A beginner’s guide to customer service skills

In this detailed guide, we’ll cover the most important customer service skills for your agents to acquire, including communication and organizational skills, as well as subject matter expertise and the tools you need to enhance customer service skills and support your agents in providing the best customer support they can.

Customer service is your team’s chance to make an impression. Whether it’s good or bad, your customer will remember, so it’s essential to ensure your agents have the customer service skills they need to do it right. Keep reading as we dive into the details of which customer support skills to look for in an agent as you hire and train them, and the tools they’ll need along the way.

What are the skills that make an excellent customer service representative?

Every customer-facing employee must possess and develop specific customer service skills to be a successful customer service representative. Without those skills, your organization risks providing poor customer service and losing customers—and revenue—as a result.

The top skills necessary to provide high-quality customer service—which are discussed in detail below—include:

Read on for details on each of the most-needed customer service skills to master the role.

WHAT ARE THE MOST IMPORTANT CUSTOMER SERVICE SKILLS?

The most important customer service skills cover a range of abilities, from being able to communicate clearly, to organizing work efficiently, and beyond. Some skills are possible to develop as an individual, while others can be aided by using the proper tools along the way. We’ve covered the five main skill sets to focus on and develop in order to provide the best customer service to your customers.

Communication skills

Communication skills are required to be an effective, successful customer service agent. Communication involves both listening to customers to understand what they are saying and providing information to customers clearly and effectively. When working in customer service, an agent will need to understand how to adjust their own communication style depending on which medium of communication the customer is using. The kind of service one may provide through email won’t be identical to the customer service done over the phone or on social media accounts.

To be a customer service agent with the best communication skills, one must possess the following:

To dive into the details of each skill as it relates to customer service, read on:

Top-notch listening skills

To truly help a customer in need, an agent must listen carefully and accurately understand what they’re asking. Confused customers are often frustrated and unaware of the precise issue or correct terminology to describe the problem, so a customer service agent must hear what they’re describing and interpret the meaning as needed. With experience an agent will become aware of the language customers tend to use to describe certain pieces of their product, even if the wording isn’t technically correct. An agent must develop the ability to accurately interpret customer queries, no matter the wording.

Patience

When a customer reaches out, there’s a decent chance they’re already frustrated. Whether they’re contacting your team to report a problem or ask how to perform a specific action, the customer service agent must remain patient and open to working with the customer. Patience particularly comes in handy when interacting with customers with a low level of skill in regards to the product. When a person hasn’t used your product much yet, or has a generally low computer literacy, they’ll need patience and clear guidance to be successful.

Empathy

When working with customers, it’s important that an agent is able to empathize with them. Empathy is the ability to understand where a customer is coming from, and share in their feelings. If a customer service representative communicates in a way that feels dismissive or uncaring, the customer will notice and their frustration will increase. Feeling dismissed or being made to feel slow for not understanding something is a sure way for a customer’s dissatisfaction with your product or service to increase. By showing empathy, an agent can create a sense of being a part of a team working together to solve a problem, rather than acting as adversaries working against each other.

Ability to manage difficult conversations

Anyone who has worked in customer service knows not every conversation is going to go well. Many times a customer only reaches out when there is a problem. Because of this, a customer service agent must be able to handle tough conversations well. Whether they’re dealing with an angry user or have to let a customer know they can’t do what the customer wants, knowing the right words to use when trying to reassure a frustrated customer is vital. An agent must be able to remain calm to avoid being swept up into an emotional conversation and stick to providing the best customer service they can provide.

Beyond staying calm, customer service agents should also develop a plan and skills around how to say no and share bad news effectively, as well as how to handle a conversation when a customer seems intent on ranting rather than solving the problem.

Organizational skills

Beyond communication skills, a customer service representative must be organized. From keeping track of the necessary information and tools to being able to help every customer in need, there are a lot of pieces involved in providing high-quality customer service. An agent must have a strategy for tracking every aspect of customer issues and each interaction, and be detail-oriented in their approach to finding resolutions. They must also be able to distribute resources and identify potential improvements to process to take care of tasks as quickly as possible, while maintaining quality. Every aspect of organization in customer service must be shaped around the goal of achieving customer satisfaction every time.

Customer service requires working directly with customers in a way that balances time spent actually in contact with them with efficiency. No one (customer or agent) wants to spend more time than necessary in a live chat with support, so it's important to take care of the task at hand with accuracy and speed. Don’t leave a customer waiting or spend too much time on small talk when you’re able to share the solution with them instead.

