What are customer service skills?
Every business today that’s into making the customer experience (CX) as perfect as possible, cannot ignore customer service. It’s inescapable as an operational division and reference for so many touchpoints in the CX journey. When you want to return goods or inquire about a promotion, review account details, pay an invoice, follow up on a late delivery, or seek technical help, it generally means connecting to customer service.
So, when customers eventually interface with the customer service entity online through “chat,” mobile, or some virtual communication vehicle, whom do they speak to? Sometimes – initially anyway – the first line of customer service is left to an AI voice system. If that doesn’t work (invariably it doesn’t), it moves the inquirer to a human customer service specialist. At that point, if CX is to continue on a smooth path, customers’ issues require compelling resolution.
This article focuses on excellent customer service skills essential to keep the customer journey moving in the right direction. We will examine the talents, resources, methodologies, and skilled characteristics that every customer service agent should apply to make the CX touchpoint rewarding. Out of the gate, excellent skills for customer service have at least seven pillar-requirements:
- Good listening
- Exceptional communication
- Staying calm and patient
- Appropriately responding to verbal and non-verbal cues
- The right product and service knowledge
- Consistently encouraging results from Net Promoter Score (NPS) surveys
The absence of customer service skills in an organization that depends heavily on promotional follow up, technical support, and all manner of trouble-shooting situations, will spell disaster and massive customer churn. Conversely, by nurturing the right customer service skills, you can rescue many CX journeys from coming off the rails. That’s what sincerely expressed customer reviews are all about. One bad review can repel hundreds of prospects, while glowing recounts of product and service benefits push fence-sitters into buying mode.
Customer service skills, as a central HR theme, are multi-faceted and broad. Customers move in and out of looking for confirmation, new advice, peace-of-mind, clarity – all the things that comprehensively complete the customer experience. It may be at the beginning of the due diligence process, or midway, or right at the end (i.e., after purchase). While all customer service skills are vital considerations, the specific emphasis on one set or another shifts around depending on the circumstances. For example, highly technical customer service is a different kettle of fish to a simple account query. Companies must position the appropriate customer service skills to address every predictable situation.
A comprehensive Customer Service Skills List
Companies should come to grips with a list of specific skill requirements. At the risk of repeating some of the pillar items above, here are the big ten with more detailed explanations.
1. Persuasiveness is a mind-boggling customer psychographic impossible to ignore in a survey across a spectrum of industries. Study after study shows that positive customer service experiences induce consumers to buy more than they intended before interaction, and the impact can be staggering.
One cannot escape the fact that a persuasive but honest customer service agent is integral to the process. Without “persuasion” in the mix, customer service skills can’t fire on all cylinders. This aspect is fundamental in converting neutral customers into brand ambassadors and stopping a customer exit in its tracks.
2. Customer service skills must rate empathy and emotional connection right near the top of the list. It’s a reasonable assumption that most customer service interactions are dealing with the release of customer stress. In some cases, it may be mild discomfort, and in others, a severe issue requiring urgent resolution.
Emotions are all tied up with getting a dilemma solved. They play an enormous role in consolidating a strongly positive CX. Customers will tell you that even with a less than 100% resolution of the original issue, their brand loyalty strengthens if the agent is patient and understanding.
3. Dealing with customers from all sides severely tests one’s customer service skills so flexibility in your communication is important. Back in the day, it was the phone and nothing else. In 2020, requests channel through social media, mobile, website chat options, emails, and in person. Customer service agents cannot pick and choose their preferred connections. Adaptability to different communication media is an essential part of the job.
4. The ability to highlight the positives is a necessary skill. When customers enter customer service conversations, they will likely throw a torrent of negatives at the agent. Representatives should be patient and skillfully deflect the negativity by quickly bringing something positive into the conversation. Frustration, anger, and deflation are a lot to contend with, but there’s a silver lining somewhere in the cloud. A talented agent will find it and subtly insert content to lift the complainant out of the doldrums. It may be something as simple as talking about how thankful the company is for the customer’s brand loyalty over the years.
