.

In Tony’s contact centre, advisors are asked to “always start the call with a smile” to help with rapport building – as the customer will notice this in their voice.

Jeanette Coulthard agrees, saying that “it creates a warmth in your voice which a customer or prospective customer can hear. It also makes it far less likely that the customer will be rude to you, as you are more likely to listen to someone who sounds like they are smiling than someone who sounds like they are just going through the motions.”

It is also good for the advisor, as smiling has been proven to release endorphins in the brain and consequently to lift the smiler’s mood.

Plus, if an advisor’s mood improves, they will be more likely to be invested in the rapport-building process.

It’s important for agents to be aware of their tone of voice. To discover some great information on this, read our article: How to Utilize Tone of Voice in the Contact Centre

3. See It From the Customer’s Perspective

Showing empathy is often a crucial way to build a rapport, as it helps to create trust and mutual understanding, while it enables advisors to show the customer that they are the priority.

But some advisors will find this more difficult to do than others. So, Gareth, one of our readers, suggests encouraging “advisors to imagine themselves in the customer’s shoes. Or, if they are really struggling to display empathy, ask them to imagine the customer as a close friend or family member.”

For information on practical ways to show empathy, read our article: A Quick Guide to the Feel, Felt, Found Approach

4. Share Their Priorities

Michael, another one of our readers, says that “every customer, particularly in an emergency situation, will have a list of priorities.

“Making them your priorities and addressing them in the right order (mirroring them) will reassure them that you know what they want and are taking care of them” and help you build good rapport.

This follows a key principle in any customer service field: people like people who are similar to themselves.

This is why Carolyn Blunt says advisors “need to be really focused on what the customer is saying to them and what clues and signals there might be about how they can say similar things to demonstrate commonality.”

A trick that many contact centres use to find a shortcut to this common ground is to ask advisors to make a note of any interests that they discover the customer has in the Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system.

Then, if the same customer were ever to call back, the next advisor will have this information, which they can subtly use in their next conversation with the customer when establishing rapport.

5. Allow Angry Customers to ‘Get It All Out’

Angry customers are the most difficult callers to build rapport with, but it’s not impossible, as long as the advisor lets them get it all out first.

It’s best to wait, and when the angry customer finally takes a breath, an empathy statement could be used to highlight that the situation has been recognized and understood.

Jennifer, a frequent visitor to the Call Centre Helper website, recommends this, saying: “When the customer is angry, allow them to vent without interruption.”

If they interrupt, the advisor will only be making the situation worse. It’s best to wait, and when the angry customer finally takes a breath, an empathy statement could be used to highlight that the situation has been recognized and understood.

Also, if the advisor uses this time to figure out what needs to be done to fix the issue, it is easier for them to present solutions to the customer instead of problems.

For more on this topic, read our article: Rapport Building With Angry Customers – With Examples

6. Repeat Back

In many contact centres, a good example of rapport building is when advisors are encouraged to use reflective listening.

This – according to Sarah-Jane, whose contact centre does so – is where the advisor “repeats sentences or important details back to the customer, saying ‘Okay, just to recap…’”. This reassures the customer that the advisor is paying attention.

It is also important to mirror the customer’s tone, as Carolyn Blunt continues: “sometimes it’s about stopping and just moving on, thinking about how to match and mirror the customer’s mood and use similar words, phrases and tone.”

Top Tip – Listen out for the words and phrases that are being used, and if the customer has the same accent as the advisor, they should play to that.

Just a word of caution, don’t do this when the customer is aggressive, or if their accent is not the same (as trying to copy colloquial language could appear mocking or offensive).

That being said, if the customer is really bubbly and enthusiastic about a holiday that they are going on or a wedding that they are going to, then go for it! That enthusiasm should be mirrored.

7. Ask Clarifying Questions

On 22nd March 2023, we also asked the new Bing – powered by ChatGPT and AI – for its thoughts on the topic and received this response:

“Ask clarifying questions. This shows your client that you are actively listening and making an effort to understand them. It also encourages your client to talk more, which gives you the opportunity to collect valuable information about their lives and priorities.”

8. Make Their Problem Your Problem

When looking at how to build rapport with customers, it’s key that advisors take “ownership of the enquiry, especially if it is a complaint” – according to Veronica, one of our readers.

People sharing - person handing unlit lightbulb and gaining lit one

She continues: “It’s important to have a one-to-one relationship with your customer so that they have a point of contact that they can come back to.”

So, when a customer voices their issue, it is important to acknowledge it and signal that their concern has been understood, so the customer feels as though the problem has been lifted from them.

Advisors can use statements such as: “I realize that this situation is difficult, but let’s try and find a solution” to do this. Such a statement begins with personal recognition using “I”, while it also finishes with “we” to create a notion of teamwork, which can boost rapport.

