26 Experts Reveal the #1 Customer Service Skill

27 Nov 2019

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  • Customer Support

Customer service is as much an art as it is a science. Tools like knowledge base software and customer portals make it easier for your customers to find solutions to many pressing issues on their own. But what happens when your customers have a new or unique problem not covered in your help docs or FAQs? Human-to-human interactions are still very much a key component in the overall customer experience, and resolving customer complaints and solving problems requires a special set of skills. 

There are many skills that enable customer service reps to make those personal connections count, such as patience, empathy, and active listening. To find out what skills are most important for today’s service-focused organizations, we reached out to a panel of customer service experts and asked them to answer this question: 

What’s the #1 customer service skill (and why is it so important?

Read on to learn what our experts had to say about the most important customer service skills and why they matter.

Charlie Cousins

@HoorayHealth

Charlie Cousins is the Director of Hooray Health & Protection. They are a team of UK–based health & protection experts, who through technology and outstanding customer service, always do right by their clients.

I'm a strong believer that 'Taking Ownership' is the most important customer service skill anyone can have… 

Nothing is more frustrating for customers than reaching out for help, just to be transferred from pillar to post, without an answer. Customers, understandably, want their queries to be resolved on their first interaction, and staff taking ownership on the first interaction reassures customers and builds trust in that company.

Karthik Subramanian

@Karthik0102

Karthik Subramanian is a content marketer with two years of experience in the SaaS universe. Karthik began as an equity research analyst 15 years ago and has explored different roles along the way. Karthik has an undying hunger for understanding the Japanese culture, helping people make career decisions, and selecting the best long–term investment options.

The number #1 customer service skill is building relationships…

As customer service reps interact with customers daily, they often become the first point of contact beyond account executives and sales reps. As we move towards a gig economy that is increasingly driven by quick product features and fast signups, we must empathize with our customers.

One good way of building relationships beyond the buyer-seller framework is to use platforms such as LinkedIn. It helps to comment and encourage conversations with existing customers on LinkedIn. Doing so means your brand and product/service will stay on top of their minds. When we post on LinkedIn, the first thing that most of us do is check how many likes and views it has. So, to encourage customers, customer service reps must engage with them continually beyond the work platform.

The other important method of building a good relationship is through anticipation. If a customer has experienced a flaw with your product/service, it is highly likely that other customers will also do the same. That is why I always feel automobile companies do a brilliant job when they recall vehicles with defects. It is a sign of accepting their mistake and rectifying it. There are specific products such as HotJar and FullStory that tell you how your customer is using the product. So, monitoring customer activity continually helps in knowing what their obstacle is and how you can help them overcome it. It also helps to alert other customers about it before it balloons into a disaster.

One other way of building relationships with customers is by acknowledging their personal milestones and official successes (e.g., awards, new deals, scaling of products), and celebrate along with them. After all, they are humans who have emotions – all that they seek is emotions from their peers.

Customer service reps must ensure two–way communication between the customers and their company/brand. They must convey feedback from the customer to the product development/engineering team etc. so that they know what is going wrong. At the same time, they can convey the product roadmap from the engineering teams to the customers.

In some companies where there is hardly any face-to-face contact with their customers, customer service reps send them a souvenir (e.g., an Amazon voucher, a bottle of wine, etc.) to celebrate the anniversary of their association. This helps reduce customer churn. It reminds customers who might be moving away to a competitor to reconsider their decision and re-engage with the incumbent firm.

Heidi Danos

@DirtyKneesSoap

Heidi Danos is the owner of Dirty Knees Soap Co. After several asks from customers and friends, Heidi is now offering small business consulting and copywriting services as well.

When it comes to customer service, sure, you've got the listen, acknowledge the problem/question, and offer a solution standards… 

All of which are important. But, if you don't address your customers with personality, they'll feel like just another number. Consumers these days want a connection. Give them a reason to not only connect with your product, but with you as a human being and they will not only come back but also refer others.

Calloway Cook

@Illuminate_Labs

Calloway Cook is the Founder of an angel-backed dietary supplements company called Illuminate Labs.

