Jitbit Blog about Customer Support

16 Customer Service Skills That Drive Every Business

Feb 7 2016 :: by Robbie

Develop these skills to win new customers, increase loyalty and grow your business

Excellent customer service is the lifeblood of any organization.

It generates new customers. A great customer service reputation is a powerful differentiator in a competitive market where consumers have a lot of product/service options.

It generates return business. A happy customer is much more likely to come back and buy.. In fact, 58% of consumers are willing to spend more on companies that provide excellent customer service.

It generates referral business - 87% of customers will share a good experience with others.

Bottom line:

Great service is the foundation of a sustainable business. It helps increase customer acquisition, and reduce attrition.

So, how do deliver rockstar service and set your business apart from the competition?

Below, you will find a list of 16 essential customer service skills every employee needs to win new customers, increase loyalty and build long-term advocacy.

Each skill is backed by research and provides an actionable tip to quickly develop it across each level of your organization.

But, don’t just take our word for it. Here are 9 statistics that showcase the bottom-line implications of good (and bad) customer service.

  • An estimated $41B is lost by US companies alone each year due to poor customer service (NewVoiceMedia)
  • 66% of customers switch companies due to bad customer service (Accenture)
  • 82% felt their customer service provider could have done something to prevent them switching (Accenture)
  • A customer is 4 times more likely to buy from a competitor if the problem is service related vs. price or product related (Bain & Co.)
  • 58% will never use the company again after a negative experience (NewVoice)
  • It is 6–7 times more costly to attract a new customer than it is to retain an existing customer (White House Office of Consumer Affairs)
  • 76% of consumers say they view customer service as the true test of how much a company values them (2015 Aspect Consumer Experience Survey)
  • 60% of consumers have higher expectations for customer service now than they did just one year ago (2015 Global State of Multichannel Customer Service Report)
  • 63% of companies expect to spend more on customer experience (Temkin)
Customer service quote from Tony Hsieh

Ok, now let’s take a look at 16 skills your team can develop to deliver the best experience for your customers.

#1: Empathy

Customer service skills - empathy

Read any list of must-have customer service skills and this one is almost always at the top.

Empathy, or the ability to understand and share the feelings of others, is required at every stage of a company, from product development to sales and customer support.

To build a great product, you need to deeply understand consumer needs and pain points.

To sell a product, you need to understand how consumers think and personalize communications. Which features/ benefits matter the most to the customer? How do they consume information - email, sell sheets, demo videos?

To provide great customer support, you need to understand the emotions of others and not take things personally when a customer becomes angry.

At it’s simplest level, empathy breeds understanding. If a customer feels understood, they will feel valued. If a person feels valued, they will stick around and pay you for a longer period of time.

5 ways to build empathy

Here is some good advice from the team at MindTools:

1.Ditch your viewpoint and see things from the other person’s perspective. In most cases the customer is not intentionally being rude, unkind, unreasonable or making any type of personal attack. They are just reacting to the situation with the knowledge they have. The first step is putting yourself in their shoes.

2. Validate the other person’s perspective. Make an effort to really understand why people feel the way they do. You don’t need to agree, but at least acknowledge that they may have good reason for being pissed off.

3. Look at your attitude Check yourself. Are you putting the customer’s best interests first, or are you more concerned with winning or being right?

4. Don’t just hear, listen Hearing is not listening. Make sure you are taking in every word the customer has to say, including their tone of voice and body language (when possible). Look for verbal and visual cues that you’re on track and the customer is happy.

5. Ask the customer to define success What are they hoping to achieve? The easiest way to define customer success is to have them define it in plain words. Remove any potential confusion and start working towards the end goal immediately.

Practice this 5-step approach each time you interact with family, friends, colleagues and customers. You’ll be amazed at how much more approachable you become. You will seem more engaged and interested in what people are saying, which will in turn make the customer feel more valued and appreciated.

#2: Deep Product Knowledge = Confidence

Customer service skills - product knowledge

This one should go without saying, but I’ll mention it anyway.

