We may be in the digital age, but customer service skills are arguably more important today than ever. Customers want your business’ full attention. They demand a quick and honest response. Moreover, they want it not just in person but also in digital touchpoints from email to social media. Thus, many companies use customer service support solutions to help them deal with these demands more quickly.
If you are a customer service specialist, it is best to know more about the skills you need to improve to further excel in your career. In this article, we present to you a simple yet comprehensive guide to help you do just that. We’ve listed down and discussed good customer skills–from soft skills to tech requirements–that you can aspire to achieve. Also included are some notes on how to keep improving such skills as you go along.
The state of customer service in the United States today is looking bright. Sure, there are still things to improve. However, consumer pressure to improve them is also increasing. When it comes to dealing with businesses, one of the top demands of customers is talking with friendly and knowledgeable agents. Also, a significant 32% of customers value issue resolution in a single transaction.
Bad customer service is just a no-no in today’s industries. A third of customers consider switching brands after an instance of poor customer service. This is detrimental to your company and reflects poorly on you as a customer service specialist. Thus, it is crucial to undergo constant improvement and refreshers to good customer service skills from time to time.
Customer service expert Rene Evenson stated that “the basics are the basis of customer service.” What she means by this is that the foundation of great customer service skills is the most basic interpersonal communication and relationship skills for common courtesy. Thus, to be a successful customer service representative, you have to be a decent individual at work: courteous, have a positive attitude, be truthful, and ethical.
It may not be hard to be those things in real life if you genuinely are a nice person. However, we can do better with the right skills to give customers that impression of us consistently. Why? Customer service representatives to customers are the company. You are the face of the business, and you have to keep your best foot forward at all times.
Firstly, many people would agree that skills and talents can be learned. And, just like the basics of customer service, there are other skills that customer service specialists can develop for their careers. Secondly, let’s try to define what customer service is all about. Of course, there are many definitions. However, we think this one from Merriam-Webster fits perfectly:
“the ability to use one’s knowledge effectively and readily in execution or performance.”
This definition, for our purposes, fits the way we want our outlook to be when it comes to learning what are customer service skills and how to improve them. As the definition states, it is the use of knowledge effectively for performance. So skills, in this sense, lives in between knowledge and action. Or better yet, it encompasses both.
Thus, both task- and context-associated knowledge and practice should be improved to develop some skills. However, there are different classes of skills that are relevant to customer service. Some of them are analytical skills, while some are soft skills. Moreover, others are technological skills.
There is so much to learn and develop to be good or, more so, great at customer service support.
Today, digital skills are essential to the workplace. This is especially true for many customer service specialists. Being customer-facing personnel, they don’t only interact with customers in person. They also communicate and interact with customers on digital platforms. Thus, the best representatives out there are not just digital technology literate but should be, to some extent, technologists.
Being digitally literate is a basic requirement for representatives today. To wit, it’s a requirement for most jobs now. But being literate doesn’t mean that you are an expert. It just means that you can execute basic commands in computers. Of course, this depends on the platforms your companies use. But, you don’t have to be a specialist like a coder. Just like reading and writing, you don’t have to be Shakespeare or Hemmingway to be considered literate.
However, these basic requirements are requisite to building digital skills. And yes, many times, customer service specialists, need to have advanced skills. Many use software solutions to track team performance. This may primarily be a job for management, but if you are a customer service specialist that dreams big, you may need to upgrade your skills for when your turn comes to lead more people in the future. You can start by learning what business intelligence systems are and how to use them.
For now, basic literacy isn’t just manning a PC, mobile, or tablet. It’s also understanding the digital landscape. It is knowing what platforms are being used by your customers so you can proactively engage with them on such platforms as well. Moreover, being digitally literate also entails knowing about digital solutions available that can help you out with your job.
Good customer service representatives are digitally literate. Great customer service representatives are digitally advanced. They are technologists. This means that they are capable of augmenting how they perform their jobs with digital tools. What we mean are tools that can tally performance metrics and give insights into how they are performing and how they could be performing. Furthermore, this means that they should be able to understand how digital tools are used by the company and competing companies.
