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A word to the wise: The customer is in control. Not most of the time or half the time — always.

For those in the customer success or customer service industry, this notion should shape every interaction we have with the customer, both pre- and post-sale. But there's more to it than that. There are a handful of critical skills and sentiments that should inform the way we interact with our customers.

Depending on your product or service, these must-have skills may vary a bit — in some cases, some skills will come in handy more often than others. But if you can master the nine we've outlined below, we can promise you'll be better for it.

→ Download Now: How to Be a Great Customer Support Rep

1. Patience

At its core, having patience means being able to regulate your own thoughts and emotions — even in times of high stress or delay. For folks in the customer success industry, patience is a necessary skill.

Unfortunately. in a world fueled by technology and instant gratification, patience is becoming a bit of a dying art. Both customers and those serving them are accustomed to expediting nearly everything they do, making quick decisions in the process. But this isn't always the right approach.

By approaching customer interactions with a relaxed, thoughtful demeanor, you'll find that it's easier to overcome customer obstacles without compromising the quality of service — and keeping your customers happy in the process.

2. Flexibility

In some cases, process is necessary. But more often than not, too much process can have an adverse effect on your customer conversations. When we put process before people, we lose site of the end goal: helping the customer achieve their desired outcome.

If you want to thrive in a customer success role, learning to be flexible will help you hold your own — especially when faced with "on-the-ground" situations and decisions. Rather than viewing customer success as a straight and narrow path, consider all of the ways in which you can help a customer, and choose the path that best suits their unique needs.

3. Empathy

When a customer reaches out to your company for support or advice, they want you to help them. They also want to feel heard in the process.

Some simple ways to prove that you're on their side and committed to helping them include celebrating their successes or showing genuine concern when things aren't going to plan. These small considerations can make a world of a difference when it comes to creating a positive experience across the board.

Consciously remind yourself how you would want to be treated if you were in the customer's shoes. In most cases, this level of mutual understanding can help to put the customer at ease and set the tone for a more productive conversation, despite any frustrations they are experiencing.

4. Efficiency

At the end of the day, customers are looking for one thing: reliable, efficient service. Bear in mind that this doesn't mean grabbing at the quick-fix approach just to get the job done faster. (Remember our previous mention of patience?)

Efficiency in customer interactions is all about determining the most effective systems for helping them arrive at their desired outcome. It requires a careful balance of timeliness and commitment to satisfaction.

One of the best ways to streamline your interactions is to provide prompt, productive service. This involves taking the time to know your product and/or industry inside and out, which leads us to our next point.

5. Product and Industry Knowledge

Deep-seeded product and industry knowledge is perhaps one of the most valuable skills for a customer service or customer success manager to lean into. Gaining and continuously expanding your understanding of the product your servicing affords you the confidence you need to carry out customer interactions with ease and exactness.

A strong personal knowledge base also translates into increased professionalism, enthusiasm, and efficiency. It can function as a competitive advantage and a signal to customers that you're taking their business seriously.

6. Active Listening

Before you help, you need to listen. As the listener, it's your job to gather all of the information you need about a customer's situation to properly uncover and surface a solution.

But active listeners don't only pay close attention to what's being said — they also tune into what's not being said. Often times, being conscious of both will help you piece together a response that is both informed and on-point.

If you really want to prove that you're hearing them, restate their problem in their own words. This exercise forces you to remain engaged and helps to let the customer know you're really committed to hearing them out.

7. Consistency

Consistent delivery is important when it comes to a customer's perception of service. 

With this idea in mind, you should be thinking about providing a familiar sentiment across every touchpoint you have with customers — one that is reflective of your brand's core values and commitment to customer success.

Remember, it's much easier to work on nailing this undeviating experience upfront, as correcting inconsistency issues after the fact can be both costly and time-consuming.

8. Accountability

When you're tasked with assisting a customer, whether it is a transactional support issue or a long-term business relationship, their problems with your product or service become your problems. You own the issues and it's your job to solve them in an informed and timely fashion.

This type of responsibility requires a great deal of accountability — in other words, you need to not only own your actions, but also their implications. Without clear accountability, execution falls flat. And a delay on your response time directly influences a customer's perception of your service quality.

To avoid this, accept responsibility and act accordingly.

9. Perseverance

In a people-facing role, it's easy to feel discouraged and frustrated when you're regularly being knocked down by difficult interactions. Luckily, it's in your control to determine how you respond.

According to Carol Dweck, you can choose to have one of two mindsets:

  1. A fixed mindset: Operating under the notion that your abilities, talent, and intelligence are fixed traits that cannot be expanded or strengthened.
  2. A growth mindset: Viewing your abilities, talents, and intelligence as traits that you're in control of — traits that you can develop and improve.

10. Communication

However, whatever, and whenever you're communicating to customers, clear communication is key. Both the words you use and the intention behind them matter. Customers can pick up on insincere, rushed interactions — even over the phone or live chat.

When speaking with customers, try the "Problem, Solution, Benefit" framework. Repeat the customer's problem back to them to confirm you heard it correctly and to show your understanding. Share the solution along with the actions the customer can take to solve the problem. Explain the benefit of the solution to solve the problem as well as to avoid future problems and inconveniences.

Here's an example:

  • Problem: "I'm sorry to hear that your payment method isn't working on our website."
  • Solution: "To resolve this, log into your account and go to Profile > Settings > Payments and re-input your card number. Be sure to include the expiration date and mark the card as your preferred payment."
  • Benefit: "This will ensure your payment method is saved so that all future purchases will be easy and quick!"

While the above customer service skills address specific ways you may interact with customers, these customer service areas address the larger "themes" you may see in your role (or perhaps how your customer service team is organized).

1. Customer Service Channel Mastery

Nowadays, customer service professionals use a myriad of tools. While the above skills apply to any and all customer interactions, some channels may require different skills and best practices.

For example, the synchronicity of a phone conversation can help solve certain problems whereas the asynchronous nature of email or social media may lend itself better to other issues. Moreover, the different channel interfaces require different language, tone of voice, and levels of explanation.

For example, it's easier to demonstrate a solution over email, where you can include screenshots and links. On the other hand, a phone call may make it easier to chat through an issue with a customer who may not need a step-by-step fix.

Customer service channel mastery is an important customer service area to train and hone.

2. Customer Service Management

Customer service management requires some different skills than working directly with customers. Management should create processes on which representatives (and customers) can rely.

This customer service area should focus on training, feedback, process development, onboarding, product training, meetings, and team alignment.

Customer service management is also responsible for the quality of service — ensuring all representatives serve customers with accurate, relevant, timely information. This can be improved through new guidelines and standards.

3. Customer Retention

Retaining customers is less expensive and more impactful than continuously attracting new ones. The customer journey shouldn't cease when a sale is made — delight is an important component of the flywheel. Not only does it keep customers around, but it also incentivizes word-of-mouth marketing, which can bring in more new revenue than your own marketing.

Customer service is at the heart of customer retention. Encourage your team to solve for the long game of customer service — keeping your customers satisfied ... and keeping them, period.

Master These Customer Service Skills and Areas

By choosing to adopt a growth mindset, you give yourself permission to persevere through challenges and come out stronger on the other end.

If you're looking to build your career in a customer-facing role, prioritize these customer service areas and skills. Your customers will thank you!

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Originally published Feb 24, 2021 9:00:00 AM, updated February 24 2021

Topics:

Customer Service Skills