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A detailed guide that covers the most important customer service skills for agents to build, including superior communication skills, subject matter expertise, and problem-solving skills. We’ve also covered a few helpful tips that you can use to enhance your customer service skills and provide the best customer support possible.
Call them a customer happiness agent or a technical support specialist, or even a support hero. Customer service agents with the right mix of customer service skills make customers feel empowered and confident to use your products and services.
While you might point to empathy and communication as the key customer support skills to be mastered, there’s more. Maintaining a friendly demeanor and the ability to break down product or service knowledge into simple, customer-friendly terms are equally vital for you to become an expert in customer service.
No wonder we often refer to customer service representatives as rockstars!
Keep reading as we dive into the common customer service skills that businesses look for while recruiting a customer support agent. This guide will also come in handy for customer service managers looking to hire, train, and build a team of stellar customer service reps.
To make it easy for you to navigate through this guide, we’ve listed the sections covered here -
- What is customer service?
- Why is customer service important?
- 4 key aspects of good customer service
- What are the skills that make you an excellent customer service representative?
Top-notch communication skills
Problem-solving should be your forte
Outstanding collaboration skills
A generous helping of product knowledge
Respect for everyone’s time - even your own
Intentional and active listening
Empathetic negotiation skills
- 5 traits that are sure to enhance your customer service skills
Empathy - the linchpin of customer service
Keep feeding your curiosity
Stay teachable. Always.
The act of assisting customers before, during, and after purchasing your organization’s services or products is termed customer service. This assistance could take the form of explaining product features in detail, troubleshooting issues, or just routing the customer to the right department within your organization.
It’s all about being there for your customers when they need your assistance, irrespective of which channel (email/phone/web/social media) they use to contact your organization. Customer service is your brand’s chance to make an impression. Whether it’s good or bad, your customers will remember, so it’s essential to have the adequate skill set to do the job right.
A 2021 CX PWC survey notes that 26% of consumers stick to a brand due to exceptional customer service. In addition to retaining existing customers, being consistently good at customer support heightens brand perception, and it’s hard to keep happy customers quiet.
96% of those satisfied customers don’t just come back to your business; they are also more likely to tell others about your brand, thus bringing in more revenue.
"CX is more important than ever. Delighting customers in meaningful ways is a huge differentiator for businesses today, and will become even more pivotal for success in the years to come." - Chris Vodola, Account Director at Stella Connect in The New CX Mandate survey report.
What sets excellent customer service apart from those mediocre experiences?
An organization can create “wow” moments in customer service and build lasting customer relationships by ensuring that their support strategy -
Every customer-facing employee must possess and develop specific customer service skills to be a successful customer service representative. Without those skills, an organization risks providing poor customer service and losing customers—and revenue—as a result.
WHAT ARE THE MOST IMPORTANT CUSTOMER SERVICE SKILLS?
The most important customer service skills cover the ability to communicate clearly, collaborate efficiently, manage time well, and stay organized. Sound product knowledge and strong problem-solving skills, along with the ability to negotiate and move the issue to closure, are some critical skills that make a great customer service representative. Empathy, patience, resilience, curiosity, and staying ever-coachable are certain personality traits that play to your advantage as a stellar customer support agent.
A must-have in any customer support role is the ability to communicate details in a clear, cohesive, and concise manner. Technical support roles stress this capability more as you’ve got to break down technical jargon and troubleshooting steps into plain, layman terms.
While historically, this would have been clearly communicated over the phone, customers are now asking their questions over chat, email, and social media (you can no longer ignore angry Tweets!). To customer service reps, this translates to understanding the communication style in a particular channel and mimicking a similar form of writing.
Writing emails, chat replies, or comments on social media posts would take up a significant chunk of your job as a customer service agent, which calls for substantial writing skills. Typing crisp, helpful, and error-free responses strengthen the trust in customer conversations.
Being genuine and using positive language while communicating are sure to create memorable customer experiences. Leslie O'Flahavan, the owner of online writing training service providers - E-write, helps organizations improve the quality of customer service responses through structured writing courses. Here’s an example she shares for closing customer interactions with a personal touch -
Customer service writing tip by Leslie O'Flahavan
To further simplify the writing process, customer support tools offer the magic wand of canned responses. Your team can create a batch of responses for frequently asked questions and even automate first-name personalization with one click. Each team member can then access these templates when replying to tickets anytime. You can further customize the templates to make your replies more contextual.
Creating canned responses in Freshdesk
As a customer service professional, it’s important to hone your reasoning and analytical skills so you can easily and quickly identify the root cause of any customer issue. This critical thinking is needed to retrace a couple of steps from the customer’s perspective and figure out how or why the problem arose in the first place.
