In a world that's increasing its degree of automation every day, the value of human interaction is greater than ever. That's why having strong customer service skills is important—and why improving those skills can be a valuable goal for the new year.
Those who excel at customer service may differ in their level, role and industry, but they typically have these five competencies in common.
1. Business Knowledge
If you aren't well-informed about your customer's business issues, consider making that a priority for 2018. You can read industry-related publications and relevant social media accounts and/or company materials. You could also interview colleagues about what they've learned.
—Emily Bennington, author, Miracles at Work
If you're in doubt about challenges a customer is facing, ask. Showing extra interest and investment in their business can enhance your customer service skills, as can taking the additional step of questioning an existing process or situation in favor of continuous improvement.
There is no substitute for being able to effectively communicate that you understand where your customer is coming from and that you will do everything in your power to help.
Your level of sincerity can make or break your efforts. Listening carefully to the customer's scenario and imagining how you'd feel in her shoes can help you boost your empathy.
It also helps to pay attention to tone and to read between the lines. Consider gently asking questions and paraphrasing back what you hear. And if the customer just needs to get something off her chest, try letting her.
Customers can be infuriating sometimes, but those with stellar customer service skills rarely, if ever, lose their cool.
"It's important for service representatives to practice emotional control because they are essentially representing the entire organization," says Emily Bennington, author of Miracles at Work: Turning Inner Guidance into Outer Influence. "It helps to recognize that what we tend to view as a personal attack from a customer isn't really personal at all—they're frustrated with the business. Maintaining that perspective can help you hold your composure no matter what."
You can also work on your self-control by thinking through how you'd react in stressful situations that may arise.
4. Conflict Resolution
Having strong customer service skills doesn't mean you always have to agree or comply with a customer's requests. When a customer has a problem, customer service pros have the tendency to apologize profusely and try to solve it right away.
“I don't rush to say that I'm sorry until I know all the facts," she says. "And unless the problem is a simple one that can be solved on the spot, I prefer not to stretch for a resolution during this first conversation. I want to be able to gather all the relevant information and make sure I'm putting my best foot forward."
You can avoid the urge to pull the trigger by immediately scheduling a follow-up call with the customer.
There will be times when your customer service skills will be put to the test: You have to share something the customer doesn't want to hear or you have to tell him “no." Schoenbart recommends getting it over with quickly.
“If you're nervous, realize that people will remember how you handled the situation more than what actually occurred," Schoenbart says. "Just be honest about the fact that you feel terrible, as in: 'I'm really upset I have to give you this bad news. I was up all night worrying about it.' Humanizing the issue can soften the blow."
Preparation, practice and role playing with colleagues or loved ones can help make even the most difficult conversations easier.
Read more articles on customer relations.