Customer service skills
What are the key customer service skills?
The key customer service skills required to deliver great customer service are subject to much attention in many businesses. On this list, we have organised what we believe to be the most important under three categories which constitute the main steps of a customer service interaction cycle. Of course all the steps included below are not necessary in all cases especially if the customer is going to receive what he/she asks for within a short time frame. But if the situation is more complex or the organisation is not able to deliver rapidly then all these steps take an increased importance.
1. Collect the information
This initial set of customer service skills is one of the most important as it is going to determine the outcome of the customer service interaction and ultimately be a key driver of customer satisfaction. During this phase, the customer will make his/her own initial opinion about the quality of service offered by the company. Simple steps can be taken to give the customer a good first impression. The main skills required are summarised below:
- Making yourself available because customer service interactions are often initiated by the customers at a time and in a way that suits them. Being available to respond to them rapidly and in the manner they chose will go a long way towards opening the service interaction in the right way;
- Listening actively to the customer is critical to make sure that you collect all the facts and will have all the information required to make the right judgement about the situation;
- Being aware of the social media signals which can give an early indication if service standards are failing or some external event is affecting the way you provide service to customers;
- Understanding the circumstances surrounding the underlying causes for making the customer service call. This information will help validate whether the normal policies and guidelines should be applied straight out of the box or whether a specific;
- Perceiving emotions of the customer to ensure that they are being handled in a way commensurate with their state of mind;
- Capturing the facts and recording it on the information systems to ensure that all the data is recorded and can be used by others without having to ask the customers for the same facts again and again.
2. Analyse the situation
Analysing the current case thoroughly is one of the critical customer service skills as it will shape the way the customer should be handled. Is it a clear case in terms of bringing satisfaction to the customer or will someone have to announce the bad news because in this current set of circumstances nothing can be done. The key skills required during the analysis are listed below:
- Bringing together all the facts via a detailed factual analysis which will bring a fair outcome for both customer and company; it would be very difficult to deliver an excellent outcome without understanding all the facts;
- Deciding what action to take needs to be conducted against the established set of policies but also recognise that all situations are different and may required bespoke handling;
- Preparing a well thought through response based on the above analysis. It is very important that the response considers all the aspects raised by the customers so that it can be as definitive as possible. The worse scenario would be for the company to have to reconsider its response many times which would imply that not enough attention was paid upfront;
- Taking into account the personal circumstances of the person and take into account potential sensitivities related to their personal background such as nationality, ethnicity, religion, age, gender etc. Indeed, some proposed solution could be totally inappropriate, if not offensive for certain people and it is crucial to bear that element in mind;
- Understanding the regulatory / legal environment to make sure that the chosen course of action is not in breach of the customer statutory rights or any other type of laws and regulations which are applicable to the case;
- Performing a risk assessment to make sure that the company is not endangering its reputation. For example, in some instances, it could be wise to anticipate what the customer reaction might be and assess whether their response is indeed warranted and could lead to a reputational issue.
- Use of technical tools such as data analysis to evaluate if the case under consideration is a one off or reflects a more systemic issue.
Often one of the most underestimated customer service skills, communication is nevertheless a key if not the key aspect of a good strategy and must be included in any list. In many instances the highest source of frustration for customers, in the travel industry for example, is the lack of information. If you solve that problem, and share, even if you know very little, customers will show their appreciation:
- Communicating clearly the next steps to the client throughout the process so they always know when to expect the next communication and from whom; Excellent communication is critical to reaching service excellence.
- Feeding back your understanding of the situation to the customer to ensure that all the facts are correct;
- Managing one’s emotions to avoid anybody dlosing their temper during the conversation and say things totally inappropriate or that they may regret saying later;
- Being genuine so that a rapport can be build between the customer service agent and the client. Demonstrating empathy for example, will only have a positive impact if it is genuine. This skill will also ensure that there will be no breach of trust and that the customers will not be mislead;
- Being prepared to apologise if the customer has clearly suffered a prejudice or has been inconvenienced by a situation;
- Be professional yes approachable to create a positive impression about the organisation;
- Possessing interpersonal skills and empathy to be able to relate to the customer point of view;
- Be diplomatic so that even if you have to pass on bad news to a customer they feel that they have been handled properly;
- Preparing for internal handover if needed, as it is crucially important to avoid any internal disconnect when looking after customers.
Action speaks louder than words, so once you have communicated with your client, do make sure that whatever action has been agreed is actually implemented. Here are some suggested actions:
- Delivering on your promises as failing to do so would be a major breach of the relationship fundamentals, so above all, learn to be reliable;
- Going the extra mile to exceed customers’ expectations whenever possible;
- Feeding back to the organisation the lessons learnt from all customer interaction so that product, staff and service quality improvements can be suggested;
- Remaining engaged: monitor and follow up until ultimate resolution of customer service issues;
- Maintaining a positive attitude to bring all customer service issues to resolution.
Finally, your customer service skills must always be maintained and enriched. This list will give ideas about some items which always must be looked at, from personal development to team development.
- Challenging yourself to continue your personal development to ensure that your personal proposition to customers does not become stale and that you continue in the search for delivering excellent customer outcomes;
- Keeping your technical knowledge up with regards to products and services offered by your company so that you are well place to give excellent advice and have, as a minimum, a level of knowledge equal to the one of your customers;
- Being organised: if you learn to be organised, the customer is likely to perceive it and have a better appreciation of service as a result;
- Learning from other individuals and other organisations to benefit from the experiences of your team members and anticipate situations you have not encountered before;
- Being receptive to innovation to make sure that the customer service delivery can be adapted to new technology and new customer needs;
- Sharing your experience with others to make sure that they benefit from your experience and your wisdom;
- Recruiting and training new team members so that there will be continuity in the service philosophy and service will not be disrupted if members of staff leave. For ideas about customer service training, one could usefully refer to our dedicated page: https://blog.verygoodservice.com/customer-service-training/
For additional insight about the topic one could refer to the following sources containing interesting reading material:
– Skills CFA which is a UK registered charity promoting skills and qualifications in the workplace: http://www.skillscfa.org/standards-qualifications/customer-service.html
– Workplace Customer service skills training video: http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL89CDE08B354C4661
– National Careers Service – customer service adviser: https://nationalcareersservice.direct.gov.uk/advice/planning/jobprofiles/Pages/customerserviceassistant.aspx