All employees should have a deep working knowledge of the product. They should be up-to-date on the latest features and deeply understand the benefits and value delivered to the end user.

This is important for a number of reasons:

Faster troubleshooting.

Smarter product recommendations (cross sells and upsells).

Employees are ready to tackle problems without outsourcing help.

Clearer communication of benefits and value.

Confident customer interactions.

Understanding the product as if you were a daily user is not only essential to deliver great customer service, it’s an important function of the entire sales process. Being able to effectively communicate value will help win new clients, whereas cross and upselling will help extract more value from existing customers.

5 Ways to Gain Deep Product Knowledge

Melissa Thompson provides a great framework for building product knowledge in this Customer Think article.

Here is the high-level overview:

1.Consistent training All staff should take the same training so everyone is working from a single knowledge base.

2. Allow hands-on experience Get the product in the hands of employees and have them simulate practical use cases.

3. Role play Encourage employees to demonstrate expertise on the spot by having another team member pose as a customer. This is particularly effective as other team members will be able to better simulate educated customers and ask some of the more challenging questions.

4. Offer rewards and incentives Create an incentive program where employees can earn points for passing exams and completing different training exercises. These points can be exchanged for prizes or perks at the end of the quarter.

This is a great way to engage employees and make training fun.

5. Get training out of the office Allow your employees to get out of the office and attend meetups, seminars, trade shows and conferences. These events provide an opportunity to network and learn from other industry professionals, stay up-to-date on new market trends and come away feeling motivated to perform better at work.

#3: Active Listening

”Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply” Stephen R. Covey

Studies have shown most people practice lazy or inattentive listening, and will retain only 50% of what is spoken after a 10-minute oral presentation.

This is a worrying statistic when you consider that one of the most important skills needed to deliver great customer service is the ability to really listen and understand what the customer pain point is, and why they are experiencing it.

How to develop good active listening skills:

Follow the RASA framework outlined in this article:

Receive information without interrupting - push bias, argument and internal dialogue aside. Show Appreciation through attentive body language - smile, nod and make small verbal gestures such as “I see” to show full undivided attention.

Summarize the other person’s key pain points. This demonstrates you understand the core problem the customer is facing, and will make it easier to reach a resolution.

Ask clarifying questions to gauge your level of understanding - clear up any misunderstandings.

Perhaps the most important thing we can give someone is our attention

#4: Go the Extra Mile

Great customer service requires going the extra mile

You’ve heard the saying; “It’s the little things that matter”.

This is very true in today’s competitive market. Customers are pursued aggressively, and businesses should not be taking customer loyalty for granted.

Instead, you should be going above and beyond to make sure the customer is happy.

For example, let’s say you are unable to handle a customer’s problem and need to transfer them to another department. Instead of giving the customer another number to call and hours of boring “please hold” music to listen to - do a warm call transfer. Make sure somebody is awaiting the call when you make the transfer, and that person knows who they are talking to and what the call is about.

Another simple example of going the extra mile is asking if there is anything else you can do for the customer at the end of the call.

”58% of consumers are willing to spend more on companies that provide excellent customer service” source

4 ways you can go the extra mile

1. Know your customers A great interaction begins with knowing what the customer wants and needs. Customers love personalization. It makes them feel valued and important. When possible, get to know the customer by their first name.

2. Be consistent It doesn’t matter if you eat a McDonald’s cheeseburger in New York or London, they always seem to taste the same. You know what to expect. And for that reason you keep going back.

Whether it’s food or customer support interactions, the same principle applies. Your customers want to know what to expect, and would like to think that no matter whenever or wherever they have an interaction with you, it will be the same positive experience.

The simplest way to build consistency with a customer is to build a consistent process within your company. This is best accomplished through regular internal training.

It’s also important to measure the effectiveness of training processes through periodic call monitoring and on-the-job performance observations.

3. Fix mistakes Always solicit, and act on, feedback from your customers. It shows you value their input, and it has a real impact on the business.

