Imagine a world in which people love speaking to support reps. Families sit by the phone, hoping for a call before dinner. Young professionals answer their smartphones after a single ring when you're calling. Everyone is in a great mood, joking around with you and ready to lay down a payment immediately.

That would be nice.

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In reality, every support rep knows their reputation: a telemarketer who is apathetic, unyielding, completely scripted, and interrupting you in your daily life at least once a day. Consumers dread those anonymous numbers and automated bots. However, by grasping the following skills, you can help change these stereotypes and bring a more human approach to customer support.

8 Customer Support Skills to Look For on a Resume

1. Ability to Take Criticism

When it comes to customer support, you're often going to be speaking with people who aren't too happy. It's important to not let any of their comments get to you. None of what they are saying is a personal attack or meant to hurt you. In this sense, it is important to have thick skin as a support rep.

It can be exhausting to suffer through a long conversation with an angry customer. In fact, according to a study done by American Express, 35% of customers have lost their temper when speaking with a customer support rep. It is unpleasant and can seem unfair. You know that it's not your fault that they had a bad experience -- you're just the one who got stuck listening to them complain about it.

I like to think that, when the phone call ends or the customer walks away, I start over with a fresh slate. I don't dwell on negative interactions. Rather, I focus on highlighting the three best things I accomplished that day and the three things I would improve in the future.

Being able to handle criticism is not just a skill to exhibit when speaking with customers. This can benefit you enormously when having conversations about your performance with your superiors. It's important to remember that criticism, whether constructive from managers or outright rude from customers, is never something that is attributed to you as a person. That, of course, doesn't mean you shouldn't care about your upset customers. That brings me to my next point …

2. Empathy

Caring about customers and their experiences should always be a number one goal of support reps. Customers may be initially attracted to a company because of its products or services. However, what will turn them into long-term, loyal customers is continued support throughout their lifetime. According to an infographic by NewVoiceMedia, 53% of customers switch to a different business because they feel under-appreciated, and 42% switch due to rude or unhelpful staff.

Try to imagine how you feel when you're forced to contact a support rep due to an issue with your product or service … probably not the happiest. Responding to their frustrations by jumping to defend yourself and the company will only further rile them up. Take a step back and think about how you'd respond if a friend expressed the same annoyances to you about a different company.

Before you get into solving anything, first apologize for the troubles they've faced. Assure them that you'll do everything you can to improve their experience. They will appreciate your empathy and feel more comfortable moving forward with you. Empathy is a two-way street. If you are a thoughtful, active listener, chances are that they will reciprocate. You're a human, not a bot -- you should act in such a way and not speak as though scripted.

3. Ability to Go Off-Script

Speaking of not being scripted, there is nothing worse than a support rep who sounds like an automated message. One of my worst experiences with a support rep occurred over an online chat. I expressed my concerns, and the rep continued to speak from a script, rather than directly responding to my concerns. You have an advantage over a bot because you have the opportunity to form a real bond with customers -- instead of being confused for a bot.

It's always good to have a script on hand in case you lose your train of thought. However, it should merely function as that and nothing more. It's important to make each conversation unique to that customer because every customer and experience is unique.

Some of the best conversations I've ever had occurred when I worked as an Annual Gift Caller for Emerson College and took the time to learn a bit about people's lives outside of their role as a customer. I heard incredible stories about alumni growing up, traveling the world, and even being involved in some of the same organizations as myself. The customer opens up and feels more comfortable with the business. This results in a higher customer lifetime value, as well as a more positive experience for both you and the customer.

4. Positivity

Positivity is a key skill for every customer support rep to master. We all have things going on in our personal lives. Nevertheless, I like to leave my baggage at the door and enter the workspace with a fresh, positive attitude. This isn't just a skill that benefits the customer -- it benefits you, too. Having an optimistic look at the day ahead will help you survive and thrive through long-winded conversations and unhappy customers.

You know how well the work day goes when you walk in with a soggy cup of coffee and a mood to match. Make sure to get up in the morning with enough time to eat a filling breakfast and mentally prepare for the day. We all understand what it's like to speak on the phone with a support rep who sounds like they'd rather be deep cleaning their bathroom than be on the phone with you. It's not exactly a recipe for success.

