The Most Important Customer Service Skills (With Examples)

By Chris Kolmar - Mar. 18, 2021

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Attracting new customers is a critical component of any business. But retaining existing customers is equally important. Having a strong customer service team can make or break a company’s reputation and retention rate.

Working in customer service is not for the faint of heart. Whether these employees are stationed in an office or servicing customers remotely from their homes, they are on the front lines taking fire on any and all issues upset customers are experiencing.

They are the voice of the company representing the business’s values and commitment to quality. They are salespeople and negotiators, but most importantly, they are problem solvers, even when they leave the profession and bring their skills elsewhere.

When a company takes the time, effort, and investment to ensure its customer service department is an all-star team, the benefits will quickly become apparent, including.

  • Higher customer retention rates

  • Improved customer lifetime value

  • Word-of-mouth marketing and referrals

  • More positive customer reviews and fewer negative reviews

  • Upsells to increase total order value

  • Confident and enthusiastic brand advocates

These benefits aren’t just good for the company’s image; they’re also going to affect profits.

A smart employer recognizes that developing the right skills goes even further beyond equipping a CX team, which includes customer service agents, customer service representatives, implementation specialists, customer relationship managers, etc.

When these soft skills are applied across all departments, the benefits can mean extraordinary growth and development.

What Are Soft Skills?

Soft skills are non-technical interpersonal skills. They’re a variable blend of personality, work ethics, morals, people skills, social skills, character traits, attitudes, social and emotional intelligence, empathy, communication skills, and temperaments, among others.

Soft skills affect everything from performance, drive, and engagement to teammate compatibility and the ability to work well with others. Without good soft skills, an employee isn’t going to be successful at a job.

Hard skills, on the other hand, are the technical expertise you’ve learned through courses, training, and direct experience. Examples include knowledge of specific software and programs, web design, social media marketing, SEO analysis, and the list goes on and on.

While many job seekers don’t hesitate to add every hard skill they can think of to the resume, soft skills are often overlooked even though they can be equally important. There’s room for both on your resume, and you may even discover that your greatest strengths may actually be soft skills that enable you to work well with other people.

Essential Customer Service Skills

The best employees working in a customer service capacity have mastery over basic clerical skills as well as these transferable soft skills:

  • Empathy. The ability to understand and relate to customers and coworkers and to form an emotional bond. Empathetic people genuinely care about those around them, even strangers, and this allows them to create a good rapport with customers.

  • Clear communication. To explain a solution in an easy, concise way that isn’t filled with confusing technical jargon or irrelevant side notes. Clear communicators don’t mumble; they speak loudly enough and slowly enough while enunciating their words to ensure their message is conveyed.

    In addition to communicating with customers, team members must also be able to relay information back to other departments within the company, such as alerting the product team to a faulty component that’s causing an abnormal amount of complaints.

  • Product knowledge. A thorough and up-to-date understanding of the product, its function, its limits, how it works, what kinds of issues it’s prone to having and how to fix them, which models have been discontinued or on sale, which models are new, construction materials, safety precautions, and any other pertinent information depending on the product.

    Customers are quick to become annoyed when speaking to a representative who can’t help because he or she either isn’t familiar with the product or, even worse, provides incorrect information about it.

    Effective customer service reps are able to learn and retain the necessary knowledge and know when to reach out to a superior or colleague on the product team for more information.

  • Problem-solving skills. The process of identifying the problem, considering the potential solutions, selecting the best solution and implementing it, then analyzing to determine if the solution resolved the issue.

    In the fast-paced world of customer service, representatives must naturally be quick thinkers since there isn’t time to mull over the problem or brainstorm with the team.

  • Patience. The ability to remain calm and composed in any tense situation, whether a customer is screaming into the phone or hopelessly confused trying to troubleshoot an issue.

    An employee with an abundance of patience will be able to speak with a cool, level voice, brush off any insults, and remain focused on solving the problem at hand without letting any frustration show.

  • Positive attitude. The trait of maintaining an optimistic mindset even in the face of adversity. This can be incredibly difficult for some people when they’re bombarded nonstop with negativity from unhappy customers, but the customer service agents who are able to keep smiling and stay positive will see much more success at their work.

  • Positive language. The practice of focusing on a positive outcome without mentioning the negative. For example, if a customer calls wanting to order an out-of-stock item, a normal reply would be, “I’m so sorry, but we don’t have any in stock. You won’t be able to order it for at least another three weeks.”

    In contrast, a customer service representative using positive language might say, “That product is expected to arrive within the next three weeks. I can add your email address to receive an automatic notification as soon as it’s in stock, and then you can either place your order online or give us a call back and we’ll be happy to place it over the phone for you.”

    By circumventing the negative issue and focusing on the solution, the rep is often able to resolve the problem before the customer fully realizes there is one.

  • Listening skills. The ability to stay focused, be attentive, ask questions, refrain from interrupting, repeat key facts, write down important facts, and never make assumptions when listening to someone describe an issue.

    Even though customer service reps often hear the same question repeated over and over every day, they know that every case is unique, and for each customer, this is a novel occurrence.

