9 Essential Customer Service Skills Every Service Representative Needs
In the highly-competitive digital era, good customer service has quickly become an essential part of building a great business - some even claim customer service is the new marketing.
With this trend, it’s become more important than ever for representatives to master the essential customer service skills that lead to consistently satisfied customers.
Without them, your company could struggle to grow as service failures large and small lead to customer loss.
So what are the essential abilities customer service reps need to develop to offer great support?
Great question. We’ve put together this customer service skills list to answer exactly that.
1. Product Knowledge
Perhaps the most important customer service skill, product knowledge is essential to providing great support.
The deeper the better, as without knowing your product in and out, you’ll run into roadblocks when trying to help customers solve problems.
That doesn’t mean you need to be able to build your product from scratch, but the more you can understand how the average customer uses it, the faster you’ll be able to understand the challenge they’re having and find a solution.
Best case: actually use the product your company sells.
There’s no better way to figure out how it works and learn the best tricks to help your customers get back to work quickly.
2. Active Listening Ability
Good customer service goes beyond knowing the product and having the technical answer to a customer’s problem - 70% of buying experiences are based on how the customer feels they’re treated.
Knowing that, active listening is clearly an essential customer service job skill.
Listening is about more than just turning up the headset volume to hear a customer over the background noise of a busy call center; most customers prefer live chat anyway.
Whether you’re talking on the phone, answering emails, or responding to chat messages, “listening” is all about understanding the problem your customer is facing, empathizing with their situation, and letting them know you’re there to help.
Customer service personnel have a reputation for being among the least engaged employees - totally understandable given the barrage of challenging situations and conversations you face every day.
But there’s a huge opportunity to surprise your customers and build loyalty by committing to really listening to them even when it’s hard; according to a study by American Express, 43% of consumers think companies are helpful but don’t go the extra mile to keep their business.
So for a lot of customers, a little active listening can mean the difference between “this is just another company I have to deal with” to “[your company] has really amazing support, I definitely recommend them.”
Here’s an easy way to build your active listening skills and improve the support you provide:
Once you’ve heard the customer’s story, rephrase their issue and ask “does that sound right?”
This will help you confirm you know what they need while making them feel like you really appreciate their frustration and are able to help.
Simple active listening techniques like this not only make customers feel good about the support you provide but also build a connection that can come in handy if you have to tell them something they don’t want to hear.
3. Clear Communication Skills
33% of customers say the ability to effectively answer questions is the most important skill a service rep can have.
Which confirms the obvious: mumbling, losing focus, or using unclear language can be a big factor in leaving a customer unhappy with your support.
But it’s also essential to get to the problem at hand quickly.
If, out of common courtesy, they ask how your day is, don’t share your life story. “I’m great, thanks, how can I help you?” is enough.
And if you need certain information like an account number or password before you can solve their problem, get these quickly - the faster you can dig into their question, the better for both of you.
It’s also important to be careful about how your communication habits translate to customers; it’s always better to err on the side of clarity.
For example, last time I went to switch mobile carriers, I was told an iPad would be “included” in the monthly rate I was quoted.
I was skeptical that I’d be given a free iPad, though it didn’t seem impossible with all the promotions carriers run out these days.
So I asked and found out that iPad would, in fact, cost me $12 a month. I respected the salesmanship, but politely declined the extra charge and left feeling like this was a bad start to a new relationship.
The lesson: leave nothing to doubt, be clear about what you mean or you’ll risk damaging the relationship.
4. Persuasion Skills
Who’s the most persuasive person in your company?
If you think it’s one of the sales people, you’re probably right.
But they’re not the only ones who need to be able to influence customers.
Believe it or not, 74% of customers say they’ve spent up to 14% more with a company because they had a great customer service experience.
Experienced customer support representatives know that a lot of the calls and messages you’ll receive are more about curiosity than having a problem with your product that needs solving.
Which is why, in addition to building loyalty by solving problems fast, taking your customer service skills to the next level means gaining some mastery of persuasion so you can turn interested potential customers into satisfied actual customers.
5. Time Management Skills
In both professional and personal life, we could all use more time.
But good time management is an especially important quality of good customer service.
While it’s tempting to let the phone go to voicemail or that email sit in your inbox a little longer in our personal lives, when it comes to customer support fast responses and fast solutions are critical.
One example of this: 83% of online shoppers will abandon their purchase if they aren’t helped within 5 minutes.
While I meant what I said about active listening and making sure your customers feel heard, the bottom line is that you’re working in a limited time frame if you’re going to keep all your customers happy.
Product knowledge will help you get to a solution fast; so will communicating clearly.
But it’s also important to recognize your limits and learn to identify when you can’t solve a customer’s problem so you can quickly transfer them to someone who can.
6. Willingness to Learn
This is probably the most general skill on this list, but it’s still important.
You may be tempted to trust that everything you need to know to offer good customer service will be in the scripts and knowledge base. That might be true.
But great, proactive customer support means developing a continual habit of learning - about your product, about your customers, and about their ever-changing challenges and expectations.
Plus, willingness to learn is about more than building the skills and experience to get ahead in your career - if you’re like most employees (62% to be specific), staying informed about important issues and changes is a key part of staying motivated at work.
When working directly with dozens of strangers a day, no two (days or people) will ever be the same.
Different personalities, different problems, different communications channels - there’s a lot of variability in the average customer support rep’s day-to-day work.
Which makes adaptability and skill with handling surprises key; the customer support world will throw you curveballs.
Customers will come to you with problems that aren’t covered in the guidelines. They won’t react the way you think they will. Your patience will be tested.
In these cases, a mix of good old-fashioned thinking on your feet and a plan for handling never-before-seen challenges will help you deliver quality customer service time after time.
One quick system that can help you do this:
- Figure out who your go-to person is for when you don’t know what to do, then add a few more to the list in case that person can’t help you either.
- What will you send to those people when you need help? The full conversation, just the important parts, an annotated screenshot of the problem?
- How will you contact that person to get a quick answer? If they’ll answer the phone, great; maybe email’s best, or perhaps your company set you up with a Slack workspace where you can hash it out.
8. Thick Skin
The harsh reality: one third of customers would rather clean a toilet than speak with customer support.
People will come to you frustrated by their problem, with a keen sense of all the poor customer service experiences they’ve had, ready to take it all out on you; when you're on the customer support front lines, come with full-suit armor.
As stressful and anxiety-provoking as a customer service job can be, developing solid self-control skills are a must.
You’ll need to remain calm when attacked, positive when facing pessimism, and professional when a customer gets personal (though it’s okay to feel sorry that, right after her dog died and her car got hit, she’s now having trouble logging in).
On the bright side, staying calm isn’t just about keeping your job - according to a University of Toronto study, a bit of patience can go a long way in making a hard situation just a bit easier.
We Help Make Customer Support (Just a Bit) Easier
Developing customer service job skills, like any worthy pursuit, is difficult.
Mastering the skills on this list will take time, practice, and a few well-that-could-have-gone-betters.
But at the end of the day, delivering great customer support boils down to solving customer problems quickly, in a way that leaves them feeling glad you were there to help.
And visual communication can help you do that - which is why we built CloudApp.
We help customer support teams:
- Easily create support materials such as video tutorials
- Optimize customer support workflows
- Provide customers with detailed answers and close Zendesk tickets faster
- Improve your teams CSAT scores
- Track bugs and document problems
- Improve customer support initiatives - download your FREE 6 slide template here
Want to learn more? Learn More about CloudApp for Customer Support