Not everyone is cut out for customer service. It's a field that can be tedious and exhausting at points — one that takes a certain skill set and some innate characteristics to handle properly. There's a variety of different traits that make a successful service rep, but some stand out among the rest.

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Here, we'll take an in-depth look at the most definitive customer service qualities, and to help guide that process, we'll be using the customer support department of a hypothetical toy company, Inbound Toys Inc., as a reference point.

Empathy is at the core of high-quality customer service. If you, as a support representative, can't feel for your customers, you won't have the incentive or ability to leverage any other quality on this list. Put yourself in the customer's shoes and always try to understand where they're coming from — no matter the scale or severity of the issue they're contacting you about.

Let's imagine a customer calls you, a service rep at Inbound Toys Inc., talking frantically about problems they're having with a miniature claw machine for candy your company manufactures.

Customer service qualities claw machine

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They can't seem to figure out how to adjust the strength of the claw, so they're having a hard time winning the candy they already paid for themselves. They're surprisingly heated and taking it out on you.

It would be easy to get just as angry and take the same tone. But you have to pump the brakes and be empathetic. Maybe they had a bad day — bad enough that a dysfunctional toy is making them genuinely furious. In the interest of good customer service, you would have to be empathetic and assume that's the case.

Always consider the customer's side, and approach them with compassion — even if they don't give it back.

2. Active Listening Skills

Customers want to be heard when they make customer service inquiries. They want to know that they matter, and the best way to convey that they do is through active listening. Be mindful of the customer's behavior, tone, affect, and body language. After they've aired out their concerns, paraphrase them back to them to let them know they're valued and understood.

Say Inbound Toys Inc. makes an action figure of "The Condiment King"an actual Batman villain who uses condiments as weapons.

Customer service qualities action figure

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In this scenario, a dejected parent calls your support line after their child received the figure for their birthday and wasn't happy with the fact that their parents got them a figurine of a fringe, mustard-wielding comic book villain instead of the skateboard they asked for.

The parent says, "I'm just so confused. Taylor loves mustard! Personally, I don't know where to go from here. We already spent all this money on the action figure. I'm lost. What can I do? I need guidance!"

You, an active-listening rep, might respond, "I hear you. It can be difficult when someone rejects a gift you give with good intentions — especially if you spent good money on it. I can see you're in a difficult spot. Let's see what I can do to help you find your way out of it."

Just like that, you've put Taylor's parent at ease and in a position to see their way through this dilemma. Having active listening skills facilitated that process and is one of the most important qualities of a good service rep.

3. Patience

Customer service is going to test your patience — anyone who's ever worked in the field can attest to that. It's not a job for the testy or faint of heart. Some customers are going to be frustrating, and some of the problems they'll raise will be eye-rollingly trivial.

No matter the urgency or complexity of the problem a customer comes to you with, you have to remain patient and composed. If it's something difficult that takes a lot of effort and persistence to iron out, keep at it and don't get angry or overwhelmed. And if they approach you with a seemingly obvious fix, don't be dismissive or condescending.

For instance, say Inbound Toys Inc. sells a tent that looks like a ladybug.

Customer service qualities tent

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A customer calls who's implausibly stumped by how to put a children's tent that came with explicit directions together. In spite of how grating it might be, you would have to stick with them until you're at a point where you're absolutely positive they can address whatever part of the backyard-novelty-tent construction process is eluding them.

Some customers are going to take more effort than others — for various reasons. The key here is to remain patient with all of them, no matter what.

4. Professional Positivity

In many — if not most — cases, customer service inquiries aren't rooted in positivity. Generally speaking, if a customer is reaching out to support, it means something's gone wrong — they're not calling to ask how your day's going.

Since the nature of service queries is inherently negative and challenging, the odds of the experience being pleasant for anyone involved are stacked against you.

That's why you need to be positive and professional — to make the process easier on the customer and more tolerable for yourself. Keep things calm and lighthearted. Don't take a pessimistic tone or seem annoyed. Guide them through the process smoothly and reassuringly.

Let's imagine Inbound Toys Inc. sells remote control crocodiles that, to quote their product description, "look, roar, and move like real crocodiles."

Customer service qualities crocodile

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You get a call from a bereft, furious crocodile enthusiast whose remote-controlled crocodile won't roar and decides to act like you are personally responsible for that.

No matter how much they disparage the company, frustrate you, or sully the good name of the actually-titled Top Race Remote Control Crocodile, Prank Crocodile RC Animal Toy, you would grit your teeth and keep up the kindness.

As I said, be positive and professional for both the customer and yourself. If you can't do that, you'll undermine your service efforts and let the tougher parts of the job take a massive toll on your personal well being.

5. Willingness and Ability to Learn

This quality can take on a lot of forms — the most important being a willingness and ability to develop extensive product knowledge. Know your product inside and out. Educate yourself on all of its features, functionality, and flaws.

That kind of expertise will provide the foundation for literally every other aspect of your job. If you don't understand your product, then whatever advice or insight you can offer is going to be uninformed and hollow. Your position is meaningless if you're not an authority on your product.

Let's say Inbound Toys Inc. manufactures eerie, unsettling sleeping puppy dolls that look like they're breathing.

Customer service qualities puppy doll

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As a rep, you'd better know what makes that dog breathe, all the ways that might make it stop breathing, the best ways to clean up its fur, what kind of issues warrant a refund or a new doll, and how to convince a customer's kids (and yourself) that it doesn't actually wake up and walk around while you're not in the room.

That last one might not actually apply to the situation, but everything before it certainly would. You'd need to know all that and more to do your job effectively.

There's a good chance you'll hit a wall from time to time — getting stumped is an unfortunate reality of the job. Always put yourself in the best position to avoid those situations with substantial research and comprehensive product knowledge. How well you learn will impact how well you solve problems, how easily you get frustrated, and how you adapt to new challenges and progressions.

6. Time Management

Successful sales reps know how to budget their time effectively. There will be times where you might be inundated with support tickets. You might find yourself with an imposing workload, but one of the marks of an excellent sales rep is their ability to partition those responsibilities into workable segments and get them done in a timely fashion.

Every customer who makes a support inquiry needs attention, but not all problems are created equally. You need to address all of them, but in order to do that, you need to understand how to manage your time.

Be strategic. Take a look at your workload and gauge which queries are going to need the most attention. Consider how much time it will take to respond to customer emails or prepare for customer meetings. Have a feel for how long processes like onboarding calls will take.

And, perhaps most importantly, know when to admit a problem might be over your head. If an issue is cutting too deeply into your schedule and you're nowhere near figuring it out, see if you can pass it on to someone who might know how to hack it.

For instance, imagine Inbound Toys Inc. sells "interactive intelligent robot dinosaurs."

Customer service qualities robot

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If a customer is calling with a routine problem about battery life or the tracking ball the robot is supposed to follow, you would allocate time to the inquiry and figure the issue out yourself.

If the robot has become sentient, won't turn off, has started speaking plain English, is referring to the owner by name, and after two hours, you can't determine what's going on, it's probably time to pass it off to someone farther up the food chain.

Bear in mind, this list isn't entirely comprehensive, but these customer service qualities are among the most necessary and fundamental. Other key service characteristics are often derivative from empathy, listening skills, professionalism, positivity, willingness to learn, and a knack for time management.

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Originally published Jun 8, 2020 8:00:00 AM, updated June 08 2020

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Customer Support