We wrote about building the best customer service team in our previous article. The biggest challenge is due to the fact that you have to hire for soft skills rather than hard skills.
We’ve seen how you can interview for soft skills in our previous article but we failed to mention which skills you should be looking for in customer service.
I have my own idea of what skills are needed but I was curious to see what customer service experts had to say on the subject.
So I went to some of the biggest customer service groups on LinkedIn and asked away.
37 answers later, I decided to compile all the ideas in the comments and write an article on the subject.
Here are the most important customer service skills according to industry experts:
1. The Queen Of Customer Service Skills: Empathy
I wasn’t surprised to find empathy here. I get frustrated when I see this word thrown around like one of those buzzwords though.
I don’t know why but I always looked at the word empathy like one of those fancy words we like to include in our answers but never really take time to think about.
So, bear with me as I take a deeper look at empathy in customer service.
Here’s what commenters said about empathy:
“use empathy to understand what your customer wants and needs before they have thought about it, and influence them towards a product or an option that is right for them” – Adam Frederick Smith (LION)
“I second empathy. I think it’s important to be able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes in order to determine where they are coming from. This is a good skill to have not only when working with customers but in all of your interactions.” – Tiffany Weiskopf
Empathy is a critical human skill that can’t be replicated by machines. It’s what will help you create this special bound with the customer.
When you have a problem with a product, it often feels like you are entering a battle against the company.
In reality, and for small companies in particular, your problem is also the company’s problem. Big time! We’re building products for customers and when they have an issue, we have an even bigger issue on our hands as a company. It means that we failed somewhere.
Companies aren’t the enemy and there are made up of people who understand what customers are going through. A good customer service agent will communicate this to the customer and that’s what we call empathy. It’s a lot more than just saying “I understand your frustration”.
It’s actually showing the other person that you know how they feel (or can imagine) and that you feel bad about it.
Another commenter mentioned “patience” in words that I think fit perfectly here:
“Patience is such an important part in that recipe because when something is not happening to us personally it’s may be tempting to brush the person off as a complainer but their issues are just as important as ours and should be treated as such.” – K Hernandez
For me, that’s a big part of what empathy really is all about: showing the customer their issue is important. As important as if it was your own issue!
2. The Runner-Up: Active Listening
Listening came up a lot in the comments. I think everyone can agree with the fact that you need to listen to customers.
What we often fail to realize is how bad most of us tend to be at listening.
I really liked this one particular comment:
“The ability to GENUINELY LISTEN to what the customer is saying. I’ve found that I can generally teach skills needed for specific positions, but LISTENING is a skill that someone either has, or doesn’t. Too many customer service people just pay lip service to ‘listening’.” – David Mize
You can teach yourself how to be a better listener but it has to come from you and it will take time and efforts. It would be like teaching you how to be more productive or happier. It’s one of these life skills that can take years to develop, especially if it is not in your nature!
I know I can be a great listener but I also realize I can be terrible at it when something else is on my mind. I don’t think it is a black and white matter. We all stand somewhere in between.
However, when hiring customer service associates, you’ll probably want to be as close as the white mark as possible.
Great, so how can you spot good listeners?
My answer is to look for red flags during the interview.
– Is the candidate looking away during the interview? (looking around the room, at their shoes…)
– Is the candidate asking you to repeat your question a little too many times?
– Is the candidate giving you an unrelated answer?
– When the interview comes to an end and you ask the candidate if they have any question. Do they inquire about something you already (even partly) answered before?
This can seem obvious but it happens a lot!
3. The Too Often Forgotten: Integrity
Integrity goes hand in hand with few other sister skills like respect, honesty, accountability or “the fact that you own your mistakes”.
I am ashamed to admit that I never thought I’d find a mention of these skills here. It goes without saying that you should be honest in life and in business but some parts of it like owning the company’s mistakes are harder to observe than we think.
Here are some of my favorite answers about being honest and building trust with customers:
“Being 100% honest with your customer and building a relationship on trust is invaluable. I have always had a really strong, loyal customer base and yes, it’s because I am responsive, eager to help, and good at problem solving but also, it’s because, they know that I have integrity. If I mess up, I take responsibility for it rather than blaming someone else.” – Kimberly Robinson
“It’s being truthful, respectful and positive in all that you do in and for the customer.” – Tania Cercone
When hiring, you need to look for few things:
– Are all the details on the candidate’s resume accurate?
– Did the candidate manage to learn valuable lessons from previous mistakes?
– Do the candidate own up to their mistakes or try to blame it on someone else?
