Can you put a price on customer service skills?
There are many studies out there that estimate it costs anywhere between four to seven times more to attract a new customer than it is to keep an existing one.
Whatever price you associate with customer service, it’s valuable to improve your skills and keep your active customers.
In this post, we’ll look at:
- What customer service is
- Why customer service is so important
- 5 soft skills you need to deliver excellent customer service
- 5 hard skills you need to deliver excellent customer service
Learn how to build an effective, digitally focused customer service strategy in this free guide.
What is customer service?
Essentially, the definition of customer service is the help and advice you provide to people who buy or use your products or services.
It’s a combination of both service and skillset—to provide the service, you have to have a team with the right skills.
Here are a few examples of good customer service skills:
- Customer management
- Digital awareness
- Product expertise
- Standardized practices
- Analytical understanding
Why is customer service important?
Customer service is important for keeping new and existing customers. Without quality customer service, your customers would be more likely to try a new product if they’re not satisfied with yours or if they don’t know what your product can do. Or worse, they might just buy the same product from your competitor.
Customers are also more likely to buy again from your business if they have a great customer experience.
And one simple way to encourage your customers to return to you? Provide a great customer experience.
Your frontline customer service team is usually the first port of call for customers interacting with your business. So, make sure this team in particular has the training and tools they need to represent your brand image, mission, and values.
They’re literally the face of your brand, after all.
Soft skills needed to deliver exceptional customer service
Let’s start with the soft skills needed to deliver quality customer service.
Soft skills are typically associated with people skills and relate to how a person interacts with other people.
They aren’t unique to any one specific job so having soft skills can actually make you suitable for a wide range of jobs because there’s a certain flexibility that comes with soft skills (hence the name).
Take a look at this survey data:
You’ll notice that other than call quality being out of your individual reps’ control, the top two reasons for customers hanging up can be solved with good customer service skills. A good rep takes care of issues efficiently and with empathy, which minimizes the chances of customers getting frustrated and hanging up.
Excellent soft skills are useful in a customer service scenario because they bring a humane and personal touch to your business.
While your personality doesn’t really change (you are you!), soft skills can be learned or improved via training and tools. Here are a few soft skills that are especially useful if you’re working in customer service.
To provide good customer service, you must be able to speak clearly and effectively. But, to provide great customer service, you must be a great communicator across all mediums.
Because customers no longer rely solely on the phone to talk to businesses. This means customer service reps have to be skilled in communicating via phone, email, and sometimes even web chat. They could also be handing inbound social media inquiries or managing tickets through a customer portal.
To help your reps develop their communication skills, rotate them across different types of inbound channels.
For example, ask reps who don’t have a lot of web chat experience to shadow more experienced reps. The same can be applied vice versa. You may have a rep experienced in handling social media inquiries—but who has never dealt with angry customers over the phone. Once your reps are cross-trained, you’re step closer to delivering exceptional customer service as a team.
To incorporate every form of communication you’d use in your day-to-day, your first step could be moving your phone system to the cloud. The benefit of doing this is that you can consolidate your business phone number along with other features like video conferencing software and team messaging—all into one system.
Stratejm, an industry leader in cybersecurity, saved at least $75,000 annually by using RingCentral. John Menezes, the President and CEO, said as he didn’t have to buy, install, and maintain hardware and software or hire staff to manage and maintain it—RingCentral completely eliminated those setup and maintenance costs for them.
Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another person. In this case, understanding and sharing the feelings of your customer.
Whether you’re on the phone or responding to a customer’s email, it’s important to empathize with them to establish trust. When a customer feels they’re thoroughly understood, the entire transaction becomes simpler.
Empathy must include active listening. Just hearing someone isn’t the same as listening to and understanding them. One requires more attention than the other.
For example, if someone has a repeat caller who has the same issue every week, they might just start the usual process for fixing that issue. Without active listening and paying attention, they could miss important details about how the issue has gotten worse or if it’s slightly different this time.
If you’re doing active listening, you’re looking out for any signals of stress or anxiety—while giving your customer verbal feedback to reassure them that you really are listening. A simple “yes” or “could you explain more about that” both reassures the customer and helps you solve the problem.