  • Willingness to go the extra mile. The step above and beyond what is expected in order to provide the wow factor. That is, the customer is so well cared for that he or she can’t help but say, “wow.” This level of dedication can turn a one-time customer into a lifetime customer.

  • Personal responsibility. A critical trait in any capacity, but especially important in customer service to show accountability. Owning up to a mistake and then searching for ways to resolve the problem and turn it into a positive can be powerful enough to convert a dissatisfied customer into a brand ambassador.

  • Confidence. The demonstration of knowledge and credibility that makes a customer feel a sense of trust. Employees who exude confidence have an authoritative demeanor that gives the impression they’re experts, even if they aren’t.

  • Tenacity. The resilience to not only stick with a problem until it’s resolved, no matter how long or how many extra measures that takes, but also to maintain a calm, positive demeanor despite the endless problems, complications, and angry customers throughout the day.

    It’s the ability to arrive at work in a cheerful, let’s-do-this mood, handle an endless stream of negativity, and still leave work with a smile at the end of the day.

  • Authenticity. The desire to make an empathetic connection and help someone solve a problem, not just fill a quota or waste time until the 5 o’clock punch-out. An authentic employee genuinely enjoys their job and wants to help other people.

  • Adaptability. The ability to go off-script and tailor solutions to individual problems. This trait is closely tied to problem-solving, and it’s one that most good leaders possess. Adapting to various situations is a key quality for success in just about any field.

  • Attentiveness. A dedication to quality over quantity and giving customers undivided attention so they feel like they matter.

    You no doubt have experienced the frustration of trying to talk to someone while they were texting; no eye contact, only occasional head nods and grunts, the tapping sounds of the digital keyboard only adding to your irritation. You felt second-rate, as if your conversation was less important than the person’s on the other end of the text message.

    An attentive person, by contrast, is engrossed in what you’re saying, and that makes you feel important. You have the spotlight. You have something to say that’s worth paying attention to. This is how every single customer should feel.

  • Desire to learn. An appetite and willingness to undergo continual training and keep expanding one’s knowledge both in and out of the workplace. Lifelong learners do well in many different capacities.

    Lessons can range to just about anything, whether it’s a refresher on the company’s products, a self-improvement class under the guidance of a personal coach, a course to learn a new computer program, a class to learn a new language, etc.

    Those with a strong desire to learn are constantly absorbing new knowledge and using it to better themselves and increase the value of their skillset.

  • Professionalism. The ability to push all personal problems aside and adopt a demeanor suited for work. Professionals are able to focus on the task at hand and leave everything else — money troubles, bad breakups, fights with loved ones, whatever else may be going on in one’s personal life — at the door.

  • Acting ability. The practice of adopting a cheerful, energetic, and compassionate attitude when dealing with customers (and, although to a less extreme extent, fellow colleagues) no matter how tired, bored, or irritated the employee actually is.

    Customers don’t want to talk to a robot speaking in a dull monotone, even if reps are following a script.

  • Quick response time. The ability to respond and adapt to changing situations quickly. Nobody likes to be kept waiting, especially a customer who has already been on hold for a long time. Once they’re finally connected to a representative, a customer expects a speedy resolution.

  • Time management. A crucial skill to ensure that every customer is taken care of in a timely and efficient manner, whether by phone, email, live chat, or in-person visits. No one can be forgotten.

    Successfully juggling various tasks, projects, and deadlines is an important life skill that is crucial in just about any role in any field, as well as in one’s personal life.

    Time management requires proactive analytical skills to know what needs to be done, how long each task is going to take, when each task is due, which tasks need to be prioritized, and which tasks should be delegated to others.

  • Letting go. The ability to brush off criticism and not hold onto a grudge. Customer service agents on the front lines take a lot of fire on a day-to-day basis, including more than their fair share of anger and insults. Customers need to vent, and the representative on the other end of the line is a prime target.

    A good customer service agent knows that it’s nothing personal, even if the insults are. A broken product, an expired warranty, a maxed-out credit card, an unpopular company policy — none of that is the fault of the employee. What the employee is responsible for is their attitude, competence, and ability to resolve the problems they’re presented with.

Final Thoughts

At their core, all of these various traits and skills that make up a strong customer service employee sum up to one common denominator — people. The job is all about connecting with people, understanding their problems, caring about helping them, and dedicating as much time and resources to resolve their issues and make them happy.

For introverts, a job centered around working with people is not the ideal career, but these people skills have a wide application. Working to develop these skills will aid you in your personal life and your professional life as you improve your relationships with family, friends, colleagues, and even the strangers you encounter and interact with in your daily life.

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Author

Chris Kolmar

Chris Kolmar is a co-founder of Zippia and the editor-in-chief of the Zippia career advice blog. He has hired over 50 people in his career, been hired five times, and wants to help you land your next job. His research has been featured on the New York Times, Thrillist, VOX, The Atlantic, and a host of local news. More recently, he's been quoted on USA Today, BusinessInsider, and CNBC.

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