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The Top 10 Skills that Your Customer Service Agents Will Need in 2022

The Top 10 Skills that Your Customer Service Agents Will Need in 2022

As more customer experiences happen primarily through digital channels, and with increased expectations around the timeliness and quality of responses to their issues, customer service agents need to blend a mixture of technology, data and more specialized talent.

Customer service jobs, at least at the entry level, might once have seemed something open to college students or those without a lot of practical work experience. With basic training on the key product fixes and answers to common questions, lots of people with basic skills might easily be brought onto the team. That’s changing, and quickly.

As more customer experiences happen primarily through digital channels, and with increased expectations around the timeliness and quality of responses to their issues, customer service agents need to blend a mixture of technology, data and more specialized talent. It will mean not only having a consistent and accessible way to train agents, but searching for agents who already possess certain skills or display an aptitude to learn them.

These kinds of changes tend to happen in stages, of course. Many companies have already invested time and training in their existing customer service workforce and won’t be prepared to replace them overnight. What’s important is to recognize the skills that might be needed and to develop the team you have, while perhaps making future hires a little differently.

Salesforce Chief Digital Evangelist, Vala Afshar, helped kick off this brainstorming process in a tweet in which he outlined the top 10 customer service skills organizations would need to have in place by 2022. That’s only three years away! Let’s walk through each of those skills to discuss what they mean in a customer service context, and how you could get the ball rolling in terms of training and development:

1. Analytical thinking

While being able to synthesize information and derive insights has always been valuable, the data-driven nature of customer service makes it essential. It means not only deploying tools like Service Cloud, but to help the team understand what kind of patterns and trends they should be looking for. Perhaps a regular debrief session based on recent data patterns could help agents connect the dots and react more quickly to what comes their way.

2. Active learning

Training is never “once-and-done” within customer service teams, but in this case it means having agents take matters into their own hands. In other words, they should show a curiosity and commitment to educating themselves on emerging digital channels, how the company’s products and services are evolving and the issues that really matter to customers. Try offering some examples during employee one-on-ones and build this into their 2019 goals as part of the performance review process.

3. Creativity

You don’t need customer service agents to draw pictures or write short stories, but you will need them to show imagination in how they do various aspects of their job. In your next team meeting, ask a volunteer to describe everything they know about a particular customer (or type of customer) and what they’re likely to reach out about next. This can be a great way to move service from reactive to proactive.

4. Tech design

How can customer service agents be expected to develop IT on top of everything else, you may ask? They don’t. It’s how they can influence or offer constructive feedback on the technology they use, and whatever customers use. Ask them to give three ideas on ways to improve the web pages customers typically use, for instance, or what a chatbot might be able to offer in terms of help and advice.

5. Critical thinking

At a time when speed in customer service is of the essence, agents must also be able to make sound judgements, whether that’s detecting potential cases of fraud or determining the deeper causes of a particular problem. Some tools to develop this is the “5 Whys” exercise: Try to dig deeper into the root of a situation or issue by asking “why” a handful of times, until you get to ideas that might otherwise be glossed over.

6. Complex problem solving

Great customer service teams think beyond memorizing and regurgitating what a customer could look up for themselves. It means taking fixes or answers from one kind of company or organization and applying them in a brand new context for another customer. Or it means working across channels. As a team exercise, for instance, map out the best ways to deal with problems that come in via social media or text versus more traditional channels like phone calls or email.

7. Leadership and social influence

Service agents have long been key to how a company creates a lasting impression with customers. Today, that not only means their tone of voice on a call but how they operate in any kind of context. Have a rotation on who leads social service issues every month or week, and encourage those who demonstrate effectiveness in resolving these problems while also boosting the company’s image or credibility with your target audience.

8. Emotional intelligence

You can usually hear on a phone call whether a customer is merely irritated or on the verge of blowing a gasket. It’s not always as clear when you’re reading an email or a text message. Recognizing the cues that get to what customers are feeling can be a vital aspect of delivering a great experience. Start by using social listening tools to gauge the sentiment of what’s being said on places like Facebook and Twitter and see how well the team’s EI matches it.

9. Reasoning

Similar to analytical thinking, reasoning ensures that agents not only take data and use it to guide what they do, but that they can make sense of data when they are “live” and dealing with a customer, bringing it all together. It’s something that continually gets better if you can ask agents after a service interaction to justify what they said or did based on empirical evidence, whether it’s something they can point to on a call recording or something they’ve pulled out of a tool like Service Cloud.

10. Systems analysis

Merriam-Webster defines system analysis as “the process of studying a procedure or business in order to identify its goals and purposes and create systems and procedures that will achieve them in an efficient way.” Each week, challenge your agents to bring forward three examples of where they used systems analysis to not only get a customer out of a jam, but also to help them avoid similar issues or to achieve objectives that have little or even nothing to do with your firm’s products and services.

These 10 skill sets might seem like a tall order for service teams, but as more organizations nurture them in the people on the front lines, the more those jobs will be fulfilling — and a key differentiator for what your brand brings to the customer experience.

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