What is customer service?
We all know the definition of customer service - it’s the support provided by your reps to a client who has already purchased something or is going to do that. That is not only about the service, but also about the customer service skills which an agent has. Without some essential call center soft skills, an agent is incapable to supply the client with all necessary info or making him feel positive regarding the assistance provided. Why is the customer service experience so substantial? Well, it is the singular thing that keeps the buyer in close relation with the company. As a consequence, either you get permanent and happy customers or they go to opponents to find a better service provider. Note that a permanent client can become a brand ambassador, while a disgusted one may spoil your standing.
This is the main cause why you must invest in enhancing the operators’ customer service skills. Perfect client experience is an indispensable part of achieving success and creating a strong community, but it needs loads of agent training and hard work along with new hiring approaches and coaching strategies.
What skills are the most important?
In the industry exist around a hundred customer service skills which have to be cited in the writing. But to be fair here is a checklist of skills that are critical for every call center agent. Without those skills, especially soft skills, workers can never become successful customer support representatives. To say shortly, a person must have a special composition of character to become an effective agent. It depends on the responsibilities in the contact center, where people have to spend hours talking with clients, who are periodically not as tactful as they should be. Below is the list of the significant skills which are necessary for operators, divided by soft skills and hard skills to make it more effortless for finding needed info.
Customer service soft skills
Soft skills are even more important than know-how abilities because they determine agents’ possibility to provide good service, be stress-resistant and stay efficient during long periods of time. As we said earlier, some skills are a must-have for the agents, because without them they will never become first-class specialists.
Boost communication skills and sociability
This is the first and the most important soft skill for every agent. All call center soft skills are about communication. Dozens of calls, emails, messages, or even video calls (where body language is also important) per day can shock an unprepared person - and it’s impossible to do such work if the operator doesn’t have communication skills. Customer service soft skills are also about communication. Ability to talk with angry customers, strong explaining skills, knowledge of adapting to client’s mood or communication style - all these skills are needed to provide great customer service.
An agent should be keen on communicating with other people, skillful in answering clients’ questions, and able to extinguish conflicts by operating in positive language. Nonetheless, contact skills relate not only to buyers but to the unit members too. Lack of joyful communication inside the team can lead an operator to attrition or burnout, so his quality of contact with clients will also suffer. Feeling like a piece of a team, understanding the company's purpose and operator’s stake in achieving collective success can positively affect customer service soft skills. An agent will feel his responsibility to perform more profitably, and his call center soft skills will improve because of his increased motivation and willingness to do his best.
Customer service skills, such as communication skills, can be improved by organizing coaching sessions or training activities. Agent training is an essential part of call center soft skills improvement, so giving awareness to such events is extremely meaningful for every CEO for the reason that all customer service representatives’ skills in a call center need permanent improvement.
Patience is a big problem for many agents. But to say the truth this problem exists not because agents are so careless, but because the management often is too aggressive about KPIs and gives no chance to customer service agents to supply qualitative assistance. Even though patience and attention are irreplaceable skills for client service, some managers make their operators answer as many calls as possible per day or affect their communication with clients in another way. Anyhow, such manager decisions can destroy the strategy of providing highly-qualified customer service at the beginning. Buyer experience is the highest priority, so if the operator must spend more work time tackling customer problems, let him perform in this way. Customer service soft skills have to contain patience to let reps fully comprehend the topic of client requests and take care of the issue after total research of all its elements. Patience is an influential part of telephone soft skills because some clients can explain their problems for a long while, so the rep has to let the buyer tell all he wants to.
Improve problem-solving and flexibility skills
Good call center agent skills must contain flexibility and strong problem-solving skills. The worst thing that can happen is an agent who can’t find a solution to the client’s request. It causes a low FCR score, low buyer satisfaction, and bad client experience and as a consequence - more buyers will decide to choose another company. Customer service soft skills are incomplete without flexibility - an ability to adapt to the concern and find instant solutions which sometimes can be non-obvious or non-standard. Such service will be highly appreciated by the clients because they not only get the solution but also achieve great experience in the fast-solving of their problems. The more additional time your client will save, the more likely he will choose your service once more or recommend it. Customer service skills are based on problem-solving and it’s their main purpose. Agent skills in the call center must also be focused on problem solving and improvement of reps’ flexibility.
