I remember exactly how I felt during my first customer support call. When I heard the incoming call jingle play on my computer, my heart nearly stopped. I was suddenly terrified to pick up the phone and at that moment, I nearly let the call pass to the next available rep.

The call wasn't my greatest. I fumbled over words, forgot where products were on our software, and felt really disappointed that I provided a poor customer experience. Though I still believed I could excel in this role, I needed to develop the professional skills required for success.

Fast forward two months, now I roll my eyes at the sound of the incoming call jingle. Not because I'm afraid to talk to customers, but because I've heard it so many times now I just want to write a letter to Cisco requesting my own custom call tones. At this point, I overcame my anxiety because I put in the time and effort to develop my customer service skills.

In this post, let's review some of the ways your reps can improve their service skills and provide a better experience for your customers.

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Featured Resource: Customer Support Training Template

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To help you hone in on what skills are needed for this job, work with your manager to outline your role expectations for your first three months on the job with our Customer Support Training Template. This free featured resource will help you align your skills with your customer needs and help you excel at your job faster.

1. Become an expert in product knowledge.

Being a product expert is like being a good hitter in baseball. Fielding and pitching are important, but if you can hit, you can always play.

The same goes for product knowledge in customer service. If you know your product and company inside and out, you'll always have something of value for your customer. Even if you're not the best communicator, solving the customer's problem will always generate delight.

2. Review your customers' feedback.

If you work on a service or support team, chances are that you're evaluated on customer satisfaction. While you might fear a negative review, this is actually a blessing in disguise as it's live feedback on how you performed during your service interaction. You know exactly how your customers felt about their experience and can take notes on where you can improve it for next time.

At HubSpot, we use Net Promoter Score, or NPS®, to measure customer satisfaction. This was great for developing my skills as I would receive scores almost immediately after closing a ticket. I could quickly see if the interaction was positive, negative, or passive, and read a brief explanation as to why the customer scored me this way. Not only did this system continuously improve my service skills, but it did so in a format that fit my fast-paced workflow.

3. Develop your emotional intelligence.

Emotional intelligence refers to your ability to read and react to other people's emotions. This is incredibly important in customer service as you never know how the customer will be feeling when they pick up the phone or walk into your store. They may be friendly at first, but lose their patience at the first roadblock. Or, they can start the conversation upset and escalate or de-escalate from there.

Developing your emotional intelligence takes practice. You have to willingly approach confrontations and find a common ground between all parties. At the very least, you should be able to reduce the tension in a situation so that each person can freely express their needs and wants. This takes time to master, but once you do, it's a priceless tool to have in your customer service arsenal.

4. Practice active listening.

Have you ever felt like you really understood a customer's issue, but couldn't convince them that your solution was best for their goals? If you're new to this role, this happens more than you think, and it often has nothing do with the solution your providing. Instead, it has to do with your ability to listen.

While you may feel that you consistently listen to customers, active listening takes the exercise one step further. Instead of just hearing what your customers are saying, you can proactively demonstrate your understanding by repeating the problem back to them and using body language that shows you're deeply engaged in the conversation. This will build rapport with your customers and make them more to trust your advice.

5. Define your role in the customer journey.

One way to really connect with customers is to find out where they are in the customer journey and determine the role you'll play to progress them. This helps you identify customer needs and establish what they need to do to achieve their goals. Once you can see what your customer is trying to accomplish, it becomes much easier to help them do it.

6. Adopt customer service tools.

It's hard to develop your skills if you're constantly struggling to meet customer demand. After all, the customer should come first, so it makes sense that you would put training aside when your phones are ringing off the hook. But, as your company grows its customer base, you may find fewer and fewer chances to get employees together for formal training.

This is where customer service tools can step in and save your service team time. These platforms automate repetitive and inefficient functions that cost your team time every day. By adopting these tools, you can streamline your team's workflow and create more opportunities to conduct onsite training.

7. Simulate common customer issues with coworkers.

If you're struggling during your first few weeks in a customer service role, start to look for patterns in your customers' questions. More often than not, customers will usually ask similar, if not the same, questions. Know this information can significantly improve the bulk of your service interactions.

If your team has a knowledge base, leverage it to learn about common customer issues. Find out which pages are most visited, and study the troubleshooting steps that your team recommends. You should also scan your company's community forum for popular ideas and complaints that your customers are posting. That's a great way to get ahead of problems where your company may not have a formal solution.