This approach also turns a negative into a positive, is more authentic than saying “I understand”, and creates a sense of action to show that the matter is important to the advisor and company.

For more examples, read our article: The Top 12 Acknowledgement Statements for Customer Service

9. Understand the Customer’s Emotional Drivers

When we discussed how to improve your emotional connection with customers, we concluded that customers will have two very different emotional drivers behind calling the contact centre.

These drivers are: movement away from pain or discomfort and movement towards pleasure. Normally one will be the dominant force.

If the advisor can tell which is the dominant driver behind the call and alter their style accordingly, they will increase their emotional connection with the customer and consequently build rapport.

When a customer seems worried, negative, or agitated, their dominant driver will be to move away from pain, and, if the advisor recognizes this, it is best to use empathy statements.

By contrast, if a customer is more upbeat – having called for a feeling of contentment, relief, or peace of mind – it is best the advisor stays enthusiastic.

If the advisor can tell which is the dominant driver behind the call and alter their style accordingly, they will increase their emotional connection with the customer and consequently build rapport.

10. Use Positive Scripting

Customer rapport can be tricky to achieve.

While many are against the use of scripts in contact centres, as they are often seen as a barrier to natural conversation, letting advisors know what they should not be saying and providing them with a list of positive alternatives can be beneficial.

This aids the rapport-building process, turning negative language (which can cause the customer to worry) into positivity that can instead trigger optimism.

Like these examples below:

Effective rapport and positive scripting

If advisors can speak naturally, but refer to the list when they feel the urge to use a “negative” phrase, this can help to evoke positive emotions and rapport can be built more easily.

For more on this topic, read our piece: How to Create a Positive Scripting Experience in Your Contact Centre

11. Minimize Dead Air Time and Use “Stock Book Phrases”

It’s also important to think beyond choice words to use to build rapport in a sentence or two, as dead air time can also take away the natural flow from the conversation.

According to Carolyn Blunt, “it is most common for dead air time to occur when an advisor thinks ‘I don’t know what to say to that’ instead of it being due to knowledge gaps or slow systems.

A thumbnail image of Carolyn Blunt
Carolyn Blunt

Here, Carolyn uses the example of when she was listening in to a call from an organization who booked hotels for people over the phone, and the customer said to the advisor: “I’m taking all my friends away and we are going to York for the weekend to have a divorce party.”

The advisor could not think of anything to say in response. After all, should they be giving congratulations or commiserations? So, have a list of stock book phrases for advisors to revert to, as the worst thing is often to just say nothing.

In the above example, perhaps the advisor could have given a “stock book” response, such as “well, that’s a first” to move forward in the conversation.

For more of these examples, read our article: Best Tips, Phrases and Words to Use for Building Rapport


Some More Tips From Our Readers

12. Be Flexible With Formality

When it comes to our in-house advice on how to establish rapport, we address our customers in the way that they introduce themselves. The screen may show them as Christopher Jones, but if the customer calls himself Chris, we will address him in the same way.

Advisor Customer Name Calling

Some customers prefer to keep things more formal and may introduce themselves as Mr Jones. It depends on the business.

Thanks to Stephen

13. Remember the Value of an Apology

For those who deal with complaints all the time – a simple, genuine apology at the appropriate time can defuse a difficult customer and break down the barriers to allow space to build rapport.

Also, use personal experience to build rapport, so that the caller feels you are putting yourself in their shoes.

Thanks to Stephen

14. Be Adaptable

Advisors should be able to adapt their approach – there is no reason to think that all customers should be approached using the same style.

Use personal experience to build rapport so that the caller feels you are putting yourself in their shoes.

Thanks to Clair

15. Pace and Lead

This technique is extremely useful when someone is in an over-excited state. Start by showing urgency, confidence and concern in your speech patterns and manner to match and reassure them.

As long as the customer feels things are happening and that you’re in rapport, they will follow you down and become calmer in response.

Then gradually begin to calm and slow up your speech patterns. As long as the customer feels things are happening and that you’re in rapport, they will follow you down and become calmer in response.

Thanks to Michael

16. Take a Personal Interest

Rapport can be built by showing a personal interest in the customer.

For example, if a customer says they have been in hospital, ask them how the recovery is going.

If you were speaking to somebody face-to-face and they said that they had just come out of hospital, it would be courteous to check how they are. The same applies over the phone.

Thanks to Lisa

17. Use Intonation Well

Train agents on how to use intonation well.

For example, lifting their voice at the end of the sentence for questions, and lowering at the end for an instruction.

Thanks to Michael

You can see an example of the contrast between the warmer ‘language of love’ and sharp ‘nasal tone’ in the short video clip from Clinton Jordan below:

18. Start Off With Something Positive

Start written on wooden cubes

If the customer has spent some time explaining a frustrating problem, then beginning a response with a short, direct statement of intent can gain the customer’s confidence.

