Good customer service skills among your brand representatives is a must—so why is it often so difficult to define exactly what skills make good customer service possible?
One reason is that customer service is a multifaceted, complex job, involving both soft skills (such as empathy and patience) alongside hard skills (such as product knowledge and efficiency). When hiring or training customer service representatives—or just improving and upskilling your current team—it’s important to keep in mind both the soft and hard skills required, and train on both.
The best skills for customer service—which we’ll outline below—will help you or your customer service team:
- work and communicate more effectively
- employ creative problem solving to find more satisfactory solutions
- interact with difficult customers with empathy and patience
The result of all of this? Customer service that goes above and beyond to help customers feel valued, stay loyal to your brand and enjoy a standout experience.
Why Good Customer Service Skills Are So Important
Good customer service can make or break your business. Don’t believe us? Just look at the data:
- 68% of customers would be willing to pay more for products or services from a company that offered great customer service.
- 92% of customers would stop doing service with a company after three (or fewer!) negative interactions.
- Companies that offer excellent customer service drive revenues 4-8% higher than that of their competitors.
More effective customer service and excellent customer experiences improve brand loyalty, reputation and drive sales.
And obviously, good customer service starts with good customer service skills. With skilled customer service representatives, your support for customers is more effective, personalized, valuable and simply easier.
Customer expectations for service and experiences are also rising—and specialized skills can help you and your team deliver. Customers want employees who can answer their questions quickly and are knowledgeable enough to provide accurate answers, but they also want to interact with friendly representatives who know what customers want.
Customer Service Skills Your Organization Must Master
So, what customer service skills are most important? Here are six customer service skills that your organization must master to take your customer service to the next level. Remember: while these skills are essential for anyone with direct customer contact—namely, customer service and support representatives—they should be mastered by anyone who interacts with the customer in even small ways—that includes sales, product, marketing teams and more.
Effective Listening Skills
Effective listening skills are one of the most important customer service skills agents need to master. Successful customer service involves accurately understanding the customer concern or complaint, and following active listening techniques to ensure the customer feels heard and understood.
Customer service agents who are skilled listeners will be attentive to the situation at hand and able to understand what the customer both is and isn’t saying. Non-verbal communication such as body language (if applicable), tone, vocal cues, attitude, choice of words and more all contribute to what the customer is communicating.
Active listening—being present in the conversation, listening to verbal and non-verbal cues, seeking to understand, and reflecting back what the customer is saying—can all help increase effectiveness of your customer service and improve customer satisfaction.
Along with effective listening skills, customer service agents must be clear communicators across any channels they operate. This can include both written and verbal communication, whether it’s over the phone, on live chat or via Twitter.
Of course, there are different standards and conventions for different channels—how agents talk to customers on Twitter is necessarily different than how they should talk to them via email. As a result, customer service reps need to be skilled in both understanding the conventions and expectations of each channel, and be able to master how to communicate clearly and concisely within each.
Soft skills such as empathy and listening are essential for customer service. While it may be difficult to teach empathy to agents, it’s still an essential customer service skill to master.
When customer service agents are empathetic, problems are solved more quickly and satisfactorily, because the customer feels heard and understood. As a result, they’re likely to be more satisfied with the solution and the interaction overall.
It’s not just that customers feel more understood though—empathetic customer service agents are more likely to understand the heart of the issue, therefore providing more creative and satisfactory solutions faster. This can lead to faster handle times, improved first call resolutions, and of course, more satisfied customers.
In addition, when customers feel heard and supported, it leads to increased brand loyalty and affinity—which means better relationships with customers and more valuable customers for your brand.
While agents need to ensure that the content of their messages is clear, concise and accurate, it’s equally important for agents to be skilled in controlling the emotion and mood of their message. For example, customer service agents must be able to keep their cool, even when the customer is frustrated, angry or gets impatient. It’s essential that agents are able to maintain communicative control rather than matching the mood or tone of the customer.
After all, customer service is often an intense job—many customers who call are already frustrated with the solutions they’ve tried, and bring that frustration into the call. Good customer service agents know how to diffuse the situation and tension, and find a favorable solution, all while staying calm and composed.
In addition, agents should be able to be polite but assertive—staying friendly and positive while still maintaining control of the conversation. Many customers can be pushy or demanding. Good customer skills ensure that you can negotiate a favorable solution while still staying within company policy and being polite. This is no easy task! But it’s an essential skill for customer service representatives to master.
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Patience & a positive attitude
These soft skills may often be overlooked, but their importance shouldn’t be understated! Customer service agents must have a positive attitude and plenty of patience for handling all of their customer interactions.
While your customer service representatives may answer the same question hundreds of times each day, it’s essential for them to remember that, for the person calling, it is their first interaction. As a result, agents must be patient and understanding, providing a good experience for both their first and their hundredth call of the day.
