Before we dive in, think about the last positive memory you had with a customer service rep. Try to recall why that interaction was so special and what that rep did to leave a positive impression in your mind.
For me, it was how human the conversation was. The rep quickly matched my casual attitude and we enjoyed some light-hearted small talk while he set up my account.
But, whether it's their speedy response, their friendly and welcoming demeanor, or how effective they are at solving your problem, the most successful customer service personnel share similar characteristics that make them stand out from their coworkers. While most people possess at least some of these special qualities, the best service individuals have nearly all of them which is why they're so effective at providing superior customer support.
Customer Service Qualities
Empathy is the baseline for customer service. If you want to find success in this field, you'll need to not only understand how to solve a customer's problem but also why this issue is important to them in the first place. Doing so helps reps create a delightful experience for customers where their roadblocks and goals are prioritized above all else.
When you're troubleshooting a customer's problem, sometimes the solution isn't cut and dry. In some cases, you'll need to think outside of the box if you want to come up with a solution that benefits both the customer and your business. The more creative of a problem-solver you are, the easier it is to meet customer needs.
When I worked on HubSpot's customer service team, my manager told us to consider ourselves subject matter experts when it comes to anything HubSpot. After all, service reps spend every day working with the product and are constantly being quizzed about the company's services. As a trained rep, you should feel confident in your ability to troubleshoot problems and provide effective solutions.
This attitude isn't just for the rep, either. Customers are relying on service reps to provide answers that they can trust are correct. If you don't present a solution confidently, the customer might not believe that it's the right answer and may ask to speak a manager for a second opinion. This negates the purpose of your frontline support team and adds more friction to the service experience.
No two support cases are exactly alike. Even if customers have the same problem, the context surrounding the issue will be different. One customer may be in a hurry and needs updates as soon as they're available, while the other customer may be more flexible and would rather you reach out when the situation is completely resolved. Being able to interpret these details on the fly will help you remove minor pain points from the customer journey.
While empathy deals with your ability to understand emotions, compassion is how you express sympathy for other people's problems. Even though you may understand why a customer is upset, you may also think they're overreacting or that their issue isn't something that you're required to help with. Compassion service reps see the value of all support inquiries and are eager to assist people whenever and wherever possible — even if that means working outside their scope of support.
When it comes to providing support over phone, email, or live chat, customers don't always see the work going on behind the scenes. While they may think the interaction is going smoothly, you may be searching frantically through your internal resources to find an effective solution for their problem. Even when the customer has been waiting on hold for 10 minutes, the best service reps keep a level head and focus on what they need to do to complete the task at hand.
Additionally, there are going to be times where reps do everything right, but the customer gives them negative feedback or a low NPS. This is where you really need to be tenacious, put emotions aside, and find out what you could have done better during that support case. Great service reps don't take things too personally and look for value in all of the feedback that customers provide them.
We all know speed is important when it comes to customer service. But, as the chart outlines below, it's actually the most important factor influencing the customer experience.
Customers want fast solutions, but they also understand that service reps are human, too. If you need more time to solve a problem, that's fine, but just make sure to reach out to the customer at the exact time that you promise to update them. Don't keep them waiting or wondering if you've forgotten about them.
It's better to be on time with your response and let the customer know that you're still troubleshooting than it is to leave them completely in the dark. If you don't update them, they may reach out to one of your colleagues and create a new support ticket. This creates confusion on your support team and skews your customer success metrics.
Data is extremely important when managing a customer service team because it shows you how consistent your reps are. For example, if you monitor individual call center metrics, you'll know which reps are performing well and which ones are falling short of customer expectations.
And, if you track metrics like customer satisfaction score (CSAT) and NPS, you can set long-term goals so reps have a benchmark to work towards throughout the year. You'll know who your most successful reps are because they'll be ones that can consistently provide excellent service to your customer base.