The difference between good and great customer service agents is that the former just knows about the goings-on that directly affects their work. On the other hand, the latter understands how things work in the industry that they are in. This allows the company to gain competitive advantages from the knowledge that great customer service representatives have. Also, this is a great asset to have if you are a customer service professional.
Customer service specialists should be familiar with features that comprehensive solutions such as customer support software provides. Features include a ticketing module, customized reports, customer segmentation, and a feedback mechanism. It also provides self-service to customers and can automate routine tasks, among many others. A good example of customer support software is Freshdesk.
Should you want to investigate the platform firsthand, you can easily do so when you sign up for Freshdesk free trial here.
If you’d like to kick your digital customer service effort up a notch, you can also use a mix of different solutions in a technology stack. Just be sure to do your due diligence in researching which tools will work for your operations.
Soft skills are fundamental traits needed for interpersonal communication. They constitute the foundation of customer service. In this subsection, we’ll outline what they are and briefly describe them for you. Moreover, please keep in mind that these skills do not exist in silos away from others to be discussed. They usually work together to be successful.
Merriam-Webster defines empathy as the ability to understand and share the thoughts & feelings of other people. Some say that empathy is a trait.
Generosity and flexibility are, too. So, just as you can train yourself to become more flexible, generous, or rational, you can do so to be more empathetic, also. Simply put, there are actions and policies that you could apply to hone this skill.
Also, this isn’t a rigid categorical skill. You also need logical thinking to apply this skill. The point here is that empathy is important because customer service representatives need to get to the bottom of what their customers feel and need. It isn’t just about “intuition.” It is also about augmenting your intuition with the right questions, non-verbal cues, and actively listening to them.
Listening is a universal human activity. We all do it. However, it is a little different in a customer service context.
Customer service representatives need to listen attentively. They need to identify both explicit and implicit pain points. It is defined to be the ability to receive and interpret information accurately. It is important to understand what the context is of your customer’s problem.
Thus, experts find listening as a vital soft skill. It allows you to be more empathetic and accurate at the same time. Also, this helps form the foundation for other skills.
The next thing that you need for soft skills is how well you communicate in different forms to the customers you are facing. Moreover, you should also understand that language skills here are paramount. You need to be good at speaking and writing your thoughts accurately and clearly. Additionally, you should also use courteous words like “yes” instead of “yeah,” as we mentioned in the basics.
You represent the company. Thus, you need to look and act professionally to make a good series of impressions to your customers. These include proper speech and grammar when writing across different platforms.
Many are good at face-to-face communications. However, important facets are getting overlooked when they move out to digital tools. We can’t merely write how we speak. Thus, we need to be professional and be consistent wherever we face prospects, leads, and loyal consumers. You want them to see your company in the best light possible; in the best way that they want to do business consistently with you.
Interpersonal skills are the rule of thumb when it comes to communication. However, it is sometimes hard to stick to these in practical scenarios. Because let’s face it. We are all too human. Some negative emotions and thoughts get the better of us sometimes, especially with irate (sometimes irrational) customers. We snap. We fold.
However, anyone can train themselves to master the art of handling non-conducive emotions and thoughts. After all, constant refinement of common courtesy and etiquette are needed to advance professionally. This, other experts and we believe, is true for all industries, including customer service.
First Impressions Matter
Have a Positive Attitude
This category is mostly about the quality of knowledge you store or manage. This pertains to the accuracy, relevancy, and appropriateness of what you have in your head and what you have in your knowledge base. Yes, most customer successful customer service teams nowadays employ digital tools for knowledge management to keep all the information they need in one place. But, it’s still important to hone these skills in your employees.
You can’t help your customers without proper knowledge. Put simply; you’ll lack the necessary skills to be of value to them. Also, this is the only reason why you or the whole business is up anyways–to bring value to your target market. Also, your part in the business is to connect your customers with the value that your company provides via information.
Thus, you need to be knowledgeable of all the possible things where you can help your customers out.
