Business Insights & Tips f MATT GRECH hDecember 11, 2018

10 Crucial Customer Service Skills Your Agents Absolutely Need in 2019

The utilization of emerging technologies has proven beneficial to customer service professionals and their skillset. After all, call center software has come a very long way. But the core relationship between a company and valued customers rests on real-time human experiences.

Positive experiences with contact centers reinforce loyalty while a reported 76 percent of people who have a negative experience leave a brand or end a business relationship. That makes the importance of skilled agents critical to an organization’s long-term success.  To really see the impact that customer service has on a brand, check out these eye-opening customer service statistics

When it comes to meeting customer expectations, the value of working with a multi-channel contact center cannot be understated.

And that facility must train and maximize the interpersonal skills of customer service agents in terms of communication, problem-solving, multi-platform proficiency and emotional intelligence among others to provide the best service possible and ensure customers will remain satisfied. These are the 10 crucial customer service skills that are absolutely necessary for successful customer experiences and outcomes.

1. Communication Skills

Effective communication skills are the absolute foundation of customer service. Regardless of whether a consumer politely requests help with a product they have purchased or is at their wit’s end, a customer service professional can steer the conversation toward a positive resolution.

Those with finely honed communication skills can provide critical information and calm customer frustration so that people confidently stay with the brand.

What Makes Communication Skills So Important?

When customers contact an organization, they place a high value on gaining thorough and easy to understand information. An effective exchange between a customer service professional and a client must be clear and concise. This holds true in voice as well as electronic communications.

The human factor can have a tremendous communicative benefit as well. Not all customers benefit from purely informational interactions. Customers are not robots, and many place a high value on feelings.

That’s why it’s important to listen carefully and be confident that people feel heard. A highly skilled customer service professional recognizes and provides a reasonable level of empathy for the client’s frustration.

How Can Agents Improve Their Communication Skills?

Keep in mind that while most problems have a standard resolution, some issues can be outside the box. Even if a company representative cannot fully resolve the issue, people are more likely to maintain brand loyalty if they feel like you care. In other words, be intuitive and empathetic.

2. Attention To Detail

There are some misconceptions about what customer service attention to detail entails. From the professional side, it would seem to indicate a thorough knowledge about how to direct or instruct customers. But high-level attention also requires the employee to become something of a sleuth.

What Makes Attention To Detail So Important?

Before setting the customer on a resolution course, identifying their core and peripheral issues often requires asking a series of laser-focused questions and follow-ups. It’s important to remember that customers are commonly in an emotional state and generally lack expertise in the area they are contacting the center about.

That’s why defining the issues is part of attention to detail. Once the issues are defined, call center employees are tasked with gathering and inputting vast amounts of customer data.

This is not unnecessary busy work. The information is generally used to create a customer profile that will be a useful tool for future interactions.

How Can Agents Improve Their Attention to Detail?

A customer service professional must learn to hone their attention to detail skills by first backing up and listening intently to the client. Rather than work in a loose conversational style, consider what the caller or electronic communication offers and turn that into hard data.

3. Adding A Personalized Touch

Building on the importance of attention to detail, providing personalized customer service means being able to refer to vital statistics about clients, as well as communicating like a real human. Whether your agents are communicating telephonically, in person or through a live chat solution, the two things that people want from a customer service representative is you making them feel like they are not just a number, and coming across like an everyday person -- this type of customer experience is what most are looking for.

What Makes a Personalized Touch So Important?

The use of precision call center data can be strategically employed to make connections. For example, a call center employee can ask a simple question such as: “do you still live at such and such address?”

Customers generally understand that agents are working off a data profile and you do not enjoy a personal relationship. But it tends to be meaningful that the brand took the time and effort to collect this information and that can make people feel like a valued customer.

Endearing yourself as a real person can easily play off the customer profile. For instance, confirming a customer’s address could be followed up with a question about the weather. That can be particularly helpful if the weather is good or better than the call center location.

Finding something nice to say about where a customer resides works to deepen the personalized company touch and also removes the notion the representative is a sterile robot worker bee.

How Can Agents Improve Personalization Skills?

Personalization skills can be improved in a number of ways. These are generally company decisions that set the tone and make callers feel one way or another.

4. Multitasking

With modern communications happening on multiple platforms thanks to our latest technology, today’s customer service agents are tasked with working across multiple communications platforms.

What Makes Multitasking So Important?

The importance of a modern agent being able to shift from one platform to another seamlessly cannot be understated. The old days of straight call-in centers have given way to voice, SMS, email and social media among others.

Consider specific interactions that may require emailing a vital document to a customer while interacting via voice communication.