When you're communicating with another person — even if it's text-based like live chat or email — you need to generate some type of human connection. It doesn't matter if you're introverted or not the best at small talk, opening up to customers will help them feel more comfortable with the situation and make you appear more likable. That's important, too, because when a roadblock pops up, the customer will be less likely to place all of the blame on your shoulders. The more you can make the customer feel like you're on the same team, the better their experience will be.
While the service rep should be a subject matter expert, that's not always the case for the customer. Part of customer service is fielding common questions from new users and being able to explain those solutions in a variety of ways. The same explanation won't always make sense to every customer, so you'll need to be patient and come up with different ways to teach people how to use your product and services.
It's good to be naturally curious if you're working in customer service. You should want to know all about your customers' issues and even what's going on outside their call with your support team. This shows that you're genuinely interested in customer success and that you care whether or not they achieve their goals.
When you're working with a customer in real-time, you never know what roadblocks are going to suddenly pop up. One time, I was working remotely with a customer when suddenly I lost power at my home and the call was ended abruptly. I had to quickly update the customer via email, grab my cell phone, and call the customer using my phone's "hotspot." This is just one of many scenarios where service reps need to be flexible and willing to adapt when plans or routines go astray.
Positivity tells customers that their problems are solvable and that you're confident that you can provide a desired resolution. If you're pessimistic, customers will think that the situation is worse than it is and will believe the experience is negative even when you give them the right answer.
It's important to use vocabulary that shows you're optimistic about the support case. For example, instead of saying there's a glitch or flaw with a product, say that the product is "behaving unexpectedly" and that you want to look more into this "behavior." This tells the customer that you think the product isn't broken, but rather needs some minor recalibrating before you can fix it. While it doesn't rule out a major problem, it minimizes your reaction which makes the customer feel more confident in your ability to troubleshoot.
One rule that HubSpot's customer support team really focused on was taking responsibility for your support cases. When you pick up the phone or assign a support ticket to your queue, you take ownership of that customer and their problem. As a HubSpot support rep, you're responsible for making sure their experience with the brand is delightful and one-of-a-kind.
What this does is reduces the number of transfers and unsolved cases that occur within your support team. As a customer, it's frustrating to be bounced between "specialists" when all you have is one simple question. Rather than passing the buck to a colleague, the best support reps take responsibility for their cases and find solutions for customers even when questions fall outside their realm of expertise.
Sometimes customer service is less of a sprint and more of a marathon. Support calls can go on for hours as some customers will be determined to get a solution during their first interaction with your team. In fact, the longest support call recorded was over 10 hours long.
If you're going to be working with customers for this long, you need to be paying attention. A small detail mentioned at the beginning of a call can end up playing a major role in your ability to resolve the case.
Plus, customers don't want to repeat themselves. They want your team to listen the first time so they can get their answers right away. Having to repeat themselves wastes time and can be frustrating for people who are in a hurry.
As we mentioned before, customer service reps should be subject matter experts when it comes to anything related to your business. They should not only know how to solve common problems but also where to look if the solution isn't readily available.
They should also know how to explain things in ways that match the customer's expertise. For example, you wouldn't want to give a highly technical explanation to someone who's learning how to use your product. You'd want to explain it from a fundamental level so that your advice makes sense to a new user.
When you work in customer service, there will times where you receive honest — sometimes too honest — feedback from customers or your manager. Whether you agree with the assessment or not, you need to remain professional and accept the feedback provided. Remember, you're there to support the customer and if they felt they had a poor experience you should care about that opinion. Try to learn what you can do better next time and keep this advice in mind as you work with other customers.
For more traits of an excellent support rep, learn about these customer service skills.
Net Promoter, Net Promoter System, Net Promoter Score, NPS and the NPS-related emoticons are registered trademarks of Bain & Company, Inc., Fred Reichheld and Satmetrix Systems, Inc.
Originally published Sep 7, 2020 8:00:00 AM, updated September 07 2020