Collaborate with a client
Key talents and abilities of a call center agent must contain an ability to collaborate with a customer as the partner. This allows achieving the highest level of buyer engagement in the problem-solving process while his customer experience will also be positively impacted by such collaboration. Never use platforms that are not suitable for the client - if he emailed you with a detailed request, answer him by email or at least ask if it’s OK for him to communicate by phone or web chat. Call center agent skills must help him to supply outstanding client service, and collaboration with a buyer is a good form to tackle the case quickly in an upbeat atmosphere. An operator should attempt to attract a buyer to cooperate with him as a team and then the problem will be both easier to figure out, and such experience will make buyers get more additional understanding about the products and feel more engaged.
Listen carefully, but stay active
Call center agent skills have to help them never let the customer repeat what they have already said. It is frustrating and makes clients feel unimportant to an agent, so there is no possibility to talk about the quality of service. After such things, clients can decide to never return to a company. But active listening skills aren’t enough to make clients feel the agent’s engagement in their problem. The customer service team should show their participation in the conversation by questioning to make the client’s story additionally detailed or to clarify some points. There is a discussion about whether is it good to repeat a buyer’s question. Both approaches have their right to exist, but even if an agent wants to repeat the request, he should change it so it will sound different. Customer service soft skills are focused on showing the agent’s enthusiasm for solving problems, but they should work in pairs with patience. Remember - never interrupt a client before he hasn’t finished talking!
Put more empathy and emotions in the conversation
Empathy and emotional communications are key skills and abilities of a call center agent. Let the customer feel the agent’s engagement in his problem. Show compassion and apology to a customer and he will feel that the agent understands his emotions and is going to help. One sentence can make the customer more patient while the operator will be finding a solution. It is not that hard to do, isn’t it? Put this into your soft skills training program to make operators understand the importance of emotional support for customers.
Extinguishment of conflicts
Resolution of conflicts is one of the most critical skills in a call center. There are many customers who don’t want to wait, have any patience or a sense of tact, or just are in a bad mood and wish to spoil someone's day. Reps are the first and the most beloved victims of such individuals. The ability to resolute confrontations with such customers is a vital part of customer service skills. There are many methods to deal with conflicts - provide detailed explanations of an agent’s actions to a buyer, explain the procedure of solving an issue, avoid omissions in the agent’s speech, guarantee that issue will be solved, or just ask how much time a buyer has and try to finish with the trouble during this time. Let the operator say that the buyer’s case is the highest priority for your company because people in conflict like to feel their importance and rightwards. A person whose requirements have been met can’t continue a conflict. Include the techniques for improving stress resistance of your reps in soft skills training.
Surprising agility in this list, isn’t it? Let’s be honest, it is very substantial to comprehend how to persuade clients. Sometimes their issue is more fictional than real, or it has been solved already, but a buyer is still nervous about it. Another thing is customers who don’t believe the agent’s words about the term that is required to tackle a concern or have doubts about the engagement of other specialists. Such situations happen because of past customers’ negative incidents but now it is the operators’ headache to make them believe that all is all right. Strong persuasive skills are critical-to-have call center agent skills.
We have cited this ability in this blog, but now it’s a moment to describe it in detail. We all know that working in communication, especially if it is regarding solving problems of other people, causes non-standard situations which require an outsized approach. An ability to adapt to client preferences, communication styles, or even slang is one of the top agilities in the list of call center agent skills. Customer care soft skills require an agent to have the ability to notice every aspect of the client’s speech, mood, issue, etc. Affirm that your customer service professionals are adaptive in view of the fact that a great part of customers wants personalized service, not an unemotional pack of learned phrases.
Remember about cultural differences
Do you remember that statistic at the beginning of an article? There are more than 2.4 billion people shopping online, and they all have cultural differences. No one instead of you knows your target audience better, and there are enough tools to get geolocation insights in any contact center software. According to this data, ensure that the operators comprehend who their clients are and what cultural aspects they must know to avoid misunderstandings or other troubles. Customer service skills are regarding respect for the customer, so look closely at the onboarding and training methodologies of the customer service reps to make them ideally understand the target audience and provide great customer service.
Manage the terms and set priorities correctly
Time management is one of the other vital skills in a call center. Many operators complain that it is difficult to find a balance between speed and accuracy. Call center agent qualifications should help him to understand his main goals and metrics. Firstly, attention has to be given to FCR and client satisfaction. That does not mean that other rates are useless or KPIs should be ignored, but let’s focus on customer service skills. After developing high FCR and buyer satisfaction performance, there will be enough data to decide where to put efforts next.
