A concentrated effort on building up your team’s customer service skills is never a waste of time or effort. Because customer care makes an immense difference when building your brand and establishing your company’s reputation. Potential clients want to know they can trust your organization to deliver what it’s promised. And part of that means organizing a team of capable professionals who care about customers and can stay calm under pressure.
Of course, plenty of different abilities make a difference when dealing with irate users who feel personally hurt. And what works for one team might not always be best for another. But at the same time, there seem to be certain core skills every support team needs in order to succeed. So, we’ve broken down fifteen of those traits we see as most important for any organization’s care department.
Perhaps not every individual on the team possesses these skills. However, as long as there’s concentrated effort to build them up, you’re likely headed in the right direction.
15 Customer Service Skills Every Team Needs
At the forefront of the list, and quite possibly most important of the various customer service skills, representatives must show empathy. After all, clients who’ve invested their time and money into a product or service could feel personally slighted when something doesn’t work to their expectations. And while you’re company most likely hasn’t done anything malicious, it can feel that way. So, individuals want to know that representatives can both understand and recognize why they’re upset.
Empathy doesn’t simply imply saying the right words and trying to put a bandage on a gaping wound. It requires a level of actual care, where you put yourself in the position of the wronged party. Perhaps it means asking what you would hope someone would do for you if you were in that position. And likely, you have been before. Because most consumers have a story of a failed product that fell far below their hopes.
In the end, cultivating an atmosphere of genuine care on your team will help not only placate furious customers but truly help solve their problems. Because when someone can imagine what it’s like to deal with an issue, they’ll work harder to help fix it.
2. Technological Literacy
Now, second in order, though not necessarily in importance, is technological literacy. After all, we live in a digital world that, for all purposes, relies on complex technology to function. And as a result, much of the support representatives offer will either deal with technology or require technology to fix. Now, that doesn’t mean every individual needs to become a developer. But knowing the basic functions of a computer or how to find that information if needed is absolutely vital.
For instance, a customer support rep who couldn’t figure out how to send an email with an attachment would severely limit the organization. Of course, most organizations probably wouldn’t hire anyone lacking that skill in the first place, so the example is a bit extreme. However, it showcases the point – basic technological understanding is indispensable for adequate and effective customer service.
Among the most important customer service skills, patience also stands as key. Invariably, customer care representatives will encounter individuals who refuse to accept a solution. Some people simply want to rant and complain. And even in these cases, rudeness on the part of the organization is intolerable. Patience is often necessary in vast amounts, even on a daily basis, even apart from angry clients.
For instance, some individuals simply won’t understand how to do what you’re asking them to do. (Now, we circle back around to the importance of technological literacy.) You might find yourself walking a person through extremely basic concepts, and it can become frustrating. However, you still need to retain a measure of composure, keeping kind and helpful as you go along. Ultimately, patience will help you make customers feel valued, understood, and heard without hitting on insecurities and exploiting their doubt.
4. Effective Communication
Whether your organization offers live or messaging-based customer service, your team’s communication skills must be exceptional. In fact, effective communication has been the basis of customer service throughout its history. Understanding how to speak to customers concisely to explain resolution steps and gather information are important here. Clients don’t want to read through three paragraphs of text or listen to you ramble on to fix their issue. They want clear-cut, efficient conversation and a speedy outcome.
Of course, speed isn’t the only important aspect of effective communication. Clarity is just as integral, if not more so. If customers can’t understand you, they may become even more frustrated. Because now, not only have you failed to solve their problem, they could feel inept as well. So, make sure every person on your team has the appropriate training to build up their communication skills. This could constitute the difference between success and catastrophe.
If you’ve ever spoken on a personal level with a customer service representative, you know they have some interesting stories. Some callers have no compunction about screaming, name calling, blatantly lying, and even making threats. Somehow, representatives have to remain calm whenever this happens. Levelheadedness is, thus, one of the most important customer service skills that teams should cultivate. When this happens (there’s no if), you need to be prepared and know how to keep composure.