5. Communication, communication, communication. In case our point isn’t clear, communication skills are central to everything. Many companies outsource customer services to specialist entities in India, the Philippines, and Vietnam. That’s okay because the personnel in these localities are generally intelligent and speak excellent English. However, it goes a lot further than that. Ask yourself these questions:
- Am I confident that the person dealing with complicated issues has enough technical and brand knowledge to respond succinctly (without waffling around)?
- Even then, how do I know if the agent is talking above the customer’s head (especially on technical issues) or speaking too simply?
- Is the problem-solver creating more frustration by going too fast or too slow for the listener?
- To what extent is “abruptness” creeping into the conversation? Voice tone, interruptions, short, and curt answers denote loss of self-control – a communication inhibitor.
A spotty communication capability, as described above, will throw customer service skills to the curb. One critical customer review is like a virus – it can offset the benefits of five good ones. Indeed, it could ignite a toxic trail, leading to the acidic consequences that are customer churn and ROI deflation.
6. In extremely problematic situations, the first-line agent may eventually fall into a quandary and have to escalate the query. It’s all part of the communication process, but query escalation should be avoided at all costs. If it does occur, consider the following:
- How seamlessly is the one agent shifting the load to the next one?
- Was it essential, or was it merely a case of agent impatience?
- If unavoidable, did the customer have to go through the same tedious prompts, or did the original agent quarterback a fast query continuation?
- Was the connection lost, forcing the customer to go back to square one?
- Are the agents sometimes using their power to cut off calls when things get too hot? It may be happening more than you think. This is a kill-point in any CX journey.
A significant number of customers cite customer agents’ inability to take responsibility for solving a query as a big turn-off. Kicking the can down the road disrupts communication and adds to customer dissatisfaction if mishandled.
The customer service call centers itself around providing a solution. When it becomes part of the problem, it’s disastrous. Interestingly, a majority of loyal customers abandoning a brand pinpoint disjointed customer service as the principle cause. They say that if an agent had been a one-stop resource, they’d still be in the brand’s camp.
7. Customer service skills depend on agents being honest with themselves. While the overall theme dictates resolving a customer’s issue from end-to-end, professional customer service agents must admit when they’re out of their depth. When the time to escalate arrives (if it arrives), a seamless, hassle-free process must kick in to keep the customer positively engaged. There’s a skill in determining if or when that point comes. Too early or too late can throw the customer into a spin and ultimately brand abandonment.
8. Listening and attentiveness is part of communication. Inattentive agents with poor listening habits cannot communicate effectively, thus eroding all benefits derived from other customer service skills. Unless the issue is in the open arena, a constructive resolution is off the board. Often, agents jump in to comfort or release unease before they genuinely understand what’s at stake. It turns out to be counter-productive in the long conversation.
9. Product knowledge is a core requirement. Everything falls apart if the agent doesn’t have the essential tools to counteract complaints. Shallow perceptions and inability to connect to real-time customer use of the product and services are downers from the word go. No amount of upbeat attitude can disguise poor feedback and advice that’s off the mark. Customer service skills rest on product knowledge across the full spectrum of customer use circumstances.
10. Another critical customer service skill construct is time management. One of the major requirements of any phone in, website chat, or social media engagement is the time it takes to get a clear and usable answer to the problem. The first five minutes are critical. A significant percentage of prospects and customers are likely to throw attempts overboard and go elsewhere if things drag on. Nothing is more annoying than a tune circulating while one waits endlessly for a human voice. When that voice finally arrives, the ability to cut to the chase and solve matters conclusively is the only thing that counts in the customer’s view. Companies should take their systems through the wringer to get this right.
Customer service skills are central to sustained brand viability. Any gaps in your customer service experiences can generate customer churn and inhibit customer retention at every turn. Sogolytics understands the customer journey from end-to-end and focuses intently on customer service entering touchpoints at key stages along the way. They know the pitfalls and have the training protocols for bypassing the same at their fingertips. Moreover, their software resources are second to none. If you are structuring a customer service skills overview, there’s none better than Sogolytics as an expert and professional mentor in your corner.