Fact #1: Every employee, whatever the work is, must possess certain skills in order to properly do their job and master them to excel at it.
Face #2 Every employee working in customer service must possess and master skills that are required when facing customers.
Without such skills, the whole business may be at risk of losing customers, publicly embarrassing the company or completely fail.
Luckly, the skills needed are mostly known and many are universal no matter the industry, culture, or language. To help you with that, we’ve prepared a list of 16 essential skills every customer service agent needs to master.
The customer service skills that matter
Every time there is a discussion about this topic, it almost always ends up with phrases like “people person” which isn’t necessarily wrong but it’s generic and it doesn’t actually help anyone.
Companies that need help with this topic, entrepreneurs who are just starting out as well as actual agents who want to improve the quality of their work will not find any value when they’re told to be a people person.
What they all need is a list, specific set of skills that will aid them in pleasing their customers.
Let’s see what those specific skills are.
If any article, list or guide with a set of skills required in customer service does not contain this item, it’s not a good list. Patience is important for both customers and for companies.
Customers will usually come talk to you when they feel frustrated, helpless, unsatisfied or angry. If you don’t have patience and nerve to deal with people in such a state, you cannot be in customer service.
On the other hand, companies need to show patience too, great service will always beat fast service, no exceptions.
Show patience. Stay focused and be supportive. That way, you can find out what is the problem and what can an agent or the company do the solve the issue.
Are you really listening to your customers? You can’t provide an outstanding service if you don’t pay attention to what they want.
Besides being able to help the customer with their specific problem, attentiveness helps with creating a bigger picture, acquiring necessary data and finally knowing how to improve the product or service a company provides.
Feedback plays an important role here as well. Most customers do not use the same terms you use.
A customer will mention how they can never find a certain feature on your website. That translates to something along the lines of - “Improve your UX design, please.”
A customer will complain about how the website is too slow, following their path and data will tell you-you need to optimize the speed of certain pages for a specific category of devices.
Pay attention to what customers try to tell you without actually saying it.
Clear communication skills
Get to the point, and do it quickly. Unless they ask, customers don’t need to hear about your day or how are things going. Be careful about how you usually communicate with people and how that translates to customers - it may leave a bad impression.
The best bet is to keep it professional and polite all the time. Once you have a long-term customer who knows you very well you may adapt the tone to their preferences, of course.
Don’t ever sound ambiguous. A customer should never wonder whether something is a bonus or it comes with a price. Miscommunication makes people go away, they want to know all the terms of the business they’re doing with you, and no “It’s clearly stated in page 12 of our terms and conditions you agreed on” is not a good example of communication with customers.
Knowledge of the Product
Can you help someone if you don’t have a deep understanding and knowledge of how your product or service works? Of course not.
Everyone dealing with customers must be armed cap-a-pie with knowledge and understanding. Furthermore, imagine how embarrassing would it be if a customer comes with a problem and it turns out they know more about the product than the person who created the product.
Without knowing and understanding the product or service your customers are using, all other skills will easily go to waste as you can’t provide the customer what they came for in the first place.
Ability to use positive language
The ability of an agent to make small changes in their standard conversational pattern can do a lot in creating loyal and satisfied customers.
Language is the main part of persuasion and customers will perceive the agent and the whole company through the language used in conversations with them.
It’s not just a buzz advice tossed around, it truly can make a difference.
Imagine a customer that wants to talk to you about a particular product that is out of stock at the moment. Now take a look at our two examples of possible replies, compare them and you be the judge.
Without positive language: “You can’t order that product until next month; It is sold out and we’re waiting for another order, please check back in a month.”
With positive language: “That product will be available in about 30 days from now or sooner. I can place the order for you right this moment to make sure that it is shipped to you as soon as we get our hands on it.”
The first example isn’t negative, it’s just stating a fact, but the message it sends sounds negative and impersonal, and customers can take it the wrong way by customers, especially in written conversation through email or chat where language is often perceived as negative.
On the other hand, the second example is telling almost the exact same thing - the item is not available at this moment, but they instantly come up with a possible solution, even if it means waiting a month more, they allow the customer to instantly make a reservation of that item before it’s sold out again.
You can’t make everyone happy. Some people are hard to please even if you provide them with additional benefits. Sometimes, there are things you can’t control and you will have to face customers who do nothing but complain and want to make your day worse.
Because of this, some basic acting skills are needed so that agents can still sound cheerful and polite even when they’re dealing with the grumpiest person in the world.
Time management skills
Yes, you probably need to spend more time with customers, but there must be a limit. Customer service means providing customers what they want, and they don’t want to wait.
Efficiency is the key here and luckily, we have an amazing ally backed by artificial intelligence that allows us to spend more time with customers, but also allows us to spend less time going through all the data and looking for facts, previous discussions, history, etc.
The rule of a thumb is that once you realize that there is nothing (more) you can do to help a customer it is time to end the conversation or to connect them with someone who can help them.
There’s no need to waste time, it is valuable to both sides.
Ability to ‘read’ customers
The majority of customer-company communication today is without face-to-face contact, and we’re slowly heading to removing the voice as well. A written form of communication is the most comfortable but it makes it a bit more difficult to “read” the customer.
Some basic behavioral psychology will help you with that and you’ll be able to know what’s the emotional state of the customer even through simple written text.
This is important because once agents are able to recognize behavioral patterns, they will be better equipped to personalize the process and create a better, more personal experience for customers.
