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Having excellent customer service skills is a must in any industry. For some reason having excellent customer service skills is like the holy grail of business skillsets.
Everyone has heard of it, but no one can find it.
Now I can’t promise that after reading this post you will become a customer service superhero, but I can promise that attempt to implement the information here you will see a vast improvement in customer service effectiveness.
50 essential customer service skills
No matter your business size or industry, your customers have one thing in common: their humanity.
Every customer is a person who has taken the time out of the hustle and bustle of their hectic day to interact with your brand. And, each person wants to feel respected and appreciated.
Employees with these customer service skills do more than create transactions, they create positive customer experiences. Alternatively, companies who don’t value and empower these skills can find themselves sliding down a slippery slope.
Here, we’ll look at the following customer service skills critical to maintaining and growing your company’s bottom line.
The 50 of most important customer service skills
- Communication skills
- Product knowledge
- Problem-solving skills
- Positive attitude
- Positive language
- Listening skills
- A willingness to go the extra mile
- Personal responsibility
- Desire to learn
- Acting ability
- The ability to respond quickly
- Time management skills
- The ability to let it go
As we go through the list, you’ll notice how many of these skills tie together.
Think of each skill as a thread – once weaved together, they create a support network every client can reach with the confidence they’ll find what they need.
With that, let’s get started with the very first important customer service skill: empathy.
Understanding the customer and the problem is key for anyone in a customer facing role. (Plus, it helps when collaborating with your co-workers!)
In a recent MarketingProfs podcast with speaker and author Jay Baer, he shared why empathy has an impact on a business’ bottom line:
“At one point, empathy was the default. When we interacted with customers and prospects, we did so almost reflexively with a degree of humanity, a degree of warmth, a degree of caring. It’s safe to say now that we are operating in an era of empathy deficit, not only in business, but [also] in politics and in life. The default state is no longer warmth and caring, it is knives out. Consequently, if you can be disproportionately empathetic in your business, it is noticeable in a way that it wouldn’t have been in the past and can create customer conversations accordingly.”
One-to-one customer interactions with your customer success team are the biggest place you can show empathy. Anyone on the phone, live chat, or social media customer support must understand that they are talking to a real live person.
It can’t be stated enough that customers are human beings, not another stat for your spreadsheets.
Sometimes, empathy will mean you have to break the rules or make an exception. If someone needs you to bend the rules due to a family emergency or extenuating circumstances, and you do so, you could develop a lifelong brand advocate.
2. Clear communication skills
Service reps must be able to explain the potential solutions to customers’ problems, and do so in a clear, concise manner. As a communication studies major, I have extra excitement for this customer centric skill.
Clear communication skills mean speaking without jargon, especially if it’s terminology specific to your company. Those who communicate well also understand when their point isn’t getting across and know how to offer alternative explanations if the original doesn’t make sense.
On the technical side, when it comes to verbal communication, those speaking to customers in person or on the phone must also speak clearly – no mumbling allowed!
Non-verbal communications also come into play during these conversations, even when they’re on the phone.
Take a look at the studies done by Dr. Albert Mehrabian in the 1970’s. According to his extensive research, only 7 percent of his communication is the words we say.
The remaining elements of communication come down to non-verbals signals you give people. 38 percent of these include voice and tone. In order words, “It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.” The remaining 55 percent depends on body language.
Think of the employees at a retail shop or those who work trade shows as part of an event marketing strategy. Those with exceptional communication skills will have a confident, open stance and make eye-contact with ease. No slouching or crossed arms – this makes employees much more approachable.
Why do these non-verbal skills matter so much?
As described by Dr. Mehrabian, “The non-verbal elements are particularly important for communicating feelings and attitude, especially when they are incongruent: if words and body language disagree, one tends to believe the body language.”
So, if the words you’re saying don’t match up to how you’re saying them, people trust your tone more.
