15 customer service skills and how to develop them

Some customer service skills include problem-solving, empathy, product knowledge and patience.

Certain people are naturals for a career in customer service. They have the right personalities, values and patience -- regardless of their education or training. But many people in this field lack customer service skills and need to focus on improvement.

No matter the company, government agency or educational institution, everyone has customers. And employees ultimately must serve them.

Customer service skills can be inherent or taught. They are the traits and behaviors that help employees address customer issues, and they help deliver a highly rated customer experience. These skills are vital to the success of any business. They guide people on how to manage any relationship and treat people with dignity and respect.

What are customer service skills?

Customer service skills incorporate traits such as a positive attitude, empathy, patience and sincerity. But they also include methods and practices that organizations can teach. These include problem-solving skills, active listening, clear communication and structured follow-up.

CX leaders can also use technology to enhance and improve customer service skills. For example, when businesses use agent analytics in the contact center, customer satisfaction scores increase by 40.2%, according to Metrigy's "CX and Workforce Automation: 2021-22" research study. Managers can use analytics to review agent performance. This helps leaders better coach agents on areas they could improve.

Moreover, more than half of the businesses surveyed are using AI to help call center agents with next-best actions -- in real time -- while on calls with customers. Many companies, including 8x8, Avaya, Cisco, Five9, Nice inContact and Talkdesk, offer these tools for contact centers. Others, such as AskNicely, are focused on helping improve customer service for frontline employees.

As a baseline, companies should provide customer service that is:

  • Informed. Employees must know their products and services to serve customers.
  • Personalized. Companies must know their customers and offer service in the way they prefer. For example, if they want to be contacted over email and never phone, businesses should contact them that way.
  • Easy. Businesses shouldn't make customers jump over hurdles to get service. They should be able to call, visit in person, conduct a webchat or send a text.
  • Friendly. A cheerful smile, positive attitude and articulate voice go a long way toward delivering a positive experience.

Why are customer service skills important?

Businesses are investing in technology that supports improved CX. Companies are spending 3% of revenue on CX technologies, according to Metrigy's "Customer Engagement Transformation: 2020-21" research study. That level of investment underscores the importance of customer service to organizations.

But technology is only part of the equation. Without trained employees who take customer service seriously, business suffers. When companies deliver superior customer service, other business metrics -- such as revenue, operational costs and employee efficiency -- all improve.

15 customer service skills

Possessing all these skills is a goal rather than a daily standard. Depending on the day or the situation, some skills may be more important than others. In retroactive training, it may be obvious when skills are lacking -- and those are learning moments. When organizations deploy AI-enabled agent assist, real-time screen pop-ups help contact center agents realize when they aren't handling an issue well.

Let's take a look at the skills it takes to be a well-rounded customer service agent.

1. Focus. Employees need to be able to ignore distractions and funnel their energy into the issue at hand. At the start of each interaction, they should imagine the outcome and work toward that outcome until it's achieved.

2. Problem-solving. Most interactions with customers are to solve their problems or needs. And at times, that need might be to help them with a buying decision. If the agent doesn't solve the customer's problem, they haven't succeeded. If an agent can't solve it on that interaction, they should escalate it to someone who can or enact a plan to resolve it.

3. Empathy. Often, this can be difficult, particularly if agents don't share customer feelings. Employees should try to understand and respond to customers in a way that will help them feel understood. Customers typically measure how they're being treated and valued as much as they measure the actual resolution.

4. Active listening. Agents should engage with customers and listen to what they're saying, versus passively hearing them. This requires silence when customers are talking. Employees should then paraphrase to validate with customers that they understood what was said.

5. Product and service knowledge. Companies must regularly train employees on products and services -- and any changes to them. Without expertise on the products and services that customers require, agents are at a disadvantage and won't be able to effectively address problems. Employees should track when they don't know the answers to further their training and knowledge.

6. Clear communication. Regardless of whether the communication is verbal or written, it's necessary to communicate clearly in the customer's native language. Supervisors should provide feedback from screen or voice recordings on how well agents communicate with customers.

7. Follow-up. A good best practice is to follow up with customers to summarize the service call, phone call, video interaction or webchat. This gives customers assurance that the business heard their concerns, and there's a paper trail detailing the resolution.

8. Metrics focused. By tracking and focusing on KPIs, businesses can continuously challenge themselves in key areas -- and improve. For example, if a contact center is concerned with first-call resolution, it can track how many issues are resolved on the first call, and when they're not resolved on the first call, why. Frontline workers may be measured by how many calls they can handle per day -- another area for them to track and improve upon.

Learn more about eight customer service metrics that measure call center success.

9. Seek advice. Often, employees see their inability to solve a problem or capitalize on an opportunity as a weakness. But by asking for help from an expert or a supervisor, they can improve their own KPIs and leave with a happy customer.

10. Humility. When agents place the importance of customers over their own perceived importance, they can better focus on the issue at hand. Care and concern for customers will also come across in the interaction.

11. Tech savvy. Businesses should embrace technology in the customer service industry. When doing virtual interactions, virtual assistants can provide contextual advice. When in person, using mobile devices to access customer data records, inventory or credit limits can help provide a solid experience.

12. Speed. Fast customer service may be warranted. After all, customers want to get back to their regularly scheduled day. However, agents must gauge whether customers would prefer a more detailed interaction vs. a fast one and respond accordingly.

13. Patience. Everyone has bad days, and patience is often one of the hardest skills to embrace -- particularly when customers become irate. Agents should stay calm and patient -- allowing the customer to vent. This may help with the ultimate resolution because the customer understands the employee is trying.

14. Perspective. It's imperative that agents keep negative calls in perspective and not take them personally. Customers may be frustrated because they have called, emailed or chatted many times and still have the same problem. Those who finally solve the problem are golden.

15. Proactiveness. Agents should think about next steps or additional concerns that customers may have and be proactive to address them. This can happen during the current interaction or as follow-up.

How can you improve customer service skills?

Customer service representatives can improve their skills with focus and training. First, it's important that agents not to take things personally. Instead, they should embrace constructive criticism and use it to improve performance.

Second, agents should also review the metrics to measure performance, changes in performance and comparisons to colleagues. If a colleague consistently receives higher satisfaction scores, they should discuss it with that person to see what they may be doing differently.

Employees should also seek help from supervisors. Coaching goes a long way toward improving performance. Supervisors should be proactive with training. If they're not, it's up to agents to ask for this training.

Finally, embrace technology. No other class of employees has as much technology and analytics evaluating their performance as those in the customer service field. Use that technology -- including AI-enabled virtual assistants, interaction channels and analytics -- to improve CX.

Next Steps

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