Striving for Excellence? These are the Customer Service Soft Skills You Need

Customer Service Soft Skills

Photo Attribution: Kanitta Kuha/

The most important pillar in building a successful business is providing excellent customer service. A customer service representative (CSR) is the face of a company and can make or break a deal in most cases. However, providing perfect customer service is difficult, and it is even more difficult to find an ideal candidate with customer service skills for your company. While the demand for a candidate with good customer service skills has increased, many company CEOs have pointed out that finding their ideal CSR is as difficult as searching for a needle in a haystack. 

To deliver excellent customer service, it is important to understand a customer's psyche, which is also an equally arduous task, as many factors influence it, including generational and geographical, among many others. A customer's thinking on how they make their choices when shopping remains a mystery for an organization. No matter how many customer service feedback surveys they send out, the answers to a single question are different every time. But with years of research being done, based on the data received from customer surveys and feedback, they have come up with a list of requirements to be considered in order for a company to provide satisfactory customer service. According to researchers, the most important factor in building an excellent customer service platform is hiring a skilled and talented CSR. But what are the skills needed for excellent customer service?  

What are Customer Service Skills?

Strong customer service skills are essential for CSRs to possess in order to provide stellar customer support and outperform in an organization. The key skills for customer service an employer should look for in an ideal candidate are hard skills and soft skills.

Hard skills are easily measurable and teachable skills that can be gained in a classroom. The ability to use software included in Microsoft Office, using email service and social media effectively can come under hard skills for customer service.

Soft skills include those skills that are not particular to any job and are considered as main customer service skills for the role. The soft skills list can include effective communicator traits that make you an outstanding employee, such as listening, persuasion, and getting along with other people using positive communication.

Customer Service Soft Skills List

According to data, the following is the soft skills list an employer should look for while searching for an ideal customer service representative. We can divide this list into 3 categories:

  • Communication Skills
  • Stress-Management Skills
  • Problem-Solving Skills

Communication Skills

Communication skills help one person to understand another, be understood by others, and they help to express yourself. Different information can be given and received using communication skills, which include speaking, listening, empathizing, and observing. Having effective communication skills is important to explain concepts, listen and understand conversations, exchange feedback and speak publicly. What makes a good communicator? Having excellent communication skills naturally is a blessing or one can achieve them by training. Communication skills are important for phone conversations, in-person conversations, and communicating through digital media, such as social media or email.

  • What are the qualities of good communication?

    Having good communication is important for the success of small businesses, as that makes them stand out from large-scale competitors. But having good communication is not easy as it requires a qualified or talented CSR to carry out the role. Good communication is concise, honest, proactive and accurate. PayScale conducted a report that found 46 percent of managers believe new graduates lack sufficient communication skills.

  • What are the characteristics of a good communicator?

    The most important part of having a pleasant conversation is having a good communicator; but what are the characteristics of a good communicator?

    A good communicator should be able to use verbal, written, and nonverbal communication effectively. Excellent communication can be greatly beneficial in a person's professional and personal life, helping to express emotions and needs, which are necessary to develop meaningful relationships, productivity and a successful career. The characteristics of a good communicator are that he or she should be concise, friendly, observant, appreciative and polite.

    To qualify as a good service representative, a candidate must possess excellent customer service communication skills.

  • Effective listening

    The listening skills of your staff cannot improve just by increasing the volume of a headset while listening to a customer, but by providing training on how to listen and understand effectively. For a CSR, listening is all about understanding the customer's exact problems by paying attention to the conversation and then providing an effective solution. In many situations, rephrasing the issue back to the customer and confirming that the matter has been understood correctly suffices to reassure them that they will truly receive the assistance they seek in resolving the issue.

  • Persuasion skills

    Persuasive skills are some of the expert customer service skills that a service agent should have and there is a high probability that a customer agent will be the one having the most persuasive skills among all the staff in an organization. Using these skills, a CSR can convert an occasional customer into a loyal brand ambassador.

    What are persuasion skills? 

    Persuasion skills can be simply referred to as the skills of modifying or manipulating the course of conversation, beliefs, or behavior. Persuasion should be done with reasoning and by smoothly influencing the decision of the other person or a group of persons, without them realizing that the final decision has been influenced.

