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‘77% of employers says soft skills are equal to hard skills in importance’. – Aol.com

We’ve all heard – work hard, party harder! Hard obviously seems the way to be and therefore better. In customer service, we would think, having the requisite soft skills will have a better impact on customers. Soft is often associated with being weak, bad or not the best in quality. However, the importance of soft skills in customer support can never be overemphasized and must never be underrated. This does not mean the hard core technical skills or product knowledge are not required. It just means that to have a lasting influence on customers, build an emotional and personal relationship with them and keep them coming back to you, soft skills indeed make a ‘harder’ impact.

We have discussed that despite all the technology and smart devices available to customers, they still prefer to do business with companies that are more humane and where the interactions are have a personal touch. Hard skills would make a person more efficient, knowledgeable and accurate and soft skills allow the person to use that knowledge to be empathetic, effective and deliver results in the shortest possible time to ensure the comfort of the customers.

Hard skills encompass operational and technical know-how required for a particular task. They are about using and following ‘the rule book’ for processes and scope of responsibilities to service the customers within established systems. These skills focus on the actual tools and methods that are required to deliver the offerings the company offers.

Hard skills may impress a customer but not they were ‘served up’ with a grumpy and sullen customer service person. Soft skills are what will have the soothing effect and leave a pleasant impression on the mind of the customers when used correctly. They can also have an adverse reaction and cause customers to become angry since they encompass the style of communication – written and verbal, attitude, tone, empathy and other such behaviours. Within the teams they can reflect authenticity or deceit, leadership or only being a follower, being aware of what is required and how best to contribute towards those requirements. Soft skills bring a humane and personal touch to the service provided to customers through the effective use of behavioural and verbal skills to get your views across.

When a customer support person understands the importance of soft skills it will reflect in every interaction with the customers. Starting from the manner of greeting, to the time taken to actively listen to the customers and ending with the most suitable and empathetic solution for the problem. Soft skills are about knowing how the customer will and should feel during and after the interaction. It is about really understanding what will make the customer smile and keep coming back with more business along with their friends and associates. Soft skills appeal to the emotions of a customer allowing them to rate service as exceptional or downright shoddy.

Many may argue that while hard skills can be easily measured, soft skills are not quantifiable. However, results have shown that the impact of soft skills, used correctly, has a better effect on customers. Soft skills ‘pack a punch’ and hence must be understood constantly, steadily, and unrelentingly – that is to say in order for soft skills to have a positive impact, they must be used responsibly. Integrating them in to everyday activities and being accountable for their results will allow soft skills to become an integral part of any organization or service culture.

The importance of soft skills must be clearly understood by the customer support staff and all those who work in a particular company. Displaying positive traits will have far reaching emotional benefits that will serve the interests of the customers and also internally within the organization. Using soft skills to encourage positivity will trigger happy responses that will impact customers and those with whom the customer service staff interact with. It is the onus of the person to manage the soft skills in a manner that will lead to exceptional service for customers and a congenial and cheerful work environment.

In customer service, empathy for example is a highly valued and useful skill. It is a highly powerful tool to get customers to know that they are being heard and can trust that something will be done to alleviate their problems. Customer service representatives that understand the power of this skill find it easier to look at issues from the customer’s point of view and clearly understand how the person must be feeling in the current situation and also be able to pro-actively anticipate how the person will react. Upon understanding how the person is feeling or what it would take to appease them, it becomes much simpler to provide for the needs leaving the customers feeling comforted and trusting that in the future too their problems will be given due consideration and importance.

Another vital soft skill in customer service is the ability to care and show care. We all know how to care for those who are close to us and those who we love. However, customers are ‘strangers’ and people with whom interactions are few and far between and hence letting them know that they are cared for becomes a key difference between happy customers and disgruntled ones. Smiling while speaking, addressing them by name, remembering important personal details important – all contribute towards making strong relationships with the customers. These positive traits must be ubiquitous – all in the team must practice it, each touch point, all communication channels must reflect positivity and the most effective use of soft skills. Using soft skills correctly will draw customers to your company and keep them with you for the long haul. Companies must ensure that soft skills are kept in mind while hiring, during induction, training programs and even be a key component in job appraisal formats.

The importance of soft skills in customer support can never be undermined but these are absolutely essential for each person in the company and must start at the topmost level. Processes and company strategies must incorporate soft skills in to the framework if positive behaviours are to be woven in to the fabric of the organization and soft skills to permeate every iota of space therein. Such a culture will ensure that great customer service and memorable customer experiences become a permanent part of the company and blend in seamlessly with the requisite hard skills. Making and keeping an emotional connect with the customers will ensure some serious profits and a hard sustainable bottom-line.

So what are some of the soft skills that should be quintessential to a customer service environment?

– Effective listening is vital since unless the customer service person actually listens to what a customer is saying – words, actions, body language, tone – it would be impossible to provide the kind of solution and service they need and want. Listening will allow the service staff to clarify and check back in case they may not have understood something accurately. Most often all that customers really need is to be heard and be able to vent – it calms them down making them more amenable to listen to what the customer service agent has to offer.

– Communication skills both written and verbal are very crucial. Unless you can convey the solution, product knowledge or even what the company can and cannot do, the customer would be left confused and possibly irate. Speaking over the phone requires the correct tone of voice, an upbeat manner and a smile allowing the customer to feel that the person is genuinely interested in what they are saying. While sending written communication – misspelt words or bad grammar could have a detrimental effect irrespective of the best of offers.

– Remaining positive and empathetic helps immensely in customer service. Thorough knowledge of the offerings of the company along with its policies and procedures will enable the customer service staff to remain focused on what the customer says and providing them solutions that will be beneficial to the customer and the company. Remaining optimistic and proactive even with an upset customer will serve to calm the customer.

– Customers tend to lose control when angry. Maintaining self-composure and yet being assertive will keep your customer service from saying anything inappropriate. Staying cool will also help resolve conflicts faster and more effectively. At all times it is vital to remember that a customer is upset due to a problem and has nothing personal against a particular customer service agent. Empathise with the customer and depersonalize any emotional barrage they may be letting out. Since the issue would have arisen due to something your company did, it is best to apologize upfront. Make the apology sincere and heartfelt.

There is no short cut or easy way to get soft skills right but with time and regular usage it is possible to perfect them and use them to provide the highest level of customer service.

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