And yes, in case you were wondering, the lack of non-verbals can be the cause of communication issues in text messages, especially for the easily offended. If you are using chatbots and email for customer support, ensure employees have a history of excellent written communication, including grammar.
It’s no surprise these 93 percent of non-verbal communication skills apply to those in an in-person customer facing role. However, don’t forget their importance in phone support, too. For example, posture has a huge impact on a person’s tone and vocal quality. (I’m an actor, trust me on this one!)
Communication skills are interlinked with the ability to listen, which we’ll discuss in point No. 8, and being attentive, point No. 15.
3. Product knowledge
While it may seem like a given, product knowledge is a crucial element that can’t be ignored. Regular training and product updates to give your reps a true understanding of your product, as well as any product changes that will affect customers, is key to the success for your company.
In order to truly help people, your reps must be able to give accurate and up-to-date information about your product or service.
If not, you’ll upset your customers even more!
According to a survey of more than 1,000 adults by the Consumer Reports National Research Center, 70 percent of people are highly annoyed when they are transferred to a representative who can’t help or is wrong.
In-depth product knowledge does more than enable service agents to troubleshoot customer problems it allows reps to help customers get the most out of your product, ensuring your product or service provides the maximum value.
When they do face a question they can’t answer, make sure that customer service professionals know who to turn to when they need additional information.
4. Problem-solving skills
In essence, problem-solving is what customer service is all about.
While there are many problem-solving models, those interacting with customers need to be quick on their feet. There’s no time for group brainstorming. Your clients want their problems fixed and they want them fixed now.
Here is an example of the problem-solving process that applies to customer service situations:
Great customer service means getting to the heart of problems immediately, then coming up with solutions. It’s important to note step No. 5 in relation to the customer experience.
You may have come up with a solution to the problem, but did it actually work for the customer? If not, it’s time to go back to the beginning and identify new potential solutions.
The circle doesn’t stop until your customer’s issue is solved.
Customer service reps will often find themselves on the front line against unhappy customers. Depending on the situation, people may have worked themselves up into quite a state before speaking with a customer service representative. The ability to stay calm and keep from taking things personally will help diffuse tense situations with angry customers.
A customer service representative may find themselves with a customer who doesn’t know how to describe the problem or struggles to accurately answer the reps questions.
Service reps who maintain their patience are less likely to get irked (making a negative situation even worse) when interacting with a frustrating customer.
Let’s face it: No one is perfect, but there are, no doubt, some frustrating people out there. And, as anyone who works in customer support will tell you, sometimes it seems as if these are the ones who call the most!
Knowing when to take a big (silent!) breath in, then out can come in quite handy.
6. Positive attitude
According to Winston Churchill, “Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.”
Do you know what? He’s right.
It’s a lesson I learned from my Dad at a young age. While I love all of his life lessons, thanks to his career in sales, this one is applicable when discussing customer service skills. Growing up, my Dad not only pointed out poor customer service, but he also made a point of letting managers know when employees showed exemplary customer service.
There’s no doubt each one of these people displayed a positive attitude.
I remember reading the following poem by Charles Swindoll on my Dad’s desk when I was at that susceptible middle-school age when motivational skills have the strongest impact.
Image source: The Little Rebellion
Notice those words towards the end, “I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it.”
Even if a customer service agent is having a bad day, the calls are going to keep happening. The important part is how that agent reacts, even if a particularly feisty customer happens to be pushing their buttons.
Image source: Randy Glasbergen via Hamilton Writing
Having a positive attitude is one of those customer service skills that is essential for all employees. These people are more enjoyable to be around. Plus, they’re more ready to solve problems and able to execute the next skill: Positive language.
7. Positive language
Those with positive attitudes are able to focus on solutions. Building on that, those who speak positive language also speak in positive terms – they don’t mention the negatives.
I know what you’re thinking: “Isn’t that the definition of an optimist?”
While it’s likely an optimist has a positive attitude, positive language is a more technical skill. Positive language is how a customer service rep uses their communication skills to share information.