Problem-solving involves acknowledging the problem at hand, taking a step back and probing for all feasible ways to solve it, and then choosing the most appropriate solution to fulfill your customer's needs. Instead of picking the most complex or long-drawn solution, smart problem-solving skills allow you to identify the simplest of all possible solutions quickly.
A proactive measure would be to carefully document the tested-out solution, which would aid fellow agents who work on similar issues.
It’s also relevant to note that aside from good communication skills, companies are looking for customer service representatives with solid problem-solving skills who can analyze their internal processes, and suggest improvements to the customer experience they currently offer.
Great customer service has effective collaboration as one of the foundational pillars. When you roll up your sleeves and find ways to work seamlessly with any team, you can quickly prioritize and solve customers’ issues while saving precious time and effort.
Customer service agents have to exhibit their collaboration skills on two levels:
With the customers - As you interact with customers to troubleshoot their issues, you should lead the experience to ensure there is complete clarity between the customer and you regarding the issue, which allows you to work together in finding a solution. 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.
With colleagues and other departments - Though the customer may see you as the face of the brand sorting their problems, there might be other teams - like the sales or finance department - with whom you’ll have to liaise and find a solution.
For instance, if you’re a billing customer support specialist, you might have to reach out to the payment department for a customer’s billing details. Maintaining good relationships with colleagues creates a positive working environment, ensuring faster resolution times and happier customers.
One of the best ways to avoid repeating context and instructions to every team helping you solve a ticket and save countless hours is by investing in a service helpdesk. A robust helpdesk software creates a space for teammates to work together, allowing you to transfer information about customer issues right inside the tool or even invite external stakeholders into the ticket to assist you with updates or subject matter expertise.
Internal collaboration made easy with Freshdesk Collaborators
To succeed in a customer support role, it’s absolutely critical to know the ins and outs of the product or service that your company sells. A good grasp of the product and a greater understanding of the business domain will give you a better context of the customer’s problems and give you the confidence to hunt for the right solution.
Technical support specialists need deeper product knowledge to diagnose and solve complex user issues. To provide a stellar customer experience, Stripe, the popular online payment infrastructure provider, expects support specialists to become experts in all their products.
Stripe product support specialist job description
However, it might be difficult to stay updated on all customer policies, especially if there are multiple product lines, or the company serves customers from various geographies. In this case, you can always access your company’s internal knowledge base and look up solution articles for better assistance.
Every product or service requires internal documentation for team members to review and access regularly. You can 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, plans, and product features.
No one — either customer or agent —wants to spend more time than necessary in a live chat or phone call with support. That’s why it’s so important to have good time management skills to take care of the task at hand with accuracy and speed.
Good organization skills and prioritization of tasks are ways to be systematic and handle customer queries without violating Service-Level Agreements(SLAs). There will be plenty of simple customer queries that’ll have quick fixes versus a couple of complex ones that might require deeper analysis. Deciding which one to choose first and focusing on channeling your efforts judiciously is a valuable skill to be picked up.
“ When it comes to customer support, it’s all about prioritizing tasks. You need to be aware of SLAs, escalations, urgency, and impact of issues to rightly take the call on which customer query you’ll spend time on next.” - Andrew Navin, Director of Customer Support at Freshdesk.
Extensive self-service options that bring down average ticket handling time for agents and smart automation of repetitive tasks, free up customer support specialists to tackle trickier human interactions. Automation can come in handy for sorting tickets into queues, prioritizing tickets based on urgency or customer account details, tagging and assigning tickets agents based on content or source they originated.
Timely reminders, notifications, and alerts help you and your team stay on track and not miss out on any customer questions and user issues.
Automated priority-based ticket assignment in Freshdesk
Closely linked with clear communication, customer service representatives are expected to hone their listening skills to decode what customers want and truly help them.
Active listening involves observing the customer’s tone and choice of words instead of just focusing on the words in emails to understand what they’re asking for accurately. With experience, an agent will become aware of the language customers tend to use to describe certain pieces of their product, even if the description isn’t technically correct or easy to understand.
Note-taking is one way to nurture attentiveness and stay focused in any conversation with a customer. While handling numerous tickets back-to-back, writing down important points helps in being attentive and breaks the monotony. Even if you don’t have a notepad next to you, advanced helpdesk tools have the feature of adding notes right within the ticket.
Often seen as an essential skill for sales professionals, being persuasive and assertive about the solutions you offer without offending customers requires adept negotiation skills.
