Table of contents
Deliver Best Customer Service
17 Key Customer Service Skills + Ways to Develop Them
Table of contents
Can you remember the last time you interacted with a brand’s customer service department and felt truly cared for?
Maybe it was the way the support staff patiently listened to you. Maybe it was how they clearly communicated the solution to your problem. Or maybe it was the speed at which they resolved your issue.
The reasons could be anything, but the biggest takeaway is this: companies deliver great customer service when they have the right people with the right skills in their team.
What are these customer service skills that make support staff deliver exceptional experiences?
In this article, we take a look at 17 essential skills that are relevant for those working in customer service and ways to develop these skills.
But before we get to that, let’s brush up on some basics.
Table of Contents
- What is Customer Service?
- What are Customer Service Skills?
- 5 Key Principles of Good Customer Service
- 17 Key Customer Service Skills + Tips to Develop Them
- 1. Active Listening
- 2. Emotional Intelligence (EI)
- 3. Adaptability
- 4. Tech-Savviness
- 5. Cultural Sensitivity
- 6. Problem Solving Ability
- 7. Clear Communication
- 8. Time Management
- 9. Conflict Resolution
- 10. Proactive Engagement
- 11. Upselling and Cross-selling Skills
- 12. Constructive Feedback Reception
- 13. Patience and Resilience
- 14. Data Interpretation
- 15. Personalized Service
- 16. Product/Service Knowledge
- 17. Optimistic Mindset
- Importance of Good Service Skills for Customer Support Agents
- Deliver Delightful Customer Service
What is Customer Service?
Customer service refers to the support and assistance provided by a company to its customers before, during, and after using their products or services. This support can be offered through multiple channels that include email, phone, social media, chat, and in-person interactions. The primary objective of customer service is to resolve their issues in a timely and efficient manner.
The level and importance of customer service varies in each company. Like at Hiver, we believe in delivering top-notch 24×7 customer service.
What are Customer Service Skills?
Customer service skills refer to a set of abilities, traits, and behavior that individuals use to interact with customers, handle their concerns or queries, and ensure a positive customer experience. These skills can be divided into hard skills (specific, teachable abilities) and soft skills (interpersonal or people skills).
These skills are paramount for anyone in a role who interacts with customers, whether directly or indirectly. They ensure that customers feel valued, heard, and satisfied with the services they receive.
5 Key Principles of Good Customer Service
Good customer service results in happier customers, more repeat business, and positive word-of-mouth marketing. But, what lays the foundation for all this?
Here are five key principles:
#1 Empathy and Active Listening:
- Showcase empathy by putting yourself in the customers’ shoes. It’s about truly understanding what your customer feels.
- Active Listening: Pay close attention to what your customer says, without interrupting. This allows for understanding the customer’s needs and concerns accurately.
#2 Prompt and Efficient Problem Solving:
- Time is valuable for both the customer and the business. Responding promptly to inquiries, complaints, or feedback shows respect for the customer’s time and demonstrates efficiency.
- Ensure that responses not only are quick but also accurately address the customer’s concern.
#3 Clear and Effective Communication:
- Use simple, understandable language when interacting with customers. Avoid using terms and phrases (read jargon) that the customer might not understand.
- Confirm that the customer understands the solution or information provided, and ask open-ended questions to ensure clarity.
#4 Knowledge and Expertise:
- Support staff need to be well-trained and stay up to date on the products and services the company offers. This makes it easier for them to resolve customer queries.
- When faced with a question or situation they are unsure about, representatives should be honest with the customer and seek assistance rather than providing potentially incorrect answers.
#5 Going the Extra Mile:
- Often, it’s the above-and-beyond gestures (read going the extra mile) that customers remember most. This might mean offering a small discount if there’s been an inconvenience, following up after an issue has been resolved to ensure the customer is satisfied, or simply anticipating needs before they arise.
- Recognize loyal customers and value their continued business. This can be through loyalty programs, special offers, or just a personalized thank-you note.
17 Key Customer Service Skills + Tips to Develop Them
Listed below are 17 key customer service skills and some effective ways to develop each of them:
1. Active Listening
Active listening means fully concentrating and understanding what the customer is saying. It’s more than just hearing the words spoken; it’s about comprehending and interpreting the meaning behind those words.