And beyond direct contact with customers, there are many other parts to working in customer service. A successful agent will need to handle internal tasks in a timely manner, as well as avoid distractions and stay focused. There are many methods for managing it all, but finding the right solution is up to the individual. Some combination of creating systems and routines, developing habits, and continually making adjustments as needed will allow an individual agent to find just the right balance.

Collaboration skills

A customer service agent must be skilled in collaboration to be successful. An agent will collaborate with team members, other departments and customers. When working on any team, it’s necessary to maintain good relationships with colleagues to ensure a positive working environment and keep the focus on the work that needs to be done. And when something goes wrong, the ability to acknowledge mistakes and take ownership of them, while continuing to improve and move forward is essential.

Beyond collaborating with team members, an agent must also collaborate with customers. The ability to communicate with users of your product or service in a way that aligns you both on the same team and allows you to work together to find a solution is key. Instead of remaining on the other side of a problem, learning to team up with customers—to become an advocate—goes a long way in increasing customer satisfaction and finding the best solution for both sides.

In some cases, an agent may also find themselves needing to convince a customer to take a particular path as you work together on a solution. It’s important to overcome resistance to change to keep things moving along, while also finding a satisfying conclusion. Not every question will have the answer a customer is hoping for, so an agent must be prepared for how to handle those situations with ease.

Subject matter expertise

While many customer service skills are pretty universal no matter what product or service one is supporting, becoming an expert on the particular product you’re working on is important. To start, one must have the technical know-how to understand and solve complex issues. The best customer-facing agents on your team will have in-depth knowledge of how your product or service works. When an agent doesn't know the product from top to bottom, they won't know the best way to help a customer when they run into a problem. Even when a product changes causing an agent to not know an answer immediately, their overall knowledge will contribute to their ability to troubleshoot effectively. While it's not necessary for a customer service agent to be able to build the product, they should be able to use it effectively as a customer.

Once an agent has a firm understanding of the product, they can move beyond using it and assisting customers in using it, but can also strategize and apply insights gained in customer support to future decisions. The ability to quickly pick up new technologies and adjust to changes within the product as they happen is key too. Once an agent fully understands a product and knows it well, they can work on improving their problem-solving skills and how best to help customers. While one method of assistance may work well enough, with knowledge comes the ability to look for an even better option to continuously improve your craft.

Workload management

Managing the workload is an essential customer service skill for any agent. There are many pieces to the work, with constant deadlines and benchmarks to meet. Any customer service agent looking to improve their workload management skills should focus on the following areas:

Tools to Enhance Customer Service Skills

Customer service can be provided in many ways, including in a simple email inbox or in the mentions of a Twitter account. However, when any organization has a team of people working in customer service or a workload beyond a few questions here and there, finding the right tools to provide effective, high-quality customer service becomes a necessity. With the proper tools and tracking, your customer service team will not only perform better, but can also set goals and track their progress to reaching them too.

Spreadsheets

For a simple, low-cost option, use a spreadsheet. Since spreadsheets allow for inputting and calculating data, once you identify what you’d like to track, you can do it manually in spreadsheet software, like Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets. Use an online form to collect data or organize previously collected information and feed into a spreadsheet to analyze and create workflows to improve customer service skills and relations with customers. Your team may quickly outgrow this method though, so keep in mind that you will likely need to upgrade to a more robust customer support tool in the near future.

Customer Relationship Management Tool

CRM tool is for managing a company’s relationships and interactions with customers and potential customers. It’s meant to understand the relationships better to allow for improving business relationships. CRM refers to the strategies, technologies, and practices an organization uses to manage customer interactions and data throughout the customer lifecycle. If you use Freshdesk, check out the CRMs that integrate with it to choose the best one for your workflow.

Knowledge Management Tool

As you create documentation, you’ll need a place to store it. A knowledge management tool is a great option for organizing internal information, including:

Internal knowledge base

Every product or service requires internal documentation for team members to review and access regularly. Create a one-stop destination for storing all of the details your agents may need as they assist customers, keep track of changes, and stay on top of internal policies and plans.

Onboarding information for new employees

Every new employee needs to be onboarded, and being organized about it will set them up for success. Use a knowledge management tool to create a guide for new employees to go through and learn about the organization they’ve just joined, as well as specific details about their new position. This is a fantastic spot to include company policies, helpful tips, and a directory of who to reach out to for help.

