Good customer service is essential. No matter the quality of your product, if your CS team isn’t fantastic at serving your customers, you’ll lose them left and right. While providing customer service is a team effort in a lot of ways – and there are certainly best practices to follow as a support team as a whole – every team member must have the necessary skills to contribute to providing the best service your business can manage.
The reasons may seem obvious (and numerous), but why not focus on two very simple ones that matter in a big way?
80% of consumers list “speed, convenience, knowledgeable help, and friendly service” as the most important pieces of a positive customer experience. And when you fall down on the job just one time, one-third of them will ditch your product and use your competitor instead.
Hiring a team full of customer service agents with serious skills isn’t only the obvious choice for making sure the service you provide is the best it can be – it’s critical for reducing churn and increasing revenue. Customer service isn’t a sideshow with little impact. It’s vital to the health of your entire business.
Ready to make sure your agents possess the skills they need to take your customer service to the next level? Read on for 11 essential skills every agent needs, plus ideas on how to hire someone with these skills when the time comes.
The importance of a customer service representative being a good communicator can’t be overstated. Communicating is what makes up most of their day and it’s essential to be good at it for your customers. Whether it be over email, in live chat, on social media platform, in a mobile app, on the phone, or anywhere else, work in customer service is all about talking to customers and conveying information to them in a clear and helpful way. Plus, knowing how to get your message across simply, quickly, and with skill will go a long way when you’re dealing with a difficult customer conversation.
Hiring Tip: How is the candidate at communicating with you during their application process? Is their application clearly and correctly presented? Did they follow up an interview with a note? If you’re wondering where they went or what they think about the job, they might not be the best fit.
Writing and Grammar
Customer service agents don’t need to be professional writers, but they do need to possess a solid grasp of grammar and the related writing skills to interact successfully with customers. An agent making basic grammatical errors, misspelling words, or formulating incorrect sentences will make a customer feel less confident in their ability to provide the service they need and question the agent’s knowledge overall.
Hiring Tip: Did you spot any errors in their application? Was their speaking style and sentence structure solid during the interview? If you felt yourself cringing at a double negative or wondering why they didn’t use spell check before emailing you, keep looking.
Anyone who’s worked in customer service knows customers can be frustrating. They’re irritated, so they don’t listen to what you’re saying. They’re mad, so they take it out on you. And anyone who’s ever needed help from a customer service agent knows they can be frustrating too. Is there anything worse than taking the time to reach out for help and getting a generic, unhelpful response in reply? Or being forced to spend way too many minutes explaining the issue and practically begging for help?
Instead of letting preconceived notions or old grievances stand in the way of providing the best customer service you can manage, practice patience. Staying calm and remaining patient are essential to assuring your customer everything will be okay and providing the help they need. If you—the customer service agent—get flustered or upset, you’re more likely to make mistakes or make your customer feel like you’d rather be anywhere else but talking to them.
Hiring Tip: This is the spot to pull out the old standby question about dealing with a difficult customer at a previous job, or maybe change things up and ask them when the last time they waited in a long line was and why they were there. At face value, their answer might not seem that insightful but pay attention to the way they say it for clues.
Empathy is a top-notch trait to develop in both life and work, and it’s essential to a customer service agent’s skill set. If you don’t care about your customers or their experience with your service, you won’t be any good at helping them. Customers who reach out to customer service are often frustrated, feeling dumb, angry, or some combination of all three. They’re usually not in the best place—and feeling vulnerable–when starting a conversation to ask for help. If an agent interacts with them without empathy, tact, and caring, the whole experience is going to be bad.
Hiring Tip: Ask the candidate for their thoughts on the top characteristics a customer service agent should possess. Empathy should be on the list. It dives deeper than simply saying they should know the product and reflects a real understanding of the work.
Customer service is mostly all about people, so learning to pay attention and listen to them is essential. Not only will listening for details and clues about the problem help you find the best solution for a customer, but it’ll also have the added benefit of making them feel important and cared for. And a customer who feels heard and appreciated is more likely to stick around.
Hiring Tip: Does the interviewee keep interrupting you during the interview or seem to be missing the details you know you’ve shared? Move along to the next person.