Something like “OK, we can fix this…” or “Right, let’s get this problem sorted for you…” will reassure the customer that the advisor is taking ownership of the problem.

Thanks to Matt

19. Be Respectful

Make sure advisors talk to customers with respect.

Advisors should never talk down to the customer or talk over them – as this can undo all their efforts in building a rapport.

Thanks to Nicola

20. Keep Focused

Advisors should stay 100% focused on the customer and not let colleagues or other things in the office (or home) distract them.

If the customer doesn’t have the agent’s full attention, they will always pick up on it.

Thanks to Laura

21. End on a High

Always ask the customer if there is anything else you can do for them before you end the call. This shows that your priority is giving good service, not just getting the call over with.

Thanks to Matt

If you are looking for some great advice on starting and ending customer conversations, read our article: The Best Ways to Start and End a Customer Conversation

22. Don’t Leave Customers Waiting

Be careful when putting people on hold or transferring calls. This can damage rapport, as wait times always seem longer when you’re lingering in dead space.

Advisors should keep the customer informed as to what they’re going to do and how long it will take.

Thanks to Clair

23. Let Advisors See Their Feedback

Try to get any post-call survey results, especially spoken or written comments, back to the advisor that took the call.

This is a great learning experience on building rapport, as it bridges the gap between what the advisor did on the call and what the customer felt about it. All the better if you can do this in real time.

Thanks to Alan

Providing effective feedback can be so important and leaders needs to do this effectively. To find out more, read our article: How to Provide Closed-Loop Feedback With Employees and Customers

24. Beware of Inappropriate Jokes

Everyone must be careful with humour. Sometimes there is too high a risk of a jokey comment being misunderstood – just like sarcasm in emails.

Thanks to Mark

25. Don’t Rush

Sometimes agents can identify an issue they have seen regularly and then rush to rectify the problem quickly.

But it’s always best to focus on building rapport first and make the customer feel listened to.

Thanks to Marcus

26. Take Deep Breaths After a Tough Call

If an advisor carries the stress of dealing with an angry customer into the next call, it can instantly damage rapport.

Deep breathing is therapeutic, so maybe teach advisors to try this if they feel they need to, to help reduce their stress response.

Instead, they should be trained to leave the last call behind and start afresh every time.

Deep breathing is therapeutic, so maybe teach advisors to try this if they feel they need to, to help reduce their stress response.

Thanks to Jardine

27. Use the Feel, Felt, Found Approach

Teach new advisors to use phrases that include the words feel, felt and found. An example of this can be found in the graphic below.

Feel Felt Found

This helps to show empathy and reassure the customer.

Thanks to Erik

28. Try Standing Up During the Call

If an advisor can stand up straight and maybe even walk around during a call, it could make all the difference to the conversation.

There have been many studies to suggest that good posture can boost rapport and productivity.

Thanks to Nick

For more advice on this topic, you can read some of the following articles next:

Published On: 19th May 2023 - Last modified: 23rd May 2023
Read more about - Skills, , , , , ,

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  • Thanks. What a great collection of ideas. I work in the transportation industry, not call center, but many are great ideas for our drivers.

    Bill 19 Sep at 18:46
  • great job!

    Aris 28 Sep at 00:34
  • Very useful! 🙂

    Samica 20 Jun at 09:58
  • I am a technical support agent and these advice helped me alot! Thank you.

    Oshy 7 Jul at 23:15

    MICHELLE 17 Oct at 21:45
  • Brilliant, very useful. Thanks to you all.

    Zak 18 Mar at 14:21
  • It really help me to prepare my assignment

    Manish 1 Apr at 14:46
  • Very helpful techniques for call evaluation feedbacks

    Joceanwaters 24 Apr at 01:02
  • very helpful. Thanks.

    kunalika 4 Jun at 12:33
  • Interesting!

    Mesbah 27 Jul at 12:30
  • Always call a cst by his first/last name, ma’am or sir

    Zainab 3 Sep at 12:21
  • Thank you for the tips

    Alex 28 Mar at 21:59
  • it has helped me a lot.

    eugene 15 May at 13:07
  • helpful for us

    deepak 3 Oct at 06:15
  • Excellent

    kushal 14 Dec at 11:14
  • good nice i want to apply this as a call center agent.

    remxkie 6 Mar at 11:57
  • Excellent ideas. I work with multiple industry and i am trainee too, i shall adopt these ideas.

    Sunitha 27 Mar at 06:39
  • You should not address the customer by MAAM or SIR !

    Joshua 12 May at 09:10
  • Valuable tips. Thanks a lot!

    Chitra 31 Aug at 11:52
  • helpful

    esther 6 Sep at 13:39