4. Offer Rewards Thank your customers. Send them swag or offer special customer loyalty discounts and promotions.

#5: Patience

“Patience is not the ability to wait, but the ability to keep a good attitude while waiting” Joyce Meyer

We’re taught from an early age that patience is a virtue. But, few people are ever really shown how to be patient.

Patience is not innately gifted to us at birth, it is something we consciously do. It’s like any other skill, the more we practice it, the more patient we become.

The ability to be patient (even when your customers are not) is one of the most essential customer service skills to develop, and one you will call on every single day…

Customers will get angry and take frustration out on you.

Customers will not understand the solution to a problem, no matter how many times you explain it to them.

Customers will struggle to make a final purchase decision.

Customers will want their problem solved yesterday.

Each scenario will test your patience.

The key is to remember you are the face of the company at that moment. You cannot allow a customer’s negativity to influence the way you treat them.

At the end of the day, all frustration will likely be forgotten as soon as a resolution is reached.

Four steps to develop more patience

I did a lot of “Googling” on this one, and there is a ton of content out there, but this article by Jane Bolton on Psychology Today provides a very actionable four-step process anyone can follow to develop more patience:

1.Identify and understand the opposing forces Before you can develop patience, you need to first identify the opposing forces - anger, irritation, blaming and shaming. These are all powerful compounding human emotions. The more effort we give them, the stronger they become.

In terms of customer service, these emotions are usually embodied in thoughts like “I have never spoken to such a rude…”, “How could this person be so stupid…”, “this person is being completely unreasonable…”.

We’ve all thought it. Some of us might have even said it. Recognizing the addictive and negative nature of these emotions is the first step to moving past them.

2. Upgrade your attitude to discomfort When dealing with an irate or confused customer, say to yourself, “this is uncomfortable, not intolerable”. It will help put things in perspective.

3. Identify when the pain/irritation begins Focus on the internal cues causing the pain or irritation to start. This way, you’re more mindful of when you are about to lose you’re cool with the customer.

4. Self-talk Self-talk can have a big influence on the reality you create for yourself. Simply engaging in a more positive and understanding internal dialogue during testing times can completely change the way you feel and act.

For example, if an angry customer calls in shouting over the phone and you start thinking “man, this customer is about to make me lose my sh%#..”, change the internal dialogue to “this is not personal, the customer has just had a very frustrating experience and I completely get where they are coming from. I’d be upset too. I’m going to do everything I can to make this right for them.”

See how big a difference simply re-framing the self-talk can have on your attitude?

#6: Handle The Curveballs

Great customer service requires handling the odd curveball

It doesn’t matter what line of business you’re in, things won’t always go as planned. You will get thrown a curveball from time to time.

Customers will run into a problem that isn’t covered in the company training guide, or they won’t respond the way you expect them to.

You need to think quickly on your feet and come up with a creative out-of-the-box solution.

But, what about those situations when you’re completely stuck?

Follow this 3-step process for handling curveballs

1.Define your go-to chain of command. Identify a person you can turn to when you get stuck. Is it a senior customer service rep? A department supervisor? Maybe the company CEO?

Always make sure you have a backup resource in place too. For example, if your department supervisor is on another call or out of the office, identify someone else in the company you can reach out to for assistance. The more backups the better.

2. Make sure the resource is easily accessible. When customers need help, they want to get it fast. So, it’s important to make sure you can get quick access to more senior customer support resources. In most cases the company CEO is not going to be your “go-to” point of contact.

3. Define communication channels. How will you get assistance - chat, email, phone or in-person communication?

The best way to establish is to ask the resource which communication method works best for them.

#7: Clarity

Don’t beat around the bush. Get to the heart of the problem as soon as possible.

Aside from being able to listen attentively, you will need to be able to communicate clearly across both verbal and written channels.

Verbal communications skills are talked about more often, but in a customer service environment where support is provided through email, social media and helpdesk ticketing systems, writing skills are critical.

Staff need to be detailed enough to solve the problem, but not so detailed you leave the customer feeling confused and frustrated.

