There are certain customer service skills that every employee must master if they are forward-facing with customers.
Without them, you run the risk of finding your business in an embarrassing customer service train-wreck, or you’ll simply lose customers as your service continues to let people down.
The Customer Service Skills that Matter
If you don’t see this near the top of a customer service skills list, you should just stop reading.
Yet patience shouldn’t be used as an excuse for slothful service either!
If you deal with customers on a daily basis, be sure to stay patient when they come to you stumped and frustrated, but also be sure to take the time to truly figure out what they want — they’d rather get competent service than be rushed out the door!
The ability to really listen to customers is so crucial for providing great service for a number of reasons.
Not only is it important to pay attention to individual customer interactions (watching the language/terms that they use to describe their problems), but it’s also important to be mindful and attentive to the feedback that you receive at large.
3. Clear Communication Skills
Make sure you’re getting to the problem at hand quickly; customers don’t need your life story or to hear about how your day is going.
More importantly, you need to be cautious about how some of your communication habits translate to customers, and it’s best to err on the side of caution whenever you find yourself questioning a situation.
Communicating with customers is an art, a science … and a competitive differentiator. Get your own free copy of this comprehensive guide to talking with customers.
4. Knowledge of the Product
The best forward-facing employees in your company will work on having a deep knowledge of how your product works.
It’s not that every single team member should be able to build your product from scratch, but rather they should know the ins and outs of how your product works, just like a customer who uses it everyday would.
Without knowing your product from front-to-back, you won’t know how to help customers when they run into problems.
5. Ability to Use “Positive Language”
Sounds like fluffy nonsense, but your ability to make minor changes in your conversational patterns can truly go a long way in creating happy customers.
Language is a very important part of persuasion, and people (especially customers) create perceptions about you and your company based off of the language that you use.
Here’s an example: Let’s say a customer contacts you with an interest in a particular product, but that product happens to be backordered until next month.
Small changes that utilize “positive language” can greatly affect how the customer hears your response…
- Without positive language: “I can’t get you that product until next month; it is back-ordered and unavailable at this time.”
- With positive language: “That product will be available next month. I can place the order for you right now and make sure that it is sent to you as soon as it reaches our warehouse.”
The first example isn’t negative by any means, but the tone that it conveys feels abrupt and impersonal, and can be taken the wrong way by customers.
Conversely, the second example is stating the same thing (the item is unavailable), but instead focuses on when/how the customer will get to their resolution rather than focusing on the negative.
6. Acting Skills
Sometimes you’re going to come across people that you’ll never be able to make happy.
Situations outside of your control (they had a terrible day, or they are just a natural-born complainer) will sometimes creep into your usual support routine, and you’ll be greeted with those “barnacle” customers that seem to want nothing else but to pull you down.
Every great customer service rep will have those basic acting skillsnecessary to maintain their usual cheery persona in spite of dealing with people who may be just plain grumpy.
7. Time Management Skills
The trick here is that this should also be applied when realizing when you simply cannot help a customer. If you don’t know the solution to a problem, the best kind of support member will get a customer over to someone who does.
Don’t waste time trying to go above and beyond for a customer in an area where you will just end up wasting both of your time!
8. Ability to “Read” Customers
You won’t always be able to see customers face-to-face, and in many instances (nowadays) you won’t even hear a customer’s voice!
It takes knowing your customers to create a personal experience for them.
More importantly though, this skill is essential because you don’t want to mis-read a customer and end up losing them due to confusion and miscommunication.
Look and listen for subtle clues about their current mood, patience level, personality, etc., and you’ll go far in keeping your customer interactions positive.
9. A Calming Presence
There’s a lot of metaphors for this type of personality: “keeps their cool,” “staying cool under pressure,” etc., but it all represents the same thing: the ability that some people have to stay calm and even influence others when things get a little hectic.
I’ve had my fair share of hairy hosting situations, and I can tell you in all honesty that the #1 reason I stick with certain hosting companies is due to the ability of their customer support team to keep me from pulling my hair out.
The best customer service reps know that they cannot let a heated customer force them to lose their cool; in fact it is their job to try to be the “rock” for a customer who thinks the world is falling down due to their current problem.
10. Goal Oriented Focus
This may seem like a strange thing to list as a customer service skill, but I assure you that it is vitally important.
11. Ability to Handle Surprises
Sometimes the customer support world is going to throw you a curveball.
Maybe the problem you encounter isn’t specifically covered in the company’s guidelines, or maybe the customer isn’t reacting how you thought they would.
Whatever the case, it’s best to be able to think on your feet… but it’s even better to create guidelines for yourself in these sorts of situations.
12. Persuasion Skills
This is one a lot of people didn’t see coming!
Experienced customer support personnel know that oftentimes, you will get messages in your inbox that are more about the curiosity of your company’s product, rather than having problems with it.
It’s not about making a sales pitch in each email, but it is about not letting potential customers slip away because you couldn’t create a compelling message that your company’s product is worth purchasing!
Call it what you want, but a great work ethic and a willingness to do what needs to be done (and not take shorcuts) is a key skill when providing the kind of service that people talk about.
Remembering that your customers are people too, and knowing that putting in the extra effort will come back to you ten-fold should be your driving motivation to never “cheat” your customers with lazy service.
14. Closing Ability
To be clear, this has nothing to do with “closing sales” or other related terms.
Being able to close with a customer means being able to end the conversation with confirmed satisfaction (or as close to it as you can achieve) and with the customer feeling that everything has been taken care of (or will be).
- That you care about getting it right
- That you’re willing to keep going until you get it right
- That the customer is the one who determines what “right” is.
When you get a customer to, “Yes, I’m all set!” is when you know the conversation is over.
15. Willingness to Learn
If you came across this article and read all the way to the bottom, you likely already have this skill (nice job!).
This is probably the most general skill on the list, but it’s still necessary.
Those who don’t seek to improve what they do, whether it’s building products, marketing businesses, or helping customers, will get left behind by the people willing to invest in their skills.