11 must-have Customer Service Skills + How to develop them

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Customer Service
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Did you know that offering great customer service can help you achieve a higher ROI from 71% of your customers? 

Memorable customer experiences are a result of several key skills coming together and performing in perfect harmony. They aren’t god gifted talents or supernatural abilities that you need to be born with.

They’re attainable skills that you can develop by learning from the right resources and making a conscious effort to improve yourself as a customer service professional.

In this article, we’ll share some of the most important customer service skills along with actionable tips to help you develop them quickly.

Keep reading. 

Why Customer Service Matters More Than Ever Before (The Cost Of Poor Customer Service)

In the age of smartphones, social media, and 24/7 connectivity, a lot rides on a company’s customer service quality.

A study conducted in 2019 shows that 89% of customer service professionals believe customers are more likely to publicly share their positive and negative brand experiences.


Another study found that 83% of customers are willing to recommend a brand after a positive experience, while 64% of customers drop a vendor after a bad service experience.

In short, the way a company interacts with its customers and handles their problems has a direct impact on its brand image, retention rate, and referral sales.

The Most Important Customer Service Skills For Professionals

As a customer service professional, you need to constantly work on your skillset to ensure that you’re ready to represent your company and offer memorable experiences to your customers.

Here are some of the key skills you need to develop.

1. Develop The “Big Picture” Mindset

When 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 voice of your company and one of the primary reference points customers will use to form an opinion about your brand.

You’re not just communicating with customers and resolving their problems, you’re representing your company and shaping customer experiences that’ll eventually impact your brand image, retention rate, and referral sales, and in broader terms, the lives of your customers.

How To Develop The Mindset

  • Think about your role in the value chain and the ultimate impact of your daily activities.
  • Get out your daily to-do list and regularly block off some time to think about the bigger things in life like the legacy you’ll leave behind, how people will remember you, why you’re going through the daily grind.
  • 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.”

2. Reassure Customers With Empathy  

Empathy is the ability to see things from other people’s perspectives and understand how they feel about something.

It is the foundation of all successful relationships, and perhaps the most important customer service skill. Even in situations where you can’t help a customer, showing concern and understanding their perspective still goes a long way.


It becomes even more important when you’re communicating with customers via email. They can’t see your facial expressions or hear the tone of your voice.

They only see your words.

Which makes it important to intentionally use the words and phrases that show you care.

How To Develop Empathy In Customer Service

  • Spend time with people who’re different from you, network with other communities, spend less time in online echo chambers where everyone endorses a certain set of ideas, and instead join online groups where you can hear the opposing perspectives.
  • Take acting classes or engage in roleplay with your peers to get a sense of how other people feel.
  • Instead of being judgemental about people, try to find the reason behind their actions and understand their thought process.
  • Recommended reading: Mindset – Transform Your Brain With The New Science of Empathy

3. Practice Clarity In Communication 

Clarity is the ability to communicate in clear language that’s easy to understand for your customers.

In an ideal world, this skill should come naturally to anyone working in customer services. In reality, though, the lack of clear communication is one of the top reasons why customers abandon brands.

It’s easy to understand why this happens.

When customer service agents are too keen to use email templates or stick to the formal scripts handed over by their line managers, the actual message can get lost somewhere in between.

However, ambiguous, vague, and jargon-filled responses might reduce your ticket count for the day but it results in more conversations per customer which ultimately hurts your bottom line.

In short, write emails that your customers can actually understand without any outside help. The more clearly you communicate, the faster you can satisfy your customers.

How To Develop Clarity In Communication

  • Define technical jargon and only use it when you’re sure the customer understands it.
  • Use simpler words that are commonly used in spoken language.
  • Speak your customer’s language and use the terms they understand.
  • Breakdown your emails using bullet points and subheadings.
  • Avoid unnecessarily long introductions or overly formal closings.
  • Avoid using idioms.
  • Respond to customer issues one by one in chronological order.
  • Share additional resource links in case customers need to get background information.
  • Recommended Reading: Everybody Writes – Ann Handley

4. Learn To Ask The Right Questions

You can’t resolve customer issues and understand where they’re coming from unless you ask the right questions.