    Persuading a customer without being pushy is an important, yet difficult, skill that a CSR should possess in order to convert a potential customer. There is a thin line between being forceful with a customer and persuading them. Having incorrect persuasion skills can make the situation pushy, which could quickly alienate the customer. Studies have shown that constant persuasion by a CSR has reduced the number of cases of abandoned carts. Thus, having regular training sessions to teach a CSR to be persuasive, stay positive, and confident during a conversation, can go a long way in increasing the quality and the frequency of conversions.

  • Ability to use positive language

    A customer care representative should always use positive language when speaking to a customer. This skill is necessary for having a positive and constructive conversation. There are many instances when a customer might reach out to a CSR because of a faulty product and the customer might be angry and frustrated at that moment. In these instances, the CSR should try to calm the situation by adopting positive language and using words such as sorry, thank you, and try to find a solution to the customer's problems. In some cases, providing incentives to compensate for a customer's loss can diffuse a tense situation instantly and help to maintain a positive image for the company. 

  • Ability to communicate clearly

    This is the most important skill and an obvious skill that a CSR must have. Communications can be unclear due to many reasons, like differences in accent, mumbling, or an unclear phone line. In fact, research from customer feedback has shown that one-third of the customers were dissatisfied with the CSR because of unclear communication. If a message is important and can provide a solution to a customer's problem, it becomes critical that the message needs to be conveyed clearly and correctly. Thus, hiring a candidate with clear communication skills becomes very important.

Stress-Management Skills

Below are a few essential customer service skills that are required in order to deal with the stress associated with performing the role of a CSR.

  • Empathy

    The skill of understanding another person's emotions from their point of view by placing yourself in their position is called empathy. Failing to empathize with a customer's situation can result in a CSR not understanding the actual problem, which may lead to the misunderstanding and deterioration of a simple, solvable issue.

    From an entrepreneur's point of view, the financial impact of a customer's request is their most important concern. However, what matters most for a customer is the emotional aspect of a conversation, and empathy helps to create that emotional connection between a company and its customer. Most of the customer feedback ratings are based on how they are treated during a conversation and not on whether the CSR has resolved their complaints. 

  • Self-control

    Self-control is the ability to change your response to a situation in order to avoid unwanted behavior and to achieve a desired end result.

    Every CSR will readily admit that not every customer is the same. The first call received could be a completely new customer who needs an explanation of everything; the next call could be from a confused customer who needs help with making choices; another might be an irritated and angry customer, and the next a customer who acts satisfied and listens patiently and after disconnecting, criticizes your company on social media by leaving bad reviews.

    Having a single negative review on Facebook or other media pages will have a huge negative impact on other customers' decision-making and potentially bring an ill reputation on the company. The most anxious and challenging part of the situation is to convince the customer to change the review to a positive one or completely remove it. But no matter how anxiety-inducing or frustrating the situation becomes, a CSR must have self-control, remain calm and complete the goal. The CSR must remain professional and maintain self-control if the customer attacks are personal and be optimistic in the face of sarcasm. So when hiring a CSR, self-control must be tested to determine whether he or she is ideal for the job.

  • Patience 

    Patience is a key component to having a successful conversation. Being patient is the primary skill that can change the direction of any conversation in favor of the customer care representative. Impatience can make an unpleasant conversation take a turn for the worse. A customer can be rude, insulting, or aggressive and this could happen on a daily basis, but what is expected from a CSR is patience and politeness. In these circumstances, a CSR must not shout back but instead greet the caller politely first, take a deep breath, reply to all queries accurately, and offer incentives if possible.

  • Attentiveness

    Being attentive to customers during a conversation conveys the message that they are important and are being cared for. Most customers think companies are helpful in solving their queries, but nothing is done to make a customer feel special, which is what ultimately makes them search for other alternatives. A disengaged CSR has the potential to be a liability affecting the company's bottom line in terms of inefficiency and customer loss, which is why when hiring a CSR, his or her attentiveness during conversations should be assessed.

  • Thick skin

    We have included this skill in our list, as it is one of the most important customer service skills a candidate should possess. On average, a CSR is subjected to abuse or insult by a customer at least once a day, and some of them might be personal. A sensitive person may not be fit to absorb such frequency of abuse. As the customer service agents are the frontline workers of your business, having a thick skin for this profession is very important as it can deflect the insult and frustration which could be carried over to his or her personal life. Thus, a thick-skinned candidate who is not sensitive to abuse and can remain calm when insulted may be the better choice for the job.