Don't let the stresses in your personal life taint your professional life. Instead, take it as an opportunity to escape those issues for a little while and, instead, help others solve their product-related issues. If you are kind and optimistic on the phone, chances are the customer's spirits will also be lifted.

5. Persuasiveness

While customers will appreciate your positivity, that's not always enough to get the job done. I believe that being both kind and persuasive are essential to closing a deal with a customer. Any support rep knows that you have to exercise some of your finest persuasion skills to get a skeptical customer to let down their guard.

This can often be associated with understanding how to "read" a customer simply from your single interaction with them. An effective way to achieve this is by listening more than you talk. Part of being a persuasive rep is not just exhibiting that skill, but knowing how to tailor it to each specific person. In a Harvard Business Review article, the author discusses a company that teaches its support reps to quickly assess the general personality type of each customer and accordingly provide them the necessary balance of information and speed.

In addition, being persuasive doesn't equate to being dishonest just to convince a customer to close a deal. You should never relay false information or take advantage of a customer. Instead, be confident in knowing that you are persuading the customer to make a positive decision that will benefit their life. If you truly believe that your company is providing products and services that will profit your customer, then it will be just as clear to your customer.

6. Competency

As much as I can stress the importance of being empathetic towards customers and their lives outside of your business, let's be honest: They don't really care about you or want to speak with you. Time is more valuable than money these days. A customer doesn't want to waste too much of it on the phone with a support rep. That being said, every rep should find a solid balance between providing detailed, accurate service and getting the customer back to their life as quickly as possible. This means you need to be extremely competent in your role. Show how much you care by providing unbeatable service in answering their questions and solving their problems.

Some definite no's for customers include having to endure multiple platforms (such as switching from web to phone), wait on hold for several minutes, and explain the same problem to multiple people. According to a Zendesk study, 72% of customers blamed their negative customer service experience on having to explain the same problem to multiple reps. Make this process easy for them by answering messages and phone calls immediately and, when possible, avoiding having to transfer customers to someone else.

Being competent also means solving customers' problems -- forever. There is nothing worse for a customer than having to repeatedly call the same company about the same issue ... talk about poor service. Your goal should be for customers to never have to speak to you more than once, at least about a single concern. Therefore, you should be well-educated on the matter and ready to fully tackle it.

7. Product Knowledge

If you want to be able to fully tackle a customer's problems, you have to know what on earth they are talking about. Proper knowledge of the products or services your company is providing is essential to your role as a support rep.

Have you ever asked a retail worker or support rep a question to which they responded by staring at you like you're crazy? As a support rep, you should be prepared to solve any concern a customer may have. It's discouraging for your customers if they feel like the rep helping them is clueless, and it can make your company look inadequate.

Make sure you have completed extensive training and feel confident in what the company is all about. I like to have a cheat sheet of important facts or statistics with me during calls to ensure I'm not misquoting information.

That doesn't mean you shouldn't ask for help when needed. It's much better to put a customer on hold while you ask for help or transfer them to another rep than to give them inaccurate information. It all comes down to taking the time to learn about the company you are representing and relaying that knowledge to the outside world.

8. Knowing When to Call it Quits

However, even if you practice all these skills, there are going to be customers who simply refuse to give in. After a certain point, you can sense when your pitch is going nowhere.

Sometimes, a customer is so upset that they are being incredibly disrespectful to you. Other times, a customer is so adamant in their low budget that they refuse to agree to the price you're offering. Whatever the case may be, every support rep has to learn when to stop pushing and admit an honorable defeat.

It can feel like the end of the world when you can't get through to a customer, but it is not your fault. As they say, you can't win ‘em all. What's important is that you tried your best, remained kind, and gave the customer all the necessary information you could. Rather, focus on thanking them for their time and expressing that you hope they consider your company's business in the future. Then, move on to the next customer. It's not a failure; it's a lesson learned for the future.

So, maybe support reps will never truly receive the recognition they deserve. However, by embracing these eight skills, you will face many more positive experiences with customers. By feeling heard and truly supported, customers are more likely to remain loyal to the brand and spread the word about its stellar service.

To learn more about customer support, read about different call center headsets next.

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Originally published Jun 14, 2018 7:00:00 AM, updated June 14 2018

Topics:

Customer Support