Consider a customer who calls in to report a defect in a product they purchased. If you jump to conclusions without letting the customer finish their explanation, the customer may feel unheard or misunderstood. When you’ve not heard the customer fully, the solution you offer might also not be accurate.
On the other hand, if you take time to listen, ask follow-up questions for clarity, and then offer a solution – this will make the customer feel valued and respected.
Steps to Practice Active Listening:
- Stay Present: Focus entirely on the speaker. Avoid getting distracted by external factors or your own thoughts.
- Avoid Interrupting: Allow the customer to finish speaking before you respond. This gives them the space to express themselves fully.
- Feedback: Paraphrase or summarize what you’ve heard to confirm understanding. For instance, “So, if I understood correctly, the issue you’re facing is…”
- Ask Open-ended Questions: Instead of questions that can be answered with a ‘yes’ or ‘no’, ask open-ended questions like, “Can you tell me more about that?”
- Non-verbal Cues: Pay attention to your body language. Maintain eye contact (if you’re interacting in person or on a video call),nod in acknowledgement, and maintain an open posture.
- Avoid Making Assumptions: Always seek clarification if you’re unsure about something the customer said.
2. Emotional Intelligence (EI)
Emotional Intelligence refers to the ability to recognize, understand, and manage our own emotions as well as recognize, understand, and influence the emotions of others. In customer service, EI is essential because interactions often involve heightened emotions, especially when a customer is facing a problem.
By being emotionally intelligent, support agents can navigate these situations effectively, resulting in better outcomes for both the customer and the company.
Imagine a customer is frustrated because their delivery hasn’t arrived on the promised date. They call in, clearly agitated. You shouldn’t just jump into problem-solving mode; you’ll first acknowledge the customer’s feelings, saying something like, “I can understand why you’d be frustrated. Let me see what I can do to help.”
Steps to Practice Emotional Intelligence:
- Self-awareness: Regularly check in with yourself to understand how you’re feeling. Recognize your own emotional triggers and how they affect your behavior.
- Self-regulation: If you feel yourself getting upset or frustrated, take a moment to breathe or pause before responding. Avoid reacting impulsively.
- Social Skills: Cultivate strong interpersonal skills. Learn how to effectively communicate, resolve conflicts, and work in teams.
- Motivation: Stay self-motivated. Recognize that every interaction, even the challenging ones, is an opportunity to learn and grow.
- Continuous Learning: Emotional Intelligence is not a fixed trait. Attend workshops, read books, or take online courses to further enhance your EI.
In today’s world, customer preferences, industry trends, and technology are constantly changing. The most effective customer service representatives are those who can adapt to new tools, policies, and situations while maintaining a high level of service.
Steps to Practice Adaptability:
- Embrace Change: Recognize that change is inevitable, especially in a tech-driven world. Welcome it as an opportunity for growth.
- Stay Curious: Approach unfamiliar situations with curiosity rather than apprehension. Ask questions and seek understanding.
- Develop Problem-Solving Skills: When faced with a new challenge, break it down into smaller, manageable tasks. Brainstorm multiple solutions and be willing to try different approaches.
- Feedback Loop: After adapting to a change, reflect on what went well and what could be improved. This reflective practice helps in better handling future changes.
- Flexibility in Communication: Understand that every customer is different. Be ready to adjust your communication style based on the customer’s needs and preferences.
With the rise of digital platforms and AI-powered tools, being tech-savvy is no longer a nice-to-have but a necessity in customer service. Tech-savviness refers to the ability to understand and efficiently use various tools and platforms relevant to your role.
Let’s say, a customer reaches out via live chat, seeking guidance on how to navigate the company’s new mobile app. As a tech-savvy agent, you must not only be familiar with the app’s features but also guide the customer with a step-by-step process to do the same – perhaps even share relevant tutorial links or screen recordings.
Steps to Practice Tech-Savviness:
- Continuous Training: Take advantage of training sessions or workshops offered by your company or third-party providers on relevant software and tools.
- Experiment: Familiarize yourself with new tools by exploring them firsthand. Create mock scenarios or play around in a demo environment.
