Optimizing the quality of your customer service is critical to success. That means building and nurturing great customer service skills.
Customer service skills remain vital even as automation and self-service continues to rise. In fact, despite the convenience of automation, 75% of consumers still choose to interact with a real person. What’s more, they tend to select the human route for their most important inquiries.
According to Zendesk research, 84% of customers say customer service is a key factor in purchasing decisions. Only 3% consider it ‘unimportant’. A HubSpot survey found 92% of consumers will stop purchasing from a company after three or fewer bad customer service episodes. Great customer service skills can potentially convert an angry customer into a valuable brand advocate.
Types of great customer service skills
So what are the essential customer service skills needed by your employees? They break down into 6 main areas:
- Relatability – managing human interactions naturally and effectively
- Sensitivity – reading the customer’s emotions while keeping your own in check
- Accountability – remaining professional, prompt and prudent
- Positivity – being solution-oriented, confident, proactive and unflappable
- Knowledge – having deep insights into products/services and internal processes
- Intelligence – expert skills in problem solving, communicating and counselling
Each of the individual skills in our ultimate list below maps against one of more of these areas.
Why great customer service skills are an organization-wide requirement
Customer service involves all employees in your organization who have contact with customers. In most businesses that’s nearly everyone. It’s important, therefore, to focus on developing these skills across the company. Not just among front-line customer service personnel.
It’s also important to look for these skills when recruiting employees into customer service roles. You can also optimize your employee onboarding process by focusing on these skills and identifying training needs early on.
The ONLY 10 customer service skills you need
Let’s look at some specific customer service skills in more depth.
Your staff need to be able to empathize with your customers. Seeing things from the customer perspective helps them understand their specific concerns. Any employee engaged in face-to-face, phone or other forms of one-to-one customer communications must demonstrate a genuine, caring and concerned attitude.
Empathy means interacting with customers in a very human way. Almost like treating customers as family members and never being dismissive or uncaring.
Being a good listener is a life skill, and one that can be learnt and developed. It is incredibly important in customer service. ‘Listening’ doesn’t just mean in the aural (hearing) sense, but also encompasses digital forms of communication like email and social media.
Call it listening, or call it attentiveness. It’s all about accurately understanding customer messages. Pay attention both to what the customer is saying, and how they’re saying it. Use of language, for example. It also needs to be cognizant of what the customer is not saying. For example, a customer who asks “how can I return this unwanted product?” is likely to be interested in whether they are entitled to a refund. So it would be wise to give them this unprompted information, or risk annoying them further by making them ask the question.
Consider providing listening skills training for staff. This is great for customer service but also improves internal communications.
“There is widespread agreement that customer experience is different from, and more complex than, service quality and customer satisfaction, and that it is context specific.”
Everyone has communication skills, right? Wrong. Most people can function as communicators, but few excel. Communication skills encompass:
- Speaking skills
- Writing skills
- Reading skills
- Listening skills (see above)
- Body language skills
- Social media etiquette skills
- Visual media skills
The ability to communicate clearly and positively helps you be understood. Eliminating the possibility of misinterpretation is vital. Great communication skills also promote efficiency and speed – important to the business and customers alike. Also remember that customers may be poor at communicating, so the onus is on the employee to compensate for that.
Verbal communications are very important in face-to-face engagements, but so are non-verbal communications (body language, tone of voice, gestures). Contact centers are increasingly using video calls with customers, so don’t assume that only front-line workers (e.g. in-store retail associates) deal face to face.
The other skills groups listed above are equally vital. The ability to spell and use grammar correctly is clearer and more accurate – some customers will even interpret it as more respectful and professional. An understanding of platform-specific etiquette may also be appropriate, such as knowing the right context for using certain emojis.
Great customer service skills are also needed in the field of visual media. This could include mocking up quick PowerPoint slides, images, diagrams, or how-to videos.
Many interactions with customers will involve a combination of these communication techniques so employees need to be skilled in all of them.
Time management skills
Great customer service demands quick responses to every customer enquiry. These days customers expect an almost instantaneous reaction, especially online.
For example, do you offer a Twitter-based customer service channel? Customers will perceive this as a service so it must be highly responsive. The key is to immediately acknowledge the customer’s initial communication, then let them know how quickly you’ll respond.
Another important aspect of time management is efficiency. Employees shouldn’t waste their own time or the customer’s time. Giving customers accurate expectations on timescales is a crucial part of time management.
