Customer Service: Top Soft and Hard Skills Every Agent Needs

Agents are brand ambassadors. Are you trained on these important customer service skills?

Have you ever called customer support only to speak with someone who can't seem to figure out how to help you? Or, they seem oblivious to your level of frustration? The interaction not only makes you mad at the agent, it may taint your view of the company.

As a customer service agent, you are an important line of defense in the fight for customer loyalty. Customers not only look to you to solve their problems, they want to know there is a person on the other side who is listening and understands their needs. Companies recognize your value: 78% of agents say their company views them as brand ambassadors. Yet, over half (55%) of agents say they need better training to do their jobs.

Think of customer service skills as the intersection of knowledge and ability. To meet expectations today, what are the skills every customer service representative needs?

Soft customer service skills

While product knowledge will always be important, soft skills — or interpersonal skills — are equally essential. These skills determine how the agent interacts with the customer and makes them feel. For example, was the agent empathetic and understanding? Were they respectful throughout the interaction?

To improve customer service soft skills, here’s what to master:

Communication skills

Nearly all (99%) service professionals say that communication skills are very or somewhat important. To make sure you’re hitting a high note during every interaction, be sure to:

  • Nail the basics. Use clear, straightforward language. Stay focused on the customer throughout the conversation. You can use technology to help. For example, review important customer data, such as order history and past cases, in your service console. This helps you stay focused on the customer, rather than becoming distracted by scribbling notes or toggling between different systems for answers. If you need more guidance, view the prompts in your knowledge articles with recommended language.
  • Keep every interaction positive. Sometimes a customer is angry or feeling defeated. Approach every engagement with an open mind. Always steer the conversation toward a positive outcome. Acknowledge the customer’s concerns. Always thank them for their patience, understanding, and continued loyalty.
  • Lean into the power of persuasion. Persuasive communication techniques turn problems into solutions. One way to hone this skill is to conduct role-playing exercises with fellow agents. Share ideas on how to deliver a respectful point of view. As a bonus, mastering persuasion can help you cross-sell and upsell customers.

Active listening

No one likes to repeat themselves, least of all frustrated customers. Active listening helps you stay present in the moment and determine the root cause of a problem. In fact, 71% of service professionals say listening skills are very important.

To improve your listening abilities, remember to take time to understand the customer’s issue. Show attentiveness. Give them space to finish voicing their concerns and avoid cutting them off mid-sentence. Rephrase their issue in your own words and repeat it back for confirmation. Doing this assures the customer that you hear them — and want to do everything you can to help.

Empathy

Demonstrating empathy is an essential customer service representative skill. Put empathy into practice by applying emotions to problem-solving techniques. Use phrases like, “I understand how you feel” and “I’m sorry you are dealing with this” while offering a solution and next steps. This will build trust with the customer.

Adaptability

Every agent must be able to adapt to change. In fact, 62% of service professionals say adaptability is very important.

While it’s a good rule of thumb to follow call center prompts, use them as a guide rather than as word-for-word scripts. Sometimes a conversation requires you to improvise based on the customer’s personality. Listen carefully to the customer’s language and note how they express themselves in order to communicate in a way that resonates with them.

Let contact center managers know if you need further training on adaptability. Of course, also keep managers in the loop if you need to escalate an issue.

Time management

Time is of the essence in customer service. Yet, 63% of agents say it’s difficult to balance speed and quality.

Set realistic goals with contact center managers upfront. Make sure you are clear on important metrics — whether that’s first-call resolution or customer satisfaction scores. Then you will know if it’s more important to stay on the line and resolve the issue or to quickly escalate the case and move on to the next one.

Hard customer service skills

When customers know they are talking with a knowledgeable agent, they feel they are in good hands. This builds trust and leads to loyalty. Technology can help you attain product knowledge more rapidly because it makes key information easily accessible. Technology also gives you the ability to collaborate with seasoned, knowledgeable colleagues in real time.

To sharpen your customer service skills in this area, consider the following:

Product knowledge

Seventy-six percent of service professionals on high-performing teams rate their team’s product knowledge skills as advanced. Study your company’s protocols, products, and services. Shadow experienced agents. Ask about learning opportunities to expand your knowledge. Don’t be afraid to admit when you don’t know something, even if it’s during a client interaction, so that you can escalate it to a qualified agent.

Digital literacy

Agents handle a variety of synchronous and asynchronous engagement channels. Learn the proper etiquette for each type of channel. For example, text messages are more informal and agents can use emojis, while email communication should include full sentences. Continuously learn about new and emerging platforms and the appropriate communication styles for each of them.

Technical expertise

Take training courses on the basics of your service console as well as any new features added to it. Use digital collaboration tools to work with colleagues in real time to reach a resolution faster. Stay vocal on what parts of your technology are hindering your success and offer ideas for improvement so managers can help elevate your skills and your team.

Master your customer service skills

The biggest takeaway for agents is to demonstrate patience and self-control. Try not to take matters personally. When you don’t have an answer, own up to it and ask for help. Exhibit a continued willingness to learn. This will not only help your customer interactions, it will help you advance your career.

While your organization should provide you with the tools and training to develop good customer service skills, personal accountability is key. Agents who want to further build their skill sets can do so for free on Salesforce’s learning platform: Trailhead.

 

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