Five skills that will make you successful in customer service
"Customer service? How long are you planning to do that?". I bet you have heard something similar before if you're working in customer service. Without us, most businesses would come to a halt within days. Many people belittle us when we tell them about our job and think it's just temporary. They think we are just doing it until we find something better.
In my opinion, customer service is a job that's far more challenging than most career paths. Even though society thinks robots could easily do our daily tasks, I believe that people can build great careers out of it. And as with any other profession: not everyone is cut out to succeed.
Customer service: learning skills for life
The great news: if you succeed in customer service, you are also set up for success in life. The skills you will learn in your career are transferable to many other situations. You are not "just a call centre agent". You understand people. You have a toolbox that others don't have.
So, let's have a look at my five favourite skills that will make you truly successful in your customer service career.
Who would have guessed, hm? 😉
Empathy is one of the most valuable skills as a customer service manager. I am not talking about monotonous phrases like "I totally understand how you are feeling. If I were in your shoes, I would...". You can usually find those kinds of phrases in manuals or training sessions for newbies on the job, but everybody has heard them 12985935 times already.
You call your phone provider to complain about network issues: "Sir, I completely understand how you feel."
You send an email to an online shop after waiting for a package for two weeks: "I can fully empathize with you. This is not the level of service we want to provide."
Genuine empathy is more than that. You genuinely give a customer the feeling that you are in the same boat. You are working with them and are fully committed to their issue. Great customer service managers show that commitment and don't just blurt out phrases they had picked up in some seminar when they started the job.
Let's face it: some situations are shitty. Something got messed up with a customer's order. Your company's website isn't working correctly. Or your customer simply has a bad day.
As a customer service manager, most of these situations will ultimately end up on your plate. And precisely in these situations, you will see which customer service professionals stand out.
If you want to be successful in your job, you will need to learn the art of positivity. It's all about the mindset: You are not the one that cleans up the mess. You are the one that has the opportunity to turn a problem into an opportunity — an opportunity to delight your customer.
In one of my previous positions, I had a phase where I got distraught when things went wrong. It took me a while to figure out that it's all in my mind. As I mentioned: It's your mindset that matters. Great customer service managers don't let the negativity get to them. They take it, turn it around, and make a terrible situation into one of the best moments of their customer's day.
3. Clear communication
This might seem like a no-brainer, but I am regularly surprised how many companies fail to address issues when I send an email or speak unclearly when I give them a call. They interpret their own story into my problem, making my email about something completely different. Or they just mumble into the phone, and I don't understand a single word of what they are saying.
You can be the most positive person on the planet and be as empathetic as possible. If you don't have the skills to communicate clearly - both verbally and in writing - you will struggle at some point in your career.
4. Receive feedback - and filter it
People usually think they are great at giving and receiving feedback. They think it's the most natural thing in the world. In the start-up scene, there is a mindset that you should be as direct as possible with your feedback - even (or especially??) if it's harsh. After all, "feedback is a gift", and the receiver should know what to do with it.
News flash: most people have never been taught how to give or receive feedback. Giving good feedback does not mean that you say the first thing that comes to your mind. There is more to this (have a look here if you want to know more).
The fact that most people don't know how to do this means that we, as customer service professionals, will unavoidably receive harsh and hurting feedback. If you have never worked in a similar job before, it will take a while until you can understand what's happening.
A customer that calls and starts shouting at you because something went wrong is not giving you feedback. They are just complaining. A competent customer service professional knows how to filter that. They know how to differentiate good (e.g. "There seems to be a problem with your website, I can't complete my order. Can you help?") from bad feedback (e.g. "Why am I even trying to spend my money here if nothing works?!?!?! Ridiculous!"). They know that the customer is angry with "the company" and not with the person on the other end of the phone line. It's not personal - but for most customer service managers, it takes a while until that sinks in.
5. Time management
Let's face it: there is never enough time in a day. Or to phrase it differently: there are always too many things to do. Personally, I love being busy. But only because I know how to manage my time.
In customer service, this skill is one of the most essential in your toolbox (hence, why it's in this list 😉), for two reasons:
- Customer service is a never-ending project. Unlike the re-design of a website, you're not just "done". There is always something to do.
- Customers - and especially millennials - hate to wait. 71% of people expect to be able to access help within five minutes when shopping online, while 31% expect this help to be immediate, according to LivePerson.
In short: if you let somebody wait, you might as well send them the website of one of your competitors.
So, how can you manage your time effectively? Here is a very compressed overview of what I do every day:
- Open my email client and scan for any new emails. If there is anything I need to reply to, I do that within the first few minutes of my day.
- Have a look at my calendar to be aware of any meetings.
- Connect to our phone tool and set myself online (currently, I am the only one in our customer service team, so all calls will come to me).
- Open Freshdesk, our help desk tool, to get an overview of our queue.
- Answer all open conversations - new and old. Everything that came in overnight should receive an answer within the first 1-2 hours of my day.
- Work on projects (writing FAQs, for example).
- Proactively hop on any new conversation in Freshdesk or any call that comes in - the faster it's resolved, the better.
- Towards the end of my day, I recheck my personal emails and answer them before I leave.
That is not a structure that will work for everybody out there, of course. But it's a good start. The most critical points in there (for me) are the proactive answering of customer inquiries and only checking/answering personal emails twice. The latter just keeps my head clear of any distractions.
So, what do you think? Are there any skills you are missing? What do you think a successful customer service professional needs for their career?