It’s easy to switch off while a customer explains their problem if it’s towards the end of a shift. But, this could be the most important call of the day or customers may not know the technical term to use in their email.
If a customer is struggling to describe their issue, offer help instead of letting them struggle to piece together what they’re trying to say. Hey, if you spend the majority of your day answering questions and learning about a specific product firsthand, you likely know it better than they do.
Try these empathy exercises to build your team’s empathy skills.
Patience improves customer service in two ways.
Firstly, being able to keep calm and allow a customer, no matter how frustrated they are, to explain their situation puts your customer at ease. If you interrupt a customer mid-sentence, you cause unnecessary friction, and the relationship is already off to a bad start.
Spending time out of your expert area will help you understand it is more difficult to describe issues you are less familiar with. You will quickly appreciate that people without your level of expertise will take slightly longer to explain their problem.
Secondly, the ability to step back from a situation to assess all angles and possibilities will help your decision making.
When you take the time to understand the situation and come to the right decision the first time around, you’ll spend less time later on correcting mistakes.
If you need to work on your patience skills, you should find the source of your impatience.
You may be used to rushing calls because you’re evaluated on your call times or the numbers of calls answered. This measurement is often the source of impatience in a customer service environment.
4. Decision making
Good decision making is the secret ingredient to successful customer service teams.
When teams are under pressure to end calls within a certain amount of time or hit talk time targets at the expense of providing good customer service, the quality of their decision making suffers.
When this happens, the wrong decision can be costly. Examples of bad decisions range from sending replacement equipment to the wrong address or even sending out the wrong replacement equipment.
You might also fix one problem but not make clear how you fixed it.
Wrong decisions lead to unclear solutions, and the customer ends up calling back and starting the process over again.
Bad decisions have several escalating consequences:
- Wasting time on repeat callers
- Low customer satisfaction
- Low customer retention rate
- Poor brand reputation
- Fewer case studies and testimonials
- Lower sales
To improve your team’s decision-making skills, you must learn to be patient and take a step back before announcing your plan of action.
If a customer’s question isn’t urgent, reps should ask if they can place the call on hold while they confer with a colleague or manager. This gives them a chance to analyze the best solution to the problem and come up with a few good options to offer the customer.
By taking the time to make a well-informed decision, you can minimize the risk of repeat calls and unhappy customers.
When an urgent issue does come up, make sure you have a documented strategy for dealing with these kinds of questions. Try developing a flowchart of possible customer scenarios that you can walk through to a resolution.
Information is key when it comes to great decision making. Use the flow chart example below to create your own process to come to the best decision possible when dealing with customers. You can create your own in tools like LucidChart or Visme:
Great customer care goes beyond responding to customers who call in. Collaboration will empower you to learn about your customer rather than just firefighting problems.
When you interact with your customers on the platforms they use, you are more likely to understand their concerns. If a heavy Twitter user has already explained their issue at length on Twitter, they are unlikely to explain themselves in as much detail again if you ask them to email you. By responding on your customer’s platform of choice, you know the customer is fully engaged and most likely to give you all the details you need.
By understanding the problem, your chance at first call resolution increases.
To improve collaboration, apply the soft skills you’ve been working on in steps one to four. Once these improve, use digital tools to make sure you can collaborate with customers on the platform they use.
RingCentral Contact Center™, for example, allows you to communicate with customers on their channel of choice. This lets them stay in their usual workflow without disrupting their day just to call you.
You can even “listen” for key events in social media. This allows you to respond quickly to comments and issues posted on platforms like Twitter and Facebook. By engaging with customers right when they’re expressing dissatisfaction online, you can calm the situation before it really escalates and come to a quicker resolution.
Hard skills needed to deliver exceptional customer service
Next, we’ll look at the hard skills that help teams provide a great customer service.
Hard skills are teachable and measurable abilities, like writing, reading, or the ability to use computer programs. Often, they can be tailored to a specific job role or for a specific industry.
