Table of contents
8000+ teams use Hiver to delight their customers!
15 Key Customer Service Skills in 2023 + How to Develop Them
Table of contents
Modern consumers are more informed and demanding than ever before. They also have several options to choose from and will leave your brand if they don’t get the service they expect. Earning customers’ trust and building long-lasting relationships with them is critical to your business’ success. That’s why your support team must possess great customer service skills that can help them deliver remarkable customer experiences consistently.
We’ve put together this exhaustive customer service skills list that your support team can hugely benefit from. We’ve also included tips to help your agents inculcate these essential skills.
Table of Contents
- Top customer service skills and strategies to develop them
- 1. Lots of Empathy
- 2. Clear Communication Skills
- 3. Asking the Right Questions
- 4. The “Big Picture” Mindset
- 5. Ownership and Responsibility
- 6. Patience
- 7. Resilience
- 8. Multitasking Capabilities
- 9. Product Expertise
- 10. Collaboration Skills
- 11. Quick Thinking
- 12. Sales Skills
- 13. Being Tech-Savvy
- 14. Time Management
- 15. Growth Mindset
- A roundup of the most important skills in customer service
Top customer service skills and strategies to develop them
Let’s go over some top skills needed for customer service jobs and how you can cultivate them:
1. Lots of Empathy
Empathy is the ability to place yourself in the other person’s shoes, see things from their perspective, and truly understand how they feel about something.
It is the foundation of any strong relationship, and perhaps the most essential customer service skill. Even in situations where you can’t help a customer, understanding their perspective and accordingly engaging with them, goes a long way in enabling you to be tactful while navigating issues.
This trait becomes even more important when you’re communicating via email, because customers can’t associate facial expressions or tone of voice with what you’re saying.
How to develop empathy in customer service
- The first step in developing empathy in customer service is to be a patient and conscious listener. Listen, before you can talk.
- Make it a point to spend time with people who’re different from you. Also, try joining various different communities – you could start with the ones that align with your interests. The idea here is to basically get out of your comfort zone and expose yourself to different perspectives and experiences.
- Ask a lot of questions, but more importantly, ask better questions. Asking questions shows your curiosity in getting to know more about a query or problem. At the same time, make sure your questions are thoughtful and add value to the conversation.
- Recommended reading: Mindset – Transform Your Brain With The New Science of Empathy
2. Clear Communication Skills
One of the most underrated customer service skills is knowing to communicate with clarity. Keep things simple, clear, and concise.
It turns out that lack of clear communication is one of the biggest roadblocks to offering great customer service. Ambiguous, vague, jargon-filled responses not only confuse customers but lead to more back and forth and result in a delayed resolution.
If you’re writing emails to customers, make sure to keep the language direct and actionable. Use bullet points wherever necessary to explain the steps that need to be taken. Also, making use of screenshots definitely helps.
But, having good communication skills doesn’t just mean crafting good responses. Customer service professionals should also have great listening skills. They need to practice “active listening”, i.e. completely focusing on what someone’s saying, understanding their tone of voice, body language, and facial cues, not just their use of words.
How to be good at communication
- Avoid using technical jargon as much as possible
- Speak your customer’s language and use the terms they understand
- Avoid unnecessarily long introductions or overly formal closings
- Avoid using idioms
- Share additional resource/FAQ links wherever possible
- Practice active listening
- Recommended Reading: Everybody Writes – Ann Handley
3. Asking the Right Questions
Empathizing with customers becomes easier when you ask the right questions.
Instead of assuming what caused the problem and sending out a templatized response, show a bit more interest in your customer’s problem and try to dig deeper to identify the root cause of the issue.
Here are a few questions you can ask especially during your initial customer interactions:
- “Can you help me understand your issue better? Please share more details.”
- “Let me rephrase your problem just to make sure I’ve understood it correctly. Is this what you’re saying?”
- “Is there anything specific you want me to do about this?”
Make sure your questions don’t come across as aggressive interrogation. Stay polite, and ask questions to understand the problem, not to shift blame.
How to ask the right questions
- Ask open-ended questions that let them be detail-oriented while describing the problem.
- Listen patiently and control the urge to respond immediately.
- Rephrase customer queries to confirm your understanding.
- Recommended Reading:How To Win Friends & Influence People – Dale Carnegie.
