20 Essential Customer Service Skills

by Ian Miller

The essential skill set for anyone aspiring to succeed in customer service.

At the heart of great customer service is the way we interact with our customers. It will come as no surprise to hear that we don't always get those interactions right. In my opinion, what is needed is a distinct skill set that can be applied consistently throughout the service industry.

Based on my experience serving clients, as well as managing customer-facing teams, I have compiled a list of essential skills that can be used by anyone who wants to succeed in the world of customer service.

Remember, even for veterans in this industry, brushing up on skills is a smart idea.

1. The Ability to Listen Closely to Customers

This is the number one skill because, in essence, this is what the job itself is all about. All other customer service skills pale in comparison to this particular one because if a customer service rep is not listening to the customer they are never going to be able to provide good service. Not only do you need to be able to hear what they are telling you in terms of sheer data, you need to be able to try to understand what they mean by what they are saying. This is one of those customer service skills that is most often polished over an entire career, but it begins with a willingness to listen and listen closely.

2. Clear Verbal Communication

Aside from being able to listen, you also need to be able to communicate verbally with the customer. While written communication is another of the customer service skills you'll want to master, it is verbal communication that is most often used in today's call centers. The purpose of this kind of communication is to not just repeat a spiel or information to the customer, but to make sure that they understood what you said. You will need proper speaking skills, good grammar and the ability to choose the right mode of speaking for the person on the other end of the line or across the counter from you.

3. Ability to Empathize

This is an ability that will most likely be honed over time and it is one of the customer service skills that can actually erode for some who have been in this industry for a while. You need to be able to listen and actually involve yourself in what the customer is telling you about their situation. If you are only following policy and not listening, you may miss important special considerations that need to be taken into account in order for customer service to be kept at a high quality level. Empathy is sensing and understanding the emotions of others and of all the customer service skills, some will argue that this is most important. Those who are good at empathy can often win the trust of even the most dissatisfied customers because those customers will feel they have someone on their side at last.

4. Data Entry and Basic Computer Skills

Most of your other skills are about dealing with people, but some customer service skills are about things you need to do for the company. In nearly all cases, you will be working with some sort of computer program that needs you to record data about your call. It is important that you can type quickly so that customers do not have to wait and that you understand the basics of using a computer and software so that you can properly perform your job.

5. Understanding of Human Psychology

While everyone is certainly different, there are commonalities among us as human beings. For those who take the time to study at least some basic psychology, the job of helping people over the phone is much easier to do. This can often help you defuse tense situations and anticipate what a customer wants before he or she verbalizes it. This is one skill that can impress customers and your superiors alike.

6. Basic Performance Skills

The fact is, sometimes in order to maintain professionalism you are going to have to put on a mask of friendliness and concern. This does not mean you are attempting to deceive anyone for a nefarious purpose, but it is important to know how to do. Even if a customer is irritating you, it is not appropriate to act irritated. Basic acting can help you present certain information in a more cheerful and upbeat tone, make sure your body language and facial expressions convey what you mean to say and generally help you get into the mindset you must be in so that you can do your job well.

7. Ability to Memorize Protocol and Guidelines

Most customer service positions are within companies that have official ways of handling calls. You will need to be able to not just look over the rules, but actually internalize them. You need to understand the guidelines and then use them the way they are intended. Those who follow the rules best usually end up working at a company the longest.

8. Time Management Skills

No one appreciates those that waste time. This is a skill you need for nearly any job, but in customer service those who waste time keep customers waiting. That's not very good service.

9. Management of Personal Emotions

While you can certainly act the opposite of how you feel, it is important to deal with your own emotions. If you can learn to manage your emotions in healthy, productive ways, the stress of customer service positions will be water off a duck's back to you.

10. Situation Evaluation and Analysis

Many times, in customer service work, you will encounter a problem that is not covered in the company's guidelines. When this happens, you are going to need to evaluate the situation and decide whether or not you need a supervisor present. One of the most important customer service skills to have is being able to decide whether or not a person is being honest or trying to deceive you. To do this, you have to be able to analyze data and, preferably, do this quickly.

11. Professionalism

It is important for employees to remain professional at all times, even if the customer reacts angrily if they are not happy with an aspect of the service they have received. Employees should remain level headed in these situations and continue to address the customer calmly. A friendly manner is important in every type of situation and can go a long way to reassuring customers of the professionalism of the business as a whole.

12. Organizational skills

An important aspect of good customer service is good organization skills. If the customer is operating to a time schedule then the ability of the person dealing with that customer to organize themselves and respond quickly is crucial. This may involve gathering information from a number of sources so the employee needs to know exactly where to get each piece of information from.

13. Respect

Being respectful to customers is another key skill. It should go without saying that simple manners should be used at all times but other factors that can make the customer feel respected include addressing them by their title and only using their first name if they have indicated that this is what they prefer. Customers should not be interrupted when they are speaking and the employee should wait until they have finished before responding.

14. Ability to Identify and Anticipate needs

If a good relationship is built up with a customer then this will enable the employee to offer the customer relevant products or services that will be of benefit to them. These recommendations should be based on their past purchases and knowledge of customer needs.

15. Flexibility

A slight bending of the rules to meet the needs of the customer is not necessarily something that should be discouraged. Customers will appreciate the extra effort that the employee has gone to and any affect on the business should be minimal.

16. Problem solving

If a customer has a problem then this should be resolved as soon as possible. The customer should be made to feel that any concerns that they have are valid and that everything is being done by the employee in order to solve the problem quickly.

17. Product knowledge

Good product knowledge is important because it will give the customer confidence in the product and in the company as a whole. If the customer is experiencing a problem with a particular product then a good working knowledge of the product can resolve the problem quickly. Employees will be better placed to make recommendations to customers about which product will best suit their needs if they are aware of the different benefits of a range of products.

18. Teamwork Skills

Teamwork skills are an essential part of giving awesome service. Like a football team working together to set up the perfect goal, every one on the team has a specific role to play in accomplishing tasks on the job. Too often, we only recognize the one player who makes it to the end zone, but we must remember that it was made possible by the team's planning, coordination, and cooperation.

19. Creativity

Sometimes, a creative solution to a customer's problem is needed. A degree of creativity (within company guidelines, of course!) can be of benefit in these circumstances.

20. Dependability

One of the most important aspects of the job is being there when the customer needs you most. This means turning up for the job on time, being present during difficult times ad following up on what you've promised to do.

Utilizing these skills can make the difference between giving mediocre service or providing truly awesome service. It can also mean the difference between simply getting hired or securing the position that you really want.

Take time today to put these skills into practice and watch your customer service levels soar - and watch your career take off too!

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