Strong customer service skills apply to many jobs that need customer interaction. But, it is important to develop the skills most appropriate to your line of business if you want to stand out from generic customer service teams.
6. Digital awareness
A modern customer service strategy has to include online channels. You can’t get around it because that’s where most people (and most of your customers) are communicating with the companies they’re buying from.
So, to effectively communicate and collaborate with your customers, you need to get familiar with the tools they use.
There’s a saying in customer service: “Go where your customers are.”
If your customers like texting you, you should offer SMS as a channel for them to contact you. (The same goes for email, web chat, or social media.)
Above all, give your Customer Service team an easy way to see all the customer conversations everyone’s having. This way, anyone can pick up a conversation without making a customer repeat themselves and without having to ask different people on the team about that customer’s past relationship with your business:
7. Customer management
Communicating with your customers is one thing—managing them is another story.
Customer management comes in two forms. The soft skills you apply from sections one to five help manage a customer to keep them calm and set expectations. They may be frustrated at a billing issue or need an urgent fix.
The second form of customer management is managing customers that are waiting in a queue for an answer to their call. Here, while you should also keep them calm and set expectations, you also have the opportunity to make the waiting experience better.
For this, there are a few tools that can help you manage customers who are waiting. Ideally, you’d have a communications platform with functionality like call queuing, skills-based routing, and workforce management. Let’s look at what these are in a little more detail:
Call queuing allows you to route calls to the right agent every time according to your own business rules. This means customers spend less time queuing for the wrong rep or department and more time talking to you.
Skills-based routing means every customer gets the best available resource on every interaction. This frees up other resources to get on with their job rather than dealing with queries best placed elsewhere.
Workforce management optimizes schedules to ensure customers are not left in the cold during peak times.
For example, Pipeline Deals implemented RingCentral so they could have a call queue that rings across the customer support team. They also have detailed reporting that monitors how long it takes reps to answer calls. With a switch to a cloud contact center, Pipeline Deals has access to features that can be turned on or off as customer demand dictates.
8. Product expertise
Just as your customer service reps need to be skilled in customer service, they need to be equally skilled and knowledgeable about the product you sell. It’s no good offering the best customer service if you can’t resolve the underlying problem.
For simple queries, you can use your customer flow chart you designed in section four. Repeatable queries in particular should be documented so new hires can hit the ground running and start resolving customer questions from day one. Plus, if everything is written down, it becomes easier to teach and memorize.
For more complex questions, you could train your customer service reps to specialize in one product or one area of your product. This way you can use skills-based routing so that customers get directed to the person best suited to handle their question.
For example, customers who need help with maintenance can press 1 to get routed to a rep with maintenance experience. Callers looking to renew their contract can press 2 to route to your sales reps rather than your support team. (Learn more about customer support vs customer service.)
9. Standardized practices
Customer service qualifications provide a recognized standard of customer service. By participating in formal training, you learn what other businesses do while improving your own practices.
Courses range from full time to part time with apprenticeship schemes. They are available online or in person.
The choice is yours on which best suits your needs. It’s advisable to conduct formal training when onboarding new staff or seeking candidates with formal training.
Continuous training is recommended for career progression and keeping up with best practices.
10. Analytical understanding
The best customer services teams are those that are driven by analytics.
Historically, reporting and analytics were powered by spreadsheets and took hours and hours to process.
But today, customer experience analytics are a core component of contact center software. Every call that enters your business is logged in the cloud.
Once logged, your contact center software analyzes those calls. The output? Comprehensive reports that tell you where your customer service reps are doing well—and where they might need to improve their skills:
Used correctly, this type of reporting can give you timely measurements of agent performance—especially during holidays, large sporting events, and other critical times.
Master these skills to deliver exceptional customer service
Once you’ve learned these customer service skills, your customers will love your brand even more.
Communication will always be one of the biggest characteristics of customer service teams. The teams that are communicating best will outperform those that communicate poorly.
But great customer service skills aren’t enough on their own. To drive tangible improvements, you need to be powered by quality communications technology. See how RingCentral enables proactive customer service here.