- Ask Questions: If you’re unsure about a particular feature or tool, ask colleagues or turn to online forums. The customer service community is vast, and someone might have the answers you’re looking for.
- Use Cheat Sheets: Create quick reference guides or cheat sheets for common tech-related queries or tasks. This ensures you always have the information on hand when you need it.
- Feedback: Share feedback with your tech team about the tools you use. If there’s a recurring issue or a feature that could enhance your work, let them know.
5. Cultural Sensitivity
Businesses often serve a diverse range of customers from different cultural, ethnic, and religious backgrounds. Cultural sensitivity, sometimes referred to as cultural competence, is the ability to interact effectively and respectfully with people from diverse backgrounds.
It involves understanding and appreciating cultural differences without making assumptions or resorting to stereotypes.
Steps to Practice Cultural Sensitivity:
- Educate Yourself: Take time to learn about different cultures, customs, and communication styles. This could be through formal training, reading, or even travel.
- Avoid Assumptions: Never assume someone’s beliefs, preferences, or needs based on their appearance or accent.
- Mind Your Language: Be careful with idioms, slang, or phrases that might not be universally understood. Ensure your communication is clear and concise.
- Acknowledge Holidays and Observances: Recognizing significant dates for different cultures (e.g., Lunar New Year, Diwali, Eid) can go a long way in building rapport with customers.
- Seek Feedback: After interactions with customers from diverse backgrounds, seek feedback. This can help identify areas where you might improve your cultural sensitivity.
6. Problem Solving Ability
Problem-solving ability is the capacity to approach challenges methodically, analyze the situation and implement effective solutions. This typically involves addressing specific issues or challenges that a customer faces with a product or service. For example, a customer might be having trouble using a feature of a software program, and the customer service representative would help them navigate and use that feature correctly.
Steps to Practice Problem-Solving Ability:
- Define the Problem: Clearly understand what the exact issue is. Ask questions to get a full picture from the customer’s perspective.
- Analyze the Situation: Gather all necessary information. This might involve checking internal systems, talking to other departments, or reviewing previous communication.
- Brainstorm Solutions: Think of multiple ways the problem can be addressed. It’s beneficial to have a few options at hand, especially if the first solution isn’t feasible.
- Evaluate Options: Weigh the pros and cons of each potential solution. Consider factors like time, cost, and the potential impact on the customer.
- Implement the Solution: Once a course of action is decided upon, implement it promptly. Ensure you communicate the steps being taken to the customer.
- Review the Outcome: After the issue is resolved, reflect on the solution’s effectiveness. Did it fully address the customer’s concern? Was there a better way it could have been handled?
7. Clear Communication
Clear communication is the ability to convey information effectively, ensuring that the message is understood as intended. In customer service, clarity is paramount. Misunderstandings can lead to dissatisfaction, repeated interactions, and even loss of business.
For instance, if a customer asks about the return policy for an online purchase, you shouldn’t just merely state, “You can return within 30 days.” Instead, you must explain the entire process: “You can return your purchase within 30 days of purchase. Please ensure the product is in its original condition, include a copy of the receipt, and use our prepaid return label. Once we receive the item and inspect it, a refund will be processed within 5 business days.”
Steps to Practice Clear Communication:
- Be Concise: Avoid jargon and overly complex language. Stick to the point, ensuring your message is succinct yet comprehensive.
- Structure Your Response: Organize your thoughts before conveying them. This can be especially helpful during complex or lengthy interactions.
- Use Positive Language: Focus on what can be done rather than what can’t. For instance, instead of saying, “We don’t have that feature,” try “That feature is currently not available, but we offer…”
- Ask for Confirmation: After explaining something, ask the customer if they understood or if they have any further questions. This can prevent potential misunderstandings.
- Adjust to Your Audience: Different customers may have varying levels of understanding, especially with technical products or services. Gauge their familiarity and adjust your communication accordingly.
- Practice Regularly: Like any skill, the more you practice clear communication, the better you get at it. Role-playing exercises, feedback from peers, or even recording and reviewing your interactions can be beneficial.
8. Time Management
Time management is the ability to effectively allocate your time and resources to prioritize and complete tasks efficiently. For customer service representatives, smartly managing time ensures that customers aren’t kept waiting unnecessarily and that multiple tasks or inquiries can be handled seamlessly without compromising service quality.