The number one customer service skill is patience… 

The customer is always right. Even if they are rude or objectively wrong, it's in a business's best interest to agree with them and work towards a solution. Bad reviews are so harmful to businesses in the internet age, and many of them can be prevented by proactively working with disgruntled customers.

I think it's easier for business owners themselves to learn this skill than customer service reps. I never think to send a rude message back to a customer because I know how much that could harm my business. But I've seen customer service reps take these things personally and respond in a non–ideal way. They have less to lose, since to them, it's just a job. This is partly the reason why I respond to all customer inquiries myself.

Steve Pritchard

@checklateuk

Steve Pritchard is the CEO of Checklate.

While there is a whole host of skills a customer service employee should possess (empathy, knowledge of the products, etc.), the number one talent they should have is… 

Patience. A company’s customer service department is its voice to the world, chiefly the people who use your products and services. For this reason, they should be polite, calm, and helpful at all times.

People who work in customer service often have a thankless job. They’re doing everything from assisting people with issues with their latest purchase to handling irate callers. However, it is for this reason that patience is the most important skill a customer service worker can possess. If you answer the phone to an angry consumer, it can be natural human instinct to become upset, retaliate or get angry yourself. But if you are representing a company, you cannot lose your cool. It is your job to be helpful and courteous. You can always hang up if things get too nasty.

At the same time, you may be speaking to someone who hasn’t got the slightest idea what you are talking about when you are trying to assist them. You could find yourself becoming irritated by the time you’ve explained the same thing for the fourth time. But again, it is your duty to assist the caller in any way you can.

Having patience as a customer service employee will portray the company image in a helpful and polite manner. It will also show you to be courteous and calm to your managers. This patient manner is a secret weapon that anyone who works in communications should have.

Polly Kay

@EnglishBlinds

Polly Kay is the Senior Marketing Manager at English Blinds. Polly has over a decade of experience as a digital marketing consultant and senior marketing manager, serving a diverse range of clients from SMEs to large international corporations and household names.

The number one customer service skill is active listening… 

This is a highly underrated and much-misunderstood skill, but all good customer service workers possess it, and it can be learned.

Active listening means listening, hearing, and processing what the other party is telling you. It is not just staying silent waiting for your turn to speak or only keeping one ear on the conversation because you're thinking about what you're going to say next.

Before you can help a customer and provide a positive experience for them, you need to know what they want. All too often, customer service reps miss the importance of this, because they think they already know it.

For instance, a customer might want a refund and tell you this clearly. But that isn't always the whole story. Simply providing the requested refund and considering the matter closed may not be enough.

The customer might also want you to know why they're asking for the refund, what was wrong with the item, or why it disappointed them or was not what they needed. This information might be as important to them as getting the refund itself.

By actively listening, you can personalize the customer experience and offer them a better service. This is true whether you can meet their needs and provide what they ask for or not.

Trivinia Barber

@Priority_VA

Trivinia Barber is the founder and CEO of Priority VA.

The #1 customer service skill is radical service… 

Within our organization, we say that we aren’t here to help, we’re here to serve. That means that we go above and beyond what is expected from our customers and potential customers. We give of our time and energy to serve them in a way that defies logic.

This may look like referring them to a company that’s better suited for them. It may mean offering free advice or sharing content that will help them with their business goals. It could mean providing resources that will help them in their career.

It’s important for anyone working in customer service to remember that the individuals you’re speaking with aren’t numbers without faces. They’re real people with questions that matter to their business. If I can help an individual (even if we don’t work together), I’m doing exactly what I’m supposed to do. I’m giving back to others and helping them become successful.

Dr. Ty Belknap

@MycoachTy

Dr. Ty Belknap is an SEO Expert and CEO of Port Bell, Inc.

Listening is the #1 customer service skill… 

Unfortunately (or fortunately), the rest of the world is not exactly like you, so your customer thinks differently than you do. Don't interrupt a customer; let them finish what they are saying. Yes, some customers take as long as a Tree Ent to get their words out, but it will be worth it.

