Customer service is the act of providing support to prospective and existing customers in ways that typically include in-person, phone, email, chat, and social media. But delivering ideal service for customers is both an art and a science. The best customer support agents have a unique combination of intelligence, communication acumen, listening ability, and empathy.
So when hiring someone for a customer support role, what customer service skills should you look for? Many contact centers create their own definitions of customer service, depending on their values and the type of support they want to provide. A positive customer experience results in more revenue, of course, so understanding that good service is the cornerstone of your company helps you leverage the opportunity to impress consumers.
As the customer service landscape evolves, the customer service skills of 10 years ago don’t quite cut it anymore. The issues brought before your staff are becoming more and more complex. In addition, keeping customers happy has become increasingly challenging, as their expectations are higher than ever before.
Unhappy customers are more likely to feel exceptionally frustrated when they reach out, since they may have spent several hours trying to fix the problem themselves. Therefore, your customer service approach should begin with hiring professionals with the skills necessary to ensure customer satisfaction.
What Are Customer Service Skills?
Customer service skills are the traits, abilities, and instincts that, when combined, allow a support agent to deliver an excellent customer experience. Customer service skills fall into two key categories: soft skills and hard skills.
What are hard skills in customer service?
These fall more into the tactical side of things. Do agents have strong knowledge about the brand? Can they answer customer questions with accuracy? Are they focused on efficiency to resolve customer concerns quickly? How do they seize upselling and cross-selling opportunities? Do they have strong writing and communication abilities? These are all examples of tactical, hard skills in customer service.
What are soft skills in customer service?
They’re harder to define, but we all know how good it feels when we experience great service! Soft skills refer more to how a customer service agent conducts themselves and how they serve others. Are they patient listeners? Do they respond with empathy? Do they take customers seriously? How proactive are they in solving problems? Do they connect with customers in a personalized way? Can they empathize with the stress a customer is feeling? How about a sense of humor and sunny disposition? All of these traits are helpful in a strong customer service agent.
Ultimately, customer service skills result in a commitment to the brand and the customer. These factors have a significant influence on customer relationships and their overall experience. Delivering consistently excellent service requires work and alignment across your entire organization, not just customer care representatives. It’s vital to hire individuals who genuinely want to increase customer loyalty.
What Skills Does The Optimal Customer Support Agent Have?
Finding the right hire for a support team can be challenging. During your search, looking for qualities that can’t necessarily be taught is important. An ideal customer care representative is empathetic, a good listener, and likes to help others. However, other skills, such as the ability to quickly solve complex problems and remain calm in the face of an angry customer, are also necessary.
It’s essential to remember that a perfect candidate doesn’t exist (because there are no perfect humans). But with Playvox’s training services, you can equip everyone with the skills to excel.
Here are 16 customer service skills you should look for in your next hire:
1. Dedication to customer
Agents with dedication do what it takes to find a solution. If the problem needs to be referred to a different department, they should act as an advocate for the customer. This trait can make or break your brand.
The ability to read customers is also key to dedication. When a customer service professional is driven to assist a customer, they must be able to “read between the lines,” and use that ability to navigate the situation correctly. When agents watch and listen for subtle clues about a customer’s current mood, it can go a long way in keeping customer interactions positive.
2. Goal-Oriented Focus
Being goal-oriented as a customer service professional is crucial because it allows them to find solutions that ultimately result in customer satisfaction. When agents are focused on the customer’s goals, they’ll do anything it takes to make that customer satisfied.
When they’re focused on their own goals, they’ll work to expand their skill sets and develop in their careers. And when agents’ goals are aligned with your company’s goals, the sky’s the limit! Setting individual objectives tailored to each agent’s professional aspirations will provide additional motivation.
3. Problem-Solving And Conflict Resolution
Agents who provide the most effective and painless service are typically keen problem solvers who think on their feet and take the initiative. Instead of asking customers what they would like to do, effective problem-solving agents proactively diagnose problems and lead toward solutions.
And directly aligned with strong problem-solving abilities are strong conflict resolution abilities. Modern customers have spent so much effort trying to solve the problem themselves that when they call they’re just looking for the quickest fix.
The best agents show their customer service skills by making the interaction as easy and painless for the customer as possible. Customer support agents skilled in conflict resolution know how to swiftly de-escalate if things get too heated and can offer calm responses in the face of difficult conversations.
4. Ability To Handle Surprises
Surprises are to be expected in customer support roles. Even satisfied customers can offer a surprise — it’s nearly impossible to predict how someone will answer the pivotal “Is there anything else I can help you with today?” question. And customers can be notorious for making requests that are outside of what’s expected or even acting in a way that’s difficult to manage. In these situations, having a team of people who can think on their feet is extremely beneficial.
Agents with rapport-building customer service skills can quickly show that they care about the customer. After all, humans want to feel understood and acknowledged.
Rapport is sometimes misunderstood as simply small talk, but the impact is so much greater than that. Rapport-building establishes connection and affinity while ensuring the conversation is more than just a transaction. Also significant: Agents who can build rapport will also be better at de-escalating conflict. Each customer should be treated as an individual, with the agent making the effort to understand what this particular person wants and needs.
It’s natural for customers to want to feel understood and heard, especially when it comes to the challenges they’re facing. To successfully validate a customer’s wants and needs, empathy is a must.