4. The “Big Picture” Mindset
This trait is best explained via a famous anecdote. When the late John F. Kennedy visited the NASA space center, he saw a janitor carrying a broom. JFK went over and asked what he was doing.
The janitor replied “Mr. President, I’m helping put a man on the moon”
When you see the bigger picture and have a clear vision, your everyday tasks become much more meaningful and give you a sense of purpose.
As a customer service professional, you need to understand and cherish the responsibility you’ve been given. You’re the face of your company and one of the primary reference points customers will use to form an opinion about your brand.
You’re not just picking up queries and resolving them but representing your company and shaping experiences that’ll eventually impact everything from how prospective customers see your brand to revenue, retention rates, and churn.
How to develop the ‘Big Picture’ mindset
- For every task you perform, try mapping it to a larger goal or objective.
- Regularly block off some time to think about the bigger things in life like the legacy you’ll leave behind, how you’d want people to remember you, and so on.
- In his best-selling book, The Magic of Thinking Big, Ph.D. author, David J. Schwartz recommends improving your life by asking questions. He asks readers to “see what can be, not just what is.” Developing this kind of mindset enables you to think broader and always look at the bigger picture.
- Write down the bigger things you want to achieve in your job. This could be something such as “I want to leave a memorable impression with customers” or “I want to delight customers and make them smile”. Then, break this down into smaller, actionable tasks so that you’ll know the everyday things you need to do in order to move towards the bigger goal.
5. Ownership and Responsibility
“Apologize even if it’s not your fault” is one of the golden rules of customer service. The last thing you’d want to do is play the blame game when you have an angry customer on the other side.
Keep this in mind: customers don’t care about your company’s internal problems, approval cycles, or bureaucratic formalities. They’re using your product/service and when you have an issue, it’s up to you to fix it. As simple as that.
Jeff Bezos’ apology when Amazon took down certain books from Kindle is a great example of brands owning up and taking responsibility for their actions.
So, for customer service professionals, who are on the front lines of your business, apologizing for the trouble caused and taking ownership to fix it is a must-have quality.
Here’s a simple four-As procedure to cultivating a sense of ownership.
How to take ownership of customer problems
- Assure the customer that they’re in good hands and that you’re personally handling the issue.
- Explain the steps involved in resolving the problem and tell them what you’re doing right now.
- Update the customer on the progress of the issue.
- The HEARD technique – Disney’s way of handling customer service failures – is a great framework for building ownership.
- Recommended Reading:The Thank You Economy – Gary Vaynerchuk
You need to be thick-skinned to succeed in customer service.
Every customer is different. There will be those who shout at you, make a big deal out of nothing, and even go to the extent of using abusive language.
You need to keep in mind that they aren’t attacking you personally. They’re mainly angry and frustrated with your brand and since you’re their point of contact, they’re taking it out on you.
Since every customer feedback is crucial, it’s important that you don’t overreact or take things to your heart. Stay patient, hear them out completely, and try your best to steer the conversation towards an amicable resolution using positive language.
You need to convince your customers to give you another chance since acquiring new customers is 5x more difficult and costly than customer retention.
How to develop patience and self-control
- Meditate regularly. This helps keep your emotions in check
- Understand your anger triggers and list down the things that can cause you to lose control.
- Keep reminding yourself that the customer’s anger is towards your company, not you as a person.
- Consult with a senior or a teammate before responding to a customer when you’re angry.
- Recommended Reading:Master Your Emotions – Thibaut Meurisse
A great customer service professional is one who is able to bounce back from a negative incident quickly and gracefullty carry on with the next task at hand. This skill is known as resilience and it’s a quality that can significantly influence your ability to thrive in a customer service role.
Staying tenacious and resilient, despite the tough situations one is bound to encounter in a customer-facing job, is an important skill that sets a good customer service representative apart from the rest.
How to be resilient at work
- Set clear long-term professional goals for yourself and avoid letting minor and temporary setbacks affect you.
- Trust yourself and your capabilities. In times of difficulty, it’s easy to fall into a loop of self-doubt. But to be tenacious, you need to believe in your skills and ability to make the right decisions, regardless of what happens.
- Ensure you’re a part of a motivating (and motivated) tribe. Surround yourself with people who inspire and motivate you to quickly bounce back from a disappointing or difficult situation.