Instead of assuming the problem and responding with a pre-written email or a bunch of links to long support articles, show a bit more interest in your customer and try to dig deeper into what’s really bothering them.

Think of your best friends or closest family members. Do they respond immediately with a solution when you approach them with a problem? Or do they ask questions to understand the situation better?

That’s how you need to approach customer service as well.

Here are a few questions you can ask especially during your initial conversations with the customers.

  • “Can you help me understand the problem better? Please give me more details.”
  • “Let me rephrase your problem just to make sure I’ve understood it correctly. Is this what you’re saying?”
  • “What can I do to make this right for you?”
  • “Is there anything specific you want me to do about this?” 

But 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 give your customers the liberty to describe their problem in detail.
  • Listen patiently and control the urge to respond immediately.
  • Ask them the ideal scenario in their mind (the situation they want to be in).
  • Rephrase customer queries to confirm your understanding.
  • Recommended Reading: How To Win Friends & Influence People – Dale Carnegie

5. Take Ownership And Responsibility

Nothing’s more frustrating for a client than a customer service agent who passes the buck to the other departments in the company instead of taking responsibility and resolving the problem.

Customers have nothing to do with your company’s internal problems, approval cycles, or bureaucratic formalities.

They’ve paid for your product and services and deserve to talk to an agent who takes full responsibility and ownership of their problems.

As a customer service professional, you’re the face of your company, The customer is not talking to you as an individual. They’ve approached you as an authoritative company representative.

Your job is to be their advocate in your company, own their problems, and get them resolved by engaging the necessary people in your company.

How To Take Ownership Of Customer Problems

  • Assure the customer that they’re in good hands and you’re personally handling the issue.
  • Explain the steps involved in resolving the problem and tell them what you’re doing right now.
  • Stay in contact and update the customer on the progress of their issue.
  • Don’t leave the customer helpless or unattended.
  • Recommended Reading: The Thank You Economy –  Gary Vaynerchuk

6. Handle Difficult Customers With Patience and Positivity

You need to be thick-skinned to succeed in customer services.

There’ll be days when customers will shout at you, show anger, want extra attention, or make a big deal out of nothing.

On such days, you need to be patient and remember that they don’t have a personal problem with you. They don’t even know you personally. They’re just frustrated with your company’s service.

Since you’re their first contact point, you’ll have to bear the brunt.

But patience alone isn’t enough. You also need to divert the conversion, point out any positives, and move towards a win-win situation.

It’s not easy, we know.

But that’s what separates successful service agents from their peers.

Equally important, however, is to know when to distance yourself from a customer. The moment they start bullying you, get too personal or threaten you in any way, respectfully disengage and let them know they can’t be served with this attitude.

How To Develop Patience And Sef-Control

  • Meditate regularly to get control of yourself.
  • Understand your anger triggers and list down the things that can cause you to lose control.
  • Remember 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

7. Resolve Customer Issues Faster With Product Knowledge

The best customer service professionals understand their product (or service) really well. 

They’re not technical experts but they’re clear about how the product works and, more importantly, the value it offers to the customers.

They continuously work on their product knowledge and understand it from a user’s perspective which allows them to quickly grasp customer issues and resolve them without any assistance.

On the contrary, if you’re clueless about your product, the customers won’t feel confident about communicating their problems and might even abandon your services.

How To Develop Product Knowledge

  • Use the product yourself as a customer.
  • Study the product manuals and user guides.
  • Stay in touch with the technical teams in your company.
  • Consult with the technical experts in your company about different customer issues.

8. Persuade Without Flattery

As a customer service professional, you should always stay polite while communicating with your customers.

However, there’s no need for unnecessary praises and flattery to persuade your clients. It not only makes your company look bad but also doesn’t sit well with most customers.

Your arguments should always be based on facts and the contract you have with your clients. Give them space and favors if you think it can benefit your company.

Frame your sentences positively and use persuasive language to get a favorable response.

For example, instead of saying “sorry the product is out of stock”, say something like “the product will be available next week but I can take your booking right now and make sure you get it as soon as it’s available.”

But stay within the rules because ultimately you need to protect the interests of your organization.