Imagine you receive a catalogue sent using direct mail marketing. You call to order a sweater (old-school, I know!), only to find it’s out of stock.
Many times, this is what you’ll hear: “I’m sorry we don’t have that in stock, it’s backordered and you can’t get it for two weeks.”
Now, image you instead hear, “That product will be available in two weeks. I can place your order now, and you will receive it on approximately November 15th.”
Notice the difference?
By using positive language, customer service managers can overcome a customer’s problem before they even knew they had one.
8. Listening skills
Even though a rep might face the same problem 15-to-20 times a day, it is imperative they still listen to each person and each call.
Customer experiences vary from person to person. A problem may be common, but that doesn’t mean that’s this customer’s problem.
If your customer service representatives are making assumptions, you’ll find yourself with customers who are increasingly agitated.
In addition to not assuming, consider the following ways to improve listening skills:
Asking questions, taking notes, and avoiding interruptions are all excellent tactics to improve listening.
Encourage all employees to take these actions as a way to increase productivity through heightened communication skills.
9. A willingness to go the extra mile
A willingness to go the extra mile can also be thought of as “wow” customer service. Forbes author Micah Solomon describes wow customer service as “service that goes beyond fulfilling basic customer expectations and does so in a creative, unexpected way.”
Put simply, it makes people go, “Wow.” (Who would have guessed?)
Some companies, such as fashion brand Zappos and petcare company Chewy, have built their brands on this type of customer service. I can say for a fact they’ve both made a fan of me.
How exactly does Chewy make customers say wow? Its customer service agents’ skills extend across all channels. The brand has a dedicated Twitter account, complete with a Twitter banner showing off the smiling faces of these stellar employees. When it comes to phone calls, there is absolutely zero automation, and service reps aim to answer the phone within a mere five seconds.
Kelli Durkin, Chewy’s VP of Customer Service, shares that it comes down to the dedication of her customer service team: “Our customer service reps have good energy and the staff is excited to delight the customer…We want customers to be so wowed by the interaction they can’t help but share their experiences.”
Other examples of wow customer service include the condolence gifts given to those who lose a pet, and the randomly selected customers who receive hand-painted portraits of their pets.
Image source: Bloomberg
Many believe that Chewy’s commitment to the extra mile is what led to PetSmart buying Chewy for a reported $3.5 billion, the largest e-commerce acquisition ever as of April 2017.
While the dedication to a customer-centric approach comes from management, it is the customer service representatives interacting with customers day in and day out, listening to customers’ stories and needs for their furry family members, who make that wow factor happen.
Tip: Empower your customers and grow your brand with reviews
Going the extra mile creates experiences customers love to share. Give brand advocates the opportunity to tell their stories by utilizing customer reviews
If you’re a B2B software or service company, after claiming your free G2 profile, you’ll discover how reviews deliver increased credibility, brand exposure, and customer insights.
10. Personal responsibility
Personal responsibility is critical in all decisions and relationships, be it in or out of the office.
While it’s quite understandable for mistakes to be made in customer service roles, authentic customer support employees know when they have made a misstep. We’re all human, and we make mistakes. Accepting responsibility for those mistakes and looking for ways to fix them is how you turn a negative to a positive.
And, just like responding to negative customer reviews can turn the tides, acknowledging the mistake and fixing it is how you can turn a frustrated client into a brand advocate.
Customers will have faith they are getting the right answer (and one that will work!) when they talk to someone with confidence. And, when you go back to the third skill – training service reps on your product and service – this should come naturally!
Confident employees are a positive reflection on your brand, increasing your company’s trust and credibility. Proper training and internal communication channels to troubleshoot new customer issues as they arise will naturally give reps the confidence to excel.
If you have a customer service agent with great empathy, listening, and problem-solving skills, but who’s lacking just a bit in their self-confidence, consider doing what you can to give them a confidence boost.