Arguing, screaming back, or breaking down whenever customers act this way can have negative consequences. So, even when clients use the most brutal techniques to bully their way into getting what they want, take a breath. Remain calm and do your best to continue helping them. And if nothing else, consult another member of your team or attempt to transfer them to an individual with higher responsibility in the department.
6. Active Listening
Active listening is helpful in more ways than one. At the same time, it helps you better understand an issue while showing a customer you understand their problem. That way, you can more effectively come to a resolution and circumvent further frustration. Ultimately, how active listening plays out over the phone or instant message differs from in-person interactions. For example, eye contact isn’t possible when customers aren’t physically present. However, reps can withhold judgment, reflect what’s been said, and ask open-ended questions. These are all hallmarks of active listening.
Moreover, this sort of communication helps customer service agents interact with each other as well. Particularly whenever they need to pass information from one individual to another in order to solve a problem. Communicating effectively and efficiently leads to better team dynamics and fewer internecine conflict.
7. Time Management
Ultimately, time management is a skill important to all individuals, not just customer service representatives. However, that also means its indispensable for teams attempting to solve customer issues. In this sense, time management might mean understanding how to implement processes for responding to clients quickly. It could have impacts on team dynamics as well, indicating individuals’ responsibility to each other in communication.
Of course, time management also deals heavily with personal responsibility and organization. Customer service representatives need to understand how to handle their own work in a way that makes it easy for them to deliver great results. So, if they spend too much time discussing non-work-related things with team members, they could hurt the company’s reputation. For example, if an organization keeps speedy response times as a core competency, then failing in time management could drive away customers.
Overall, effective time management holds both personal and professional benefits for those who master it. But on the other hand, those who never seem to get it could fall behind rather quickly.
Some customer success teams keep a relatively simple form of prioritization – first come, first served. However, other organizations might find this format too simplistic, particularly if they have a large volume of tickets every day. And adding to that, if there’s a large discrepancy in urgency between different issues.
Admittedly, this customer service skill might apply more to written help than spoken. Because call centers generally take issues as they come in. However, for problems that might take longer to resolve, prioritization can help. For example, an email noting that one customer wants to know if there are any discounts falls well below one stating that the site has gone down. Discounts on an ecommerce page won’t matter if users can’t access it. And while this is an extreme example, it does happen.
So, particularly teams who have fewer representatives to handle issues must know how to quickly determine the priority when multiple issues arise quickly.
Really, like time management, flexibility is a skill that most workers should have. But customer service agents should keep it close to their hearts. Sometimes, issues might not have clear-cut solutions, and it will require a bit of creative thinking and “rule-bending”. Now, this doesn’t mean going against organizational policies. But it might mean manipulating certain technologies or systems to serve purposes they weren’t initially designed to help.
Flexibility also carries into personal aspects. Sometimes, companies might require representatives to work strange hours, especially when a major, unseen problem arises. Reps have to keep in mind that, while work-life balance is important, taking care of huge issues falls within keeping the scales equal. So, flexibility becomes important not only in terms of creative thinking but could also impact personal life as well.
At the same time, companies should not abuse the willingness of their workers to help in difficult times. They need to implement systems that ensure workers receive adequate compensation, rest, and time off for going above and beyond in tense situations.
10. Knowledge of Service or Product
Perhaps this section isn’t exactly representative of customer service skills, per se. After all, having knowledge isn’t something most people would describe under those terms. However, having a working understanding of products and services is absolutely imperative to adequate customer care. Because if the success team doesn’t understand how to help, it quite obviously can’t.
That’s why it’s important to train workers on the specifics of what the company offers, so they don’t fall flat when attempting to help customers. Alternatively, for companies with massive catalogs of products, where information cannot be memorized, they should provide databases. Furthermore, this information should be easily manageable, searchable, and succinct in order to help service reps access it whenever needed.
Likely, there are other viable methods for ensuring team members have access to the information they need. However, the specifics of those programs would likely differ from one organization to another. So, it’s up to teams to figure out what works best for their purposes.