5 steps to clearer communication

1. Keep It Simple Stupid - Avoid industry jargon. Using terms like “UX”, “.ai files” and “Hue” might seem obvious to a web designer, but to a customer, they might sound like complete gibberish. Know your audience and use terms they will easily understand.

2. Be concise - Nobody likes to read ten sentences when you could have communicated the information in five.

Keep communication brief and stick to the point. Avoid unnecessary sentences and filler words, such as “like”, “essentially”, “you see”, “I mean”.

3. Avoid negative questions - they often create confusion and lead to unnecessary back-and-forth communication.

For example, let’s pretend you say to a customer, “You don’t have Windows 10 installed?” and she answers “Yes”. What does this mean? Yes, you’re right. Or, yes I actually do have the software installed.

It’s much clearer if you frame questions positively. Instead, you could frame the question as “You have Windows 10 installed, correct?”.

4. Complete - at the end of the communication your customer should have all the information they need to be informed and take action.

Does your message have a clear call-to-action that will push the customer towards a desired end goal?

Bad Example:

Hi Everyone,

I just wanted to send a reminder about the meeting we’re having tomorrow!

See you then,

Robbie

This message is incomplete. When is the meeting? Where is it? What meeting am I even talking about?

Recipients will not have the information they need. This will result in unnecessary back-and-forth communication needed to clarify simple details.

Good Example:

Hi Everyone,

I just wanted to send out a quick reminder about tomorrow’s meeting on the new Helpdesk >training policy. The meeting will be at 10am in Conference Room B (next to my office).

Bring a notepad as you’ll need to write down some important information.

Let me know asap if you can’t attend.

See you then, Robbie

This message is complete. Recipients have all the information they need to attend the meeting - time, location, things to bring and where it is located.

#8: Always Follow Up

According to Harvard Business Review, the biggest complaint customers have when dealing with any business is poor follow-up.

This has bad bottom line implications when you consider that almost 60% of customers will switch to another company or brand if they think they can get better customer service.

So, how do you build a follow up process that increases loyalty and sales?

Barry Moltz shares some great advice in his Small Business Trends article titled “7 Ways to Master the Art of Customer Follow Up”:

1.Set expectations If you don’t set expectations, your customer will set their own. Be proactive, and make it very clear what you will be following up on and when you will be contacting the customer. Then, get back to the customer at the time promised, even if there is no resolution.

2. Post-Sale Nurturing Most businesses are good at the immediate upsell. The “Hey, you bought product X, so you’ll love product y” communications you see right after a purchase. These are great at maximizing profits, but it becomes a problem when the only time the customer hears from you is when you’re trying to make a sale.

Incorporate some non-transactional messaging into follow-up communications. This will vary depending on the business, but some examples include:

Informative blog posts Announcing new product features Sharing success stories Reporting on industry trends Helpful how-to tutorials

Include information that empowers customers to realize more value from the product/service.

3. Be Pre-Emptive Identify times of the year when customers have a higher tendency to run into problems. For example, Turbo Tax is going to receive a lot of customer service inquiries during February and March as people rush to file taxes online.

Turbo tax could send out an email answering some of the most common customer service questions, or provide a link to a comprehensive set of tutorials for people to follow along with.

4. Remember Birthdays and special anniversaries are a great time to send out a communications to celebrate the milestone.

For example, you could send out a special discount or purchase credit to a customer celebrating a one year customer anniversary. These personal touches make the customer feel appreciated.

5. The No-Strings Attached Offer You don’t need an anniversary or birthday to tell a customer how much you love them.

Every now and again, randomly reach out to customers and provide an exclusive offer. No specific reason. No strings attached.

6. Be Personal

helpdesk conversation

People listen to people they like, and do business with those they trust.

Try to be conversational in customer communications. Address people by their name and use your name (and photo) in outgoing communications. Customers like to communicate with real people, not automated robots.

#9: Don’t be afraid to outsource

You’ve completed all the training.

Read all the product guides.

Worked at the company for 10 years.

Know the product like the back of your hand.

But, today you encounter a customer who has an issue that has totally thrown you for a loop.

