16 essential customer service skills for CX success
A customer service agent should be knowledgeable, communicative, and empathetic—and that’s just the start. Here are the skills you should be scanning resumes for as a recruiter and developing as a job seeker.
By Hannah Wren, Staff Writer
Last updated September 1, 2023
More customers are shopping online than ev
er before, and their expectations for outstanding customer service continue to soar.
Many customers want the same level of care they receive in-store, only now they want it faster and across multiple channels. In response, businesses must find and hire agents with the customer service skills needed to deliver the experiences customers expect.
To help guide the way, we analyzed data from 90,000 businesses across 175 countries and identified the top customer service job skills for successful support teams. In this article, we will explain what skills hopeful job seekers should develop and what hiring teams should look for on customer service agent resumes.
What are customer service skills?
Customer service skills are the abilities and expertise support teams need to ensure customer satisfaction and build long-term customer relationships. This includes both soft skills and technical know-how.
- Soft skills: These refer to an individual’s interpersonal skills and ability to make customer connections. For customer service agents, these may include empathy, time management, active listening, emotional intelligence, and problem-solving.
- Hard skills: Agents typically gain hard or technical skills through a formal education or professional experience. For customer care agents, skills may include knowledge of a business’s point of sale (POS) system, outbound calls, and product knowledge.
16 top customer service skills
Businesses want to hire agents who arm themselves with customer service skills that properly support buyers and help set their organization apart from the rest.
If you’re a hiring manager, look for these customer service skills when skimming interviews and searching for exceptional candidates. If you’re hunting for a new customer support position, follow along to learn more about which skills you should be developing to stand out as the job market cools down.
A customer service agent must have the emotional intelligence to empathize with upset customers. If a problem arises, most customers want to know you’re hearing them and working to find a solution.
Empathy plays a key role in building customer relationships and de-escalating high-tension situations. Businesses that employ agents with strong conflict-resolution skills should give them the freedom to make exceptions to certain policies or make decisions without extreme oversight. This can result in higher customer satisfaction scores and stronger customer loyalty.
2. Collaboration skills
Agents must collaborate with their colleagues and other departments to get the job done. But in a remote-first world, agents don’t always have the option to walk over to a teammate’s desk to ask a question or brainstorm ideas. This is one reason why the ability to collaborate across internal teams is important to agents.
With tools like Slack and Zoom, agents can seamlessly collaborate inside and outside the organization, whether they’re in the office or working from a beach in Hawaii. However, these tools are only successful when agents collaborate and keep others’ needs in mind.
Customer service agents should be capable of clear communication and feel comfortable conversing with anyone, even in difficult situations. Whether they’re speaking with customers or colleagues, agents need to have a firm understanding of:
- Which communication channels are most appropriate for each situation
- Who to speak to for a fast and accurate response to their specific issue
- When to escalate a trouble ticket and who will address the issue
- How to be upfront with a customer and strike the right tone of voice
Without strong communication skills, it will likely be difficult for agents to get through their workload, and they may even upset customers along the way. Each touchpoint is an opportunity to create a positive experience and make customers happy.
It’s pretty common for customer support agents to get swamped with open tickets. However, when an agent is efficient, they can get through more tasks quicker, which benefits the employee and their employer.
Some major benefits of agent efficiency include:
- Saving money: When agents can reduce operating costs by increasing productivity, the business can save more money and possibly afford raises and better benefits.
- Faster ticket resolutions: Seemingly insurmountable workloads can quickly become manageable when agents have strong multitasking skills.
Customers are everywhere now—social media, SMS, email, live chat, and more. That means that customer service agents need to be in those places, too.
As more service teams offer multichannel support, agents must be able to deftly switch between communication channels and messaging styles to consistently provide an excellent customer experience (CX).
Most customers expect response times—sometimes even solutions—in under 24 hours. Others expect a reply in seconds, though the time frame largely depends on the communication platform. Regardless, customer service agents must be able to adhere to the standard communication speed on every platform they’re using to provide service.
Speed can also relate to how quickly a new agent learns the skills and tools they need to succeed or how fast they can resolve support issues. Both are equally important for customer service.
High-performing customer service teams are resilient and don’t let critical customer feedback get the better of them.
But that doesn’t mean your agents will like everything they hear. When working with unhappy customers, they may take out their frustrations on your team. While you should try to combat this, your agents should be able to take criticism and accept feedback gracefully.
8. Data centricity
Customer service agents should analyze data and create actionable insights that help them improve their performance. Some insights may directly relate to their work while others may help them better understand their customers.
For example, agents can use data to:
- Understand customer communication preferences, purchasing behavior, and personality
- Identify repeat issues and resolve the customer’s problems faster
- Assess their performance
- See how they fit into the team as a whole
9. Relationship building
An agent must build and nurture customer relationships; this requires interpersonal skills and emotional intelligence. But the business also needs to arm agents with the context to personalize conversations.
Ideally, agents have the people skills needed for customer service to foster strong relationships. When agents are personable, there’s a greater chance for them to build trust and rapport with customers. And when customers trust a brand, they’re more likely to make additional purchases or defer to an agent’s suggestions during an upsell.
Understanding customers’ needs is one of many essential customer service representative skills. Customers don’t like repeating themselves, and they expect agents to have immediate insights and solutions when they reach out.
A culture of customer focus and reflective listening is key. Agents must be able to rapidly pull relevant reference resources from a knowledge base while speaking to customers.
When agents can access all the details they need from one tool—rather than toggling between many—they can anticipate customers’ needs and work more efficiently.
11. Tech proficiency
Chatbots play an important role in customer service—and they aren’t going anywhere. Understandably, some people are a bit standoffish regarding up-and-coming technology, as many fear it may lead to job loss.