It is very easy to start to formulate an answer 10 seconds after the customer starts talking. But they may (and often do) go in a direction you didn't expect. And, aside from that, it is also a sign of respect to let another person finish what they are saying. They will like you more for it, and it may also help you get the sale.

Kimberly Rath

@TalentPlusInc

Kimberly Rath is the Co-Founder and Chairman of Talent Plus, Inc. Kimberly started Talent Plus with 3 co-founders in 1989. Rath has tremendous visibility amongst Talent Plus 400+ clients – many of which are large healthcare organizations, hospitality providers and luxury retailers. Kimberly works with the C Suite across the globe to help them create their leadership legacy as well as a brighter future for those in their employ.

Customer service starts first with how our employees are valued… 

The selection of each team member is critical, and their onboarding is tantamount to the importance of their selection. Their Day One should be memorable and important not only to the new person but to the organization. Does your leadership team meet with each new employee to get to know each other reciprocally? How do you let people who work for you know that they are important every single day? When you take care of this – you take care of your customers.

We focus a great deal on our culture – because we know that the better the culture – the better the experience for our customers and in turn, the better our bottom line. We know highly engaged associates deliver an amazing client partner experience. Our clients are wowed by the service they are offered – consistently from associate to associate on their client team.

With each hire, your culture becomes better or worse. Having a consistently applied, validated assessment that selects more like your best is key. Several years ago, we said Talent Plus would be our biggest and most important client. We use our own assessment and development tools with all of our associates. We eat our own cooking. If it works for us – we know it will work in application for our client partners. On top of that, we layer solutions. I travel to many events that are talking about great cultures – and it's all about innovative human capital practices. Those are great – but you must have the right people in place, or none of those innovative practices are sustainable. 

For example, Talent Plus had a chef for more than 20 of its 28 years – even when we had smaller offices. We did this so our associates could build better relationships with one another. What we know about building relationships is it's how work gets done. When people are in better relationships with one another, they are more likely to help one another. The net result is better productivity and customer service – both internally and externally. And, one of the best ways to do that is over food. 

Moreover, it's a great way for all of us to get in better relationships with one another. For me, it's a way, too, to take the pulse of our culture as well as learn more about people's families. It's important that leaders be human and approachable, and that they can get to know the people they lead.

Anna DiTommaso

@annadito

Anna DiTommaso is the owner of a Dallas, TX-based web design and digital marketing firm called Creative80. Their goal is to provide best in class service to their customers. They’re not the cheapest agency to work with, nor the most expensive, but their service will not be beat. That is one of their major differentiators.

The #1 skill for customer service is de-escalation… 

Some customers reach out for support when they are frustrated or scared about something not working correctly. They may not always have the clearest perception or greatest outlook on what is going on. This often means they are panicked, overwhelmed, or downright rude. The best thing you can do for them (and yourself) at that point is to be very clear, understanding, and reassuring. Providing clear instructions can help them overcome some of their tunnel vision and confusion. While remaining calm and reassuring can transfer some of those same emotions to the customer. The goal should always be to fix whatever problem the customer is having, not convince them that they were wrong or guilt them for behaving badly. If you can control the situation and help the customer achieve their goal, you've done your job well.

Ron Auerbach

@DoctorInterview

Ron Auerbach is a career coach and educator with multiple degrees that include human resources and business. Ron is a job search expert and the author of Think Like an Interviewer: Your Job Hunting Guide to Success. Ron also worked in many fields, such as IT, banking and financial services, and sales.

Customer service is extremely important to any business…

Regardless of what product(s) or service(s) they sell or how large or small they happen to be. So, if you offer poor customer service, that can hurt your company very dearly! Never forget that a dissatisfied customer tells more people than a happy one!