Steps to Practice Time Management:
- Set Clear Priorities: Determine which tasks are urgent and important. Address these tasks first.
- Break Tasks into Chunks: If you have a long or complex task, break it down into smaller, more manageable portions. This makes it less daunting and easier to tackle.
- Set Boundaries: If you’re multitasking, such as handling phone calls and chat simultaneously, set boundaries. For instance, avoid answering a call when deeply involved in a chat resolution.
- Minimize Distractions: Ensure your workspace is organized and free from unnecessary distractions. This might mean silencing notifications or creating a physical barrier if in a busy environment.
- Review and Reflect: At the end of the day or week, review your tasks. Reflect on what went well and where time was wasted or mismanaged. Use these insights for better planning in the future.
Pro tip: For agents who are looking to make productive use of time, divide your tasks into four quadrants as shown below and accordingly prioritize.
9. Conflict Resolution
Conflict resolution is the ability to handle disagreements or disputes, either with customers or within your team, in a calm, constructive, and harmonious manner. The issue might not be about the product or service itself but about how the customer feels they were treated, billing disputes, or unmet expectations.
Given the nature of the customer service role, encountering upset or dissatisfied customers is inevitable. A good support agent can de-escalate situations and find solutions that are acceptable to all parties involved.
For example, a customer calls, extremely upset about a late shipment. Instead of becoming defensive or dismissive, you must acknowledge the customer’s feelings, apologize for the inconvenience, explain the cause of the delay, and provide options to rectify the situation, such as expedited shipping or a discount.
Steps to Practice Conflict Resolution:
- Stay Calm: It’s essential not to take things personally. Breathe deeply, and maintain a composed demeanor, regardless of the intensity of the conflict.
- Acknowledge and Empathize: Show the customer that you understand and empathize with their situation. Simple statements like, “I understand why you’d feel that way,” can go a long way.
- Ask Open-ended Questions: These can help clarify any ambiguities and guide the conversation toward a solution.
- Offer Solutions: Once you have a grasp of the issue, propose one or more solutions. It can sometimes be beneficial to give the customer options and let them choose their preferred resolution.
- Know When to Escalate: Recognize when an issue is beyond your control or expertise. It’s okay to escalate to a supervisor or manager when necessary.
- Reflect and Learn: After a conflict has been resolved, take a moment to reflect. What triggered the conflict? How was it handled? What can be done differently next time? Continuous learning is key.
10. Proactive Engagement
Proactive engagement involves anticipating customer needs and reaching out to offer assistance or information before they even ask. This skill goes beyond reacting to issues and involves taking the initiative to improve the customer experience actively.
For example, you notice a pattern where many customers ask about installation procedures after purchasing a specific product. Instead of waiting for more customers to inquire, you can take the initiative to send out a step-by-step guide to every new purchaser.
Steps to Practice Proactive Engagement:
- Offer Resources: Make resources (like FAQs, guides, or tutorials) readily available, and direct customers to them even before they express a need.
- Stay Updated on Products/Services: By understanding what’s new or what changes are upcoming, you can anticipate questions or concerns and address them upfront.
- Initiate Check-ins: For long-term clients or those who’ve made significant purchases, a periodic check-in can make them feel valued and give them an opportunity to express any concerns.
- Seek Feedback Proactively: Instead of waiting for customers to provide feedback, actively request for it. This can uncover potential issues or areas of improvement.
- Collaborate with Other Departments: By maintaining open communication with other departments, you can get insights into potential customer pain points and address them in advance.
11. Upselling and Cross-selling Skills
Upselling and cross-selling are techniques used to promote higher-value products or complementary products, respectively. While traditionally associated with sales, these skills have become vital for customer service reps.
When done correctly, it not only boosts business revenue but also enhances the customer experience by ensuring customers get the most value.
Example: A customer contacts support regarding a basic software package they’ve purchased. You, noticing the customer’s advanced requirements, suggest an upgrade to a premium package that would better cater to their needs.
Steps to Practice Upselling and Cross-selling:
- Know Your Products/Services: Thoroughly understand the complete range of products or services your company offers, including their features, benefits, and pricing.