Agents with strong empathy bring a strong degree of emotional intelligence and therefore are overall better at creating long-term customer relationships. Customer support agents who have strong empathy know that it’s a balance between listening and communication. They understand how to use empathy statements to improve their service. Empathy is a difficult skill to teach, so hiring a customer service professional with an empathetic personality is a win-win.
7. Strength To Remain Calm In The Face of Provocation
One of the most valuable customer service skills is unflappability, or the ability to remain calm when dealing with a tough situation. Knowing how to stay calm and pleasant is necessary for improving customer satisfaction. Good representatives understand the conversation isn’t personal and quickly get back on track to solving the problem.
An unflappable customer support agent is invaluable to your team as well because they can have a positive ripple effect on other agents. Positivity and calm attitudes are contagious, and they can remind their colleagues not to let challenging customer situations and provocations throw them off their game.
Using the right language is important, which makes communication a critical customer service skill. Positive phrasing can make an incredible impact. For instance, would you rather hear a customer support agent say “That product is not in stock right now” or the more upbeat “That product will be in stock next week”? The latter, of course!
Also key to solid communication is the ability to mirror the customer’s word choices and general tone. For instance, if the customer is breezy and informal, great customer service agents will adopt a similar tone. If the customer acts formal and restrained, they will respond in a polite, respectful, and business-like manner.
Top customer representatives also have good writing and typing skills. Many interactions are via live chat and email, so they need to express themselves fluently across multiple service channels.
It helps to have a customer service team with persuasion skills to convince interested prospects that your product is right for them. Those with great persuasive abilities can thrive in cross-selling and upselling too. Persuasion is not about making a sales pitch in each interaction, but it’s about not missing an opportunity. Persuasive customer support agents won’t let potential customers walk away because the message wasn’t compelling.
10. Willingness And Ability To Learn
A good representative knows your products and services inside and out. They know how to navigate your knowledge base and CRM to look up anything they don’t know. They should be able to assimilate new information and adapt to changing circumstances, learning as they go.
Training isn’t just for the first two weeks at a new job; it should continue every day. Each interaction is an opportunity to learn how to do a better job and provide better service. Be sure to hire customer service professionals that are open to continuing education.
For additional insights on training and onboarding new team members, introducing new concepts, and closing skill gaps, explore Playvox’s modern approach to multimedia online learning. With videos, customized learning paths, and certifications, Playvox gives you a solution suited for all learning styles.
Honesty is an important customer service skill. Why? It’s all about trust. To earn and maintain your customers’ trust, you need honest customer support agents. Honesty also connects to a person’s ability to deliver hard news. For instance, if shipping will take two weeks, something is out of stock, or there is a price increase for a product, they should tell the customer up front. It might seem easier to avoid sticky issues, but customers appreciate honesty in the long run.
People don’t always think to look for imagination in a customer service representative, but it’s a good customer service skill. It helps in understanding other people’s thought processes. For example, when the customer refers to “that switch thingy,” or “that small button,” imagination will help the agent figure out what is being discussed.
Imagination also helps keep customer interactions fresh. Those should be spontaneous and personalized, never sounding canned. Agents with some imagination can change things up, instead of handling every interaction identically.
13. Time Management
Hiring an agent who can manage time is crucial. A good agent takes as much time as they need to solve the problem and leave the customer satisfied, but remains mindful of all the other customers waiting in line.
The customer should never feel rushed, but other customers must also be tended to. It’s a delicate balancing act that requires good time management skills.
One person, even a top-notch agent, can’t be all things to all people. Agents with great customer service skills should be team players who know when to ask for help and know where collaboration should be leveraged. They should also be willing and able to assist a struggling coworker.
Even if you only have one customer support agent, teamwork skills are still valuable. A business consists of many different departments. It’s important for customer support agents to feel comfortable working alongside other departments within the company.
15. Attention To Detail
Customer support agents manage the customer experience within your organization. An agent with meticulous attention to detail can change a negative impression to a positive one and a positive one to an outstanding one.
Attention to detail refers to a person’s thoroughness in their work and their efforts to ensure they did not overlook any mistakes or errors. Someone who pays attention to detail doesn’t just want to get the job done as quickly as possible. Instead, they review and double-check their work is done flawlessly.
For example, an agent with strong attention to detail will make sure a customer’s order is placed accurately or will transfer them to the right department if necessary.
16. Commitment To The Company’s Vision And Values
Exceptional employee engagement produces extraordinary customer experiences, so your team must believe in your company’s vision and values. Vision statements give employees a goal to work toward and a clear understanding of the company’s purpose.
If your employees don’t buy into the vision, the company won’t be able to live it out. The vision statement and core values of the company should be something your employees connect with and constantly work toward achieving.
What If Someone On Your Team Lacks These Customer Service Skills?
If you’ve hired a customer support agent that lacks a few of these skills, all isn’t lost! Start by providing the employee with clear expectations and examples of what great customer service looks like at your company. Coaching can make a huge impact. A little investment in building an agent’s toolkit goes a long way.
Once the team member implements each customer service skill, acknowledge and reward them for their effort. Soon, you’ll have agents become more engaged in their job and performing at a higher level.
A good agent needs a variety of customer service skills to succeed at their job. Providing the best customer service isn’t easy, but if you hire the right people and train them well, you’ll succeed. Schedule a demo with Playvox to see how our training and coaching tools can help your agents thrive in the contact center.