As your business grows, it’s inevitable that your customer service team’s workload will grow right along with it. While there are ways to lighten the burden on your support team, at some point, there’s no substitute for a bigger team.
It’s a common challenge for businesses across the globe. So much so that nearly half of the contact center leaders Forrester surveyed expect their teams to grow 5-10% over the next year—and 14% of them expect to grow by more than 10%.
You know and trust your current support reps and they’ve proven their metal when it comes to solving customer problems and inspiring customer loyalty—but how can you ensure new hires have what it takes to make that happen?
When it’s time to bring on new agents to your team, there are 10 essential customer service skills you should hire for.
1. A+ Communication Skills that Transcend the Medium
Customer service agents do a lot of different kinds of work throughout the day—and with new channels for customer support popping up all the time, their job is one that evolves constantly. If there’s one standout skill that today’s omnichannel customer service teams need, it’s top notch communication skills.
Great communicators are clear. They know how to explain themselves so anyone on the other side of the phone or computer screen can understand them effortlessly. It goes the other way, too—good communicators understand, not just what’s said to them, but the subtext and emotion behind it.
Today, it’s more than just phone communication skills or written communication skills. Customer service teams need to possess communication skills that transcend the medium—skills that carry over from phone to social media to live chat and more.
2. Emotional Intelligence
In the customer service world, some things can get dicey. Angry customers, system-wide outages, messed up orders… there are a lot of ways for a support conversation to get heated. The best customer service reps need to be able to handle high stakes conversations and turn them into positive customer experiences.
Sixty-eight percent of the customers American Express talked to said a pleasant customer service rep was the cornerstone of a positive support experience. But emotionally intelligent agents take it a step further than just being friendly.
They’re adept at understanding and empathizing with customers—beyond that, they’re able to identify and set the right tone, use the right language, and take the right actions to solve customer problems to the satisfaction of the customer.
3. Teamwork and Asking for Help
When every customer service agent is helping a different customer, it’s easy for your team to get siloed. They don’t communicate about common questions or customer problems. They don’t collaborate on the solutions.
The best customer service teams work together constantly. They aren’t afraid to ask for help or a second opinion and display a brand of teamwork that extends beyond the cubicle walls of your contact center. Customer service should collaborate with sales, with designers, with everyone responsible for the front line customer experience. After all, your support team understands the customer like few other departments can. Their input is invaluable in driving towards a better customer experience overall.
4. Active Listening Skills
Listening skills are arguably one of the most undervalued skills you can have—as both a person and a customer service representative. The truth is, few of us really understand what it takes to actively listen.
In a customer support conversation, it’s easy to fall into the trap of worrying about your response while the customer is still talking. That’s a recipe for sub-par solutions and less than satisfied customers. The best support teams possess otherworldly active listening skills that enable them to better understand customer problems and propose the best (not just first or quickest) solutions.
5. Patience and Empathy
If there’s one skill the digital age has thrown into short supply, it’s patience. Patiently waiting as customers explain a problem. Patiently walking a less than tech-savvy customer through a solution. Patiently letting an angry customer vent frustrations.
All of these are vital functions of your customer support team—but the instinct to rush and to defend are ingrained in all of us. That’s why it’s important to prioritize hiring for patience and training your support team on how to practice patience, even if it doesn’t come naturally.
Slowing down and practicing patience enables some of the other skills we’ve highlighted, like active listening and empathizing with customers. Neither of these can really happen when your team is rushing, so it’s important (on top of training for patience) to empower reps to slow down—without having to worry about performance metrics tied to time.
6. Leadership and Taking Ownership
We know that the best customer service teams are full of reps who are empowered with the authority and knowledge they need to solve customer problems. The best support agents take full advantage of that autonomy. They demonstrate ownership of finding and implementing the best solution for customers.
They also show leadership in rallying the rest of the team behind their mission—encouraging all reps to work together to better serve customers.
7. Problem Solving On-the-Fly
While there are some things that merit slowing down customer interactions (like showing empathy or diffusing a tense conversation), searching for the right solution isn’t one of them. That’s why it’s important for your customer service agents to be expert problem solvers.
No matter how well your team is trained or how in-depth their customer support scripts are, there will always be customer problems that require a unique solution. The last thing you want agents to have to do is delay the conversation while they search for a solution or ask for help.
That’s why the best customer service reps are able to think on-the-fly and come up with creative solutions to the more unique customer problems they see.
8. A Drive to Learn
Being able to quickly and effectively solve customer problems comes down to two things: problem solving skills and a deep knowledge of the product. According to the American Express’ 2017 survey, 62% of the customers they spoke with said the “representative’s knowledge or resourcefulness was key” to a positive service experience.
While you can train your customer service team on the product and common solutions, it takes a self-driven desire to learn in order to develop the kind of knowledge and experience that grows from real customer service interactions.
The best support reps are always striving to improve, to learn, and to better serve customers. Something like that is hard to teach, so it’s best to hire team members who already possess a drive to learn and continuously improve.
9. A Thick Skin
As customer support professionals, we strive to create positive customer experiences. Sometimes, though, it isn’t in our power to help every customer or solve every problem. When that happens, it isn’t uncommon for customers to get angry.
Most of us instinctively want to defend ourselves, defend the company, explain the situation. But the best customer service pros know that not every customer is a peach. Some customers won’t be satisfied. They aren’t interested in a solution.
When your team has done all they can to diffuse an angry customer, reps need to be able to shake it off and be ready to help the next customer—and that requires a thick skin.
The best laid plans fail, and the best researched and tailored script falls short. You do all that you can to prepare and equip your team for real customer problems, and you send them to the phones. Once they’re in the trenches, your agents have to be able to improvise.
New, unforeseen customer problems may pop up. Unexpected glitches or outages crowd the phone lines. No matter what happens, it’s vital that your support team can handle the unexpected and find a way to solve customer problems that they haven’t explicitly been given solutions for.
The Right Stuff for Customer Service
A whopping thirty-three percent of those American Express survey respondents said that “efficiently answering questions is the most important skill that a customer service agent can have.”
It sounds simple, but a lot goes into efficiently and effectively solving customer problems. The 10 customer service skills we’ve listed go a long way in ensuring your customer service team is equipped and prepared to create effortless customer experiences!