Think about what happens when a rep answers a phone call – the customer states their question or issue, the rep looks their information up, and inevitably, there’s silence or the customer is put on hold while the rep finds the answer, solution, or next step. Would you be surprised if we told you that we think the rep can, and should, be filling that silence?

The importance of small talk in customer service

Why is that silence so bad?  The fact of the matter, is that customers aren’t telling you everything and sometimes the best solution to their problem is hidden in those unstated details.

A well-placed statement or carefully considered question from the rep (we call this purposeful small talk) can end in a better outcome for both company and customer.

Challenger research finds that when a rep couples actively listening to what the customer DOES say, with using purposeful small talk to surface information the customer DOESN’T say, they’re able to get to the underlying reason for the customer’s call and take control of the situation by offering a right-fit solution. This type of experience can reduce the perception of customer effort by 77%.


It’s not about asking random questions. When making small talk, many people default to the weather or asking about a person’s day. While these things are polite and sometimes even expected, they don’t help the customer or the rep reach their goals.

That type of “rapport” might demonstrate that a rep has soft skills, but a rep who finds a solution that works for the customer – especially when the answer to their issue might have been ‘no’ – creates an altogether better experience for the customer.

Small talk to solve the customer problem 

It can be hard to imagine what purposeful small talk looks like in action, as it’s often tailored to the specific conversation, but when it’s used effectively, it brings out details that might help the rep to solve an issue and keeps the customer from needing to call again.

For example:

A customer calls hotel customer service asking for their room for their upcoming vacation to be moved to the first floor. The rep knows that first floor rooms go quickly and they aren’t sure they can accommodate the request. While they wait for the room availability to load, they ask the customer who’s joining them on vacation.

The customer replies that they and their spouse are bringing their two small children. It might not seem like an important detail, but that answer just helped the rep. The hotel doesn’t have any elevators, and for a family with small children and a stroller, this can pose an issue.

The rep knows that if there are no first-floor rooms available where the customer currently is, they can propose an alternative solution of moving to a building with an elevator that is also attached to the water park. It might not solve the customer’s initial request, but the new solution might be attractive in a different way.

Sometimes the answer to the customer’s question is ‘no’, but that doesn’t mean that it has to be the end of the conversation.


The customer service world has traditionally been all about efficiency, but what service companies don’t realize is that their approach to efficiency is flawed. Offering the best available solution the first time is something that purposeful small talk can be key in making happen and can help save time in the long term by reducing the amount of back and forth needed to achieve resolution. Not to mention, customers are more likely to hang up pleased with the outcome.

Purposeful small talk takes practice, and the Effortless Experience™ Capabilities Builder provides an opportunity to practice this and eight other key skills designed to reduce customer effort. If you’re looking for efficiency gains, let us know or explore Challenger’s program!

Emily Campbell

Emily Campbell is a Manager with Challenger’s Effortless Experience team. In her role, Emily helps client organizations grow in their journeys to becoming low-effort customer service organizations.