- Listen Actively: Understand the customer’s needs, preferences, and pain points. This allows you to tailor your suggestions more effectively.
- Highlight Value: Instead of just promoting a product, explain how it adds value or solves a particular problem for the customer.
- Be Genuine: Only suggest upgrades or additional products if they genuinely benefit the customer. Avoid pushing for a sale that doesn’t serve the customer’s best interests.
- Practice Timing: It’s crucial to know when to introduce an upsell or cross-sell. It often works best after resolving a customer’s initial concern or when they express interest in expanding their purchase.
- Handle Objections: Be prepared for customers to decline or express doubts. Skillfully address these concerns by reiterating the benefits without being overly pushy.
12. Constructive Feedback Reception
The ability to receive, process, and act upon feedback is crucial for personal and organizational growth.
Constructive criticism is often provided by customers, peers, or supervisors, and a good support agent knows how to handle it without getting defensive. Instead, they use it as a tool for improvement.
Steps to Practice Constructive Feedback Reception:
- Avoid Getting Defensive: It’s natural to feel protective or even upset about criticism. However, separate personal feelings from professional feedback and see it as an opportunity for growth.
- Ask Questions: If a piece of feedback is unclear, seek clarification. Understand the specific areas that need improvement.
- Reflect on the Feedback: Take a moment to assess the validity of the feedback. Is it a one-off instance, or is it a recurring theme?
- Develop an Action Plan: Identify steps to address the feedback. This might involve skill enhancement, behavioral changes, or even process improvements.
- Seek Support: Sometimes, implementing feedback might require additional training or resources. Don’t hesitate to ask for help or additional training.
13. Patience and Resilience
Patience enables a support agent to give each customer the time and understanding they deserve, regardless of the situation.
Meanwhile, resilience is the inner strength that allows the agent to bounce back from tough interactions, ensuring that personal emotions don’t spill over into other interactions. Together, these attributes form the backbone of an effective and empathetic customer service experience.
Steps to Cultivate Patience and Resilience:
- Set Boundaries: If an interaction becomes overly heated, it’s okay to politely set boundaries or ask for assistance from a supervisor.
- Positive Reinforcement: After a challenging encounter, remind yourself of your achievements and the times you’ve effectively handled tough situations.
- Visualization Techniques: When faced with a tough situation, visualize a calm scenario or remember a past success. This can provide a momentary escape and allow you to regroup.
- Diversify Tasks: If possible, vary your tasks throughout the day. This can prevent burnout and offer moments of relief from intense customer interactions.
14. Data Interpretation
Data Interpretation refers to the ability of a support agent to understand, analyze, and utilize data relevant to their interactions with customers. This doesn’t mean transforming every support rep into a data scientist, but rather equipping them with the skill to comprehend basic data points, trends, and patterns that can improve service delivery.
For example, let’s say you have access to a dashboard that captures customer interactions, preferences, and feedback. Over a month, you notice that complaints about a specific product feature are rising. Instead of waiting for higher-ups to notice, you can proactively flag the trend, so that necessary action can be taken on time.
Steps to Improve Data Interpretation:
- Basic Data Literacy: Begin with understanding basic data terminologies and concepts. This can be achieved through online courses, workshops, or in-house training.
- Engage with Analytics Tools: Familiarize yourself with any analytics tools your organization uses. Spend time navigating the dashboard, understanding metrics, and asking questions when unsure.
- Collaborate with Data Teams: Build a relationship with your organization’s data or analytics team. They can provide insights, clarifications, and even tailor reports to your needs.
- Act on Insights: Merely interpreting data isn’t enough. Use the insights to enhance your interactions, anticipate customer needs, and provide feedback to your team.
15. Personalized Service
The increasing deployment of automation and AI in customer service has undeniably made processes more efficient. However, the human touch remains irreplaceable, especially in scenarios where customers seek a personal connection.
Personalized service means understanding and catering to the unique needs and preferences of each customer, ensuring they feel valued and understood. In an era where automated responses are common, standing out with genuine, tailored service can be a significant differentiator.
Steps to Enhance Personalized Service:
- Understand Customer Profiles: Familiarize yourself with tools or databases that provide insights into a customer’s history or preferences.