And customer service, which I've done and have taught, by the way, involves the use of many important and key skills. Perhaps the most important of which is empathy. Customers, clients, or prospects want to feel as though you care about them. And are there to assist or help them in any way you can. So, if you don't come across as caring about their problem, issue, purchase, etc., you will lose them very quickly! Thus, it's super important to make the customer, client, or prospect feel as though you genuinely care and want to help them. The key word here is genuinely. Faking it won't work and will very easily backfire on you!

Michael Coleman

@MJNA_INC

Michael Coleman is the VP of Online Sales and Marketing at Medical Marijuana, Inc.

The #1 customer service skill is patience…

Customer service is an impossible job to do well if a person doesn't exhibit an abundance of patience. Consumers hardly ever reach out to customer service to give an 'atta–boy' or say thank you. Customer service professionals are bombarded all day long with people's problems, many of which are outside of their immediate control. But with patience (and a thick skin), employees can carefully manage all incoming requests with tact and integrity. This is of the utmost importance, because customer service is typically a company's only point of personal contact with their customers. It's vital for long-term retention that customers have a positive experience interacting with a customer service team.

Amie Devero

@AmieDevero

Amie Devero is the Managing Director of Amie Devero Coaching and Consulting.

Everyone of us has had the experience of being on the phone with a CSR who is going through the motions of…

Repeating what we say and using our name (often mispronouncing it). They’re otherwise following the prescribed steps for good customer service, albeit robotically. That is what does NOT work. But that's also what makes it so hard to train people in great customer service. The reality is that the best customer service requires genuinely going into the world of the customer to understand, listen, and empathize with the thing they are experiencing or requesting. Everything else – every explicit behavior pattern that trainers suggest is just a superficial attempt to duplicate what happens naturally when we go into the customer's world.

When customer service is done with that degree of authentic empathy, the specific behaviors often taught to CSRs may or may not be part of it. Some people use other's names a lot, and some do not. Some people will recreate the verbiage they hear; others will paraphrase differently. But the unifying truth behind every great customer service interaction is that the customer had the direct visceral experience of whoever served her being in her world. And doing that requires a change of mindset from one of a transaction

to one of relationship-building. Whether the customer service representative is handling a complaint or taking an order, it is ALWAYS possible to go into the world of the customer. When it's done well, both the customer and the person serving him come away with an experience of enrichment. The interaction may only have lasted 30 seconds while ordering a cup of tea or 35 minutes while solving a technical issue – but the experience will resonate with equal power in either.

I regularly work with my clients (post-revenue startup founders and executives) on these skills and imbuing them in their teams. The issue arises both during executive coaching and in the course of developing and executing strategy. Ultimately, the success of any organization – even a non–profit, city government, or school – depends on the degree to which those delivering service can be in the world of their customers.

Jay Perkins

@KB_Kings

Jay Perkins co-founded and run the day to day operations and marketing of Kettlebell Kings. Jay has experience working in e-commerce sales as well as building a brand in the fitness space. They have been in business for about four years and are the most reviewed kettlebell provider online.

The most important skill is innovation…

You have to innovate on each experience and think about how you can make it the best possible experience for that customer. You should think about the outcome of previous interactions and how you can innovate on them to be better the next time, whether they were good or bad. This way, you can make your customer service something that stands out!

Michael Stahl

@HealthMarkets

Michael Stahl is the executive vice president and chief marketing officer of HealthMarkets, one of the largest independent health insurance agencies in the U.S. HealthMarkets distributes health, Medicare, life and supplemental insurance products from more than 200 companies.

When it comes to dealing with customer service issues, you have to have empathy…

You must be able to separate yourself from the business to put yourself in the shoes and mindset of your customers. The ability to think and see the way they do – especially when they see something wrong – is critical. Customers need to know you care and that you want to help resolve the issue.

David Leonhardt

@amabaie

David Leonhardt is President of THGM Writers, a ghostwriting service helping individuals and small businesses tell their story.

We are a highly customer-oriented company because we do all custom work to meet customer desires.The most important customer service skill from our perspective is…

Listening. We can’t even begin to serve the customer without listening very carefully to what they want. But it’s more than that. We have to listen to the meaning behind what they want to understand why. That often makes the difference between blindly giving them what they think they want and helping lead them to what they actually want. It is a fact that a lot of people who want screenplays and book manuscripts written have only a vague idea of what they want. Making sure they choose their best path at the start of a job is better service compared to realizing halfway through that they wanted something else. 