You may even have to negotiate on an everyday basis when customers come with different requests that might require extensive customization and elaborate workflows but drive minimal value to both the customer and your business. The art of persuasion then helps you find the optimal solution that neither hurts customer sentiments nor cuts into your company margins.
You can take the “assertive pacifism” approach when you respond to aggressive customers, as highlighted in an HBR article. In a nutshell, this approach involves refusing to fight with a customer without them taking advantage of you and drawing them into a creative partnership to find innovative solutions.
Now that you know the key skills required to excel in customer service, a few personality traits could act in your favor while building a career in customer service.
A core trait for any professional in the customer service, support, or customer experience function is to view the situation from a customer’s eyes and relate to how a customer feels in the thick of the problem. Your customers can easily smell textbook-style answers and feel ignored when you fail to take a customer-focused approach.
Picture this. The Wifi service provided by your company goes off right when your customer has to make a critical official presentation. Not once but thrice. In this situation, being empathetic means listening actively to the customer’s frustration, acknowledging their pain, and understanding how disruptive the experience must’ve been for them. Instead of defending your product or service, go ahead and start troubleshooting. You're sure to enjoy lasting customer relationships!
Having more information and context about the customers by tracking and storing the conversation history would help you get a glimpse of their life with your product, especially when they’ve been using your product or service for a long time.
It can be overwhelming to connect with customers in a range of temperaments. It takes conscious effort to be patient, remain balanced, and tackle every customer interaction with utmost professionalism.
You may be pretty familiar with how your company’s product or service operates. But there’s a fair chance that a frustrated customer on the other end is trying out your product for the first time and is running into issues that seem like a no-brainer to you. It then takes a few deep breaths and practiced patience to be willing to work with the customer and assist them step by step, being consciously aware that their product knowledge is minimal.
Exercising self-control, exhibiting a positive attitude, and staying calm are good customer service skills that help you provide the right solutions and give the best customer service in the long run.
Your patience may be tested, especially while involving angry customers or users who’ve got to take a no for what they demand. Customer service representatives must learn to handle tough conversations well and try to deescalate such situations.
Another big-time life skill. How quickly can you bounce back after a setback?
What do you do after a difficult and draining experience with a customer? Can you take a deep breath, consciously decide not to take the attack personally, and carry on with the next customer who has no clue about your previous interactions but anxiously awaits your assistance?
Resilience - an admirable quality that can significantly influence your approach to customer service. Being highly self-motivated and resilient despite the negativity you’re bound to face frequently while handling angry customers or frustrated users, equips you to build an outstanding career in customer support.
On average, it takes 40 long minutes for a customer support agent to rebound after a rough call, and customer service expert - Shep Hyken notes how the best agents are the ones who move on quickly.
“That’s what resilience is. You don’t have to have a short memory, but you have to be able and willing to put negative emotions behind you and move on. That’s what the best do in customer service, on the athletic field, and for that matter, in life.” - Shep Hyken, Customer service expert, Keynote speaker, and New York Times bestselling business author.
Although a well-thought-out customer support strategy would already be in place at the organization you work in, there’s always room for improvement. Being curious and asking questions on why things work the way it does in your team, amongst departments, and in the company as a whole, will help you see how customer service - and the job you do every day - fits into the bigger picture.
And once you understand what makes the business tick, your questions will lead to impactful solutions that optimize internal processes and help your business grow by providing rich customer service experiences.
Jo Causon, CEO at the Institute of Customer Service, reiterates that the quality of being curious is vital to be truly successful in customer service management and shares three more insightful tips to be a leader in the customer service space.
Jo causon's tips on being successful in customer service
Like all customer-facing roles, customer service is a highly dynamic field, given the rapid changes in customer behavior and the surge in customer touchpoints. When new digital channels enter and consumers interact with brands in novel ways, the customer support arm should stay in pace for a seamless and customer-centric brand experience.
You don’t have to be a know-it-all. But having an open mind to explore customer engagement on different platforms and adapt accordingly is a true asset for any customer service representative.
There’s a whole range of customer service and support software and tools available in the market to automate, simplify, and empower your team to perform better. With a coachable spirit, customer service agents can take the help of the software’s support articles and tutorials to master the tools and use them to their advantage.
Now that you know the essential customer service skills and likable traits, it’s time to sharpen those skills and cultivate the qualities that would make you stand out in the next job for a customer support role or equip you to shine brighter at your current stint.
Investing in agent well-being and training them on these crucial skills will not only elevate a brand’s customer experience and increase the bottom line but also instill invaluable life skills in customer service professionals.
Six tips to write
good support emails
Five ingredients of exceptional support emails
Seven deadly sins of customer support
Seven ways to communicate customer feedback
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