- Leverage Technology Thoughtfully: Use automation for efficiency but know when to intervene with a human touch. Recognize the moments where personal interaction is needed and step in to help out customers.
- Keep Notes: If your system allows, make notes about customer preferences or past interactions. This can be invaluable in future engagements.
- Ask Questions: Show genuine interest by asking customers about their preferences or needs. Also, address customers by their first name.
- Stay Updated: If a customer has had past issues or specific preferences, stay updated about them. A follow-up question like “Did the solution that we provided last time work for you?” can go a long way.
16. Product/Service Knowledge
Having thorough knowledge of products or services an organization offers is a fundamental skill for any support agent. This knowledge not only empowers agents to address customer concerns confidently and effectively but also plays a significant role in shaping the overall customer experience.
With in-depth product knowledge, agents can quickly diagnose issues and offer solutions, reducing the time customers spend waiting for resolutions.
Steps to Enhance Product/Service Knowledge:
- Hands-on Experience: If possible, use the product or engage with the service personally. Firsthand experience often leads to deeper understanding.
- Engage with Product Teams: Establish a line of communication with your organization’s product or service teams. They can provide insights that may not be readily available in standard training materials.
- Feedback Loop: After interacting with customers, make a note of questions or issues that were challenging. Review and research these areas for better preparedness next time.
- Attend Training Sessions: Attending training sessions helps support agents gain essential knowledge about products or services. These sessions often cover updates, common issues, and best practices.
- Join Forums or Groups: Many products or services have dedicated online forums or groups where users discuss features, issues, or tricks. Engaging in these can provide practical insights.
- Role Play: Engage in role-playing sessions with peers. This not only tests your product knowledge but also prepares you for real-world scenarios.
17. Optimistic Mindset
An optimistic mindset involves approaching challenges with a positive outlook and seeing opportunities even in difficult situations. For customer service representatives, this skill is crucial. Why?
Customers often reach out when they’re frustrated or facing issues, and a support agent with an optimistic approach can not only provide solutions but also uplift the customer’s spirit. This attitude can transform potentially negative interactions into positive experiences, fostering customer loyalty and satisfaction.
Steps to Cultivate an Optimistic Mindset:
- Reframe Challenges: Instead of viewing problems as obstacles, see them as opportunities to learn, grow, or make a positive impact.
- Limit Negative Inputs: Reduce exposure to overly negative news or pessimistic conversations. Surround yourself with positive influences, both in media consumption and interpersonal interactions.
- Gratitude Journal: Regularly jot down things you’re grateful for. This practice can shift your focus from what’s lacking to what’s going well for you.
- Celebrate Small Wins: Whenever you have a positive outcome or even a learning experience, take a moment to acknowledge and celebrate it. This reinforces optimistic behavior.
Importance of Good Service Skills for Customer Support Agents
Good customer service skills are critical for customer service representatives for a variety of reasons:
- First Impressions Matter: Often, a customer service representative is the first point of contact for a customer. The way they communicate would set the tone for the entire customer relationship journey. If the agent is helpful and courteous, the customer is more likely to have a favorable impression of the entire company.
- Customer Retention: Good customer service skills can ensure that customers feel valued and understood, which can lead to increased loyalty and repeat business.
- Brand Reputation: Word of mouth is a powerful tool, especially in the age of social media. Customers who have positive interactions with customer service representatives are more likely to recommend the company to others. Conversely, bad experiences can quickly become viral, potentially damaging a company’s reputation.
- Reduction of Conflict: Strong customer service skills include conflict resolution abilities. This means that representatives can handle complaints or issues in a way that de-escalates potential conflicts, leading to smoother interactions and more satisfied customers.
Deliver Delightful Customer Service
Customer service is not just about resolving issues; it’s about building genuine relationships, understanding customer needs, and creating memorable experiences. While these 17 key skills are important to deliver exceptional customer service, it’s equally important to ensure that your teams are equipped with the right tools to put these skills into practice.
This is where Hiver comes into play.
Hiver offers an intuitive customer service platform that works inside Gmail. Support teams would find it extremely easy to set up and use. They don’t have to spend time figuring out what does what. Instead, they can use Hiver to simply focus on delivering great customer service, right from their inbox.