Managing Time and Workload
Working in customer service means there’s always something to do. Whether customers are waiting to chat with you, knowledgebase documentation needs updating, or a team member needs an assist, it’ll keep you busy. To stay on top of everything, knowing how to manage time properly is vital. If you struggle with keeping up with all the tasks or get distracted easily, it’s worth putting some effort into figuring out what’s causing the issue and fixing it. There are countless to-do list methods, organizational apps, and time tracking tools out there to help. Try them all until you find the best fit for how you work.
Furthermore, part of managing your time is knowing how to prioritize tasks. Aim to work in customer queues based on goals and priorities set by the team so that you’re handling incoming questions in the proper order and timeframe. Work on meeting deadlines consistently and being honest with yourself and others when you can’t. Set realistic goals for yourself—that mirror or contribute to your team’s goals—and assess your results regularly so you’re always improving.
Hiring Tip: Ask the interviewee for their favorite to do list app. If they have zero insight into tracking to do lists or prioritizing tasks, they might not be the best fit for a job that requires so much balance and ability to tackle lots of different pieces.
Beyond managing your time and workload, organizing your work is essential too. Working in customer service for a piece of software or online service often means you’ll be using all sorts of tools and documentation to serve your customers best. Develop a way to keep track of which tool to use when and how to find the right documentation quickly and you’ll find supporting customers easier instantly.
Hiring Tip: Ask the candidate for their favorite organizational tool, whether it’s online or on paper. If they’re a paper planner nerd or live by their Google Calendar, that’s a good sign!
Customer service isn’t all canned responses and repetitive replies. In some cases, you’ll need to put your sleuthing hat on and hunt for a solution. If you tend to be curious about the details and like learning new things, customer queries requiring some extra digging will likely be your favorite.
Hiring Tip: Ask the interviewee what the last new thing they learned was. If they can think of a new hobby or skill they’ve picked up in their own time, great! If not? Red flag.
Working as a customer service agent isn’t a solitary endeavor. Not only will you spend a bulk of your time interacting with customers, but you’ll be working with your team members too. To be a successful rep, it’s essential to develop your skills at working with both customers and colleagues. Anyone starting in the role probably expects the customer collaboration side of things, but may not have considered the kind of collaboration needed with internal team members too. Take the time to develop your communication skills within your team and develop relationships so you can ask for an extra set of eyes when you’re stuck on a task. Working in support can be draining, so having teammates to support and be supported by when needed will go a long way in improving each of your days.
Hiring Tip: Ask for their top tip when working on a team. Listen closely and you’ll learn plenty about how they’ll collaborate.
As a customer service agent, you don’t need to be able to write the code that makes the software you support or understand every detail the technology behind your company’s tech stack, but a solid set of technology and web skills will make you better at your job. The ability to quickly assess new tools and figure out how to use them will make it easier for you to cope when your team inevitably introduces a new feature or function.
Hiring Tip: Ask about their tech skills directly. Depending on the importance of using technology in the role, their answer will tell you what you need to know.
Subject Matter Expertise
Similar to a general understanding of the necessary technology, knowing your product or service really well is important too. You don’t need to design the UX or review code with the dev team, but you do need to know how to use your product like a customer would. From the brand new to the highly-skilled, an understanding of what your customers want from your product and how they go about using it to achieve those ends will allow you to address any issues as they pop up.
Hiring Tip: Prepare a question or two about your product. Do they use it themselves? Have they taken the time to check it out in detail? Can they explain a specific feature or process? This can be learned, but showing early interest and making the effort is a good sign.
Develop Your Customer Service Skills Today
Whether you’re already working in customer service, looking to start, or hiring the agents to support your product, this checklist of skills will help your customer service team be the very best in 2019. While some skills may come more naturally to some than others, every item on the list can be practiced over time and improved upon consistently. When every customer service agent on your team works to be better at each skill on the list, your customers will take notice and be thrilled with the service you provide.
Would you like to learn more and make your customers fall in love with your business? Check out our brand new eBook: The Ultimate Guide to Providing Great Customer Service in 2019.