Problem-Solving Skills

These are a few critical customer service skills that an employer should look for in an ideal candidate.

  • Adaptability

    In the professional life of a customer service executive, every case is not the same and neither is every day. And not every customer prefers to use the same mode of communication. This implies that a customer care representative might receive inquiries through social media, phone, sometimes in person or even through email. In some situations, they can receive queries from the same customer via all the channels or more than one channel. The newly developed CRM software technology has proved to make a service representative's job easier by assisting with integrating ticket sources and having information readily available for the customer through all the channels. Thus, while hiring a customer care executive for your company, make sure that the selected candidate can respond to customer queries regardless of the preferred channel. An ideal candidate must adapt to any new challenge any day flexibly, through any channel of communication in a manner that your customer prefers, no matter how complicated the situation.

  • Ability to take responsibility

    A company expects a good customer service agent to take responsibility for his or her conversation with a customer. A responsible CSR is empathetic, enthusiastic, and attentive. Just providing a solution to a customer's problem is not enough to retain a customer in today's competitive market. The decision of a customer to stick with the company, in the long run, depends on how a service representative solves a customer's problem, the language he or she  uses, as well as the attitude. The focus of a responsible service agent would be to create a positive outcome, even from the worst conversation. A responsible CSR must have expertise in the field of operation so that the customer's issue can be solved in a single interaction. The most frequent customer complaint is the number of times they get transferred to different departments to solve a single problem, and this happens due to the lack of knowledge of a service agent on the issue. 

  • Time management

    Time is, unfortunately, the most limited and non-renewable resource in this world. Thus, it is the most expensive resource for a customer and a company, requiring it to be utilized effectively by a customer support representative. In today's busy world, no customer likes to wait, and time is money for both the consumer and the company.  A study by Akio revealed that "70% of consumers would be ready to change supplier or brand if they did not get a satisfactory answer from the first contact."

    A candidate who can manage time effectively and respond to customer queries instantly using any available channel without making the customer wait can be your ideal candidate for the job.

  • Willingness to learn and improve

    This is the most scarce skill to find in a candidate. With changing times, the psychology and expectation of an online shopper are also changing and some can be attributed to the new and emerging technologies. To keep up with the latest trends, the skills of a CSR need to be updated regularly. A lazy, demotivated, or egoistical CSR will never be willing to acquire new skills. 

    Providing financial incentives to an employee or a pay raise for acquiring new skills can motivate them to gain valuable skills regularly. Research conducted by National Business Research Institute concluded that 62% of employees remain highly motivated by the following:

    • Having approachable and personable management
    • Having appropriate resources to carry out their jobs
    • Being kept informed by management regarding important issues and changes
  • Ability to admit you don't have the answer (and ask for help)

    It is impossible for any single human being to know everything. In most cases, a customer contacts a CSR only after attempting to solve the issue on their own. These customers first try to find answers through various search engines and if they do not find an answer, they turn to the company's FAQs. In this process, there is a possibility that they might become more knowledgeable on the issue than the CSR. If a customer has more knowledge on an issue than the company representative, then the situation could become embarrassing. In these situations, instead of getting embarrassed and flustered, a CSR must first confess, accept, and must not try to hide his or her lack of knowledge on the subject, as it could make the situation more complicated. An ideal candidate, in such situations, should be humble enough to approach higher executives for help to solve the customer's problem.

    This is a list of good customer service skills that an employer should look for in a candidate to evaluate if he or she has the traits that are necessary for the role of a CSR. 

Conclusion: Finding the Best Customer Service Skills

You may try very diligently to find a candidate with all of the best customer service skills, but the sad news is that it is difficult to find one. But save the disappointment as every company has a similar complaint. The only solution to this problem is to find a candidate having most of these skills and then provide additional training to the right candidate. This is a long-term process and you should not expect it to happen overnight. You can also solicit the help of expert employment agencies to find the right candidate for you and save you the trouble. Training the right candidate with unique skills related to their profession, which complement each other in the long term, will help him or her to grow as the ideal candidate for the job.