Customer Service Staff need both Technical and Soft skills

“Good service is good business”. – Siebel Ad

The Customer Service staff is now, more than ever, expected to consistently deliver excellent customer service that in turn enhances the reputation of the company and acts as a positive starting point for increased sales. In the increasingly competitive world of business it has become hard to retain customers and even more arduous to attract new ones. The customer service staff need both Technical and Soft skills to survive and be successful. By consistent training, they will have a clear understanding of their unique and inherent strengths and assess the areas that need improvement. Both technical and soft skills are required for this set of staff members to make them all-rounders in customer service. Technical skills will sharpen their analytical and problem solving abilities especially while troubleshooting and the soft skills will enable them to understand the impact their demeanor will have on a customer’s experience of the company. Listening and communication skills are vital to exhibit any knowledge they may have and wish to convey to the customers.

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All members of the customer service team – both technical and non-technical – must be able to balance relationships with both internal and external customers and also manage technical troubleshooting and problem solving. As front-end employees and the first to interact with external customers, having both technical and soft skills goes a long way in creating lasting impressions on customers that the company excels or fails at customer service. Customers usually call when they have an issue or would like to pose a query. For example a customer who is calling for something as simple as the non-delivery of goods or a lost password, is already in a harried frame of mind. They are calling and the expectation is that the first person they connect with will be able to resolve this simple query. If the customer service agent is unskilled technically they will not know how to help the customer with something simple like password retrieval. On the other hand, if the agent is unable to communicate coherently as to how the password can be retrieved, the knowledge base is a waste. Customer Service Staff need both Technical and Soft skills to strike the right balance. The number of first call resolutions would increase and a huge amount of time and resources would be saved on call holds, call transfers and waiting to connect to a ‘senior’ level person who is probably equipped with both skills. Customers know when they are being serviced well and will keep coming back to you as they begin to trust you resulting in customer loyalty and increased revenue.

Customer service staff are not just call answering and query responding folk any more. The role has expanded to include problem solving, understanding and resolving technical problems, being the patient ‘ear’ for a harried customer, displaying empathy and making personal connections with customers and acting as the first point of contact that will determine whether the customer would want to do business with the company. Customers are now increasingly using social media sites to connect with companies and how they are dealt with on these sites is the prime responsibility of the customer service staff. They must be equipped with all-round skills so as not to be a cause of delay and embarrassment to their companies. That to say the least is a load of responsibility!

Businesses cannot survive without a robust customer service strategy in place and at the helm of this strategy are obviously the teams that work in this area. Investing time and money on consistent training for the staff to equip them with all round skills i.e. both technical and soft skills, makes for good business acumen. In addition, given the shortage of skilled and multi-skilled staff, it would be injudicious and detrimental to have each staff member only equipped with a couple or so skills. If a member of the team leaves, it would create an imbalance of skills if all the staff were not multi-skilled. How would it benefit a company if a technically skilled person did a grand job at identifying technical problems but due to lack of listening and communication skills is unable to take the customer through a troubleshooting process? Or vice versa – a skilled communicator of the team would be wasted if this person could make no sense of the diagrammatically explained troubleshooting process.

Admitted that the technical help-desk professionals of the customer service team must be technically proficient for them to understand the current technology. However, if they don’t constantly upgrade their technical skills and combine them with communicating it and be able to do so via all available channels, the skills would be under-utilized and even frittered away. Conversely, without the technical knowledge base, the other soft skills involved in customer service prove to be useless.

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In the area of troubleshooting and problem prevention too customer service staff need both technical and soft skills. Troubleshooting involves being able to listen attentively and patiently and match the customer’s issue to solution. After listening, it involves walking the customer through the step-by-step guide and asking relevant questions that would elicit a pointed response from the customer. Troubleshooting is a cumbersome process and requires patience and empathy if the customer service staff expects to provide the most appropriate solution that would prevent re-occurrence of the problem. The customer service staff must be able to connect with the customer by providing value-added service – for instance calling, after some time elapses, to check if the system is working fine or remembering a customer by name if they call back. These gestures have nothing to do with technical skills but are the hallmark of soft skills required to provide a great customer experience.

Very often customers who have just bought a product or service may call just to understand how to better use the purchased offering. Training and support customers in this way requires not just technical product knowledge but also an enthusiastic responsive staff member who is able to guide the customer on usage. This all round service will leave an indelible impression on the customer who will not only provide repeat business but will also push more business your way! It is probably tough to find an inherently empathetic and enthused employee who is also very technically sound and vice versa, therefore, one or the other skill would need to be taught and ingrained through training.

Companies sometimes falter when it comes to providing adequate and pertinent training. Most often huge amounts of resources are pumped in to provide training on technical skills and soft skills get ignored. Technical ability loses value more swiftly than it is gained if the employee is easily frustrated and impatient. The crudeness that accompanies frustration and lack of empathy is easily picked up by customers who tend to be very unforgiving in such instances. Customer service is all about providing information that is free from jargon, with a pleasant, personalized and forthcoming manner. One skill without the other is incomplete and will not survive the onslaughts of customer ire and impatience. Just imagine a scenario where technically relevant but incompetently written information goes live on social media? How does a company recover fast enough from that?

Apart from communicating well, customer service support staff must have empathy, be able to consistently and effectively build great relationships and rapport with customers. They should have a ‘ear and eye’ for detail and be able to comprehend clearly what is being said and also be able to understand what the customer is wanting to convey but is not really saying it. All these skills are essential to help calm irate customers, expedite problem resolution, gain customer trust and lead the company on the road to success. For all customer service staff, being able to anticipate customer needs and pro-actively address those needs, is another must-have to create sustained high levels of customer service resulting in customer loyalty and making customers voluntary brand ambassadors.

It is therefore easily established that to provide enhance levels of great customer experiences, customer service staff need both technical and soft skills. Customers are more open and receptive to knowledgeable AND enthusiastic employees rather than ones who will put them on hold after every question in an attempt to get answers. In any case, such answers would lack empathy and be rote. Both these skill sets can be learned through coaching and training and cannot be considered complete without the other.

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