Syed Irfan Ajmal

@SyedIrfanAjmal

Syed Irfan Ajmal is the Founder and MD at SIA Enterprises. Syed is a digital marketing agency owner, international speaker, syndicated columnist, and podcast host. Syed’s bylines & citations include Forbes, the World Bank, SEMrush, Reader’s Digest, Entrepreneur, and several others.

Customer handling skills or customer service skills go hand in hand…

You have to be positive and emphatic in handling the customer. Developing a great customer base is dependent on how the company handles its customers. Great customer service will do the marketing job for you by facilitating word-of-mouth marketing. 

Here are the top 3 necessary customer service skills based on their importance:

  1. The positive attitude of the customer representative goes a long way. Some customers occasionally will have a bad day with your services. The positive approach towards the customer will make sure that the company is listening and knows how to handle things under pressure.
  2. Calmness the key for making your resolutions stick with the customers. One unsupportive move from you, from the customer rep, will make things worse. Zen–like calmness will be required to handle any frustrated customer.
  3. Be empathetic towards your customers. Make them feel that their query has been acknowledged and you are working on it. The customer called for a reason; make sure they are satisfied by your approach to handling the issue.

Lucia E. Robles

@luciaandcompany

Lucia E. Robles is the President & Co–Founder of Lucia & Co. Lucia & Co. is a luxury gourmet business gift company that provides automated, done-for-you custom gift services and concierge gift services to help business owners with consistent client retention and consistent prospect outreach. 

Hands down, the #1 customer service skill is listening…

People don’t listen anymore, personally or professionally. Most of the time people don’t really listen. They are too busy formulating their own thoughts and are also anxious to talk themselves. When you show up to the conversation open minded and completely present, with genuine care and concern for what your customer has on their mind, they feel it. The trick is to push aside your auto responses and just listen to them completely. This not only validates them and makes them really feel valued, but it also elevates you as someone who genuinely cares about them as a person. It humanizes them and you. So often customers feel like they’re just numbers or part of a company’s bottom line, when in fact they are so much more than that. Listening will help to develop trust, loyalty, and a real relationship with your customer that will be worth more than any advertising can buy.

Mark Armstrong

@mrstrongarm

Mark Armstrong is the Owner of Mark Armstrong Illustration. Mark is an illustrator and digital marketing expert who’s been running an illustration studio for the past 30 years.

“The most important customer service skill is keeping clients informed…”

Taking a chance on an outside contractor is risky. It requires a leap of faith if you’ve never worked with them before.

I’m an illustrator. I send my clients regular status reports. It’s especially important in the case of short deadlines. If I’m working on ideas, I let them know. If I’m working on sketches, I let them know. I don’t wait till I have something “official” to show them.

When clients don’t hear from you, they worry. Keeping them informed relieves anxiety and builds trust.

One final thought: keeping customers informed only works if you speak their language. Nobody wants to hear me use design buzzwords. Jargon hurts your credibility and makes you sound pretentious. When you speak plainly, you are being courteous — and courtesy is an essential part of customer service.

Alexa Kurtz

@webtekcc

Alexa Kurtz is a  Marketing Strategist & Paid Ad Specialist at WebTek, a web design and digital marketing agency in Lancaster, PA. Interacting daily with clients over the last 3.5 years of employment with WebTek has helped strengthen Alexa’s customer service skills.

It's important to listen with attentiveness…

The ability to read in between the lines and hear what your customers are REALLY saying is an emotional intelligence trait that can and should be learned by all. For example, if a

customer is saying, ‘I can never find your phone number online,’ or, ‘Where are you located again?’ that should signal to you that you might want to improve your website's user experience. Or, you might create a user–friendly Google My Business page. Emotional intelligence is HUGE in customer service!