8. Conduct call shadowing.

Call shadowing is like getting game film on your calls. A manager or mentor uses a headphone splitter to listen to your phone call with a customer. This way, they can see how the interaction plays out, along with the troubleshooting steps being taken on your end. With this complete picture of the customer interaction, management can provide more accurate and effective feedback.

This can work in reverse as well. The rep can shadow a mentor or a more-experienced rep to see how they act on their calls. This is a great approach when a rep is having trouble understanding specific feedback.

9. Audit your vocabulary.

Sometimes it's not what you say, but how you say it. That's why it's important to audit your vocabulary for words or phrases that you should avoid while on a call.

At HubSpot, many of my peers would write these words down on a Post-it Note then stick them right on their monitor to remember during calls. For email, tools like Grammarly have built-in sentiment analysis features that can assess your writing and determine the tone behind the message. These pro-tips helped me fine-tune my vocabulary so that I consistently sounded optimistic to my customers.

10. Find a peer mentor.

A peer mentor program is a great way to share information between experienced reps and new hires. They can prepare your new agents for common customer inquiries, review customer feedback with them, and discuss productivity tips to improve their workflow.

If your company doesn't have a peer mentor program, consider asking your manager to assign you one. Or, you can reach out to a coworker directly to see if they'll meet with you a couple of times each month to discuss complex or notable cases. Talking with your peers regularly will teach you more skills and information that will help you succeed.

11. Write for your company's knowledge base.

Aside from studying your company's knowledge base, you should consider writing for it, too. This will improve your communication with customers, especially when your working on common or routine service issues. If a problem that you've written about pops up, you'll know exactly what to say to customers and can walk them through troubleshooting steps without having to pull up a support resource.

And, if you do share your knowledge base articles with customers, they'll be more likely to trust the information on these pages since they know a support rep wrote them. If they have questions, they can speak directly to you to clarify information. This significantly boosts your credibility and makes you look like a product expert in front of your customers.

12. Study closed support tickets.

Professional sports teams watch videos of themselves to learn how they can improve their performance. For customer service reps, you can review old support tickets to see what you do well with customers and where you could do better. Reviewing your closed support tickets will help you identify specific soft skills to work on, learn from past mistakes, and provide a delightful customer experience every time someone reaches out to you.

If your company records your support team's phone calls, you should take the time to listen to these service cases as well. Listening to yourself talk on the phone will help you recognize any verbal tendencies that you might not have noticed before. Saying filler words like "um" or "uh" can be distracting to customers, but we don't always realize that we're using them when we're speaking out loud. But, when you listen to phone recordings, it's much easier to hear these words so you can be mindful of them the next time you speak with customers.

13. Ask your manager for guidance.

If you're not sure what skills you need to work on, a good place to start is by asking your manager for guidance. They should have an idea of what you already do well as a customer service rep and where you could stand to improve.

If you do ask your manager for help, it's important to take their advice as constructive criticism and don't be offended if they offer negative or specific feedback. Remember, your manager's job is to optimize your performance, so telling you that you have nothing to work on doesn't make you a better customer service rep. Instead, you should be eager to learn where you can improve so you can continue to solve new problems and delight your customer base.

Why You Should Improve Your Customer Service Skills

As an experienced service professional, it can be tempting to rest on your laurels and think that there's no room for improvement when interacting with customers. After all, if you're consistently solving problems and receiving excellent Net Promoter Scores, then you're doing your job well as a support rep.

But, customers don't see every interaction that you have throughout your day. They don't get to look at your NPS nor read all of the great reviews that other customers have left. They can only judge you on their past interactions with your brand, which can vary significantly depending on who they are and what they need from your company. 

When you're solving 30-40 cases each day, it can be easy to think that one bad experience is just a drop in the bucket. However, research shows that 44% of customers feel like they do more work to solve a problem than the customer service rep, and 49% of customers switched brands last year due to poor customer service. Customers have much higher expectations than they've had in the past and are willing to turn to your competitors even after just one negative interaction with your brand. 

As service reps, your goal should be to delight every customer that you interact with throughout your day. To accomplish that, you need to be intrinsically motivated and constantly looking for new ways to improve your customer service skills. 

For more ways to improve your customer service skills, read about customer obsession next.


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Originally published Jan 19, 2021 8:42:00 AM, updated January 25 2021


Customer Service Skills