- Recommended Reading:Emotional Agility: Get Unstuck, Embrace Change, and Thrive in Work and Life – Susan David
8. Multitasking Capabilities
In a customer service job, you’re required to perform a wide range of tasks – attending to customer requests/complaints, troubleshooting, updating knowledge bases, and even selling and upselling when the opportunity arises. You also need to handle several customer calls at once or answer multiple email queries from different customers simultaneously.
Needless to say, the job needs you to multitask effectively and be comfortable working under high-pressure situations.
Multitasking is an essential customer service skill that takes time to develop. But there are ways to improve your ability to juggle multiple roles and responsibilities so you can delight all your customers equally.
How to multitask effectively
- Keep yourself organized by creating a to-do list of different tasks that need your attention in order or priority.
- As far as possible, minimize distractions while you’re working. It’s okay to take breaks, but when you’re focused on a certain task, ensure you block out all other distractions. Try apps like Freedom and Forest to help you stay focused.
- Don’t try to do everything by yourself. Be open to sharing responsibility and delegating tasks.
- Make use of tools like automation to help you automate routine but time-consuming tasks like assigning customer emails to your team, categorizing those customer emails, etc.
- Recommended Reading:Deep Work – Cal Newport
9. Product Expertise
To be a good customer service professional, having a fundamental understanding of your company’s products/services is a prerequisite.
That doesn’t mean you have to be a technical expert. But to be able to answer your customers’ questions well, it is important that you know how the product works, the various features it offers, and have basic troubleshooting skills for customer service queries, amongst other things.
Understanding all of these things from a user’s perspective is even more important, as it helps you empathize more with their queries.
How to develop product knowledge
- Understand and analyze the customer journey in using your product/service. Also, use the product yourself, by taking the same customer journey.
- Stay on top of product updates. Regularly read product manuals and user guides.
- Having clear, established lines of communication with the R&D team in your company also helps.
10. Collaboration Skills
“What separates those who achieve from those who do not is in direct proportion to one’s ability to ask for help.” the late American Businessman Donald Keough.
While having great problem-solving skills and taking ownership of customer issues are two important pillars of providing excellent customer service, those two alone won’t solve the problem.
If you think about it, most customer queries are usually related to some other department or function, say product (queries around product malfunction),or finance (queries around invoices),for that matter.
So, one of the more efficient ways to look into customer needs is to collaborate with other teams. They might be having more information on resolving the issue and so it’s always best to loop them in.
In order to do so, one of the main things you need to ensure is establishing clear lines of communication between the customer service team and other functions — whilst navigating various internal silos. This can be done by investing in the right technology
To learn more about how you can set your teams up for success, read this blog post.
How to improve collaboration skills
- Identify the relevant stakeholder responsible for resolving a customer issue.
- Collaborate with the relevant departments and provide them with all the necessary context needed to solve the query.
- Create an internal follow-up mechanism to stay updated.
- Invest in the right tools and technology to enable seamless internal communication with various non-customer-facing teams.
- Recommended Reading:Free To Focus – Michael Hyatt
11. Quick Thinking
Being able to think and act on your feet is another important customer service skill. The idea is to be able to offer the best possible resolution to customers in the least amount of time.
The rule here is to improvise and never fear the unexpected. Even if you’re unsure of how best to solve a customer’s problem, rather than panicking, you should be quick to find out the best way forward or rope in someone else who can help the customer out.
Also, depending on your company’s policy and limitations, don’t be afraid to take the liberty to go the extra mile to delight customers. It could be as simple as sending a customer flowers with an apology note for a delayed shipment. It’s these fine little touches that can make all the difference.
Tips to make quick and better decisions
- Play to your strengths, but don’t try to do everything. Rope in an expert to help you when necessary.
- Trust your instincts and ability to make the right decisions. Indecisiveness is your enemy.
- Don’t be afraid to think “out-of-the-box” when it comes to devising solutions for customers or surprising them.
- Recommended Reading:Think Like a Freak – Stephen J. Dubner and Steven Levitt
12. Sales Skills
Another important customer service skill that you must have is the ability to effectively persuade your prospects in order to drive sales. This doesn’t mean that you take over your company’s sales targets, but rather complement those efforts.
Oftentimes, prospects reach out to a company’s customer service department with questions regarding their product/service. During such times, you should be able to equip them with necessary information and persuade them enough to want to know more about your product/service. Your sales team can take it from there.