How To Develop Persuasion Skills

  • Study consumer psychology since persuasion is all about human emotions.
  • Use a positive first-person tone in your communication.
  • Cite examples and share social proof to make your point.
  • Recommended Reading: Influence – The Psychology of Persuasion – Robert B. Cialdini 

You might like: How to write awesome customer service emails: Rules and templates

9. Delegate To Get More Done Faster

Taking responsibility and ownership of customer issues doesn’t mean you have to do everything yourself.

Your primary responsibility is to engage with the customers and keep them in the loop of whatever’s happening with their issue.

To make sure customer issues are handled quickly and appropriately, learn the art of delegation. Involve your team and forward the issues to the relevant stakeholders. 

However, keep following up to make sure they’re resolved on time.

How To Learn Task Delegation

  • Identify the relevant stakeholder responsible for resolving a customer issue.
  • Delegate tasks to the relevant departments with clear deadlines.
  • Write down the problem your customer is facing and the outcome they desire.
  • Create an internal follow-up mechanism to stay updated.
  • Recommended Reading: Free To Focus – Michael Hyatt

10. Manage Time With Better Prioritization And Automation

No matter how seriously you take customer issues, it’s not practical to treat all of them with the same urgency and importance. Some issues are more urgent and need to be handled on priority. 

But you still need to respond to the low-priority emails

This is where automation comes in.

You need to have a system to prioritize emails and decide which ones can be handled through automated email responses or knowledgebase articles and which ones deserve personal attention.

Without using automation, you’ll end up spending a lot of your time on repetitive issues and emails that could’ve been avoided.

How To Automate And Prioritize

  • Categorize emails based on the severity of the issue. The most urgent or serious issues get the highest priority while repetitive tasks are either responded through automation or handled later.
  • Create and improve your knowledge base and answer the most frequently asked questions in it so that the ticket load can be managed.
  • When it is necessary, send an initial response to low priority emails and route them to the relevant help resources on your website.
  • Recommended Reading: Tyranny Of The Urgent – Charles E. Hummel

11. Be Ready To Adapt, Learn, And Grow

“Stay hungry, stay foolish” – those words by Steve Jobs should be the guiding principle of your attitude towards life in general and customer services in particular.

No matter how experienced you are, there’s always more to learn in life.

Always remain teachable and maintain a learning attitude so that you can keep growing as a person and a professional.

Customer services, in particular, is an exciting profession for people who’re keen to learn. You get to interact with new people every day, come across new problems and challenges, and always have something to look forward to.

How To Develop A Learning Attitude

  • Develop a habit of reading every day.
  • Subscribe to the top blogs and websites in your industry.
  • Read your company’s product releases or any other material that they publish.
  • Surround yourself with optimists who are always looking to learn more.
  • Find the right mentor and benefit from their experiences.
  • Recommended Reading: Mindset – Carol Dweck

Are You Ready To Improve Your Customer Service Skills in 2020?

We’ve discussed some of the most important customer service skills in this article. There are many others that we couldn’t.

However, the important thing after reading this article is to take action.

Which of these skills do you already have?
Which ones do you still lack?
What qualities do you want to develop in yourself in the next 12 months?

Your actions will determine how quickly you can improve your customer service skills and not only grow in your professional career but also build better connections with your customers and benefit the companies you work for.

Customer Service Skills – Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What is good customer service?

Good customer service means providing a memorable experience to your customers by offering timely service in a pleasant manner that satisfies their needs and resolves their problems.

Why are customer service skills important?

Having the right customer service skills allows you to leave a lasting impression of your company on your clients and build customer loyalty which ultimately improves your customer retention rate.

How do you handle difficult customers?

By being empathetic, putting your ego aside, staying focused on the solution, and calming the customer with a positively engaging attitude.

You might like: A detailed guide to dealing with angry customers

How do you say no to a customer?

By politely explaining your terms of engagement with the client and offering any other solutions that you can offer.

What are the best customer service books?

The Best Service Is No Service
Exceptional Service Exceptional Profit
The Effortless Experience
The Thank You Economy
The Starbucks Experience

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Jawad Khan is an experienced project manager, a content marketing consultant and a freelance blogger for hire. He's an active consultant to several tech startups and SaaS companies in the US, Middle East and Australia. Follow him on his blog Writing My Destiny, Twitter and Google+