Customer service involves much more than having a conversation on the phone. Responding to tickets over email, live chat, and social media are now equally important 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 set of soft skills.
For example, soft skills that are usually associated with phone support, such as empathy, the ability to “read” a customer’s emotional state, clear communication, and friendliness remain important. But emotional cues are much harder to read in writing, and so additional skills for newer channels need to be developed to make these channels as viable a 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 going to be interviewing for soft skills. Technical skills and tools can be learned—and might be easier to learn.
The best customer service agent will be able to move easily between channels and apply the skill set that best suits each channel. If you can do that, you’ll be a rock star in the workplace.
What follows are our tips for improving your soft skills by channel, excerpted from the ebook Customer Service Skills You Need.
Phone support: How’s your “phone voice”?
Some say we wear our emotions on our sleeve, but others might say we convey our emotions through our voice. Customer service agents certainly know 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 are important tips to help you provide skilled phone support:
Smiles translate through the phone, but be used at appropriate times.
Mirror 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 mirror their frustration. Instead you can try increasing your volume just a little and then quickly work to bring the intensity down a notch.
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 them.
Customers need to feel heard, so tell them that you understand the reason for their call.
Listening can be a tough skill to learn if you’re not already expert at it, but it’s an important one to master when it comes to the top job skills for customer service agents. You’ve got to listen to a customer in order to repeat back to them, using supportive language, what you’ve heard them describe.
Communicate hold time.
Even if you’ve just handled a call really well, you can lose a customer by leaving them on hold too long, especially if you haven’t set their expectations first.
Email support: You are not a robot
There’s some overlap here with live chat and social media support, but honing your writing skills is especially important when providing email support. The email response is arguably the most structured response, and the one that requires the most precision. You must write with clarity and brevity, and take the time to proofread and correct any mistakes.
To provide great email support, you’ll need to:
Use templates, not boilerplates.
For efficiency, you’ll want to use templates that include some pre-written text. Here at Zendesk we call them macros. Templates are like guidelines—not hard and fast rules to live by. You’ll want to personalize your answer before replying to customers.
Inject personality into responses.
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 signature unique, or having different ways to close the email, depending on the tone and resolution of the interaction.
Emails need to be answered, especially a first response, within a defined timeframe. A great email support agent will also prioritize response by urgency and how long they’ve been sitting, and a great customer service platform, can help make the job easier.
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.
Similar to phone support, it’s great to mirror a customer’s language or phrasing, when appropriate, to show them that you understand and acknowledge their issue, and to create rapport.
Chat support: Multitasking is a key skill
Providing great live chat support requires a cross of phone and email skills. Chat is conversational and real-time but requires strong writing skills.
Here’s what every great live chat agent needs to pay attention to:
Tone can be hard to decipher over chat, especially since the statements can be short, quickly-fired, 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 be unclear.
Live chat agents are usually 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, though. Handle too many chats and your customers will be waiting too long between responses. Don’t forget that you can put a chat customer “on hold” if you need more time to find an answer, but as with phone support, set their expectations!
Sometimes it’s harder for customers to express themselves by writing, so don’t read too quickly and jump to conclusions.
Social support calls for speedy deliveries
Providing social media support requires some combination of all of the above. When live chat isn’t available, customers turn to social media for an uber-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:
(Almost) always respond.
The worst thing to do is not to respond to a customer’s social post—especially when they need help. Even if you can’t answer right away, make quick contact and let them know when, and what channel, you’ll respond on. Providing speedy responses means you’ve got to be adept at knowing how to quickly address a customer in a polite tone. It’s everything we’ve discussed here, but shorter and faster.
Don’t take the bait.
The exception to “always respond” is when you are confronted with obvious attempts to create an altercation in a public space. Most organizations know they can’t afford to have a customer service agent who makes mistakes on social media. The damage can be far-reaching.
Social media contacts sometimes 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 to forward on.
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 for your channel in your cubicle.