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The 16 Customer Service Skills of Great Customer Service Agents

Customer Service Skills You Need
Customer service involves much more than having a conversation on the phone. Responding to tickets over email, live chat, and social media are equally important communication channels for customers. While there is much overlap in the customer service skills required to do a great job, each channel also benefits from a unique approach to these skills.

For example, there are important customer service skills that are usually associated with phone support, such as empathy, the ability to “read” a customer’s emotional state, clear communication, and friendliness. But emotional cues are much harder to read in writing, and so additional skills for newer channels need to be developed to make those channels a viable choice for customers.

Whether you’re interviewing or brushing up your customer service skills for your resume, it’s good to remember that most customer support managers are not just interviewing for technical skills. They'll be looking for how you demonstrate your customer service skills.

Agents need customer service skills specific to each support channel

The best customer service employee will be able to move easily between channels and solve problems with the skills that best suits each channel. If you can do that, you’ll be a rock star in customer service.

What follows are our tips and solutions for improving your soft skills by channel, excerpted from the eBook Customer Service Skills You Need.

Phone support: How’s your “phone voice”?

Email supportSome say we wear our emotions on our sleeve, but others might say we convey our emotions through our voice. Customer service employees certainly know from experience that frustration and anger translates through the phone lines. And, of course, that’s a two-way street. Even phone agents reading from a script must consider their tone.

The following list includes important tips to help you provide skilled phone support:

  1. Smile, literally

    Smiles translate through the phone, but should be used at appropriate times.

  2. Mirror a customer's’ language and tone

    Part of the job is mirroring a customer's language and tone. Mirroring another person’s language and tone can help create connection. That said, if a customer is angry, you don’t want to copy their frustration. Instead, you can try increasing your volume just a little and then quickly work to bring the intensity down a notch.

  3. Reflect and validate

    When customers are upset or frustrated, they might not be able to take in what you say—even if it’s the right answer. Listen first, let them calm down, and then try to help solve their problems.

  4. Acknowledge

    Customers need to feel heard, so tell them that you understand the reason for their call. They'll appreciate the touch of empathy and it will make their experience of dealing with customer service even better.

  5. Summarize

    Listening can be a tough skill to learn if you’re not already an expert at it, but it’s a skill you'll always want to be training for mastery. You’ve got to listen to a customer's problems in order to repeat back to them with supportive language. It's one of the top job skills for customer service agents.

  6. Communicate hold time

    Even if you’ve just handled a call really well, you can lose a customer by leaving them on hold for too long. This is especially true if you haven’t set their expectations first. It ultimately reflects poorly on your customer service and your company's reputation.

Email support: You are not a robot

Phone support imageHoning your writing skills is especially important when providing email support. The email response is arguably the most structured response and requires the most precision. You must write with clarity and brevity while detailing a list of issues while also taking the time to proofread and correct any mistakes.

Here's a list of what you'll need for great email support in any situation:

  1. Use templates, not boilerplates

    For efficiency, you’ll want to use templates that include some pre-written text. At Zendesk, we call them macros. Templates are like guidelines—they shouldn't be overly rigid and unwavering, but can provide a helpful structure for common responses (like a list for step-by-step responses). Even though the whole team can use it, you’ll want to personalize your own answer before replying to customers. Inject your personality into responses.

  2. Make the templates your own

    It’s okay to use your own voice and approach, even as you reflect your company’s persona and philosophies. Think about how you might make your own signature unique or consider different ways to close the email depending on the tone and resolution of the interaction.

  3. Timeframe matters

    Emails, especially a first response, need to be answered within a defined timeframe. A great email support agent will prioritize their responses by urgency and how long they’ve been sitting for. There's a good chance your customer was spoiled during the sales process and expects similar treatment in customer service. Having a great customer service platform will help make that responsibility easier.

  4. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery

    Similar to phone support, it’s great to mirror a customer’s language or phrasing to show them that you understand and acknowledge their issue. This helps to create rapport and establishes a better relationship with them.

Chat support: Multitasking is a key skill

Chat imageProviding great live chat support requires a cross of phone and email skills. Chat is conversational and real-time, just like customer service over the phone, but it also requires strong writing skills.

Here’s what every great live chat agent needs to pay attention to:

  1. Tone

    Tone can be hard to decipher over chat, especially since the responses can be short, quick, and incomplete. Choose your words carefully. A good rule of thumb is to use a gentle, informative tone—and an emoticon if your tone might come off as unclear.

  2. Multitasking

    Live chat agents are expected to handle more than one chat at a time, which is a skill in itself. Great multitaskers don’t lose sight of the bigger picture. Be careful not to handle too many chats, or else your customers will be waiting too long between responses. You can always put a chat “on hold” if you need more time to find an answer, but just like with phone support, set their expectations!

  3. Reading cues

    Sometimes it’s harder for customers to express themselves by writing, so don’t read too quickly and jump to conclusions. It takes a lot of training to understand the nuances of different customers, but it's part of what makes someone successful at a job in customer service. For example, someone that works in sales might come off as assertive while you're providing them support, while an engineer might need complex technical details to see their problem solved. Being able to read specific cues can give agents a better idea of how they can help.

Social support calls for speedy deliveries

social media imageSocial media support requires a combination of all of the above skills. When live chat isn’t available, customers turn to social media for an exceptionally fast response. The skillset required to provide customer service on social media is generally a bit advanced, and often saved for more senior or specialized customer service agents.

The following skills are crucial for social media support:

  1. (Almost) always respond

    Always respond to a customer’s social post—especially when they need help. Even if you can’t answer right away, make quick initial contact with them and let them know where and when you’ll respond. Providing speedy responses means you’ve got to be adept in addressing a customer's problem in a precise and polite tone.

  2. Don’t take the bait

    The exception to “always respond” is when you are confronted with an obvious attempt to create an altercation in a public space. These comments are often directed at the company itself, and sometimes other people will quickly take the bait. Most organizations know they can’t afford to have a customer service agent who makes mistakes on social media. The damage to the company's reputation can be far-reaching.

  3. Differentiate

    Social media contacts occasionally walk a line between something that should be handled by support and something that should be handled by marketing. A skilled agent will know what should be a ticket and what should be forwarded to another team.

For the complete list of tips as a condensed version of this article, download the ebook. Share it with your team, or print and hang the skills list in your office.