Small Changes, Big Impact: How You Can Apply ‘Atomic Habits’ To Your Customer Service Teams

In customer service, as in life, small things make a big difference. From the moment you greet a customer to when you conclude an interaction, many little elements add up to a successful outcome.

Those little elements don’t happen by accident; they’re habits your team members form as they gain experience. Cultivating habits that lead to positive interactions—and culling ones that do not—is a key part of building an exceptional customer service experience. And as a team leader, you’re looking for the right techniques and tools to create effective and impactful habits that your team members can use in interactions every day.

In life, we can build better habits through repeated, small, incremental changes in our behaviors and decisions. By creating and managing systems that reinforce good habits and drive away negative ones, we set ourselves up for success. Repeat the steps of that habit-building system for long enough, and you realize compounding gains that lead to great outcomes. That’s the lesson James Clear’s book Atomic Habits teaches its readers.

Much of that structure from Atomic Habits can be applied to customer service interactions. With the right techniques and training, you can build a system that encourages positive change over time. Let’s dive into how.

Small changes lead to big impact for customer service teams

Atomic Habits emphasizes the incredible impact that tiny, consistent changes can produce over time. And over time is the key here—many small steps repeated over and over again compound into incredible outcomes.

In customer service, this translates to recognizing the significance of seemingly small actions and details. We at Bonfire Training talk about the concept of “Little Things, Big Impact” within a customer interaction. The smallest parts of talking with a customer—from the terms you use to refer to them to how you place them on hold—may seem like minor aspects, but they can drastically influence how an interaction proceeds and ends.

Creating exceptional customer service experiences is crucial to your company’s success, but it’s not something that happens overnight. Like any habit, it requires taking many small steps that accumulate toward a positive result. 

Team members who show empathy, demonstrate understanding, and incorporate those elements into every piece of the interaction can create memorable, positive experiences. And it’s the sum of the little things that lead to a big impact in the end.

Establish a framework that cultivates good customer service habits

Within Atomic Habits, the author outlines “Cue, Craving, Response, and Reward,” a model about habits tied to the reward cycle humans have used for thousands of years—and equally applicable in today’s world! What’s involved in each step?

  1. Cue is a signal within our environment that triggers a behavior to achieve a reward. While our ancestors might’ve searched for signs that led to food or water, we now search for cues that predict rewards like money, status, praise, or approval.
  2. Craving is what motivates our habits. It’s a desire to change our internal state in order to reach a reward.
  3. Response is the thought or action we take to satisfy the craving—that’s the actual habit! You need both the motivation AND the ability to follow through in order to reach the last step.
  4. Reward is the end goal of your habits. You satisfy the craving and learn how to do it better the next time the cue appears in your environment.

From those steps, Clear builds his “Four Laws of Behavior Change,” which is a framework people can use to build and sustain good habits:

  • Make it (the cue) obvious.
  • Make it (the craving) attractive.
  • Make it (the response) easy.
  • Make it (the reward) satisfying.

How might you apply this framework to your customer service team? Let’s consider a common challenge in customer service: de-escalating a “difficult” customer interaction.

Cue — Make it obvious.

“Difficult” customers often send signals like an exasperated tone of voice when they begin an interaction. A team member trained in empathy can readily pick up on those cues—they become obvious with experience—and trigger a craving to change their internal state.

Craving — Make it attractive.

Your team member is motivated to de-escalate the interaction to achieve a reward. That could be the desire to provide exceptional service, reduce their emotional stress, or improve their status on the team. That reward has to be attractive enough to be worth the effort involved in de-escalating the interaction.

ResponseMake it easy.

Your team member’s response is the good habit you want to instill. That can be responding to the customer’s frustrations with positive, affirming language or calmly stepping the customer through a series of diagnostic questions. Training and support provide the ability to perform that response and make it easier to do next time. 

RewardMake it satisfying.

Through your team member’s response, the interaction is de-escalated, and the customer will leave with a memorable, positive experience. Your team member has achieved their reward! Team managers can make those rewards more satisfying through private or public praise of a job well done, or offering opportunities to further elevate the team’s skills and abilities.

Consistency with training leads to good habits

The Four Laws framework is a critical element in creating good habits, but consistency makes the difference between those good habits sticking or not. Essentially, no matter what your framework looks like, it takes consistent focus and effort to realize results. 

As a leader, you set the foundation for success. If your team members are encouraged to learn and practice the elements of great customer interactions, and if you provide them feedback and motivation to continuously improve, then good habits will become second nature to them.

But how do you help your people practice these skills and help hold each other accountable to getting better at them? That’s something our Customer Service Essentials course helps develop for you and your team.

Our course teaches your team the small steps they can take in every customer interaction to accomplish outcomes like:

  • Conveying positive voice tone and word choices
  • Consistently creating positive first impressions
  • Understanding when and how to use empathy
  • Skillfully de-escalating difficult customer interactions

Within the course, your team also learns how these pieces fit together within your organization and helps you build internal standards of communication. The frameworks guided by those standards are what lead to the incremental and powerful change in habits that Atomic Habits inspires. 

Take time to build good habits—and achieve exceptional customer service results

Where many people struggle is understanding that change takes time, and it can be very difficult to see change happening in the moment. Remember that the journey to exceptional customer service doesn’t require monumental shifts overnight. 

Instead, it’s about cultivating the right habits and empowering your team to make small, meaningful changes every day. As you integrate these principles into your team’s work and supplement that with the right training, your “atomic habits” will compound, resulting in happier customers and empowered customer service teams.

Begin building your team’s good habits with our Customer Service Essentials course.