Customer service agents also need to practice patience when it comes to listening to customer queries and finding solutions. Impatient agents may jump to trying to find a solution and wrap up the call before the customer has really described the nature of their concern, leading to frustrated customers who feel they’re not being heard and inadequate solutions.
Beyond patience in problem-solving and empathy, attitude during the customer service process is important. Of course, customers value friendliness and a positive attitude—don’t we all?—but your agents’ friendliness and positivity can make an impact on your bottom line too.
How? Almost three-quarters of customers said friendly customer service agents increase their loyalty to a brand. Friendly agents improve customer service and satisfaction, and more satisfied customers tend to spend more, remain loyal to your brand for longer, and refer more customers.
In addition, framing solutions in positive language during customer interactions can go a long way in making sure customers feel understood and valued. For example, if a customer isn’t satisfied with their item and wants a refund, but your company only offers exchanges or store credit, there’s two ways to frame the solution:
With negative language: “Sorry, we don’t offer refunds.”
With positive language: “We’re sorry it wasn’t the right fit for you! We can send you a prepaid shipping label to send that back to us and we’d be glad to exchange it for something else or give you store credit to find something you’d like instead.”
Training customer service agents to use positive language helps to spin negative situations into a win for customers, improving overall customer satisfaction.
Almost all of customer service is problem-solving: a customer calls in with a question, a concern or a problem of some sort, and the customer service agent steps in to provide a solution.
With self-service and live chat options becoming more prevalent for easy questions such as store hours, beginning a return or exchanging an item, customer service agents are now more than ever handling a higher volume of complex calls. After all, when customers can easily access most information and solutions on their own, it leaves customer service agents to deal with the truly difficult problems.
As a result, customer service agents need to have exceptional problem-solving skills. Not only do they need to know where and how to find answers for customer queries, but they should also be empowered to find solutions and create solutions when they don’t yet exist.
Creativity is a big part of problem-solving: being able to think outside of the box, find novel solutions, put information together in new ways, and so on. At the same time, customer service representatives need to know how to be creative within set boundaries, that is, while still adhering to rules and service guidelines.
To improve these skills, it can help to have agents engage in regular team training involving problem solving games or riddles, creativity exercises, or role-playing exercises where they can take turns responding to invented customer inquiries and providing feedback for each other on the solutions provided.
How To Master Your Customer Service Skills
Of course, mastering all of these skills won’t come overnight. Whether you are seeking to improve soft skills in customer service like patience or empathy, or hard skills such as better written communication, mastering these takes time and practice.
For business leaders who are overseeing a team of customer service representatives, the key is to provide plenty of practice and training. While most agents receive training during the onboarding process, training after that can be lacking. According to a report from Salesforce, 55% of agents say they need better training to do their jobs well.
Ongoing training for agents can include self-service training modules that can be accessed at any time, regular skill refreshes, individual and group training and other options to ensure agents skills are consistently being practiced and improved.
In addition, regular Quality Assurance and feedback processes ensure that agents know which skills and areas of customer service they need to improve, and have a clear roadmap to improve them. Implementing a clear Quality Assurance process typically involves recording calls or other customer service interactions, reviewing them regularly against a standard rubric, and assigning agents feedback on how to improve based on clear KPIs or quality rubrics.
Feedback for agents to master their customer service skills should come from a variety of sources—QA results, supervisors and managers, and customers themselves. Engaging customers in post-call or post-interaction satisfaction surveys (often used to measure CSAT) can be helpful feedback for agents. However, direct feedback from managers or supervisors on their specific skills that could be improved is helpful as well.
For customer service agents, practicing small, actionable steps over time is the best way to improve your skills. For example:
- To improve your patience, be aware of what triggers you and what situations you feel most impatient in. Find a specific phrase or action you can silently repeat to yourself or do to regain your patience and calm attitude when you find yourself growing frustrated.
- To improve your communication skills, practice communicating your message via different channels: say it out loud, write it down, make it a long message, then make it as short as possible. Get feedback on your communication, and aim for clarity and transparency.
- To improve your empathy, practice putting yourself in another person’s shoes. You can do this with friends, relatives, strangers or even fictional characters. Practice seeing the world through their eyes and relating to their problems—and then put those skills to use when listening to a customer.
If you’re looking to improve your customer service, consider working with a customer experience partner like Global Response. Our team of CX experts will provide you with a team of brand ambassadors who have expertise in the most important customer service skills. Working with a partner like Global Response also ensures your customer service team receives regular training, feedback, QA checks and everything they need to deliver exceptional customer experiences on behalf of your brand.
Connect with a Global Response expert today and start delivering exceptional experiences.