Essential list of top customer service skills

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November 19, 2020

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Customer service isn’t an easy field to succeed in. In an ideal world, the role would be filled with hours of solving problems and sorting out easy issues for customers who are delighted at the effort your reps put in. And your reps would effortlessly resolve pain points and tend to customers with their in-born customer service skills. 

But in reality, dealing with frustrated or angry customers day in and day out is the lot of many customer service teams. And reps - even the most dedicated - often struggle to tackle challenging situations. 

That’s probably because they lack the most essential skills needed for customer service success. But by focusing on finding reps with these skills, and training the ones who lack them, you can build a better customer service team.

Customer service 

What is customer service? In the broadest terms, it’s how your company serves the needs of your current and prospective customers. Every company can also define customer service for itself to clarify specific organizational values. 

Customer service includes resolving issues for current customers, which is how most people think about it. But it also includes tending to the needs of potential customers - answering their questions as they consider making a purchase, for example. And it also plays a role in the purchase process itself, such as when customers have problems completing an online purchase. 

Why is customer service important? 

Excellent customer service sets your company apart from the rest of your competitors - it’s the secret sauce in business success. In a world where it’s increasingly difficult to compete on price, product quality, or innovation alone due to the number of companies out there, customer service makes a difference. 

In fact, nearly 3 out of 5 consumers say that good customer service is essential for them to feel loyalty towards a company - and after more than one poor experience, about 80% of buyers would rather do business with a competitor. 

Customer service excellence helps your company attract more customers and retain their loyalty. 

Customer service best practices 

Customer service is a broad field. Best practices and customer expectations vary widely by industry and brand messaging - a fast fashion chain comes with much lower service expectations than a haute couture fashion house. 

But the most essential customer service best practices remain the same for every business.  

Personalized 

Treating customers as people who have a relationship to your business, instead of as case numbers or transactions, is critical to good customer service. This can be as simple as calling customers by their name while solving a problem for them. 

Customers know that companies have plenty of data about them on hand - and they’d like them to use it to create a custom service experience. 

Competent 

Your customer service team is expected to be the experts on your company’s products - otherwise it’s difficult for customers to trust you. And that means they need to be well-trained, highly competent professionals who resolve most problems quickly and efficiently. 

Convenient 

The days when you could offer just a single phone number to call, (Monday-Friday 9am - 4pm only, of course) are over. Customers expect businesses to be accessible on multiple channels, and to have easy access to those channels. This can mean a combination of email, chatbots, 24/7 phone lines, and whatever other methods your customers find convenient. 

Proactive 

Waiting until a customer contacts you with an issue isn’t always a good idea, particularly in the social media age. If customers discover that a problem with your products or services is widespread, but you haven’t reached out to them, that’s poor customer service. Keeping customers in the loop proactively is important. 

How customer service relates to customer experience 

Customer service and customer experience are often used interchangeably - but they’re not identical, even though they’re intertwined. Customer service is one part of the overall customer experience, which is the sum of touchpoints and experiences your customers have with your business. 

Customer experience includes the important touchpoints of customer service, like when customers ask questions or need help fixing a problem. Customer service is a vital part of the customer experience because customer service often comprises the majority of interactions your customers will have with your business, and often at a more emotional time - when something has gone wrong.  

Customer service might not be the entire customer experience, but it is one of the most important parts of it. Having exceptional customer service can significantly improve your overall customer experience.  

Types of customer service skills 

While there are many kinds of customer service skills needed to excel in the field, most can be organized under these six types of customer service skills. 

Relatability

Customers like to feel that the rep they’re talking to can relate to them on a human level. Asking friendly questions, wishing the customer a good day, and calling them by name can all contribute to good relatable customer service. 

Sensitivity

Being empathetic to customers requires a certain amount of sensitivity. A few customers will call in with urgent issues that are making a big impact on their lives - like when insurance customer service reps deal with the fallout from home fires or car accidents. Having sensitivity to the customer’s experience while getting the job done is important. 

Accountability 

Customer service reps should be accountable for their interactions with customers. After all, they’re the ones on the line with customers serving their needs. While managers and executives dictate policies and procedures, ultimately the responsibility for service comes down to the reps interacting directly with customers. 

Positivity 

Even in difficult situations, customer service reps need to keep interactions positive and productive. Looking at the situation in a bright light can help soothe distressed customers and keep conversations solutions-oriented. 

Knowledge 

Customer service reps need to have quite a bit of knowledge of your brand, your products, and your policies and procedures to serve customers effectively. Their training and ongoing learning opportunities should provide them with this vital knowledge. 

Intelligence 

Sometimes reps are called on to solve complicated or new problems, and that requires intelligence. Reps also need to learn and retain a lot of product and policy information and understand how to deal with a wide variety of customers and issues. 

Essential customer service skills 

Good customer service skills allow reps to provide the top-notch service that your business and your customers depend on. 

What are customer service skills? They’re the backbone of an exceptional customer service team. And here are the 16 most essential ones. 

Problem solving skills

Customers don’t always diagnose the problem they’re having accurately. A good customer service rep needs to be able to identify the real issue and solve it effectively. 

For example, a customer could call to ask for a new product because theirs isn’t performing as expected. But it turns out they just need a bit of training on how to use it, which the rep provides, and everyone is happy. 

Empathy / emotional intelligence 

Customer service reps deal with people who are sometimes very frustrated. They need to be able to make the customer feel heard and empathize with them, all while fixing the problem as well.

If a customer can’t log into their online banking account and they need to urgently access their money, a good rep can empathize with their frustration, acknowledge the urgency, and get them the money they need swiftly.  

Adaptability

Customer issues and interactions can go in all sorts of directions, and good reps need to be able to adjust and adapt quickly. While a script can be a useful aid, sticking to it too strictly in every situation can make customers feel that they’re talking to a bot, not a human. Adapting conversations to the unique situation a customer is in provides better service. 

