What are your customer service skills like? Whether you are a small business or a large retail organisation the quality of the conversation you have with customers will be increasingly significant in the coming months.
As e-Commerce increases there will inevitably be a greater demand for better customer service. That will put increased pressure on your ability to develop long-lasting relationships whether it is via video, phone, email, social media or WhatsApp.
Great customer service is the best marketing there is. That’s because when you do it well you enhance awareness of what it is you do. When we tell others about the good things that happen to us we are automatically advocates for a brand. So, the more advocates the better.
Customer Service is the new Front Line
Some of my retail client service clients are telling me that customer service is the new front line. With the footprint in retail stores reduced so dramatically as a result of Covid-19 the client service department is now an essential revenue generator.
McKinsey writes about ‘Elevating Customer Experience to the next normal‘. This is where the emphasis is on creating better digital experiences, the creation of a safe and contactless payment journey and the anticipation of customer feedback.
Whatever the ‘next normal’ means, the customer service skills a business needs must remain the same. And wherever you are on your journey, it’s important to remain mindful of what customer service excellence looks, sounds and feels like. This is true whether you are selling a service B2B or products B2C.
Essential Customer Service Skills
Thee seven customer service skills below are based on my own experience of advising and training international client services teams. Whilst many of them may appear obvious, they are often harder to put into practice than you may think.
Some are obviously behaviours. However, the starting point is to identify the skills, to become aware of them and to learn how to apply them. With practice and experience they then become a behaviour.
1. The Ability to Listen
On the whole none of us are good listeners. We tend to only hear 40% of what someone is saying to us.
For the other 60% we are in some kind of la-la land. We are either waiting to say what we want to say or distracted by something that has nothing to do with the conversation.
Listening properly is psychological, whereas hearing is sensory. To listen well, you need to be mindful that when someone is talking at 120 – 150 words a minute, your mind is thinking at 500 – 600 words. Therefore, you are mentally 3 – 4 times ahead of the customer. This is why you make assumptions, interrupt and don’t listen very well.
You need to become good at what psychologists call Active Listening. This is when you train your mind to focus 100% on what the person is saying and give verbal cues to show that you are.
2. Natural Conversationalist
In every office there are natural conversationalists. They are those who are articulate and engaging and with the confidence to look you in the face. This might be harder post Covid-19 but talking in an easy and relaxed manner is an important part of customer service.
Natural conversation communicates warmth, enthusiasm and empathy. These are emotions that help to bring the client closer to your brand and make the experience memorable.
Natural conversationalists listen well. They don’t interrupt and know how to use Open and Closed Questions. This allows them to get the right information to help them understand the issues and propose the right solution.
3. Emotional Intelligence
Emotional intelligence (EQ) is an over-used term, but the best client service advisors have it in abundance. EQ is the ability to understand and manage emotions.
According to the psychologist, Daniel Goleman, it has five characteristics:
- Self-Awareness – an ability to understand and recognise your own emotions, particularly in the context of a positive or negative conversation.
- Self-Regulation – the ability to express your emotion in the right way and at the right moment based on your self-awareness.
- Social Skills – being able to interact with colleagues and customers so that meaningful relationships and connections are made.
- Empathy – the ability to recognise how others feel and to express this in an appropriate way, using the right words and tone of voice.
- Motivation – recognition of what is personally important so they know that you are willing and capable of delivering it.
As Goleman says, once you get all of this right, ‘you have a whole human being.’ In my experience, unless there is 1. Self-awareness it is hard to make the other characteristics fall into place.
4. Excellent Writing Ability
Whether it’s an email, a social media post, live chat or WhatsApp, it is words and the way they are used that help to make the customer experience memorable.
Those with good writing skills adapt the way they write to suit the channel and the needs of the customer. They are clear and concise and can modulate their tone of voice. Not just to reflect their understanding of how the customer feels but in ways that are congruent with brand image.
Advisors with excellent writing skills communicate trust, enthusiasm, empathy and a sense of the brand. They explain the complex simply, know how to introduce humour at the right time and communicate professional informality.
If you employ some of these rare birds, protect and develop them as your success in remote working is also heavily dependent on their ability to write well.
5. Willingness to be Adaptive & Flexible
The larger your business becomes the more flexible and adaptable your customer service advisor should be. They can operate:
- Multi-channel – in a typical week they handle customers on many different channels: telephone, email, live chat or social media.
- Multi-technology – they use a variety of tools to engage with customers as well as sales systems in which to find and log client information. They use these with accuracy, speed and proficiency.
- Multi-scenario – it could be an enquiry about a product guarantee one moment or an abusive email the next. Whatever the scenario, the advisor effortlessly adapts to the situation and the issue to resolve.
As so many customer service skills are interrelated this is where listening skills and emotional intelligence come in.
6. Able to Solve & Sell
Excellent client service is not just about resolution but also revenue. If a customer is unable to visit the store, or prefers to shop online, they need someone who can help them at the end of the phone or via live chat.
It means the customer is looking for expertise and leadership. The very best advisors provide this.
They understand the needs of the customer, develop a rapport and based on their excellent product knowledge, recommend appropriate products. Their tone of voice communicates confidence and so the client has no hesitation in making a purchase based on their suggestions.
Creating relationships is at the heart of what these advisors do. It allows them to convert what was initially a problem or complaint into a sale.
The less reliant society is on the high-street and the more comfortable it becomes with a digital experience, the more important becomes the ability to sell.
7. Represent Brand Values & Identity
Your personal core values define who you are, and a company’s core values ultimately define the company’s character and brand.Tony Hsieh, CEO, Zappos
Those who know the values of their company and what it stands for tend to reflect this in the way they communicate. They also understand how values are connected with the way a brand uses imagery and tone of voice to differentiate itself.
Such colleagues have a belief in the brand and the ethos behind it. It is not just a job but a role in which they take pleasure in. They genuinely care about the quality of service they offer and how it is representative of what the company stands for.
Such advisors are essential to the well-being of the business. Often, their knowledge, energy and enthusiasm are picked up by others, whether in the office, by email or on a Zoom call.
What really counts…
Are any of the customer service skills of an advisor more influential than others? Yes. In our new normal, I believe that The Ability to Listen is the most important skill.
Post-Covid-19 there is even more digital noise. It means it is more imperative than ever that customer service advisors master their listening skills.
Listening skills do not only apply to the spoken word. When you read an email, a live chat or a social media post you are also listening. How customers write, the words and language they use and what they don’t say are signs and signals open for interpretation.
Listening well is the first step in connecting all of the other customer service skills.
But there is a catch. No organisation is capable of delivering an excellent customer service unless it has inspiring leadership.
Leadership recognises the importance of excellence in client service and the necessity of putting in place the mechanisms and culture to make it happen.
The very best advisors cannot do it alone, they need leaders to help them unlock their full potential..