Provide employees with positive feedback and some physical tips on how to be confident. Just like those who need some help with easy networking tips, smiling and maintaining a confident posture will go a long way. (Plus it helps those communication skills!)
12. Tenacity and resilience
Let’s face it – most people only call customer service when they have a problem. This means that your customer service reps are often faced with unhappy people non-stop throughout the day. Sometimes, it’s a simple problem to fix. Other times, not so much.
Customer Service reps need the ability to deal with other people’s frustrations day in and day out, while still maintaining that positive attitude.
Tenacity is also required when support agents are facing problems that aren’t easy to solve. Sometimes, it may be an usual technical difficulty. Alternatively, service reps could find themselves working with the un-tech savvy who need some extra time to get through the basics.
Other times, employees might be helping a customer with extenuating circumstances. Customer service reps will have to spend extra time, or take measures not usually taken, to ensure the issue is resolved.
Think of tenacity as resilience: the dogged determination not to stop until the problem is solved.
Authenticity will go a long way when it comes to customer service. As a midwestern girl (I grew up surrounded by cows and cornfields), I grew accustomed to people who care about each other.
This goes back to empathy and listening – you’re not just reading a script, you’re not pretending to listen, you are giving your best solution to each and every customer.
It means that you’re not trying to help a customer to fulfill your own goals (whether it’s making a renewal, hitting your target, or avoiding looking bad to your boss). You want to help every individual you cross paths with.
While you may have a standard customer service script, customers are not made from cookie cutters. Each individual’s situation is unique, and you need to be ready to adapt to each one.
Finding employees with strong adaptability skills will not only help your customer success rate, it will also help you find strong leaders. In fact, according to the Center for Creative Leadership, the ability to adapt or develop was cited as the No. 1 most cited success factor for North American managers.
The good news is, according to a 2017 global study by PricewaterhouseCoopers, 86 percent of those in the workforce believe they have this skill.
Image source: Job Market Monitor
As you’ll notice in the image, adaptability is closely followed by problem-solving as the top two skills members of the workforce believe they have.
Assuming people responded with an accurate self-assessment, there’s a good chance most employees will have these two critical customer service skills.
Think of your standard romantic comedy with the dreamy leading man. What do all the girls say? “He made me feel like I was the only one in the room.”
Be attentive to your customers and make them feel like they matter.
Instead of movie scripts, think of applying a small business strategy. Coming from a small town, I grew up witnessing businesses that showed appreciation to all customers by spending time with them.
Sometimes, small businesses are the ones that understand their clients the most; they have lifelong customers because of the time they spend building relationships.
Putting quality over quantity (rather than speed and moving on to the next customer), gives each customer all the time they need. This is one of the reasons online fashion retailer Zappos has seen such success.
Its longest customer service call? Take a guess.
20 minutes? 30 minutes? An hour? Try over 10. Ten hours and 43 minutes, to be precise.
The customer service industry requires employees to have a number of soft—or interpersonal—skills. Whether you interact with customers in person, on the phone, or via email or online chat, it’s important that you be able to relate to others on a human level. via Top 10 Soft Skills for Customer Service Jobs
What Are Soft Skills?
Soft skills are the personal attributes, personality traits, inherent social cues, and communication abilities needed for success on the job.
Soft skills characterize how a person interacts in their relationships with others.
Unlike hard skills that are learned, soft skills are similar to emotions or insights that allow people to “read” others. These are much harder to learn, at least in a traditional classroom. They are also much harder to measure and evaluate.
Soft skills include attitude, communication, creative thinking, work ethic, teamwork, networking, decision making, positivity, time management, motivation, flexibility, problem-solving, critical thinking, and conflict resolution.
Hybrid skills are related to soft skills in that they include a combination of non-technical and technical skills.
Soft Skills You Need to Work in Customer Service
Clear communication is essential to customer service. You need to know what the customer wants and be able to articulate what you can do for the customer.