Product and service knowledge
Customer-facing employees can add lots of value through their product and service knowledge. Knowing how and when to use this knowledge is a great customer service skill.
Customers can become very frustrated when encountering customer service agents who lack the necessary knowledge. In such situations, at least saying “I don’t know” would be an honest response, especially to a very detailed/specific product question. Far worse would be to supply incorrect information.
The service “wrap” around your service is an increasingly important differentiator in a heavily-commoditized world. It’s a big part of meeting customer expectations and inspiring customer confidence. All members of staff likely to be asked product or service-related questions should be equipped to respond appropriately.
Cherish your top experts and find ways to extract and document their knowledge wherever possible. This is critically important if the same questions keep cropping up but only a handful of staff can address them. These employees can potentially go beyond simply fixing a customer’s problem – helping them gain maximum value from their purchases. This helps ensure customer loyalty which in turn supports repeat revenues and upsell opportunities.
“You need to become an acknowledged expert on the customer: the issues, pains, desires, how they think – and for business products, how they work, and how they decide to buy.” Marty Cagan
Patience and serenity
Patience and the ability to remain calm amid very challenging circumstances is another of the great customer service skills.
This is essential to soothing agitated, angry customers, so that you can identify and resolve their issues. These are similar to parenting skills, where the employee (in the role of mother or father) doesn’t allow themselves to be distressed or distracted by the situation but instead remains focused on the best interests of the customer (not child!).
Impatience from a customer service representative is guaranteed to upset customers. For example, if a customer service representative is dealing with a customer with limited computer skills, they must not display impatience at the customer’s inability to use a mouse.
Likewise, a loss of control or the onset of panic should be avoided. Empathy is essential as is professionalism – this is your job, whereas customers are “always right” (even when they aren’t). This asymmetry has to be accepted, but not to the level where abuse is permitted. Customers need to understand that they must never verbally or physically intimidate, threaten or harm your employees – whatever happens.
Problem solving skills
Most customer service tasks involve some degree of problem solving. Some problems may be very simple, such as where to find a specific resource on your website. Or highly complex requiring a series of steps and processes to achieve what a client desires.
Problem solving involves many of the great customer service skills already defined. It is characterized by a professional approach and constant, clear communication with the customer throughout.
Problem solving begins with a clear definition of the problem. The employee must then be able to determine and evaluate optimum solutions, often without the luxury of consulting with colleagues. Then it’s a case of selecting the best from the identified solutions available, to fit the customer’s needs. Finally that solution needs to be implemented, and subsequently checked to verify that it resolved the issue to the satisfaction of the customer.
Positive, constructive attitude
Positivity in customer service is probably one of the most vital of all skills. People with positive, optimistic outlooks are generally more capable of encouraging similar behavior in others, often subconsciously. This is true for colleagues and customers alike.
A positive, upbeat attitude will help enormously when dealing with demanding customers. It should come across in all communications: verbal, textual, visual and non-verbal. Negative language and negative, downbeat attitudes will do nothing to instill confidence in a customer.
Confidence and empowerment
Confidence goes a long way in providing great customer service. A confident customer service representative conveys a positive image of your organisation with authority and trustworthiness.
Confidence often comes from a sense of self-reliance and resourcefulness. Consider how to unlock reserves of confidence in your team through greater empowerment and freedom to express their creativity rather than following set protocols. Sharing a set of customer-centric values that employees are keen to buy into and help define is often more successful than drilling your staff like an army of drones.
However, confidence does not come naturally to everybody, even those with great product knowledge and communication skills.
Helping your staff to develop their confidence through training and feedback will make a valuable contribution to the quality of your organization’s customer service.
Resilience and tenacity
Customer service needs agents to deal with customers who are not always polite, patient, clear or even honest. In some industries, typical customers might be rude, impatient, raise their voices and use curse words. Resilience helps customer service agents avoid becoming very upset by such interactions.
Customer-facing people in your business deserve respect and support, but that shouldn’t stop them acknowledging the importance of toughness to deal with difficult customers and their problems.
There’s no point ignoring these issues or pretending they don’t exist. If you are experiencing churn in your customer service team, it might be because of these issues. In any case, you need to understand why employees leave – using exit surveys wherever possible. This can help you put the right support processes in place, like additional training.
Tenacity – the quality of being determined and persistent – is a related skill. Tenacity is often overlooked or confused with negative attributes. But it’s wonderful for customer service, particularly the most difficult customer problems that can’t immediately be resolved. Doggedly seeing through a customer’s wishes can be massively important to individual customers.
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