no matter how good your product is: if your customer service is poor, people will complain and you will lose customers.
The good news: It’s not impossible to change things. However, transforming your customer service from mediocre to great won’t happen overnight. it requires a serious commitment to meaningful change, a team of rockstar support professionals, and work across the organization.
what is customer service?
Customer service is the act of providing support to both potential and existing customers. Customer service professionals typically respond to customer questions through in-person, phone, email, chat, and social media interactions, and may also be responsible for creating documentation for self-service support.
Organizations can also create their own definitions of customer service based on their values and the type of support they want to provide. For example, at help scout, we define customer service as the act of providing timely, empathetic help that keeps customers’ needs at the forefront of every interaction.
why is customer service important?
When 86% of customers stop doing business with a company due to a bad experience, it means companies need to approach every support interaction as an opportunity to acquire, retain, or upsell.
good customer service is a revenue generator. provides customers with a complete and cohesive experience that aligns with an organization’s purpose.
according to a variety of studies, usa. uu. companies lose more than $62 billion a year due to poor customer service, and seven in 10 consumers say they have spent more money to do business with a company that offers great service.
Understanding that customer service is the cornerstone of your customer experience helps you seize it as an opportunity to delight customers and engage them in new and exciting ways.
what are the principles of good customer service?
There are four key principles of good customer service: it is personalized, competent, convenient and proactive. these factors have the greatest influence on the customer experience.
Personalized: Good customer service always starts with a human touch. personalized interactions greatly improve customer service and let them know that your company cares about them and their problems. Instead of thinking of service as a cost, see it as an opportunity to win your customer’s business back.
Competent: Consumers have identified competition as the element that plays the most important role in a good customer experience. To be competent, a customer service professional must have a deep understanding of the company and its products, as well as the power to solve customer problems. the more knowledge they have, the more competent they become.
Convenient: Customers want to be able to contact a customer service representative through the channel that is most convenient for them. Offer support through the communication channels your customers trust most and make it easy for customers to figure out how to contact you.
Proactive: Customers want companies to be proactive in reaching them. If one of your products is backordered or your website will experience downtime, proactively reach out to your customers and explain the problem. they may not be happy with the situation, but they will be grateful that you kept them informed.
By building your customer service strategy around these four core principles, you’ll create a smooth and positive customer experience for everyone who deals with your business.
21 key customer service skills
While delivering good customer service requires work and coordination across your organization, a good place to start is with your support team. It’s important to hire people who genuinely want to help their clients succeed, and who pay rates that are attractive to qualified professionals.
Finding the perfect hire for a support team can be challenging. no particular checklist of work experiences and college degrees adds up to the perfect candidate. instead, you’re looking for qualities that can’t necessarily be taught.
These people thrive on one-on-one interactions within their community. they love to solve problems. they are warm, approachable, and great at teaching other people how things work.
These are the 21 customer service skills every support professional should try to develop and every leader should look for when hiring new team members.
1. problem solving skills
Customers don’t always self-diagnose their problems correctly. often, it is up to the support representative to take the initiative to reproduce the problem in question before seeking a solution. that means they need to intuit not only what went wrong, but also what action the customer was ultimately seeking.
a great example? if someone writes in because they’re having trouble resetting their password, it’s ultimately because they want to log into their account.
good interaction with customer support will anticipate that need and might even go the extra mile to manually perform the reset and provide new login details, all while educating the customer on how they can do it themselves at the future.
in other situations, a professional problem solver may simply understand how to offer preventative advice or a solution that the customer doesn’t even realize is an option.
Patience is crucial for customer service professionals. after all, customers who contact support are often confused and frustrated. Being listened to and treated patiently goes a long way in helping clients feel that you are easing their current frustrations.
It’s not enough to close customer interactions as quickly as possible. Your team must be willing to take the time to listen and fully understand each customer’s issues and needs.
The ability to truly listen to customers is crucial to providing excellent service for a number of reasons. It’s not only important to pay attention to individual customer experiences, but it’s also important to be aware of and be attentive to the feedback you receive in general.
for example, customers may not say so outright, but there may be a general feeling that the control panel of your software is not designed correctly. Customers are unlikely to say “improve your user experience”, but they may say things like “I can never find the search function” or “where is (specific function) again?”
you have to be attentive to capture what customers are saying without actually saying it.
4. emotional intelligence
A great customer service representative knows how to deal with anyone, but is especially good with frustrated people. Instead of taking things personally, they intuitively understand where the other person is coming from and are quick to prioritize and communicate that empathy.
Think about it: How often have you felt better about a potential complaint simply because you felt immediately heard by the other person involved?
When a support representative can demonstrate sincere empathy for a frustrated customer, even by reiterating the issue at hand, they can help to placate (customer feels heard) and actively please (customer feels validated in their frustration).