We tend to try so hard to show only the best of ourselves in both interviews and customer service calls. If you want to see how the person would react in a situation where they are clearly wrong, you need to make it clear that it is ok for them to admit they made a mistake.
In an interview, you can ask questions like “What do you think you could have done better?”, “If you were given a chance, would you do anything different?” or more direct questions like “Tell me about a time you were wrong and had to apologize to a customer”.
The hard part and most important one in the interview is to make the applicant feel safe about talking about their mistakes.
The idea also has to be carried on later on when they become an employee for your company. The main reason why people are dishonest is because they are scared honesty will have bad consequences for them. In customer service they are scared they could get fired.
4. The One You Can’t Teach: Positive Attitude
The 2 main points in the “skills you can’t teach” part were about positive attitude and passion.
Sure, you can hire anyone to join your customer service team and teach them all about your product and the tools you use. You’ll end up offering so-so service at best!
If you want to truly WOW customers like Zappos or Netflix, you need to hire for personality.
Here’s what experts on LinkedIn said on the subject:
“In my opinion the most important skills are mindset and attitude. When it comes to customer care, attitude will always win over aptitude. It is much easier to increase the technical skills than modify undesirable behavior. Here’s a little article on employee attitude: http://bit.ly/1Dq2Gsg. “Hire for Attitude, Train for Skill.”” – Meri Klobas
“I would say that your customer service employees need to show empathy, be patient, happy, have clear communication skills, acting skills, the ability to really listen, etc. That’s why finding the right people for the job is no easy thing. You need people who love people!” – Michael Kamleitner
The problem is, how do you find people who love people and have the right attitude?
Not that easy right?
Once again, you can look at previous experiences and ask for more information during the interview. Some companies will also look at the candidates’ social media pages (Twitter, Facebook…) to see if they complain often or have a more positive outlook on life.
This is not perfect by any mean but it can be a good indicator of the person’s personality.
If you see 80% of the person’s tweets are negative, you might want to stay away from them.
The other important thing to keep in mind is that, while you can’t really teach positive attitude, you can foster it. That’s where a good company culture is important.
You want to create positive peer pressure! If the majority of your employees are highly positive people, they will influence the rest of the team.
5. The Customer Service Skills To Help Your Bottom Line: Proactivity & Problem Solving
Delighting customers is the most important of any customer service job but what about the rest? The behind-the-scene work of customer service employees meant to make the customer experience better.
This part is crucial for companies because that’s where they can actually save money by building more efficient processes.
That’s why you need to look out for people who can solve problems, not only on a case by case basis, but with a more proactive and scalable approach.
Here’s what customer service experts said on LinkedIn:
About problem solving:
“It’s also enormously helpful to have CSRs who think globally, and are good problem solvers. Global thinkers can ferret out the source of problems, which also means they can play an integral role in *avoiding* repeat problems. This helps the bottom line as much as it helps improve client perceptions. All this, however, is just window dressing unless management demonstrates the wisdom to utilize this kind of employee effectively.” – Dawn Johnston
And being proactive:
“A good customer service person will take care of the person before they know they need taken care of. Personally I have worked with people who don’t understand the importance of picking up the phone instead of an email, or letting a customer know there is an issue with their order as opposed until waiting until day of shipment. I believe in giving the customer what you would want if you were on the other side. Many times I get feedback about being responsive to the customers needs and answering the their question in minutes instead of hours or days.” – Judy Burns
These are 2 different skills but I decided to group them as they are not directly linked to communication but more to what happens “behind the curtain”.
We can’t forget that customer service is not limited to answering customers requests. Since customer service representatives are the ones facing customers daily, they are also the ones who can get great insights on how to improve your product.
You need to look for people who can group 100 of small issues into 1 big issue that could be solved by publishing an article, setting up an automated email, adding a small feature to your product…
They also need to spot potential problems before they occur.
We, for example, had a problem with our billing system recently. We noticed it, reach out to customers who were affected and corrected the bug. If we had waited for someone to write to us, who knows how many more customers would have had the problem and how many of them would have felt wronged by us.
Hey, Who Said Customer Service Was An Easy Entry-Level Job?
Since you are reading this, you went through all the skills listed above and you now understand how hard it is to hire good customer service people.
Companies who look at customer service as just another entry level job end up getting burnt. They end up with high turnovers, employees who just don’t care, products and marketing that is not in line with what customers really want… And the list goes on and on.
If you ended up on this article, it is safe to assume you are one of the exceptions.
It’s time we all start giving customer service the attention it deserves don’t you think?
So like, share, tweet about this article! Let’s show people how hard it is to be good at customer service.
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