The cornerstone of every great business is customer service. By extension, then, success in business relies on your, and your employee’s, customer service skills. You might think the cornerstone of your business is a great product or an effective management team. But those things are worth much less without the ability to make your customers happy.
Sure, your awesome product or service may keep them happy for a while, but sooner or later, someone is going to find something wrong and will make that thing known. What are you as a manager or employee going to do in those instances? Dismiss the customer and move on? No, of course not. You’re going to do your best to solve the problem so you don’t lose that customer, and potentially, many more. That’s why it’s so important to cultivate top-notch customer service skills in yourself, and every single employee who works for you.
The Most Important Customer Service Skills
But what exactly are “top-notch” customer service skills? We’ve created this list of the twenty most important customer service skills you need to have to make your business successful. These skills are even great for the everyday dealings with customers that don’t involve a complaint. We’ll come at them from the perspective of problem-solving, but use them every day to make your customers happy. Let’s get started!
The idea behind respect is that you treat others the way you would like to be treated. If you had a problem, you wouldn’t want to be dismissed or ignored, would you? Of course not. The same goes for the person who has come to you with an issue to resolve. Regardless of their attitude, good customer service skills dictate that you be respectful at all times. Here are some simple ways that you can show respect:
- Use their name.
- Don’t interrupt.
- Look at them while they’re speaking.
- Wait until they’re finished before offering a response.
Customers with problems are going to want to talk. They’re going to want to explain every last detail to you. Sometimes, they’re going to keep talking even after you got the point. An employee with good customer service skills will wait patiently and let the customer talk until they’re finished. This helps the customer feel like they’re being heard and can go a long way toward making the situation better. One way to cultivate patience is to remember that, most of the time, the customer is not upset with you personally.
Some customers are going to keep their voice low, stay calm, and communicate in a rational way. Others, however, are going to let their emotions get the better of them and come at you with yelling and harsh words. Some may even insult you directly. It’s these situations that demand strong self-control. By staying calm, you allow the customer to vent his frustration without creating an antagonistic situation that could get even more heated. Keep in mind that the customer may just want to be heard, and this is the only way he knows to make that happen. Let him have his say and then work to resolve the issue. An effective way to maintain self-control during a confrontation, is to take a few deeps breaths and count to ten before responding.
Good customer service skills include being concerned about the well-being of the customer regardless of the problem she is having. Concern for the customer goes back to being concerned for the reputation and success of the business itself. If an employee isn’t concerned with the success of the business, he’s not going to be concerned about the happiness of the customer.
When a customer has a problem, he wants to be given the attention necessary to get the situation resolved. That means more than just taking the time to fix whatever is wrong. Attentiveness means making eye contact, listening to what the customer has to say, following the conversation, and responding appropriately. It does not mean, looking elsewhere, focusing on something else, and only hearing part of what the customer said. When you focus on the customer—when you’re attentive—you’ll often see a simple way that you can resolve the issue for the best.
Empathy is the ability to sense and understand the emotions of others. It’s essentially putting yourself in the emotional shoes of the customer. Many will argue that empathy is the most important customer service skill out there. True, it is an important piece of the puzzle, but it’s only one skill among many that make good customer service possible. To practice empathy, try to feel what the customer is feeling, then think about how you can make those bad feelings go away. It takes a bit of effort, but everyone can be empathetic if they really try.
Flexibility is crucial when dealing with customer problems. The rules may state clearly that you don’t give away free product or service. Sometimes, though, that may be exactly what is necessary to resolve an issue. An occasional bending of the rules to make a customer happy should not be discouraged. That doesn’t mean letting the customer run roughshod all over you. But you, and your employees, need to be flexible enough to make exceptions from time to time.
8) Communication Skills
Good customer service communication skills involve more than just the words you say although those are important too. Good communication skills involve body language, facial expressions, tone of voice, and much more. When conversing with an irate customer, try these simple tips for good communication:
- Keep your body relaxed.
- Show a bit of concern on your face.
- Keep your tone of voice calm and neutral.