Tenacity

The drive to get things done and get even difficult problems solved makes the best customer service reps stand out from the best. It’s easy to take shortcuts, especially because most reps have a full slate of calls to take, but taking the time to go against the standard process and help out a customer can create a memorable customer service moment. 

One great example of this? A Zappos rep went above and beyond for a customer who called to request a pair of shoes she loved while she was on a trip, because she’d forgotten to pack them. The Zappos rep found the shoes at a nearby rival store - then hand-delivered them to the customer. It’s no wonder Zappos is a customer service leader.  

Use of positive language

Minor changes in the words and tone used in customer support conversations can make a big difference. It can even help diffuse tense situations with a frustrated customer. 

For example, instead of stating, “I can’t get this product delivered by that date because of shipping delays”, try coaching reps to say, “I can get your product delivered as soon as possible, which is by [x] date - thank you for your patience!”  

Persuasion skills

Customer service isn’t only about supporting existing customers - it can be about helping people who are thinking of purchasing from your company as well. That’s why it can be important to have reps who have powerful persuasion skills on board. 

Say a prospect reaches out with a question about your software - a skilled rep can answer their question and also highlight some features they might not know about, or tell them about a limited-time offer that adds urgency, and end up making the sale. 

Clear communication skills 

Strong communication skills are an absolutely necessary skill for customer service reps. After all, most of their day-to-day work involves communicating with customers - listening to their problems, describing solutions, and building stronger relationships with them. 

Plus, reps with great communications skills are also an internal asset. Since they’re on the front lines with customers, they can clearly describe issues or opportunities to your marketing and product teams to improve your business as well. 

Taking responsibility 

Your customer service reps are not the cause of the problems that cause customers to call or email in with their complaints - but they are responsible for solving them and salvaging the relationship with the customer. Reps need to take responsibility for the care of the customer themselves. 

One common frustration among customers is being transferred around to a manager or another department to solve a simple issue. When a rep takes responsibility for solving a problem, this leads to a seamless experience for the customer - and leaves them happier and more loyal. 

Patience 

Patience is another critical customer service skill. People who are reaching out to your customer service team are often confused and frustrated - they might not understand what’s behind the problem. But when those customers feel that a rep is listening carefully and treating them with patience, they tend to calm down and feel comforted.

If a customer calls and can’t describe precisely what the issue is, reps need to take the time to listen and fully understand what is happening for the customer, instead of rushing to close out the ticket.  

Active listening 

Active listening means doing more than hearing the words a customer is saying - it’s taking the time to truly understand what is happening for them and making them feel heard. This skill is highly trainable, fortunately. 

Teaching reps to restate a customer’s question or comments back in their own words is one of the most effective active listening techniques. The rep shows that they understand the customer, and the customer feels less frustrated. 

Attentiveness

Attentiveness goes hand-in-hand with active listening. But it means listening to what the big picture is saying, instead of individual customers. Paying attention to the feedback that reps receive at large can help drive improvements in your products. 

For example, a great customer service rep will notice if multiple customers are coming to them with similar issues - perhaps the same questions about a particular feature that seems to frustrate many of them. Then they can raise the problem with their manager or the product team, and help drive a larger improvement in the product that helps many customers at once. 

Time management 

There is always a sense of urgency in the customer service world. Reps need to know how to balance taking time to listen to customers and creatively solve their problems with being effective with their time. 

This can be a challenging line to walk - but good reps can do it with time and training. It’s important for them to know how to resolve problems quickly without customers feeling like they’re being rushed off the phone. 

Knowledge 

Reps simply can’t solve most problems efficiently if they don’t have a deep knowledge of your company’s products and policies. Knowledge helps reps navigate the trickiest of customer problems with ease. And it also helps them understand things from the customer’s perspective because they know what it’s like to use your products or services. 

Training is essential for this skill, as well as continued education so reps are always up to date on the latest happenings. 

Thick skin 

Unfortunately, your customer service reps are often on the receiving end of your customers’ anger, frustration, and impatience - even though the problems causing that anguish aren’t their fault. 

That’s why front-line reps need to have thick skin. It allows them to think clearly even when a customer is very upset, and look objectively at problems. Thick skin also allows them to remember that although a customer is upset, it isn’t personal. 

Willingness to learn 

Even your best reps don’t know everything. And with the speed at which products and services - and even companies - change these days, reps who are willing to continuously learn and improve are essential. 

Reps need to be willing to learn everything about your products and keep up with changes as well. And they need to learn new channels to communicate with customers when necessary, as well as add to their communications or time-management skills when needed. A willingness to learn allows them to stay on top of their customer service game. 

Conflict resolution 

When a frustrated customer takes their anger out on a rep, an issue has become a conflict. An angry customer can threaten to take all kinds of actions, from dragging the company on social media to calling a local news station to even filing a lawsuit. The most effective customer service reps can resolve these conflicts before they spiral out of control. 

For example, if an irate customer calls about an expensive product that broke after just a few uses and tells the rep they’re taking to their Twitter feed to blast the company, the rep needs to be able to offer solutions to calm the situation down while remaining empathetic. And then everyone wins - the customer is happy, and the company is safe. 

Key takeaways 

Hiring customer service reps with all of these top skills can take significant effort. But the results in customer loyalty and profitability ensure the return on your investment of time and resources more than pays off. 

And it’s also important to know what your customers think about your current customer service offering, and where they think you could improve. With clear customer feedback, you can work to deliver exactly what your customers need and value and train your reps on the skills needed accordingly. 

Looking for a comprehensive way to start gathering this customer feedback? You can have your customer experience platform set up in days, not months, when you use GetFeedback

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