However, modern support agents should understand how to work with tools like AI to provide more comprehensive support. Bots can take on simple, repetitive questions, allowing agents to focus on more complex tasks.
12. Digital literacy
As more customer support teams transition to remote or hybrid work environments, digital literacy—or lack thereof—can no longer be ignored. Agents must adhere to remote work best practices to communicate effectively with colleagues and customers. Agents with digital literacy skills will also be capable of properly utilizing agent workspaces, tools, and additional resources.
If an agent isn’t familiar with a specific database or software, that’s perfectly fine. However, they should have the cognitive ability to pick up evolving digital tools quickly and incorporate them into their workflow.
13. Proactive mindset
An employee’s proactive mindset and behavior are telltale signs of an agent’s customer support experience and level of engagement.
Agents are often the first to hear about recurring problems and should recommend changes that can eliminate issues and create a better customer experience.
Great agents can also anticipate customer needs based on the contextual information stored in files and address concerns before customers even ask.
It’s not uncommon for agents to face the same problems and questions several times over. However, as businesses utilize tools like IVR software and AI chatbots, agents have more time to focus on complex issues. This means employees may encounter issues they’re unfamiliar with, making problem-solving skills invaluable.
A talented customer service rep can use their problem-solving skills to:
- Listen to any customers’ problems.
- Ask relevant follow-up questions to identify the problem.
- Explain the pros and cons of various solutions to the customer.
- Utilize available resources to find answers to issues they’re unfamiliar with.
- Identify who to speak with for additional information if they get stuck.
15. Product knowledge
Customers expect agents to know the business’s product, service offerings, and policies well. Experience with customer service software like Zendesk can make an agent’s resume stand out.
It can take months for representatives to understand robust customer service software and other tools needed for the job, so an applicant’s ability to navigate these systems signals that they are knowledgeable about customer care.
16. Time management
We already discussed the importance of efficiency and productivity, and while time management is similar, it’s an important customer service skill all on its own.
Aside from the obvious benefits like lower stress levels, more manageable workloads, and faster ticket resolutions, strong time management skills also help agents ensure that service-level agreements (SLAs) are met.
What are the 7 principles of great customer service?
The seven principles of customer service are a set of best practices support agents can follow to provide great customer service. The seven principles are:
- Friendliness: Customers expect support agents to be kind and warm.
- Empathy: Support reps should understand their customers and be genuine.
- Fairness: Customers want to receive adequate compensation when product issues occur.
- Control: Customers want to access support on their chosen channel.
- Alternatives: If there are multiple solutions, customers want the opportunity to make their own choices.
- Information: Customers want answers to their questions promptly or, at the very least, assurance that someone is working on their problem.
- Time: Customers don’t want to wait for help, so businesses must offer several methods to access basic information.
Why are customer service skills important?
Customer service skills are important to every business and customer-facing role. Yes, even those that aren’t technically customer service roles.
Whether you’re working in sales, support, delivery, or some other position on the front lines, your ability to be personable and forge human connections is essential for success.
Good customer service skills impact business growth by:
- Increasing customer satisfaction, retention, and loyalty
- Creating lasting customer relationships
- Encouraging brand advocacy
- Boosting sales
How to nurture excellent customer service skills
Whether you’re looking to help your agents sharpen their customer service skills or applying for a customer service job, there are a few things you can do.
As an employer, you can:
- Host educational webinars and workshops.
- Sponsor a certification or college course.
- Create learning materials for employees.
- Pair new employees with a mentor.
- Ask customers for feedback via customer satisfaction (CSAT) surveys to identify areas of poor customer service.
- Offer product-specific training to increase product knowledge.
- Teach support reps how to fully utilize your business’s customer service software.
- Schedule ongoing performance reviews.
- Train new hires on best practices during onboarding and throughout the employee experience (EX) journey.
- Create FAQs or an internal help center for employees to reference.
As an employee, you can:
- Ask your manager and team members for feedback.
- Sign up for customer service training courses.
- Attend customer service conferences and events.
- Get to know your company’s product or service.
As a job seeker, you can:
- Sign up for certification courses that teach customer service skills.
- Accept an internship.
- Start with small or local customer service jobs to build up your resume.
- Request an informational interview with an expert to learn more about what to expect.
- Teach yourself the skills you see listed on job listings most often.
- Review additional customer service skills examples online.
Examples of customer service skills on a resume
While we’ve mainly focused on customer service resume skills, now we’ll outline what job seekers should include on their resumes. The primary components of a strong resume include:
- The candidate’s name
- The role they’re applying for
- Their contact information
- A summary or executive statement (optional)
Review the customer service resume example below for an idea of how to structure your resume.
When you get to the skills section, list four to 10 core competencies.
To pique a possible employer’s interest, swap out skills based on what you read in the job description. While you don’t want to resort to deception, this gives you a better idea of what the company is looking for and allows you to highlight that you’re the right fit for the role, rather than listing off general skills that don’t apply to the position.
If you don’t currently have the skills the job listing requests, you have three options:
- Read, watch videos, or complete training courses to cultivate as many skills as possible.
- Familiarize yourself with customer service software features and add the support basics you do know to your resume.
- Emphasize your willingness to learn and explain how the customer service strengths and skills you do have will translate to your duties.
The right skills for any support team
In today’s competitive hiring landscape, exceptional customer service skills can be a valuable asset for hiring managers and an aid for customer service agents looking for work.
By prioritizing these skills and continually working to enhance them, businesses can identify customer needs, build stronger relationships, and create a competitive advantage. Job seekers can set themselves apart in large candidate pools and advance their careers.
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Learn how you can refine the customer experience. Download our report to access exclusive insights and strategies that your support agents can use to keep customers happy.Read now