- Try to use positive language (words like can, will, help, resolve) when responding.
These communication skills can help defuse even the most difficult situations.
9) Effective Listening
There are two outcomes to every conversation:
- You can correctly interpret what the customer is trying to say so that she will be completely understood.
- You can misinterpret what the customer is trying to say so the she will be misunderstood.
The customer service skill that separates those two outcomes is effective listening. And effective listening is about more than just hearing what the customer has to say. Effective listening involves understanding both what is being said and what is left unsaid. Often, it is what is unsaid that is more important than what is said. Not being able to discern between these two things can cause communication to break down and lead to customer frustration and dissatisfaction.
Above all else, customers want someone to take responsibility for their problem. Even if it has nothing to do with you, take it upon yourself to get involved. Reassure the person that you will stay with this problem until it has been resolved. That removes the burden from the shoulders of the customer and makes them feel like they’re moving toward a resolution.
Solving some customer complaints may involve more than just giving away a free pizza or a ball cap. Sometimes, the process of resolution involves numerous steps. That’s when efficiency becomes an important customer service skill. Don’t neglect the problem. Instead, stick with it and work for a solution as quickly as possible with as few steps as necessary. A quick resolution to a problem, even if it involves multiple steps, can make a customer feel valued and reinforces his perception of your business.
12) Not Easily Offended
This one is pretty self-explanatory. Customers are going to get angry. They’re going to yell and scream. Sometimes at you specifically. The ability not to take offense will go a long way in these emotionally charged situations. Try to stay calm even if you’re being insulted, and don’t let your anger rear its ugly head. Anger on your part will only make the situation worse.
Tenacity, also known as determination, is a key component of the good customer service skills we’re talking about here. Tenacity is the drive to reach a successful resolution to the problem despite the work it might require. Tenacity is a motivation to go beyond the status quo in order to help a customer have a positive and enjoyable experience. Cultivate that quality in yourself and your employees for a truly stellar customer service experience.
14) Positive Attitude
You’d be surprised how far maintaining a positive attitude can go toward solving customer problems. Staying positive under pressure, often in the face of antagonism and negative emotions, can have a calming effect on the entire situation. When you stay positive, you can influence the angry customer to calm down and take a better view of things. That makes finding a solution so much easier.
Sometimes, the simplest way to solve a problem, is to be decisive: make the decision and then stick to it. Encouraging employees to make decisions, and then backing them up after they do, can bring about a quick resolution to most problems. It can even keep problems from ballooning into something monstrous. If an employee is presented with a complaint and the solution is obvious and simple, give them the freedom to be decisive—to make the decision on their own.
Persistence is the ability to stick with the customer’s problem until it is resolved. Persistence shows the customer that she is valued and that her problem isn’t being dismissed out of hand. That simple act of being persistent in trying to make the customer happy, can go a long way toward solving the problem. The customer will see your concern and soften her attitude accordingly.
No two problems are ever the same. Because of that, resolving the wide variety of issues that may pop up can require a healthy dose of creativity. Creative solutions can stick in your customer’s mind and set you apart from other businesses who offer wrote responses. Encourage creative problem-solving to make your business stand out.
18) A Sense Of Humor
A sense of humor can go a long way to defusing a sticky situation. Just make sure you are never laughing at the customer. If they make a joke, fine, laugh along. But never insult the customer or make light of their situation, even in a funny way. That doesn’t help the situation at all.
Assertiveness means taking control of the situation and doing what needs to be done to reach a successful conclusion. Assertiveness and decisiveness often go hand in hand. When dealing with customer problems, try not to be meek or passive. This can cause the customer to lose faith in you. That said, try not to be aggressive. Such negative behavior can cause the customer to take offense. Assertiveness occupies the middle ground between those two extremes. Be confident and speak accordingly, and will come across as assertive.
Some customers will accept your solution right away. Others, will take a bit of talking to before they come around. Persuasiveness is key to these types of situations. You may not always have to be persuasive in your dealings with customers, but it’s nice to have this customer service skill in the bag for when you need it.