Essential Customer Service Skills
Skills every customer service operator needs
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5 Essential Customer Service Skills

Want to know which skills make great customer service advisors? Look no further.

June 5th, 2017

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Emma Martins



As customers move over to online channels, the skills needed to provide outstanding customer service have evolved. On top of the old-standards, advisors now need to be able to communicate effectively during fast-paced live chat interactions.

Over social media, the importance of replying with empathy and clarity is greater since there’s always the possibility of any below-the-mark responses going viral. And, to be able to put the cherry on the CS cake, advisors must be happy and friendly people.

Here’s our comprehensive list of the most essential CS skills an operator can have.

1. Communication and language

The ability to use language correctly and clearly is at the top of our list for some very good reasons. Good communication is paramount in a career that requires you to answer questions and solve grievances. If an operator’s understanding of the language being used is not exceptional, they may run into all kinds of problems.

From being able to decipher more complicated grammar or words to interpreting dialects and internet slang, an operator has to be able to do it all. At FM, this is one of the key skills that we look for in all our operators. But that’s just the obvious part of having good communication skills. Advisors should also be able to employ language in different ways. An operator should be able to phrase any problem or apology in the most positive light.

It’s the difference between saying “I’m sorry, we don’t have that item until next week” and “we’ll have that item in next Saturday; would you like to place the order with me now?”. The outcome is the same but the subtle changes in language can make a huge difference to a customer’s reaction.

2. Multitasking

Multitasking is useful for CS on any channel. If your company predominantly uses telephony, an operator should be able to listen to a customer and look up details of their problem at the same time. 

Multitasking is vital for great CS

They might need to track an order or send a query to the delivery company; interrupting a customer to do that is simply not good form.

For digital channels, an operator needs to track multiple interactions at once. We’ve found that ideal chat concurrency is 4 - 5

This number produces the perfect balance between productivity and quality of service. Our operators should be able to help 5 different people at once, about 5 different issues.

That might sound like a lot but to an advisor with fantastic multitasking skills, this is a breeze. 

3. Honesty and humility

Honesty might seem a little obvious, not even a skill at all. But, trust us, it’s important to keep in mind. Customers want results faster than ever before. And, with the pressure on to deliver, things can sometimes go wrong.

We’ve all suffered a lost order, a broken item, or a website malfunction. But it’s these instances that can be a real test for any CS advisor.

When something does go wrong, it’s important for the advisor to admit their mistakes. A customer doesn’t want to be told that there’s nothing that can be done or that the problem is theirs. They want to hear the truth and, often, a simple, sincere apology can do wonders for soothing an issue.

If a customer is especially angry, it can sometimes be difficult to keep calm and show humility, especially if it isn't the advisor's fault. But that kind of composure is what makes a truly fantastic employee. 

This is especially true for smaller companies. If your company doesn’t have a particularly large client base, the last thing you want is an advisor who can’t keep their cool and who isn’t very good at offering any apology. With a reputation that is still in the making, it’s crucial to have expert CS operators on your side.

Exceptional language skills are top our list during recruitment

4. Patience

And this is where patience comes into the equation. Although an advisor may not have to be apologising 24/7, they will have their patience tested throughout their working day. It isn't unheard of for customers to yell at operators, to insult them, or even to start making demands. So an operator has to be able to keep their cool in the most pressing of situations.

Being kind, being polite and, above all else, being patient are the ways to go. Allowing a customer to vent their emotions can really help; sometimes all they want is to be heard. Advisors should be able to think before speaking and never rise to any emotions that might cloud their judgement.

An advisor who is able to stop, listen/read and then come to an unbiased and fair solution is absolutely at the top of their game.

It’s also important to never rush a customer to a resolution when they’re not ready for one. Although finding solutions is what CS is all about, rushing a customer can often have a negative impact. This is especially true in the age of the digital customer experience (CX). If a customer is venting on social media, where everyone can see it and your responses, trying to stop them before they’re finished voicing their complaint could easily just anger them more. (Remember: sometimes a complaint can span over more than one comment/tweet!)

If you want to achieve good social customer service, make sure your advisors hear customers out and then offer them the best possible solution, in the most professional and patient way. 

5. Socialness and empathy

At the end of the day, everything else ties into these two CS skills. In an ideal world, operators should be friendly, happy, and ready to welcome each new day. But we all know that most of us don’t even know what day it is until we’ve had our morning coffee. But that’s okay because socialness and empathy is about more than just being a nice person.

CS operators should be comfortable talking to others. They should be confident in a group and be willing to talk and voice their own ideas and opinions. In fact, that’s just one of the ways we at FM like to interview our potential operators – by putting them in a group and seeing who shines.

Of course, this can come naturally to some people. But for a lot of us, confidence is something we gain over time. This confidence in social interactions is key for great customer service.

Even if an operator is having a bad day, their confidence should allow them to act the part.

empathy makes customer service interactions truly fantastic

A customer should always feel welcomed and appreciated, regardless of how the operator is feeling. Of course, we’re not saying that operators’ feelings don’t matter – they’re actually incredibly important when building a good CS team – but they shouldn’t mire the experience of your customers. If an operator is able to work, their “happy” switch should be on in every interaction.

Add a good dose of empathy to that and you have a truly intuitive CS advisor. Advisors with good empathy skills can 'read' a customer. They can tell what they’re feeling and why. They can use this information to switch up their tactics. Perhaps they need to change the solution they’re offering, maybe pass the interaction to a supervisor, or even use those language skills we were talking about earlier and change the way they’re talking to the customer.

Empathy is so incredibly important in a role that involves working with people daily. It’s even more important over digital channels. It’s not particularly difficult to hear when a customer is angry over the phone, but figuring it out through a 140 character tweet is a true skill.

So, there’s our 5 most essential customer service skills. Of course, there are tons of skills that a good operator needs to do their job to perfection. We try to make sure our operators have them all. If you think we ought to talk about another one, tell us about it on Facebook or Twitter. Alternatively, if you’re interested in working with a digitally-focused team that have all the skills to give your company that boost you’ve been looking for, send us a message.

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