There also may be instances where a customer reaches out to you for assistance, and as a part of their resolution, you recommend them a product upgrade that could prevent a similar issue from recurring. It’s a win-win for both parties!
Tips that can make you a better sales person
- Empathize with customers. Make an effort to understand their pain points and recommend solutions tailored to their needs. Your main focus should be on solving customers’ problems; not on making a sale.
- Respect customers’ time. Ensure you’re quick to walk them through the benefits of your product/service. If they have five minutes, you should be able to demonstrate value in five minutes or less.
- Work collaboratively with your customers to devise solutions that make their lives easier and your product better.
- Recommended Reading: Gap Selling: Getting the Customer to Yes – Keenan
13. Being Tech-Savvy
The use of digital touchpoints has seen an incredible surge of late. Famous Customer Experience leader Shep Hyken had this to say: “A major trend for 2021 will be the use of a digital customer experience. COVID-19 accelerated the use of technology, putting us three to five years into the future. More companies are finding ways to digitize and automate their customer experience. Brands are pushing to use digital and self-service solutions to create an easier, low-or-no friction process for their customers.“
When that’s the case, it helps if customer service representatives are tech-savvy.
If you’ve good technical skills, it becomes easier to work with different tools – be it a helpdesk, or an internal collaboration tool, for instance. You can also seamlessly switch between answering queries on multiple customer service channels – live chat, email, social media, and so on.
All of this automatically improves your efficiency at work as you don’t have to spend too much time figuring out customer support software.
How to get comfortable with technology
- Take up courses to learn about the latest software used in customer support
- Identify the tools that come under your team’s tech stack. Then, look up how-to guides, videos, and manuals on these solutions.
- When you have trouble figuring something out in a tool, don’t hesitate to ask your team members or manager for help.
14. Time Management
Not all tasks in customer service involve interacting with the customer. There’s quite a bit of grunt, repetitive work that is done on a daily basis. Work that is time-consuming and energy-sapping.
From following up on the status of queries to assigning work to your customer service reps to changing the status of queries, a lot of these tasks are done manually. This, in turn, eats into the productivity of your team, resulting in delayed service.
Today, speed of service is just as important as quality, if not more. So, if you’re to provide quick responses and not keep customers waiting, how you manage your time is extremely crucial.
Pro tip: for individuals who are looking to make productive use of time, divide your tasks into four quadrants as shown below and accordingly prioritize.
How to improve your time management skills
- Leveraging automations can be a game changer. You can create automation rules to tag and demarcate queries based on their nature and order of priority. For instance, all queries that contain the word urgent in the subject line can be tagged as ‘high priority’. All invoice-related queries can be tagged as ‘invoice’ and so on.
- Constantly update your knowledge base. This helps you answer the most common customer queries by simply redirecting them to the relevant knowledge base article, instead of typing out long replies.
- Recommended Reading:Tyranny Of The Urgent – Charles E. Hummel
15. Growth Mindset
In a function like customer service where you’re the face of the company and get to constantly interact with new people everyday, there’s always room to learn and improve.
Like the late Steve Job famously said, “Stay hungry, stay foolish”. No matter how experienced you are, having the right attitude and mindset has a huge impact on not just the work you do, but on your team and ultimately, on your customers.
Didn’t handle a customer query in the best possible way? Ask your supervisor where you went wrong and make a conscious effort to fix it.
Not sure how to use a particular tool or technology? Talk to your manager and see if you’d be able to enroll in a brief course where you get to learn this.
The fact that in customer service you expose yourself to different people, different challenges, different problems on a daily basis is quite an exciting proposition. And mental flexibility and adaptability will help you make the most of it.
How to stay broad-minded and develop a positive attitude
- Develop a habit of reading every day.
- Surround yourself with like-minded folks, who are always looking to learn more.
- Mentorship is key. Find a mentor who can help improve you on a personal as well as professional level.
- Recommended Reading: Mindset – Carol Dweck
A roundup of the most important skills in customer service
Your customer satisfaction scores directly depend on the quality of support you deliver. Which is why it’s extremely important that you hire the right people and look for the customer service skills mentioned above. At the same time, keep in mind that not everyone is going to tick all boxes and that some of these key skills for customer service can be learned on the job – through proper training.
It’s when you have empathetic, knowledgeable, and ownership-driven support reps by your side and enable them with the right tools and solutions that great customer service happens!