And no amount of creative thinking can get you free.

Don’t sweat it.

Because a great customer service skill is knowing when to outsource an issue to someone else better equipped to handle it.

In fact, admitting that you are not sure of the solution, but reassure the customer you’ll find someone who can, is a great way to show transparency and build trust.

The customer will appreciate the honesty and you’ll likely reach a resolution much faster.

#10: Build Trust Through Transparency

“All things equal, people will do business with, and refer business to, people they know, trust and like”

No one is perfect.

Even the most seasoned customer service representatives will make a mistake from time to time.

And that’s ok.

The key is to admit when you are wrong, and never promise something you can’t deliver.

For example, when a customer calls in furious that you sent her the wrong color wedding dress and the wedding is in 7 days, instead of being defensive of passing the blame onto some other person or department, you could respond by saying:

“Ma’am I’m extremely sorry about the mix up on our end. I can see on your order form that you did indeed select white and not the cream colored dress you were sent. I will personally see to it that the correct dress is express shipped first thing in the morning so that it arrives at your house in 2–3 business days. Please accept our sincere apology and a $100 credit on your account for future purchases”

In this response I admit responsibility, validate the customer’s pain point, guarantee to personally oversee the shipment of the correct product to arrive in time for the wedding, and offer a credit to bring her back to shop again at the store.

This is how you build trust and turn an unhappy customer into a raging advocate.

#11: Use Positive Statements

Your customers are more interested in what you can do, rather than what you can’t do.

How you phrase certain responses can have a big impact on the way people perceive you and the company.

Let’s pretend you own an auto dealership. Instead of saying “we can’t give you a loan rate unless I run your credit”, frame it more positively and say “I can get you a rate in just a few minutes if you allow me to run your credit”.

This tone is much more friendly and approachable.

#12: Stay Calm

“90% of top performers are skilled at managing their emotions and remaining calm and in control during times of stress” (Forbes)

It’s impossible to keep everyone happy.

There will come a day when a customer believes the world is coming to an end, and it’ll be all your fault.

When the customer is pissed off and senses you are too, it will often fuel the fire.

On the other hand, if you remain calm, you can stay in control of the situation. This can be accomplished in-person, through tone of voice, or via a delicate email response.

Derek Sivers talks about the importance of great customer service
6 Ways to Handle Angry Customers (Without Losing Your Cool)

The team at Velaro have some great advice on interacting with angry customers:

1. Don’t take it personal Angry customers will take their frustrations out on you, even if they know you didn’t cause the problem. Don’t take it personal. They are merely venting. At this point, let them get all the anger out without interrupting and then provide help.

2. Never argue back When customers become extremely irate it can be easy to go on the defensive. Sometimes it will be tempting to fight back, especially when you know the customer is wrong.

In these situations, be the better person.

Make an effort to understand the source of frustration, let them know you understand why they are unhappy and that you are there to help.

Express that in order to correct the issue they are going to need to calm down.

3. Kill them with kindness Some customers will refuse to calm down. In these situations, the next move is to kill them with kindness.

Show empathy, be sincere, respectful and remember the current situation is “uncomfortable, not intolerable”.

4. Know how to apologize When the time is right, apologize to the customer (even when you feel it is not necessary).

Depending on the situation, there are a number of ways to go about this:

I’m sorry to hear you are unhappy with your purchase. Let’s work together to make this right.

I’m sorry you’re so angry. I completely understand where you are coming from, and I’m going to do everything I can to help you out.

5. Solve the problem (but don’t overcompensate) Once the customer has calmed down, ask questions to gather facts and begin working towards a resolution. However, keep in mind you’re running a business. Don’t overcompensate for the customer’s complaint. The solution should work for both parties.

For example, if your customer’s dress arrives a day late, don’t offer to send them a second dress for free if you can’t afford to eat the cost.

6. Relieve stress Take a moment after the call to decompress. Get up and stretch, take a few deep breathes or go for a walk. Make sure you are relaxed before speaking with the next customer.