For example, if one is late on a payment, maybe there are stipulations that you can decrease their penalty or waive them if finances permit. You cannot do this if you don’t know the ins and outs of your service and deals. Therefore, you need to be knowledgeable about this and augment yourself with a knowledge-base management system to keep relevant info handy.
Moreover, great customer representatives also know about the offerings of other companies. They know about competing and substitute products in the market. This includes the unique selling propositions (USP) of such products as well. In this way, they’d know how to make rebuttals and counter-offers.
Knowledge of your company is one of the core ingredients of great customer service skills. After all, you need to be able to understand how your organization works and the people in key roles. You need this information to navigate yourself and your customers better. Moreover, you need to understand the rules, regulations, standards, and best practices to perform your job efficiently.
It is also good to have an idea about your company’s history and other details. A good customer service specialist knows enough of his or her company’s background. Remember, you are the face of the company to your customers. You should know enough about what you represent. This means that you should understand the core competencies and values of your company. In this way, you can embody them and provide auxiliary information should your customers be interested.
Of course, you can’t have every bit of information available to recall from your memory. Also, your subject matter and your company change over time. Thus, you need to change with them. In other words, you have to adapt and continue to learn about things that help you provide value to customers.
For example, you work in an insurance company. The marketing team rolled out a new product with new flexible financing options. A good customer service representative will not only try to learn “what” this new offering is. The specialist will understand “how” the latest offering works and how it provides value to customers (and how the company benefits as well). In this way, he or she can judge whether it is proper for customers; if it is a win-win situation.
Moreover, customer service representatives can wear many hats. They troubleshoot problems and even sell. Thus, the best ones are well rounded. And, you can only get well rounded when you train yourself and learn new things every day.
Analytical skills can be defined as the ability to collect, visualize, and analyze information in great detail. This is usually connected with empathy. Empathy provides the context by which these analytical skills would get deployed. There are two main categories for this. One is being goal-oriented. Second, it is being logical in problem-solving.
Again, empathy provides the context for analysis. Thus, great representatives create and enhance this context by listening and breaking down what the customer wants and connect it to company solutions. This is the proper goal for every customer service interaction. The details may vary, but this just stays the same. Thus, the particular wants and solutions in every transaction are just sub-goals. Great representatives identify these quickly using their well-honed analytical skills.
To be good in analysis, one has to be good at putting things into the right context. Next, one also has to be good at breaking down what the objectives of the customers are. These objectives also need to be connected to currently available and possible company solutions to provide a win-win deal for both company and customer. Stellar customer representatives should keep this in mind every time they face a customer.
If you ask a logician or mathematician what logic is, they’ll probably provide you with an answer involving symbolic manipulations and rules of inferences. However, this type of logic (formal logic) is not what we mean here. We mean what in academic circles call informal logic. It’s the everyday logic of rational discussion, which is normally called critical thinking.
However, this informal logic or critical thinking is not entirely different from formal logic. It, too, requires the thinker to understand the very context, possibilities, constraints, and actions that he or she can take. Crudely, it is the art of understanding a problem within the right context and identifying possible solutions within constraints. This also includes the sound judgment of whether a piece of information is trustworthy or not.
The constraints, in the case of customer service representatives, are company rules and regulations that they couldn’t bend (plus customers’ rigid preferences). Also, the basics that we’ve discussed earlier form limitations over them too. When representatives recognize this, they can wear the hats of efficient problem-solvers for customers and the company. They can start to identify and find optimal solutions. This is done by breaking down the problem into smaller problems, finding relationships between issues, and offering a tailored solution.
Additionally, customer service representatives should walk their customers through how they broke down their problems step by step. This gives customers a better context. Thus, analytical skills are best paired with empathy and great communication skills.
Leadership is perhaps one of the most important skills that employees should have. In fact, in a recent survey by LinkedIn, they found most talent developers regard leadership as the most important skill that employees should learn from training programs.
As such, customer service representatives should learn how to be leaders too. This is what distributed leadership proposes. This framework states that leadership practice involves many leaders, and it depends on their interactions. Leadership happens when one group member modifies the motivation and/or the competencies of others in the team. Thus, anyone can and should be a leader.