Enunciating, speaking loudly enough, and employing an upbeat tone will help you communicate clearly and positively with your customers.
These skills are essential in phone communication, as well. If you write or email with customers, be sure to use proper grammar and spelling and choose words and phrases that convey a similarly upbeat attitude.
Listening skills are just as important as communication skills. Listen carefully to customers to know exactly what they need and how you can help them. Demonstrate that you are actively listening through body language and responses.
Nod when you understand something, make eye contact, etc. Don’t be afraid to ask clarifying questions to make sure you understand the other person.
An important aspect of customer service is simply making the customer feel heard.
When you’re talking on the phone, don’t interrupt customers, and carefully respond to all of their questions.
People who work in customer service need to be able to calmly handle all customers, even the most negative ones. You must strive to remain calm and cool, even when your customer is not. Patience and self-control will keep you from getting upset and saying something inappropriate.
Remember to try not to take it personally when the customer is upset. When the customer is angry, it’s even more important to stay calm and try to tone down the conversation.
- Problem Sensitivity
- Stress Tolerance
A positive attitude goes a long way in customer service. Make sure you know all of the benefits of the products or services your company provides and convey them to your customers. If customers have a problem with a product or service, focus on what you can do to help them.
While you don’t want to seem overly happy when a customer is upset, being proactive and optimistic can help a customer stay positive too.
- Emotional Intelligence
- Vocal Tone
When dealing with customers, you want to be able to take control of the situation and do what you need to do in an efficient manner. If you are meek or passive, customers may not have faith in you. However, you also don’t want to be aggressive or demanding, which can offend customers.
By speaking in a strong, steady voice, asking direct questions, and keeping track of what you need to do, you will convey confidence without being aggressive.
- Quick Thinking
Conflict resolution is essential when working in customer service because you deal with many customers who have a problem that needs to be solved. It is important for you to be a creative problem solver.
Always make sure you understand problems clearly and offer customers realistic solutions.
Think creatively. Often, you will need to think of solutions that fit the needs of a specific customer.
If you cannot find a solution that works for a customer, help them locate additional help. If you need to, escalate the issue to someone else who can solve the problem. Follow up with the customer to make sure the issue has been resolved. Customers will appreciate your interest in their problem and your willingness to help in whatever way possible.
Examples of conflict resolution skill include:
- Emotional Intelligence
It is important to understand what customers say and also how they feel. An important soft skill is being able to recognize and understand a person’s emotional state.
If you struggle to convey empathy, think about being in that customer’s position. How would you feel? How would you like to be treated? What would you feel like if you had the same problem the customer did? These questions will help you to identify with and better assist your customers.
- Emotional Intelligence
- Active Listening
- Life Skills
While you should be friendly with your customers, remember that you are not there to share your life story. When a customer explains an issue he is having, there is no need for you to respond with your own, related problem. A simple “I understand” or “I know how you feel” can make the customer feel understood and appreciated. Customers want you to focus on helping them.
- Stress Tolerance
- Emotional Stability
This is a big part of working in customer service, and that includes being able to say, “I’m sorry,” whether it’s for a late shipment or the poor quality of a product. You have to be able to sincerely apologize to a customer on behalf of your company even when the problem was not your fault. Hearing an apology almost always makes a customer feel better.
- Active Listening
- Repeating the Customer’s Words Back to Them
A Sense of Humor
This can make a potentially stressful customer-service interaction more enjoyable. If a customer cracks a silly joke, she will appreciate it if you chuckle along with her. However, make sure you are never laughing at a customer, such as when they make a mistake or have trouble with something. Instead, laugh with your customers.
- Problem Sensitivity
- Social Skills
- Stress Tolerance
More Soft Skills for Customer Service
- Student Mentality
- Fast Learning
- Quality Awareness
- Lie Detection
- Follow Instructions
- Critical Thinking
- People Oriented
- Attention to Detail