#13: Use Active Voice

You are more likely to get a customer to take action by using action words and speaking in the active tense than using past tense and avoiding verbs.

Try to lead with verbs to get customers to take action. For example:

“Buying this product will save you 5 hours every week Marie…”

“Putting the order in now will ensure the product arrives by…”

“Upgrading to the premium version today will allow you to..”

Speaking in present tense can also help customers look beyond past challenges and frustrations, and more towards a positive future end-goal.

#14: Anticipate (and Handle) Objections

No prospect is just waiting there with a checkbook open chomping at the bit to buy your products or services. In a competitive market where there are lots of options to choose from, consumers have the power to ask questions, raise objections and voice doubts prior to purchase.

Many sales and customer service professionals fear these situations. However, objections communicate valuable information about consumer needs, concerns, pain points and potential barriers to entry.

In fact, many objections can be quickly and easily handle with a simple re-framing process.

But, before we dive into the re-framing process, it helps to first understand the four main types of customer objections:

1.Price/Risk These concerns are centered around cost, budget and ROI. Your job in this case is to justify the cost by demonstrating value and showing how the customer will get a positive ROI.

2. Service quality Customers will express doubts about staff expertise, product quality, past results, and responsiveness of customer support personnel.

3. Trust Customers do business with, and refer business to, those they trust. You need to establish credibility to overcome these concerns. Testimonials, affiliations and case studies help here.

3 Ways to Handle Customer Objections

This article written by Doug Dvorak from the National Association of Sales Professionals highlights 3 simple ways to handle objections.

1.Positive Attitude Objections are opportunities disguised. Think about it this way, if a customer has valid objections and has taken to time to voice them, it shows due diligence and an interest in the product. If you are able to overcome the objections, the customer might decide to purchase the product/ service. This should put a more positive spin on the situation, and even motivate customer service and sales professionals.

2. Preparation is key Keep a running log of all the objections you encounter on a daily basis. Write down how you successfully overcame the objection. Keep this resource close by at all times so you can refer back to it when necessary.

Each of the objections raised by the customer should be tackled one-by-one, starting with the toughest one.

3. Show respect Make sure you hear everything the customer has to say without interruption. Once you hear the objection, reflect it back to the customer and empathize with the source of the objection before providing a counter.

Don’t fall into these fatal traps when handling objections:

Never knock the competition. This takes the focus off your company.

Never tell the customer they are wrong.

Never tell the customer “you don’t understand”

Never argue with the customer.

Never let an objection go by without an answer.

#15: Closing skills

This is not to be confused with closing the “sale”.

In the context of customer service, closing refers to the ability to end communications with the customer feeling like all their questions and objections have been taken care of.

You never want the customer to leave feeling unsatisfied.

At the end of the call, always ask “Were all your questions answered?” or “Is there anything else I can help you with”.

This shows the customer you care about their experience and are willing to help them right to the end.

The customer decides when the call is over.

#16: Always Be Learning

There are many different ways to develop customer service skills.

Company training.

Conferences.

Webinars.

Blog content.

Taking time to reflect on your mistakes (really important!)

The list is endless.

But, one of the most effective ways to learn and improve your skills is to measure performance over time.

Developing a data-driven approach is the only way to assess the impact skills development is having on customer service.

How to measure the impact of your skills development

We use JitBit’s built-in reporting dashboards to measure important metrics such as ticket close rates:

helpdesk screenshot

No matter what tools you are using for support, make a list of KPIs - ticket close rate, average close times, net promoter scores - and track each one closely on an ongoing basis.

Make a note of the different strategies and tactics implemented in the customer service delivery so you can attribute the results with the right actions.

Those are the 16 customer service skills that should form the foundation of your business

Make the support skills mentioned above a priority for both new hires and existing employees and you’ll win new customers, increase loyalty and grow your business.

Are there any other skills we missed? What customer service skills have had the biggest impact on your business?

Let us know in the comments below.

'16 Customer Service Skills That Drive Every Business' was written by Robbie by Robbie. head of marketing