20 Skills Every Customer Service Rep Needs

Full skills

We have all heard the customer service horror stories. 

There seems to be a new one popping up on your Facebook feed every day. Occasionally there is one amazing viral story about someone going way above board, but those stories tend to show up less often.  

Almost all of these traits can be taught, and can become natural the more they are practiced. 

I have written earlier articles about what it takes to create an award-winning customer support team, but all the organizational decisions will never replace finding the right people for the job.  What makes a great rep?  There isn’t just one thing, but several skills and traits put together. Almost all of these traits can be taught, and can become natural the more they are practiced. 

1.     Patience: Customer service reps can’t get impatient, not even when customers are impatient.  Reps will hear the same question over and over again, but each customer will be asking the question for the first time. The rep has to be able to answer the 500th duplicate question with the same energy they answered the first.  
2.     Attentiveness: This is more than paying attention to what the customer is verbally saying, it is paying attention to what they are trying to say. Body language, verbal queues, and leading questions can help detect unasked questions.
3.     Communication skills: Communication is more than talking and listening. It is actively listening to what is being said verbally, and reading what people are saying physically. It also includes asking appropriate questions to ensure that the actual issue is clarified and not anticipating what you think the customer is going to say.  
4.     Understanding the power of positive language: Positive language, is the word choice that is made to convey information to clients. It can make bad news not sound so bad by focusing on what can be done for the customer, instead of what can’t be done. 
5.     Understanding body language: This is as much watching your body language as it is watching the body language of your customer. Crossed arms, body positions angling away, and step backs show that you are not connecting. Stepping into their personal space, excessive touching (shoulder pats, hug attempts etc…) can be perceived as pushy and aggressive.
6.     Product knowledge: Customers expect service reps to know every aspect the products they handle. 
7.     Time management: Customer service is more than answering questions. Reps must stay on top of new products, product trends, technology as well as balancing customers in a timely manner. 
8.     Listening skills: Whole body listening is a thing. It is not just what is being said, but how it is said. 
9.     Empathy: Empathy not Sympathy.  Empathy is not only understanding that a customer has the right to feel the way they do, but acknowledging and validating those feelings.  A non-tech savvy customer may feel frustration about some of the tasks that a regular tech user would find stupidly simple. Acknowledging that the person you are talking to has fields of expertise that you do not possess, let them know that your purpose is to help them. 
10.  Adaptability: The only thing definite is that things will change. That is true in more ways than one, especially when dealing with customer service. Products change, marketing goals change, so do customer needs and trends.  
11.  Open to growth: Customer Service industry is about change. No two situations ever have the exact same answer, because every customer has different needs. Being open to learning about new products as well as new processes keeps Customer Service Reps on their feet both literally and figuratively.
12.  Energy: Originally, I had this as work ethic, which is very important. But part of work ethic is going to tie to energy. Someone who is exhausted and constant low energy is not going to have the focus to interact with the customer. Someone who is overly bouncy has the risk of coming across as pushy and running your customers off.
13.  Integrity:  I hate the answer “This was fixed in the next update.” when calling in for customer support. While occasionally it is true, most of the time, it is the go-to answer that software support reps like to give out when they can’t or don’t want to figure out what the true issue is. Telling a customer that they look great in an outfit, when the fit and color are all wrong, pushing products on customers that don’t want or need them. While it may help the immediate sell, it is short sighted, because truth will out, and the customer will remember who lied to them.  On the other side of this, sometimes honest mistakes are made. Usually they are discovered when new information comes out. By taking the initiative, and reaching out to the customer with the correct response builds integrity and trust.  
14.  Work Ethic:  We have all walked into a store only to see all the reps hanging around having a personal conversation that they are so focused on, that they completely ignore that you have walked into their place of business. The first and foremost focus should be the customer.
15.  Creativity: The ability to think out of the box can sometimes solve limitations and problems when there are no other apparent solutions. 
16.  Diplomacy: The old definition that diplomacy is the ability to tell someone to take a jump in a way that makes them look forward to the trip.  Customer rarely contact customer service because they are happy about something. There is usually a problem, and sometimes those problems are self inflicted. Some customers want the world, for free, there are diplomatic ways to bring customers around to more reasonable expectations.
17.  Acting skills: “Momma said there’d be days like this…”  It is more than just the words of a song. We have all had those bad days where nothing seems to go right. Customer Service reps are front line, and can’t show when they are having a bad day. Sometimes a rep has to deal with a difficult customer. Acting is the ability to stay calm, focused, and pleasant when the only thing you want to do is scream, yell, and maybe even throw something.
18.  Sense of Humor: I was watching a movie with a group of kids. The situation was getting very tense and everyone was starting to get scared and panic when suddenly the monster got a stick up his nose and the main characters had to deal with troll boogers.  Suddenly nobody was scared, they were all laughing and the moment passed.  Comic relief is used frequently in movies and literature to lighten up the situation, and help transition and move the plot forward.  The same thing works when dealing with customers.  When a situation is tense, and the customer is angry, stepping back and acknowledging that they have the right to feel the way they do is important, but so is finding something to make them laugh.  If you can get a tense or angry customer to really laugh, then you can more successfully redirect them to a solution instead of focusing on the problem. The ability to laugh things off helps reduce stress and allows people to continue working through difficult issues.   
19.  Conflict management skills: Customers can and do sometimes get upset. Having the ability and skills to know how to prevent a customer from escalating and addressing issues as they arise.  There are times when nothing you do will ever make a customer happy, but there are ways to diffuse situations and have them walking away feeling like you have done the best for them that you can. 
20.  Closing skills: The ability to disconnect with a customer and send them on their way while making them feel appreciated and wanting to come back.  The downside of building relationships with customers is that sometimes they just want to chat. While chatting does help you connect with the clients, it also causes issues when needing to disconnect so you can get to the next person waiting. 

Customer service is about training and balance. In an ideal world, every one of your applicants will have all these traits naturally, but fortunately every one of these skills can be taught and nurtured. It is up to the organization to build an environment that encourages the growth of these traits.


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