5. clear communication skills
See also: A Guide to Car Appraisal | Credit Karma
Your customer support team is on the front lines of resolving issues for the product itself and serves as a kind of double-ended megaphone.
On the one hand, they will be the voice of your company to your customers. that means they must have a working understanding of how to reduce complex concepts into highly digestible and easy-to-understand terms.
on the other, they will represent the needs and thoughts of customers for your company. for example, it is not in the client’s interest to receive a lengthy explanation of the ins and outs of fixing a particular bug.
The ability to communicate clearly when working with clients is a key skill because miscommunication can lead to disappointment and frustration. the best customer service professionals know how to keep their communications with customers simple and leave nothing to doubt.
6. writing skills
Good writing means getting as close to reality as words allow. Without an ounce of exaggeration, being a good writer is the most overlooked, yet most necessary skill to look for when it comes to hiring customer service staff.
Unlike face-to-face (or even voice-to-voice) interactions, writing requires a unique ability to convey nuance. the way a sentence is phrased can make the difference between sounding like a jerk (“you need to sign out first”) and sounding like you care (“signing out should help solve that problem quickly!”).
Good writers also tend to use complete sentences and good grammar, qualities that subtly signal the safety and trustworthiness of their company.
even if your company provides support primarily over the phone, typing skills are still important. They will not only enable your team to produce consistent internal documentation, but also signify a person who thinks and communicates clearly.
7. creativity and ingenuity
solving the problem is good, but finding clever and fun ways to go the extra mile, and wanting to do it in the first place, is even better.
it takes panache to infuse a typical customer service exchange with memorable warmth and personality, and finding a customer service rep who possesses that natural enthusiasm will take your customer service out of “good enough” territory and into directly to “tell all your friends”. about it” earth.
chase clemons at basecamp advises the following:
“You want to have someone you don’t have to impose a lot of rules and regulations on. you want to have someone talk to a customer and understand that “their boss is really yelling at them today.” this person is having a very bad day. did you know? I’m going to send you some flowers to brighten things up.” that’s not really something you can teach. they have to go the extra mile naturally.”
8. persuasion skills
Support teams often receive messages from people who aren’t seeking support: they’re considering purchasing your company’s product.
in these situations, it helps to have a team of people with some mastery of persuasion so they can convince interested prospects that your product is right for them (if it really is).
It’s not about making a sales pitch in every email, it’s about not letting potential customers slip away because you couldn’t create a compelling message that your company’s product is worth buying.
9. ability to use positive language
Effective customer service means being able to make minor changes to your conversation patterns. this can really go a long way in creating satisfied customers.
Language is a crucial part of persuasion, and people (especially customers) create perceptions about you and your business based on the language you use.
for example, say a customer contacts your team with an interest in a particular product, but that product is backordered until next month.
responding to questions with positive language can greatly affect how the customer hears the answer:
The first example isn’t negative per se, but the tone it conveys feels abrupt and impersonal and could be taken the wrong way by customers, especially in email support when the perception of written language can be negative.
in contrast, the second example says the same thing (the item is not available), but focuses on when and how the problem will be resolved rather than the negative.
10. product knowledge
The best customer service professionals have a deep understanding of how their company’s products work. after all, without knowing your product inside out, they won’t know how to help when customers have problems.
All new help-seeking employees, for example, receive customer service training during their first week or two on the job; it is a critical component of our employee onboarding process.
According to help scout’s elyse roach, “Having that strong product foundation not only ensures that you have the best tricks up your sleeve to help customers navigate even the most complex situations, it also helps you understand their experience so that you can become their strongest defender.”
11. acting skills
sometimes your team will run into people you can never make happy.
Situations outside of your control (like a customer having a terrible day) will sometimes creep into your team’s regular support routine.
Every great customer service professional needs basic acting skills to maintain their usual cheerful personality despite dealing with people who are just plain cranky.
12. time management skills
On the one hand, it’s good to be patient and spend a little more time with customers to understand their problems and needs. On the other hand, there is a limit to the amount of time you can spend with each customer, so your team must be concerned with getting customers what they want efficiently.
The best customer service professionals are quick to recognize when they can’t help a customer, so they can quickly direct that customer to someone who can help.
13. ability to read clients
It’s important that your team understands some basic principles of behavioral psychology in order to read clients’ current emotional states. as emily triplett lentz writes:
“I rarely use a smiley face in a support email when the client’s signature includes ‘PhD’, for example. It’s not that academics lack a sense of humor, it’s just 🙂 You’re not likely to be taken seriously by someone who spent five years deconstructing utopian undertones in 19th-century autobiographical fiction.”
The best support professionals know how to observe and listen for subtle clues about current mood, patience level, personality, etc. from a customer, which goes a long way in keeping customer interactions positive.
