Updated: Feb 8
Why is it mission critical to optimize your customer service performance? Here is one reason. According to a survey done by NewVoiceMedia, “Faced with poor customer service, 31 percent of respondents indicated they’d never use the offending company again”. Customer service matters. It is the most impactful part of the customer experience. Customer service must be seamless. Pursuing an omnichannel strategy versus a multichannel strategy, using digital technology (AI virtual assistant, chatbot, live chat, email, web portal, text, etc.) and a live customer call center is the optimum customer service platform. Regardless of which service channel your customer chooses, the experience should feel the same. This is what customers expect. The last channel that customers are typically directed to is the live customer service center. It is mission critical that customer service representatives have the right skill set, tools, and training to delight your customers.
In this post I highlight 7 key customer service skills necessary to drive satisfaction and customer loyalty.
Skill #1: Empathy
Empathy is “the ability to understand and share the feelings of others” (Source: The Oxford Languages Dictionary). This is an important skill for a customer service representative to have. Making a connection with the customer, especially one with an issue, is vital to customer happiness and satisfaction. The first best connection you can make with a customer as a customer service professional is to understand what the customer needs on both a business and an emotional level. If a customer has not been successful getting their issue resolved using digital customer service channels, it is likely their frustration level will be high when they reach a live customer service representative. An empathetic customer service voice on the other end of the phone is an excellent first step to resolution.
Skill #2: Emotional Intelligence
Emotional intelligence (EQ) is “the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one's emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically” (Source: The Oxford Languages Dictionary). EQ is the natural extension of empathy. Along with being empathetic it includes being extroverted, having the ability to adjust to different personalities, being persuasive, and being a customer advocate. Being empathetic falls short if the customer service representative is not able to give the customer confidence that they can solve their issue. This is where having high EQ can make a significant difference with an unhappy customer.
Skill #3: Control Quotient
According to Gartner, high control quotient (CQ) can lead to an 11.2% increase in customer service rep performance. CQ is the ability to stay level-headed, maintain personal control, be receptive to constructive criticism, use positive language, and to think “outside the box” if necessary to present the customer with a solution. This solution does not have to be in perfect alignment with what the customer is looking for if the customer service rep can present an alternative solution in a way that the customer agrees with. A customer service rep with a high CQ can perform to this level consistently versus a rep with a low CQ that feels burned out and needing a break after a tough interaction with an upset customer.
Skill #4: Active Listening
Active listening as defined by Indeed.com is “the ability to focus completely on a speaker, understand their message, comprehend the information and respond thoughtfully”. If a customer service rep is not a good active listener, even with the best of intentions they may miss details of what the customer is telling them, leading to misunderstandings and heightened frustration on the customer’s part. The wrong corrective actions, partial corrective actions, or no corrective actions at all are possible outcomes of non-active listening.
Skill #5: Communication
It seems obvious that a requisite skill for a customer service rep is the ability to communicate effectively with a customer. The key word here is “effectively”. There are many customer service representatives that are extroverted, friendly and well-versed in regurgitating company policy with glib responses that are often scripted and rehearsed. If your company’s priority does not include happy, satisfied, and loyal customers, this would be an acceptable version of effective communication.
"The first best connection you can make with a customer as a customer service professional is to understand what the customer needs on both a business and an emotional level."
For companies whose mission is to create satisfied and loyal customers, and to reap the benefits of low customer churn, high customer retention, high customer lifetime value, increased customer acquisition through brand advocation, and the ensuing revenue and profit that goes along with it, effective customer communication takes on a different meaning. When a customer service rep has high empathy, emotional intelligence, control quotient, and active listening skills, they also need effective communication skills to be able to convey to the customer that they understand the issue and know how to resolve it. Effective communication skills include:
Being clear and concise
Always being positive and avoiding negative language
Waiting until the customer has finished talking before speaking
Demonstrating that you understand the issue by paraphrasing it back to the customer
Being empathetic and taking ownership of the issue and resolution
Setting an expectation level of how long it will take to resolve the issue and how often you will be updating the customer on the progress that is being made
Skill #6: Problem Solving
Having the ability to problem solve as a customer service representative can greatly reduce time-to-resolution for both the customer and the rep’s organization. Resolving issues more quickly increases customer up-time and satisfaction, and reduces your company’s cost of service. Both will increase your bottom line. Your customer service rep’s ability to problem solve can be enhanced through training and tools. The tradeoff is how much time the rep can spend on problem solving during a call without driving customer on-hold time beyond the acceptable KPI (Key Performance Indicator) high-end limit. If getting a live customer service representative is the last step of your customer service protocol, their ability to present the solution to the customer’s issue will go a long way toward creating satisfied and loyal customers.
Skill #7: Conflict Resolution
Conflict in customer service is inevitable. Conflict resolution is a skill that every customer service representative must master. Conflict by its very nature has the potential to be emotional. When dealing with conflict a customer service rep is expected to remain calm even if the customer is not. Not surprisingly, conflict resolution skills include excellent empathy, emotional intelligence, control quotient, active listening, communication, and problem-solving skills. In addition to these skills, it takes patience, impartiality, and positiveness to be effective at conflict resolution.
The most effective first step to conflict resolution is to listen to everything the customer has to say without interrupting them, even if it is unpleasant. Each time a customer service rep interrupts the customer before they are finished making their case, the customer may become annoyed, challenged, and possibly feel the need to start over again. This will make the conflict resolution process last longer and be more difficult than it needs to be. Once the customer is finished with what they have to say, they are much more likely to listen to what the customer service rep has to say. Maintaining a calm, even demeanor, staying positive and friendly, using humor when appropriate and not taking anything personally is the best foundation a customer service representative can build to resolve conflict with a customer.
"Resolving issues more quickly increases customer up-time and satisfaction, and reduces your company’s cost of service."
The most effective lever your company has to drive customer loyalty is customer service. Delivering exceptional customer service is a true competitive differentiator, and a way to create satisfied and loyal customers. According to a report done by Khoros, 83% surveyed feel more loyal to brands that respond and resolve their complaints. How well your customer service team is prepared to deal with this can make the difference between a satisfied, loyal customer and a customer who defects to your competitor. Make sure your customer service team has the skills required to deliver on your company’s brand promise.
To learn more about how to deliver exceptional customer experiences that drive customer satisfaction and loyalty, please visit Bass Harbor Group’s website at www.bassharborgroup.com.
Patrick Sandefur is the Founder and Managing Director of Bass Harbor Group / Customer Experience Solutions. His 30+ year career in Customer Service, Sales, Marketing, Product Management and Business Development has given him a unique perspective of what customers want and expect when interacting with a brand.
Read more from Patrick Sandefur by clicking on recent posts below.