What’s even more important is that it will help customer support avoid situations where a customer have been read wrongly which would then lead to miscommunication and confusion on both sides.
There are subtle clues which might help in recognizing essential factors in customer’s mood and behavior which would allow the agent to adapt better to the given situation.
A calming presence
Staying calm under pressure is an amazing ability, especially when working with customers. Besides, agents can still perform their duties at the same level if keeping their will often also transfer the same behavior to the customer as well.
Things often get heated, customers get angry and frustrated, customer service reps must remain calm and not let the situation go in the wrong direction.
It’s incredible how easily can customers change their behavior when they face a calm, steady agent who knows what they’re doing and understands the problem.
You would maybe say that this isn’t a thing that belongs on this list but bear with me for a minute. Have you ever seen a situation where an employee is able to “wow” almost every customer, does everything almost perfectly, but there are no returns you were expecting?
This is because many companies leave employees without specific goals. A combination of business goals and customer satisfaction will get you returns, focusing on only one of the two will not. That’s why an agent must be focused on the company’s goals the same as any other employee in the company.
Customer service employees should have a certain level of freedom to make decisions and handle customers how they think it is best, but must never forget what the company wants to achieve and they must work towards it too.
Ability to handle surprises
You can’t really expect surprises, otherwise, they wouldn’t be surprises. What you can do is to be ready and know how to handle them.
Sometimes, it’s a problem you didn’t face before, other times it is something that is not covered by guidelines or manuals. Maybe the customer’s reaction is the surprise!
Whatever it is, you must not freeze. Think and act at the same time is the way to go.
However, there is a way to expect the unexpected and be ready for almost any surprise by having guidelines for surprising situations.
Here’s our suggestion for creating a system to solve new, surprising situations. Ask these 3 questions and you’ll probably be on the right path to finding the solution.
Who is the best person you should go to when you have no idea what to do? Sometimes it’s a colleague, sometimes it someone from the IT team and sometimes it is the CEO of the company.
You need to have a clear list of people you should talk to when there is a problem, going to CEO for every tiny problem is probably not the best way to go. If you don’t have to think about this when you encounter a tricky situation, the solution for the issue will be found way faster.
Now that you know who will help you with the problem, you need to know what info to share. Is it the whole conversation, just the questions you don’t understand, an example of a similar issue you’ve had before?
Sometimes a complete history of all interactions between the company and that specific client is necessary, and in some cases, a single line will be enough.
How are you going to involve this person? Are just going to hand over the conversation and let them deal with the client directly or are you going to share the information with them and let them work in the background while you handle the client?
You can’t tell as it depends on the person that is helping you as well as the nature of the problem. Also, a platform you’re using plays a key role in handling such situations, see what options they offer.
It’s surprising how many forget about this or don’t include it on their list.
Everyone who’s not a starter in customer support knows how often you will be contacted just due to interest or curiosity for the product or a service your company offers. Not every interaction is because of a problem!
If you want your company to thrive and every individual to be a master of customer service, you have to have persuasion on your list. Why not convince those potential customers that your company is the one they were looking for or persuade your existing customers that they should add to cart another item they really need.
No, this is not a suggestion to have customer service reps do the selling to, but if someone is already at your doorstep, why not take the chance and not let them slip away.
This has dozens of different names, you can call it however you like. Great work ethic is a key skill every employee needs, especially when that employee is the one that provides services to other people, the customers, and interacts with them on a daily level.
All those amazing customer service stories you’ve read about have happened because of this skills. One employee wanted to do more and really try everything in their power to satisfy the customers.
Customers are not just a number on the dashboard, they are people like you and me, and they will know to value the extra effort an agent can provide.
Return on investment here is huge, and “lazy” customer service is expensive!
Again, we’re not suggesting that customer service agents should be salesmen as well. Closing ability does not refer to closing sales.
The ability to close with a customer means the conversation can end once you’re certain they are satisfied and that they are aware that you’ve done everything they wanted.
Customers don’t want you to hang-up before they’ve said everything they planned, that’s actually the last thing they want according to some studies.
Make sure to check and confirm with them that each and every problem or questions they had has been addressed or resolved.
This will show the customer three crucial things:
- You care about solving things.
- You want to keep going until all problems are solved.
- They are the ones who determine what solved or right means.
Wait for them to say the closing line and confirm that that’s all they wanted from you.
Empathy is the ability to understand other people’s feelings and emotions. It’s not really a skill, it’s a characteristic of a person.
However, empathy can be learned, and one can get better at it. Any business that relies heavily on interaction with their customers should test all applicants and see the level of their empathy.
Sometimes, we simply can’t tell a customer what they want to hear. What we can do it in such situations is to try and understand how they feel and show genuine concern for their problems.
It is a thing that can make a difference between a customer who leaves and those who decide to stay even when they didn’t get what they want.
Willingness to learn
Since you’re already here, you probably already have this trait. It’s a general term and a skill needed in almost any company, but it is necessary.
An applicant who doesn’t want to improve what they do is not a good pick for an employee. Customer service agents have to improve their skills. New products are always coming, new software is introduced and changed the way the company works.
Even a new manager might bring a few changes to the way customer support team works and everyone in the team must be willing to adapt to those changes, they should not be forced.
It’s time for you to act.
First, you want to apply what you’ve read in this article and see how you can upgrade your service.
Also, we’d like to hear from you! Let us know what do you think of this list and which of the 16 skills do you think is the most important one.
Did we miss anything?