There are many metaphors for this personality type: “keeps calm”, “keeps calm under pressure”, etc., but they all represent the same thing: the ability some people have to remain calm and collected. influence others when things get a little hectic.
The best customer service reps know they can’t let an angry customer force them to lose their cool. in fact, it’s your job to try to be the “rock” for clients who think the world is falling apart as a result of their current problems.
15. goal-oriented approach
Many customer service experts have shown that giving employees unlimited power to “wow” customers doesn’t always yield the benefits many companies expect to see. that’s because it leaves employees goalless, and business goals and customer happiness can go hand in hand without resulting in poor service.
relying on frameworks like net promoter score can help companies craft guidelines for their employees that allow a lot of leeway in handling customers on a case-by-case basis, but also leave them prioritized solutions and “go to” fixes for common issues
16. ability to handle surprises
Sometimes, clients are going to get in the way of your team. they will make a request that is not covered by your company guidelines or react in a way that no one could have expected.
In these situations, it’s good to have a team of people who can think on the outside. even better, find people who will take the lead in creating guidelines for everyone to use in these situations in the future.
call it what you will, but a great work ethic and a willingness to do what needs to be done (and not cut corners) is a key skill when providing the kind of service people talk about (positively).
The most memorable customer service stories out there, many of which had a huge impact on the business, were created by a single employee who refused to follow the standard process when it came to helping someone.
18. closing ability
being able to close with a customer as a customer service professional means being able to end the conversation with the customer confirmed satisfaction (or as close as possible) and with the feeling that the customer has taken care of everything ( or will be).
The last thing customers want is to be kicked out before all their issues have been resolved, so make sure your team knows to take the time to confirm with customers that any and all issues they had have been resolved completely.
Perhaps empathy, the ability to understand and share the feelings of others, is more of a character trait than a skill. but since empathy can be learned and improved, I would be remiss not to include it here.
in fact, if your organization tests job applicants for customer service aptitude, you’d be hard-pressed to look for a more critical skill than empathy.
That’s because even when you can’t tell the customer exactly what they want to hear, a dose of attention, concern, and understanding will go a long way. a support representative’s ability to empathize with a customer and craft a message that steers things toward a better outcome can often make all the difference.
20. a methodical approach
in customer service, haste makes waste. Hiring deliberate and detail-oriented people will go a long way in meeting the needs of your customers.
one, they’ll make sure they get to the real heart of an issue before submitting a response. there is nothing worse than trying a “fix”, only to completely fail to solve the actual problem.
two, they’ll check. a carefully written answer can lose a lot of its problem-solving luster if it’s riddled with typos.
Three, and this may be the most important, means they’ll be following up regularly. There’s nothing more impressive than receiving a note from a customer service representative saying, “Hi! Do you remember the bug you found and I said we were investigating? Well, we fixed it.” that’s a loyal customer for life you’ve just won.
An important side note: The best hires can maintain their methodical grace under regular fire.
Since the support team often has the arduous task of solving other people’s problems, it’s especially important that they understand how not to internalize the urgency and potential anger of frustrated customers. instead, they know how to keep a cool head and a steady, guiding hand.
21. desire to learn
While this is probably the most general ability on this list, it’s also one of the most important. after all, a willingness to learn is the foundation for developing skills as a customer service professional.
Your team members must be willing to know your product inside and out, willing to learn how to communicate better (and when to communicate poorly), willing to learn when it’s OK to follow a process and when it’s more appropriate for you. choose your own adventures.
Those who aren’t looking to improve what they do, whether it’s creating products, marketing businesses, or helping customers, will be left behind by people who are willing to invest in their own skills.
what happens if someone on your team lacks these skills?
what if you lead a team of support professionals who are unwilling to improve their approach to customer service? what if they lack the above skills and don’t seem interested in developing them? help scout’s mathew patterson has a solution:
often the root cause of what might be perceived as a lack of ability or unwillingness to learn is the result of a work environment (current or former) that did not reward going above and beyond to provide excellent service.
try to give your team some clear guidelines about what to expect and some examples of what great customer service looks like at your company in a way that leverages all of these skills, and while you’re at it, make sure we’re celebrating those small victories when you see people start using these skills.
Once your team starts to see their efforts being recognized and rewarded, people will start to get more involved and you’ll have a better idea of whether or not there are people on your team who have real skill gaps where you need work.
the evolution of customer service
as seth godin wrote, customer service means different things to different organizations, but things aren’t going to end well for companies that simply view customer service as a “cost-cutting race to the bottom.”
Gary Vaynerchuk echoes that sentiment in The Thank You Economy, where he outlines the evidence that there is profit and growth for any company that communicates openly with its customers in an effort to make them feel appreciated and valued.
The bottom line: Great customer service is a growth center, not a cost center. it really is that simple.