“Courteous treatment will make a customer a walking advertisement.” – James Cash Penney
We know and every business owner knows that the surest and shortest way to the heart and minds of customers, is top class customer service. However, companies are unable to make top service a reality very often, owing to a number of reasons. In order to keep getting better at delivering the kind of experiences customers want and expect, a company must ensure that its representatives have access to training and coaching to ramp up their essential skills for customer service success. While every company and industry would have its set norms for serving customers, every employee, particular service representatives, in every company must possess some standard and non-negotiable customer service skills. Even the most respected and long-standing companies must consistently strive to refresh the essential customer skills they use.
It may seem like an obvious skill, but attentive and active listening seems to be a dying ‘art’. The ability to listen attentively and patiently to customers is one of the top essential skills for customer service and in fact, without the willingness and ability to listen, service representatives would fail at serving customers. Very often, the customer’s words may not completely reflect their mood and feelings – actively listening would allow service representatives to ‘feel’ and gauge the current state of mind of the customer, and hence be able to respond more appropriately. As a top skill for customer service, listening is one that requires constant training, polishing, and most importantly practice.
Complementing the art of listening is the ability to communicate clearly and without ambiguity. Both, written and verbal communication, are among the top essential skills for customer service. Given that customers can connect with a company through any channel today, it has become even more imperative for companies to ensure that their employees are able to speak well, write well, and have excellent command over the English language, as also, at least one regional language. Knowledge and active listening would be incomplete without the ability to convey understanding, care, and expertise on any subject / topic. Customers of today are demanding, having lesser patience, shorter attention spans, and a lower willingness to accept shoddy treatment. Misunderstandings are often caused when service representatives are unable to accurately convey knowledge or their comprehension of what a customer may have said.
Empathy and care are two more of the top essential skills for customer service. Customers stay with companies that actually take care of them, understand their needs, and are empathetic towards the problems and issues of customers. While service representatives would be expected to stick to the rules and guidelines set by their company, it is more important to respond and help customers within the shortest possible timeframe and in a manner, which causes customers the least amount of inconvenience. Service representatives must be empowered by their company to take spot decisions to help customers, and speedily provide some kind of ‘holding’ solution and remedy for the problem put forth by customers. Instant gratification and solutions find favour with customers – and they would be more amenable to wait until the company is able to provide them with a long-term and robust solution. Even the most difficult, irate, and dissatisfied customers can be appeased through empathy and care – it makes sense to cultivate this skill in every employee.
Service representatives deal with loads of customer information and other kinds of data daily. To speed up work and enhance performance, every company is now using some form of technology or another. It therefore, seems moot to mention that basic computer and data management skills are among the top essential skills for customer service. It would be impossible for service representatives to use the details of each customer without being able to use and manage data entry and management tools and software. As the number of customers increase for any company, manual data capture and management is sure to lead to inaccuracies, incorrect data, and lowered service levels.
Customer service is a highly stressful job, and very often service representatives would possibly be on the verge of losing their cool, owing to various reasons – particularly rude and tough customers. However, one of the essential skills for customer service is being able to maintain composure and a friendly and concerned demeanour towards customers all the time. Customers may or may not be right and their reasons for being angry may be completely unjustified – despite this service representatives must keep their calm and their body language, voice, and expressions must reveal a genuine desire to alleviate the inconvenience of the customer. There must be an understanding that customers have no personal agenda against the service representative, but would simply be expressing their annoyance at something the company may have done.
While serving customers, keeping the guidelines and rules of the company in mind would be equally important and would be part of the essential skills for customer service. It would be counter-productive for service representatives to have to look up the rules consistently when serving customers. Internalizing and making company guidelines part of the overall service process would be extremely necessary for enhanced efficiency and to ensure that customers get what they want speedily, but without flouting company protocol.
Very important for any one, but particularly as part of the essential skills for customer service is the ability to manage time. We know that customers hate to wait and hence service representatives must find ways and tools to keep wait times to the minimum, while ensuring that customers remain aware of any delays and reasons for being made to wait. Tying in closely with time management, would be the ability to remain organized. Keeping a strict check on work schedules and loads, would help service representatives to organize their workday better, and become more proficient at serving customers.
The list of essential skills for customer service is seemingly endless. There is the need to remain polite and respectful to all customers – irrespective of the size of their business with the company. Customers must always be allowed to speak first and convey whatever they wish to, before the service representatives speak or convey their thoughts. This requires good amounts patience, tenacity, composure, and emotional intelligence, and these attributes would be necessary to maintain and enhance the essential skills for customer service. Apart from these attributes, the ability to remain flexible, anticipate customer needs, product knowledge at all times, problem solving and analytical ability, tenacity, teamwork, and the ability to inspire confidence and trust in customers are all essential skills for customer service. It would behove a company to source and hire the right candidates. Right candidates would be the ones who would display most of these essential skills – training for hard-core skills is a lot easier than coaching for these quintessential service skills.
It is necessary for service representatives to both possess and use these essential skills for customer service – they could prove to be the difference between happy customers and ones that become irate and spread negativity about the company. Happy customers mean more business, repeat business, better referrals, and overall a highly successful and sustainable company. A successful company would in turn be able to attract the best employees, investors, and other stakeholders – and be able to provide even better levels of service to customers. A profitable cycle for all!