Crudely, leadership is distributed across the organization, and it happens in every nook and cranny of it. On the customer-facing side, customer representatives should act as leaders.
And yes, the best ones lead. They do not only change the motivation of their colleagues and customers, but they also can change how other departments view the relationship of the company with the customers. Why? When they combine analytical, digital, and leadership skills, they can provide data and present them to the company for new insights. In this way, they can act as leaders, pointing to new directions that the company as a whole can take.
Source: LinkedInDesigned by
As a part of leadership, customer service representatives usually do their jobs one-on-one with a client. They don’t have a boss breathing behind their necks most of the time. However, the best ones function as if they’re the boss themselves; their judgments are the ones that matter and go. Thus, they have a great sense of accountability or ownership of what they do. This is the ideal attitude for all customer service specialists.
Moreover, because customer service representatives have to have a sense of ownership, responsibility, and accountability for what they are doing, they also need to be confident. They need to exude an aura of trustworthiness that they can solve issues and provide services with due expertise.
However, this isn’t just blind confidence. This, as mentioned, should be mixed with other skills mentioned above, such as subject matter expertise, analytical skills, soft skills, and digital skills to pull off smoothly.
Therefore, the confidence that we are talking about here is one borne of proper training and from real-life experience. Again, this should be something visible to customers, as well. They need to see and feel that you are more than adequate to give them support and recommend solutions to them.
Customer service representatives also need to have the resolve to continue after experiences with irate and dissatisfied customers. It is a batting average after all. All specialists can do is lean the odds towards their favor. There will be times that their confidence and resolute will be tested. Remember, it takes 12 positive experiences to make up for a bad one. Thus, it is a skill to have the will to forge on.
Great customer service specialists always ask themselves how to improve customer service processes. There are three main aspects to this. Here they are:
Company and personal training allow you to improve specific skills and processes. However, these are supported by digital tools. Firstly, companies should provide further training to customer service representatives (or any other department they have). This ensures that their operations get updated to fit the demands of their customers and the market. Customer service representatives should welcome company-led training. They should also look to join industry workshops and seminars.
Secondly, dedicated professionals try to improve themselves to better their performance in their occupations. This is the same thing in customer service. The best customer representatives challenge themselves. They look to reach higher quotas in their KPIs and other relevant metrics. This involves in-person customer satisfaction surveys and digital KPIs (like social media metrics), as well.
Thirdly, customer service representatives use digital tools to determine how to improve their performance. Additionally, other tools such as knowledge management applications are being used to augment the internal knowledge and skills that customer service specialists have. These allow them to have relevant information handy whenever they need them. Furthermore, training materials can be uploaded on the said apps to enable them to keep tabs on what to do and when.
Lastly, specialists should also keep themselves up-to-date on customer service industry trends. Like many professionals, representatives should brace themselves for more digitalization in the future. For example, chatbots for customer service are becoming increasingly popular. Thus, it might be time to see how you can incorporate it into your operations.
To be a top-class service professional, you need to continually undergo customer service training to evolve. You also need to be smart about your work. Empty smiles, and ‘thank you’s’ won’t cut it. One needs to be analytical and be good at problem-solving. Moreover, you need to be adaptable to new offline and online techniques that your company and other companies use in the market. This includes product and market knowledge.
As you may have already picked up from our customer service skills list, this won’t be an easy job. You will need to conduct research and be proactive in bringing your findings up to colleagues and management.
Furthermore, you need to go beyond the basics. You need to be great at the fundamentals of human interaction up to ethical behavior. Customer service representatives are the face of the companies they represent. Thus, they need to be the most capable of everyone in the company to face the every-day customer on all channels.
Lastly, in today’s world, great customer service specialists augment their skills with digital tools to be able to reach up to their lofty goals. Such tools include customer-facing tools and techniques. Moreover, they need to understand how other companies use it too.
To help you get started, we highly suggest looking into Freshdesk. As one of the leading platforms in the industry, this offers comprehensive features that allow customer service representatives to work as efficiently as possible. It can even be customized to fit the current workflows of your organization for faster implementation. You can use the software at no cost when you sign up for Freshdesk free trial here.
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