Training materials

When a new customer service agent is hired, they’ll need to be trained in your product, the tools your team uses, and more. In support, training is an ongoing project for every customer service professional, as there is always something new to learn or a way to improve a specific customer service skill. By creating a space to store all of your training, you’ll make it easier for your team to complete it and track their progress throughout their tenure.

Subject matter expertise

While many customer service skills are pretty universal no matter what product or service one is supporting, becoming an expert on the particular product you’re working on is important. To start, one must have the technical know-how to understand and solve complex issues. The best customer-facing agents on your team will have in-depth knowledge of how your product or service works. When an agent doesn't know the product from top to bottom, they won't know the best way to help a customer when they run into a problem. Even when a product changes causing an agent to not know an answer immediately, their overall knowledge will contribute to their ability to troubleshoot effectively. While it's not necessary for a customer service agent to be able to build the product, they should be able to use it effectively as a customer.

Once an agent has a firm understanding of the product, they can move beyond using it and assisting customers in using it, but can also strategize and apply insights gained in customer support to future decisions. The ability to quickly pick up new technologies and adjust to changes within the product as they happen is key too. Once an agent fully understands a product and knows it well, they can work on improving their problem-solving skills and how best to help customers. While one method of assistance may work well enough, with knowledge comes the ability to look for an even better option to continuously improve your craft.

Single Database for Customer Context

Take your multichannel customer service setup and combine it all into one unified space with a helpdesk. By managing emails, live chat, website contacts, calls, social media replies, and more in one single database, your team is able to provide customer support while being fully aware of the context in which the question is being asked. When a customer emails you, knowing that they’ve previously reached out through chat is essential to providing the service they need and avoid frustrating customers unnecessarily. No one wants to repeat the same question over and over, so don’t make your customers do that with each new contact. With conversations all together in a helpdesk, agents can also follow up as needed and keep track of ongoing conversations without dropping the ball on helping a customer in need.

Automation of Repetitive Tasks

If your team spends time on repetitive tasks, why not see if your helpdesk tool can automate them? When looking for things to automate, consider tasks like sorting tickets into queues, tagging tickets, assigning tickets agents based on content or source they originated, or even by priority based on a customer’s account details. Furthermore, setting up automations for following up on open tickets after a set period of time may be especially useful too, as it will help avoid making customers feel forgotten. By using automations to manage ticket statuses and send out notifications, your team can make sure a customer doesn’t slip through the cracks and end up extra frustrated. Any tasks your helpdesk can consistently and quietly handle will free up your agents to spend time on the trickier issues that require a human. While they require some work up front to get them working well, the investment is worth it.

Collaboration Features for Internal Communication

Beyond communicating with customers, help desk software creates a space for teammates to work together too. Any helpdesk your team uses should include features for communicating about customer issues right inside the tool, instead of having to leave it and send a message from elsewhere. The ability to tag in a team member to assist on a ticket or take it over completely is a great feature to look for too. Furthermore, in some cases, an agent may need help from a colleague to find the best solution for a customer, while continuing to be the agent in charge of the ticket. A tool that allows them to share the details with a teammate but retain ownership would be just right.

Creation and Organization of Canned Responses

Using a helpdesk is a way to maintain consistency across answers provided by customer service agents. Your team can create a batch of canned responses for frequently asked questions, and each team member can access them when replying to tickets anytime. Even when a reply may require some account-specific details, creating a canned response that has the basic information and includes the areas available for customization is a big timesaver. Many helpdesk tools handle simple customization, like inserting a customer name, automatically, and agents can further customize as needed.

Agent Collision Detection

Unlike having customer service agents all working together in one email inbox and risking overlapping in an email reply, a helpdesk ticketing system gives them room to breathe. It will detect when an agent is in a particular ticket, allow agents to assign a ticket to themselves or another agent, and let other agents know when a ticket is already being worked on too. Avoiding duplicate responses or having two agents spend time trying to answer one question is a simple way to make your team more efficient and organized.

Skill based resources for Customer Service Representatives

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Skill based course

How to say no to customers in customer service

 
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Skill based course

Six tips to write
good support emails

 
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SKILL BASED COURSE

Five ingredients of exceptional support emails

 
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SKILL BASED COURSE

Seven deadly sins of customer support

 
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How to deal with difficult customers

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Seven ways to communicate customer feedback