More customers have turned to various companies’ customer service for help, beginning especially on the onset of the pandemic lockdowns. With such demand, and given the crisis and related concerns, companies have been hiring more customer service representatives. Beyond that, though, they are prioritizing those who have the needed soft skills to deliver the companies’ desired customer experience. Customer service soft skills have become the basic ingredients to deliver a better customer experience.
A 2020 Zendesk study revealed that half of the respondents said customer experience became more important to them compared to the previous year. 77% said they have become more loyal to a company that were able to provide a positive customer experience. This is understandable since customer service hotlines or social media pages have become more accessible to people in pandemic lockdowns. They have even become more accessible than close friends one used to just easily invite over to troubleshoot devices.
With people now becoming more comfortable with mobile devices－even the older generation are easing into the digital world like never before－customer service representatives are going to be needed more than ever. While technical knowledge and skills are expected of customer service reps, companies with CS reps who exhibit soft skills are more desirable.
What are soft skills?
The definition of “skill” has evolved from just “the ability to do something well,” to a distinction between hard and soft skills. The Balance Careers define “hard skills” as teachable abilities or skill sets that are easy to quantify. Oxford Languages defines “soft skills” as “personal attributes that enable someone to interact effectively and harmoniously with people.” While they are desirable, customer service soft skills take time to develop. But, nonetheless, they are going to be demanded of companies and CS reps. With such demand, it’s easy to spot those without them, as though seeing red flags just popping up.
Customer Service Soft Skills
Here’s a checklist of essential customer service soft skills to counter some red flags. If you’re a company looking into outsourcing partnerships for your customer service, compatibility is everything. Keep in mind the following soft skills that may be critical for the success of your business.
1. Attention and Understanding
Imagine talking to somebody, but, when you turn to him, he wasn’t in fact listening. He looks up at you, as though distracted from what he’s doing, and blankly asks, “What?”
Other sources on topics pertaining to soft skills begin with empathy. However, for just a quick customer service conversation, perhaps empathy is a tall order. We begin rather with attention and understanding as among the fundamental customer service soft skills needed to be developed. We are placing them side by side since a CS rep would be needing them both, together.
In order to understand the customer’s need and perspective, a CS rep needs to be attentive, to have deep focus. He can’t just say he understands. The customer must feel that he really understands and that he’s the one she can rely on to provide a solution to her customer concern.
2. Active Listening, but not overdoing it
Merely blurting out phrases from time to time just to show signs of life during a phone conversation could become annoying. It’s as though you’re calling a radio DJ, then get disgusted seeing him livestream just clipping his nails. Customers want to be heard. Yes, the CS rep may have heard the same issue a million times, but he must still respect the customer’s perspective. All she wants, first of all, is she gets heard, then be assured the CS rep gets her point.
The important thing in order to prove active listening is to be able to review and walk the customer through the problem again, highlighting the main points of her concern, then bring her to the view of a solution. It is the realization of how well the CS rep understands her concern, leading her then towards a solution, that builds trust. This initial customer experience in itself could already be exhilarating.
3. Positive Language
There’s also no need to point out how many similar issues the CS rep has handled nor exaggerate the problem, making the customer more worried. Also, since the customer is not the expert, she may be using what are for the CS rep exaggerated descriptions. Either way, what the CS rep can do is calm her by gently tempering down with less alarming vocabulary.
In addition, take note that body language and facial expressions affect the tone and the way one presents oneself even while on the phone. In order to maintain a positive language, everything that could influence one’s manner of speaking must all be in order. The work environment, the remote setup, the atmosphere: all these must influence a positive language.
Everyone has the capacity to be creative, one just has to assert it. CS reps, though, have limited room for decision-making, such that callers often demand to talk to higher-ups.
In contrast, with just limited resources there in front, and without going overboard, a CS rep could provide creative solutions. He could demonstrate creativity by being versatile, being adaptable, showing diplomacy, or perhaps injecting a sense of humor. Identifying the best solution in this way could even seem like providing a hack, a pro tip, a personalized way of solving a problem.
5. Critical, But Quick Thinking
Critical but quick thinking immediately avoids at least two red flags: keeping the customer waiting and stretching the CS rep’s average handling time.
For quick customer concern resolution, the CS rep must be able to ask the right questions, navigate through ambiguities, and be aware of time constraint－all at the same time. In order not to let just the customer wait, he must let her know if something can’t be addressed immediately, while being sure to provide an alternative. It is better to be clear about what can be done now, until he can get back to her for the solution, than promising beyond what he can actually deliver later.
Asking the right questions continues with following up later, if needed, with relevant questions. This further shows the CS rep has really invested time in the customer’s concern.
6. Big Picture Mindset
The idea of a big picture mindset is a big thing in management training. But, since CS reps are managing customer concerns, it would help if it’s among their customer service soft skills.
A CS rep, for example, may anticipate further reasons that would make the customer call again for help, than just be glad the current call is about to end. He could consider what other related issues the customer might encounter and advise her accordingly. Also, he could recommend other channels the customer can access should she won’t be able to call later for another concern. He can increase the level of customer experience by simply anticipating these before asking what else he can help her with.
7. Emotional Stability
A CS rep’s job is mentally and emotionally stressful. As often the case with inbound calls, customers’ stress, motivating their concerns or complaints, are passed on to the CS rep taking the call. Empathizing, relationship building, taking responsibility, and handling second-hand stress: these are all in a day’s work of a CS rep. A red flag pops up when the CS rep seems to be passing on collected stress to the next customer.
Despite all the stress, the CS rep must be able to maintain professionalism. He may empathize but doesn’t need to get entangled－there are still other customers needing his help.
Indeed, it is beneficial for a company to hire people already with customer service soft skills such as emotional stability. However, such capacity could get depleted over time. In order to maintain high levels of emotional stability in CS reps, companies must make sure to have programs to take care of the mental health and well-being of employees, especially those at the front lines. Otherwise, it could be a red flag for the company overall.
Again, it is important that customer service representatives should have the above soft skills. However, these capacities may be affected or be depleted when employees’ mental health and well-being are heavily strained. Companies, therefore, must continue to sustain and develop these soft skills, especially since people are now relying more on them to get past the pandemic crisis.
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If you need assistance and tailored expert advice in outsourcing partnerships, we at StratAccess are here to help you.
StratAccess Inc., established in 2012, commits itself to find its clients the BPO in the Philippines for successful business solutions. The company focuses on transforming the landscape of call center partnerships. This is important in order to meet the requirements of today’s small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). StratAccess consultants are attuned to helping clients take a hard look at their business objectives, organization infrastructure, and operational practices.
We at StratAccess strive to build long-term relationships that extend beyond the typical vendor-client transactions. Our primary focus is to successfully promote and serve each client’s products or services as though they are our own. Combined with the skill and knowledge of the Philippine outsourcing industry, our company has positioned itself as a leader in delivering its clients access to qualified quality and cost-effective BPO referrals.
Ivan Deligero is a contributing author at StratAccess. He likes deep dives into the bottom of things and sharing discoveries and strategies towards desired goals. His years of exposure in different industries have led to a deeper insight into organizational structures and operations, as well as the importance of process improvement. In his free time, he also reads and writes about some recent thoughts in philosophy.