Customer Experience News & Trends

7 essential customer service skills – and how to improve them

Customer service leaders usually look for these skills when hiring. Even when they hire them, they’ll want to help employees improve the skills.

Our friends at Groove have gathered data on the seven most critical skills for customer service professionals – and we’re sharing tips on how to hone each.

1. Empathy

Empathy is critical because service pros need to see and understand customers’ issues and concerns through customers’ point of view. They need to do more than hear and respond to a complaint or listen to and fix a problem. They need to make customers feel like their feelings are right.

To improve empathy:

  • Spend more time with people who are different. Sit at a different table in the break room. Join a group you wouldn’t normally. Being with people beyond those we are with normally helps us recognize and respond to differences in personality and behavior.
  • Try this testthe Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley’s Emotional Intelligence Test. It’ll help you read faces and moods better so you can respond to them better.

2. Positivity

Customer service professionals need to be positive for two reasons: 1) Customers need to work with pleasant, positive people, and 2) customer service work can be negative. Looking for what’s right, instead of what’s wrong, will help you bounce back from any negative experiences.

To improve positivity:

  • Make a list of negative things you (might) say and hear. Some examples include, “I can’t do that,” “No way,” “It’s our policy” and “No.”
  • Replace that list with positive things you can say, such as, “Here’s what I can do,” “Let’s see …” and “Let’s try …”
  • Surround yourself with favorite positive mantras, photos and people.

3. Patience

Service professionals need to be patient with customers, processes and colleagues. Without patience, they will become frustrated and likely lose their cool – which will bear negatively on them and their work.

To improve patience:

  • Adopt this mantra: This is only uncomfortable, not unbearable. When you feel your patience wearing thin – perhaps when a customer rambles on or a colleague doesn’t get the information you need to you – remember that it will pass. The work will get done.
  • Set time frames. The more you share your ideal timing, the more likely those around you will work within it. They can’t meet expectations if you don’t speak your expectations.

4. Clarity

Communicating with clarity helps customer service professionals do their job effectively. Customers and colleagues need to have a clear view of what you say and anything you need and expect. Then there’s less confusion and more done efficiently.

To improve clarity:

  • Define technical terms when speaking and writing.
  • Bullet-point and/or summarize as much information as possible.
  • Offer to clarify or verify before ending interactions.

5. Curiosity

The best customer service professionals want to learn and know more. It helps them give better answers, ask better questions and do better work so customers have better experiences.

To improve curiosity:

  • Ask “why” more often. You almost always understand what customers want. But when you ask “why,” you get at their needs – which can be more important than the want. Some “whys” to ask: Why do you prefer that? Why are you interested in X?
  • Clarify. Regularly repeat what you’ve heard or paraphrase what you believe to confirm (or deny) you “got it.” And if you didn’t get it, your curiosity will be met with more information.

6. Attentiveness

We live in incredibly distracting world. Cellular devices, alerts, social media, newsfeeds and workplace distractions make it hard for people to focus on their tasks. So finding employees who are attentive to their work at hand is growing more difficult. Helping them hone attentiveness can be a struggle as more distractions pop up. Still, listening to customers, digesting sometimes complex information and executing tasks efficiently are cornerstones of attentiveness in customer service.

To improve attentiveness:

  • Be silent. Spend 10 to 15 minutes in the middle of every day in silence to recalibrate and re-focus on listening to customers and single-tasking.
  • Remove distractions. If you struggle to stay on task, often ask customers to repeat themselves or recognize that you’re easily distracted, turn off alerts, get the things that distract you out of sight and shut down programs that don’t directly contribute to your work.

7. Composure

Customer service professionals need to be remain the calm in a storm and the leader in uncertainty. So they must work at being level-headed problem-solvers in times when others might crumble in the chaos.

To gain more composure:

  • Breathe. It’s not corny. Deep, thoughtful breaths when others are verbally or visually angry or upset can help you relax, gain composure and take over a delicate situation. Practice deep breathing in calm times, and you’ll more easily do it in crazy times.
  • Quiet down. In volatile, frustrating or panicky situations, lower your voice. It causes others to lean in (figuratively and literally) to your calmness, and usually prompts others to lower their voices and calm down, too.

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