Stay resilient, stop taking it to heart
We will repeat it as many times as needed - operators face too much pressure from clients and too many harmful feelings are caused by this pressure. As an effect, you get critical turnover rates, burnout agents, and other “positive” consequences. The solution is as easy as trivial - hire resilient people or train existing employees to make them hard-skinned. The next two crucial skills for buyer service are knowing how to avoid attrition and ignoring damaging emotions caused by unhappy customers. There are enough training methods to support reps to become additionally stress-resistant, but the best care is to construct a favorable environment, where workers can get positive emotions while they are not on the line with other difficult customers.
Hard skills for customer service
Even the most resilient, communicative, patient, and emphatic rep can do nothing without know-how knowledge. Hard skills are another part of a complex of agents’ skills required to provide qualitative service. Without them, your agents will not be able to help any client or solve any issue. Check this list to discover the key abilities which are essential for every operator.
Technical skills in a call center are critical to have. Every agent has to know how the contact center software works, where the knowledge bases are and how to use them, where to find needed information, how to work with their account, how to work with CRM and reports, how to transfer calls, and so on. These basic skills let operators do their work, so without them, they won’t be able to even get a call or email. These skills are acquired during the onboarding process, so control this process carefully.
Perfect knowledge of products and services
An agent should know everything about the company’s products and services. This knowledge will be used every time the client will come with a complaint or request. The more an operator knows about the product, the faster and easier he will solve customers’ issues. All you have read above is a law. But how can operators achieve an advanced level of product knowledge? The problem is that it is not enough to know the product’s description, it is necessary to understand how it works, what problems it solves, and what needs covers - and here the understanding of the whole niche is required.
The solution is quite easy - permanent coaching, qualitative onboarding, training sessions, and control of knowledge. Customer service software offers such options, as well as contact center software has call recording or listening features - you can hear how agents present the product to customers directly.
Use different communication types for different channels
Great skills for customer service are the ability to use various communication styles and know all about communication in different channels. Does your customer use messengers? Answer him with emojis! Is the client a formal person who prefers email? Write a longer and more formal letter! Does your client use slang? Don’t be shy to use it too! And these examples are not the only ones which can face you. Be ready to adapt and use different channels - but first make sure that the agents are ready for such a multi-task mode.
Expertise the software and equipment
Be ready to control the agents’ level of their customer service software understanding. Provide them with courses of its use, and make supervisors monitor their success and help them to solve issues. Modern call center software offers a great variety of options, and all of them are important, so the agent should know how to use every single feature. Working with CRM and reports (daily or weekly) is also essential - you must be confident that the operators are perfectly trained to use all technical abilities offered by the software.
Invest in soft skills improvement - get the KPIs achieved!
Improvement of the soft skills of your agents directly affects your goals and KPIs achievement - trained agents perform better, so the results will be much better than if you decide not to train the operators. By the way, there is no sense in talking about abstract things - we’ll describe all the benefits in a list below.
Emphatic agents boost CX
As we have written in the previous paragraphs, empathy is a key skill of every operator. Such workers make clients feel comfortable as well as feel their importance to the company. When an operator shows his empathy, a client understands that his issue is taken to heart by the agent, so he will be confident that a solution will be found soon, and after communication, he won’t be able to call this experience in any other way than positive.
Flexibility boosts FCR rate
FCR rate is maybe one of the most significant metrics in the call center industry. The worst situation both for the agent and for the client is when a customer needs to repeat his request several times or has to call multiple times. That’s why a low FCR rate shows that the company has big problems with customer service. But what agents’ skills can boost FCR? First of all, it’s problem-solving skills, flexibility, and knowledge of products and services. If an agent is strong in solving issues, he will never let a customer stay alone with his trouble. Flexibility allows an agent to find creative solutions, while deep knowledge of products lets him save time.
AHT is lower when the agent is listening to a client actively
Another important metric that can be improved if the agent has strong soft skills is Average Handle Time. To make it shorter, agents should be patient and listen to customers’ requests actively to get all necessary information. But it is not enough to just listen - apt questions are the key to understanding the nature of the client's request and ways to solve it. This skill can be easily acquired or honed during training, the issue is only to use the right coaching methods.