It's also important to have an in-depth knowledge of your product or service. Customers you're trying to sell to will almost always have questions. They're able to see through the BS quickly. Without knowing your product or service like the back of your hand, you won't be able to give the proper assistance customers need. If you don't know your stuff, you not only send insecure messages about yourself as a service rep but also about your company as a whole.

Dmytro Okunyev

@dmytrookunyev

Dmytro Okunyev is the Founder at Chanty, a simple AI-powered team chat. This powerful and free Slack alternative is aimed to increase team productivity and improve communication at work.

The #1 customer service skill that all customer service reps need is empathy…

Excellent problem–solving skills don’t matter much if you cannot empathize with the customer and understand the problem from their point of view. Customer service reps need to quickly recognize what kind of mood the caller (or message sender) is in and adjust their approach, tone of voice, and strategy for resolving a problem. 

The combination of empathy and problem-solving skills makes for a customer service professional that is irreplaceable, regardless of the industry or line of work.

Dane Kolbaba

@dkolbaba

Dane Kolbaba is an owner at WatchdogPestControl.com. Dane resides in Chandler, Arizona, and has a passion for helping others. Dane enjoys being surrounded with interesting and motivating people. 

Being an effective customer service representative takes a lot of things, but…

The most important is your tone of voice or demeanor, or your ability to convey yourself (over the phone or otherwise). I'm tempted to say listening skills because you can't get to the meat of the matter without it, right? But you also need the right amount of probing skills to get to it. You have to be an effective speaker to guide your customer to the resolution, especially if that resolution requires them to take steps from their end. So, I'm choosing a person's tone of voice or demeanor as the most important customer service skill, whether that's in a face–to–face setting or over the phone. You must be empathic and yet convey professionalism when dealing with customers. Having the right tone and demeanor sets your entire interaction, whether that's with the best possible customer behavior (calm, patient) or with someone already very irate. You can learn how to listen and speak better, but it takes a more subtle touch to know how well you're conveying yourself. 

Saurabh Jindal

@talktravelapp

Saurabh Jindal runs a startup called Talk Travel.

The most important customer service skill is to be able to empathize with the customer…

A customer generally approaches the customer service when he/she needs assistance and solution to a problem. A customer service executive should try to be in the customer's shoes and look at things from his or her perspective. It will give a lot of confidence to the customer as well as make him appreciate the support being provided. And a better understanding of the request (or the problem) would also lead to a quicker and better resolution. And all of this, if assisted with good communication skills, can be a great asset and help for the customer.

Nate Masterson

@MapleHolistics

Nate Masterson is the CEO of Maple Holistics.

One of the most important things when dealing with customer service is to…

Make sure the interaction with your customer is the right balance between personal and professional. Your customer shouldn’t feel like they are communicating with a computer, but it shouldn’t be so personal that they feel disrespected. Interactions should vary depending on the demographic and clientele. B2B customer service should be handled differently than consumer products. If it’s a phone conversation, sounding happy and professional can drastically change the consumer’s experience. It also changes the way they interact with your employees. For person-to-person interactions, having a mirror behind the desk, so the customer looks at their reflection while interacting with your employees, can decrease hostilities when an issue arises. Emails should be as personal as possible while not giving up on productivity. They should be personalized slightly, but not so much that your staff spends too much of their time on it.

Hassan Alnassir

@PremiumJoy

Hassan Alnassir is the Founder and owner of the kids’ toy business Premium Joy.

The top customer service skill is…

Knowing how to have a natural conversation with consumers without sounding like a robot that merely answers questions and responds to requests. Store visitors who seek assistance (whether online or offline) typically want to be greeted by a caring human being who feels like a friend rather than a staff member who's merely doing their job.

This 'humane' interaction with customers allows people to enjoy dealing with your company, which helps to promote brand loyalty and word of mouth. It's difficult to get consumers attracted or interested in your brand if you don't engage them during conversations while providing the help needed.

So there you have it - the top customer service skills. Whether you are starting your business or scaling up your customer support, these should come in handy. Let us know what you think is the most important skill.