As the customer service landscape evolves, the customer service skills of 10 years ago don’t quite cut it anymore. According to recent studies, 81% of customers attempt to solve problems themselves before contacting a live agent. The outcome is that the issues brought before your staff become more and more complex every year. At the same time, 53% of customers say that they expect more from customer service than they did a year ago.
Customers are more likely to feel frustrated when they call, since they probably just spent several hours in a futile effort to fix the problem themselves. If you ask them, 73% say that valuing their time is the best thing companies can do to provide good customer service.
What skills does the perfect customer service agent have?
Conventional wisdom describes the ideal customer service agent as empathetic, a good listener who likes to help people. This is true to a point. Those are important customer service skills. However, other skills, such as the ability to quickly solve complex problems and remain calm in the face of an irate customer, are coming to the forefront.
Harvard studied 1,440 frontline agents to see what skills were most valued in the modern customer care environment. The results may surprise you.
They found that agents who provided the most effective and painless service were keen problem solvers who thought on their feet and took the initiative. Instead of asking customers what they would like to do, these agents told them what they should do, proactively diagnosing problems and taking the lead in implementing solutions.
Modern customers have spent so much effort trying to solve the problem themselves that when they call they just want someone to take over and fix it. The best agents show their customer service skills by making the interaction as easy and painless for the customer as possible.
Empathy is still valuable. However, today’s customers don’t want you to hold their hand and listen to their woes, they want to finish the interaction and get on with their lives. Agents need to quickly create an understanding and show that they care about the customer. Each customer should be treated as an individual, with the agent making the effort to understand what this particular person wants and needs.
3. Dedication to customers
Good agents own the customer’s problem from start to finish and do what it takes to find the answer. If the problem needs to be referred to a different department, they should act as an advocate for the customer. They should see to it that the issue is resolved, following up as necessary.
4. Remaining calm in the face of provocation
Dealing with angry customers can be upsetting, and even good agents sometimes feel the temptation to give as good as they get. Knowing how to remain calm and pleasant is a necessary skill. Good reps understand the conversation isn’t personal and quickly get back on track to solving the problem.
Using the right language is important. Positive phrasing should be used. For instance, instead of saying, “That product is not in stock right now,” they could say, “That product will be in stock next week.”
It can be a good idea to mirror the customer’s word choices and general tone. For instance, if the customer is breezy and informal, adopt a similar tone. If the customer acts formal and restrained, respond in kind, with a polite and respectful tone.
Top customer reps have good writing and typing skills. Many interactions are from live chat and email. They need the ability to express themselves fluently across multiple service channels, not just voice.
6. Willingness and ability to learn
A good rep knows your products and services inside and out. They know how to navigate your knowledge base and CRM to look up anything they don’t know. They should be able to assimilate new information and adapt to changing circumstances, learning as they go.
Training isn’t just for the first two weeks at a new job, it should continue every day. Each interaction is an opportunity to learn how to do a better job and provide better service.
If you want to earn and maintain your customers’ trust, you need honest customer service agents. For instance, if shipping will take two weeks, they should tell the customer up-front. It might seem easier to avoid difficult issues, but customers appreciate honesty.
8. Conflict resolution
Reps with excellent customer service skills know how to meet people halfway. They involve others in decision-making and know how to de-escalate a tense situation.
People don’t always think to look for imagination in a customer service rep, but it’s a good trait to have. It helps in understanding other people’s thought processes. For example, when the customer refers to “that switch thingy,” imagination will help the agent figure out what is being discussed.
Imagination also helps keep customer interactions fresh. Those should be spontaneous and personalized, never sounding canned. Agents with some imagination can change things up, instead of doing everything by rote.
10. Time management
A good agent takes as much time as they need to solve the problem and leave the customer satisfied, but remains mindful all the other customers waiting in line.
The customer should never feel rushed, but other customers need to be tended to as well. It’s a delicate balancing act that requires good time management skills.
One person, even a top-notch agent, can’t be all things to all people. They should be a team player who knows when to ask for help. They should also be willing and able to assist a struggling coworker. Even if you only have one customer service agent, teamwork skills are still valuable. They may need to coordinate with other departments to get things done.
A good agent needs a variety of customer service skills to succeed at their job. Providing the best customer service isn’t easy, but if you hire the right people and train them well, you’ll succeed.