Empathy influences sentiment score
Emphatic agents keep the conversation in a positive atmosphere, no matter what is the customer’s mood. It is not that easy to be angry when your interlocutor is radiating joy, right?
A sentiment score is an indicator of customer satisfaction and his emotions during the call - but as we have already said, these emotions are powerfully influenced by the agent’s mood.
Adaptive agents almost never escalate the calls
Call escalation is a great problem at least because it could be avoided. Almost always calls which were transferred to the supervisors were not too difficult to solve for the agent. Not enough confidence, lack of adaptability - these are the reasons why calls are escalated and the customer has to hear this annoying: “Please wait, I’ll connect you with the manager\relevant specialist\another agent”. There is no customer satisfaction in such transfers, and as you could guess FCR rate also suffers from such situations. And now imagine that agents are able to adapt to some non-common situations - and the escalation rate would probably decrease a few times. There is no problem to achieve such a result in a real-life - just invest in agents' training to make them adaptive to every situation.
Coachability is an essential tip for some niches
Insurance, healthcare, cars, real estate, laws - all these industries are extremely regulated and even a little issue can cause massive problems or even an end for a business. And all these awful consequences can be created by an agent. How to secure the business from such situations?
Here is the only way out - to coach employees to follow directions exactly and never do anything on their own. Such an approach also has a pleasant benefit - your compliance rate will be lower when the agents will follow recommendations with accuracy.
The benefits are clear - but how to train my agents?
Now we are on the most interesting part of the story - after understanding the possible benefits, it’s time to know how to achieve them. There are enough ways to train the agents, as well as methods and tactics of training, are different. Anyway, we have compiled the best techniques and we’re going to share them with you.
How can I improve the agent’s empathy?
Even though people have to be born emphatic, there is nothing criminal if your agents will use some standard phrases which have been created to show empathy. We all know at least 2 or 3 of such sentences - “I’m sorry that you’ve faced this trouble”, “I’ll do my best to help you”, and ”Your call is very important for us/for me”. Now ask yourself, which communication would you prefer - with a person who uses such phrases or with the one who doesn’t? The question is easily predicted. Such phrases can be easily put in training materials or knowledge bases, so the agents will use them automatically.
Organize collaboration sessions as an element of training
Make the agents work in pairs in different variations: one-to-one, agent and supervisor, the team of agents in competition with another team, etc. Such sessions will help operators to feel like a part of the team, and boost their communication skills, self-confidence, and collaboration skills, which will be used in communication with clients. This approach will make training more effective and interesting for agents, because they will have a possibility for internal communication inside the company, finding new friends, and working in a more preferable way than it could be if they just had to read tons of formal documents.
QA assessment for improving patience and active listening
It’s another type of training that reminds the game more than a professional activity. By the way, it’s the best way to improve such essential agents' skills as patience and active listening by checking their old calls or emails to understand where they performed well, and where they need to improve their skills. There is no better way to make a worker understand his mistakes than let him assess himself. This approach also helps to train agents to improve their communication skills.
Another feature that helps agents to perform better and to stay confident even when they’re not experienced enough. Even though in the past call scripts were difficult to use - they were put in an individual tool or even in Microsoft Word documents, now cloud call center software offers a possibility to import scripts in an all-in-one interface. It is easy to use, decreases AHT, and foresees different varieties of where the conversation can go - looks like an ideal instrument. Nonetheless, agents still have to train their adaptivity to be sure that no uncommon situation can catch them off guard.
Always test the skills that were learned
Control of your agents' self-development is a significant part of your work. When they are learning new skills during a training session, you should develop a strategy for monitoring and testing their progress. Tests must be focused on the skills which are already learned, designed as a real-life situation, and suit the agent’s function, role, and environment while also being interactive and interesting. The easiest example is working in pairs, where one agent plays a customer, and another remains an agent.
So what are the conclusions?
We have already determined that agents must have both soft and hard skills to provide excellent customer service. Even the agent with perfect soft skills can’t perform well without technical knowledge. Skillful agents affect all KPIs and metrics, such as FCR, AHT, and CX, but before achieving benefits, you should train your agents and control their performance. No agent, even absolutely skillful, can provide great customer service without the right software - and even though it’s a topic for another article, we offer you to use this link to read more about what software will perfectly suit the team of experienced and skillful agents.