While many problems faced by customer service agents come down to cut-and-dry solutions, not every one does. Sometimes, issues go beyond general knowledge and gets into programming or other areas well beyond the professional expertise of individuals on the team. In these sometimes overwhelming cases, it’s important that you remember to persevere. Look for answers beyond the regular ones you might give. And when all else fails, contact other members of your department who might have helpful insight.
If nothing else, you might find that you need to escalate the situation to a member of a different team, like a developer. However, you can still act as a go-between, point of contact for the person experiencing the issue. That way, you walk with them through their problem, even though you yourself might not have the direct answer. This helps provide a line of continuity and personality for customers. So, rather than passing off between different individuals, you help disseminate the important information and lead them to a resolution.
De-escalation is a term most often used in situations heralding violence – particularly where police or other law enforcement officers are involved. However, in terms of customer success skills, de-escalation refers to the ability to take an extremely angry customer and help lead them into a calmer, rational mindset.
When frustrated, it’s easy to lose control, and temper can get in the way of good judgment. So, whenever customers lack this temperance, customer representatives need to do their best to help restore it. Of course, this won’t always end successfully, and sometimes, clients will leave angrier than before. However, it’s worth remembering that your role isn’t to prove the side of the organization. It’s to act as a go-between, a guide of sorts, who can help the customer navigate their frustration. If you manage to keep this in your thinking, you’re already a decent step forward toward the right mindset.
Sometimes, the decision on how to handle a particular issue won’t be black-and-white. And in those cases, customer representatives must be prepared to analyze a situation and proceed forward confidently. Although small in the grand scheme of things, it might mean choosing to provide a free product to someone who had a major issue, even when that isn’t the clear-cut company policy. Really, this could cover any number of situations.
Key, here, is that you don’t do anything strictly opposed to the interest of the company. Because you also don’t want to get in trouble unnecessarily. However, in situations which demand it, knowing how to make split-second decisions to placate an angry individual can help immensely.
On another note, though, decision-making skills pertain to the relationship between different employees and departments. Because when determining whether an issue needs to escalate to superiors or other teams, customer reps generally have to make the call.
14. Rhetoric and Persuasive Language
Customer support isn’t always about calming down an angry individual. Sometimes, you find yourself speaking with someone coming in the top of the sales funnel, who hasn’t made the decision to purchase yet. That’s why rhetoric and persuasive language can also help service reps in certain situations. For example, if someone is gauging whether to go with your company or a direct competitor, you need to be able to demonstrate convincing reasons why they should choose you.
Now, the lines between marketers, sales teams, and customer support blur somewhat in these situations. And it makes sense for large companies who have different designated departments to send these sorts of contacts along to more well-equipped teams. However, small businesses don’t always have this luxury. The customer salesperson might also be the one handling support after the fact. So, it pays to understand how to come across persuasively without selling someone a product they don’t actually need.
And there lies the crux of the issue – you never want to convince someone to buy your product if it isn’t going to help them. The goal of customer success and care is to help people find the best solutions. And if your organization isn’t equipped to meet that standard for someone, it builds more trust to send them along to someone who can.
Finally, if it hasn’t been evident throughout the rest of the customer service skills, you must pay attention to tone. At the end of the day, this point is quite simple. Speak to people the way you’d want to be spoken to in their situation. If you wouldn’t appreciate condescension or shortness, don’t be that way with customers. Instead, offer help with kindness and empathetic voice at the forefront of your interactions.
Tone at the beginning of a conversation can set the pace for the rest of the experience. In fact, initial politeness can even help calm down an angry customer before they have the chance to take it out on you. So, do yourself and your clients a favor by ensuring you treat them with grace and dignity.
Keep Fostering Your Customer Service Skills
More than likely, there are other core skills customer service representatives need to keep in mind. But it also gets to be somewhat unwieldy when you’re expected to improve dozens of abilities at the same time. That’s why it can be best to step back and focus on one area at a time.
VTR Learning can help you do that with our myriad courses on different business topics, from human resources to leadership. So, if you’re hoping to expand your repertoire, be sure to check out our courses today.
Article written by Braden Norwood
Last updated October 23, 2023