The ability to file share across the customer’s preferred platform can result in real-time confirmation the person received what they needed to move forward. That heightens the customer experience dramatically because an agent can complete the call or electronic communication having fully satisfied the customer's needs. Multitasking enables agents to:

How Can Agents Improve Multitasking Skills?

Not every agent has the innate ability to work across all platforms, and therefore multitasking should not be seen as a department wide improvement. Instead, leveraging multitasking capabilities properly can offer a unique productivity boost in specific situations. For example, Live Chat can be great multitasking enabler, but it is not necessarily an improvement for every department or contact center.

5. Resourcefulness

Customer service excellence does not happen in a vacuum. While it’s crucial to train agents to follow company policies and protocols, there will be times when a customer is just not satisfied with the party line.

What Makes Resourcefulness So Important?

This idea can be difficult for some supervisors to bridge because going “off script,” so to speak, feels like it could jeopardize bonuses and even job security. It can be a bitter pill to swallow, but limited freewheeling can prove beneficial.

Customer service centers often identify a range of standard problems and concerns about services, products, and brands. By utilizing this data that a center has amassed, decision-makers may be able to offer more than a single solution.

Developing multiple options to best manage common issues gives agents a variety of resources to utilize. But this is not to say that rookie customer service representatives should be able to pick and choose.

How Can Agents Improve Their Resourcefulness Skills?

Resourcefulness tends to grow with knowledge about the organization and its policies as well as experience in the trenches. Veteran agents are often better equipped to freelance solutions based on brand knowledge and previous successes.

6. Empathetic To The Customer

Not every person has the interpersonal skills to be successful as a customer service rep. While policies and procedures can be taught, there are soft skills that a top-flight agent brings to the table. In fact, entire sciences about mindfulness and emotional intelligence point to the benefits of qualitative thinking.

What Makes Empathy towards the Customer So Important?

Success in the customer service field is not like solving a math problem. In many cases, the other side of the brain wins the day. Agents are tasked with both understanding the core issue that need to be resolved and the emotional state of the customer as well. Both are equally important to an entirely successful outcome.

It’s also common for callers to be confused about a product or service. Their source of frustration may not be the product or service at all. It might just be their inner feelings. Think of a confused customer in terms of you being in a completely dark room and trying to find a door. Stressful.

In fact, polls indicate that feelings of being unappreciated rank among the top reasons that consumers change brands or services.

How Can Agents Express Their Empathy Better?

While some people seem to have a natural inclination for empathy, call centers rely on training to improve these emotional skills.

Empathetic customer service entails providing a guiding light while expressing that such misunderstandings are common, that’s why agents are there to help. Emotionally intelligent customer service agents require in-depth training to identify keywords, phrases and attitudes in customers.

7. Proper Time Management

In some industries, time management excellence means delivering on time and on budget. But the customer service industry has a slightly different way of looking at excellence. The product, or customer interaction, must be timely and efficient.

What Makes Time Management So Important?

Highly trained customer service representatives are tasked with interacting with valued customers in a way that makes them feel fully satisfied with their customer care. That means being patient and thorough.

At the same time, individual productivity creates a baseline for services. While agents never want to make a client feel rushed, they do want to complete the process in a reasonable time.

In fact, a reported 66 percent of adults say that online customer service provides them with a valuable time management outlet.

How Can Agents Improve Their Time Management?

Call centers generally set practical guidelines and time goals as a baseline to track agent time management.

8. Negotiation Tactics

The era when customer service reps were simply problem solvers has passed. Today’s call centers come complete with agents who also act as deal closers. That means high-level sales training is a must in the industry.

What Makes Agent Negotiation Tactics So Important?

The difference between a higher percentage of successful deals starts and ends with an agent’s ability to carry a negotiation from start to finish.

The critical industry driver remains persuasion. That persuasion may come in the form of reasoning why the product or service makes sense for the customer or is merely a solid bargain.

At the same time, a substantial negotiation ends with both parties enjoying balanced benefits. These are important tools a skilled agent understands.

How Can Agents Improve Their Negotiation Tactics?

More than 60 percent of customers who make purchases through contact centers reportedly say they value the experience more than discounted prices.

On top of that, 7 out of 10 American consumers are reportedly willing to spend upwards of 17 percent more with companies that deliver high-level customer service. Therefore, call center supervisors that work with negotiation teams are tasked with enhancing their deal-making skills. Key strategies include:

9. Quick To Adapt

Agents are a lot like psychiatrists, hairdressers, and bartenders. They listen to your problems and offer some level of emotional support. But to make matters worse, agents are responsible for listening and solving the issue at the same time -- putting them in a unique position.

Why Must Agents Be Quick to Adapt?

Since agents are listening to an issue in order to understand how to solve it, it is important that they can roll with the punches. People are sometimes ruled by their emotions, and it takes a unique skill set to pivot and adapt to the changing communication landscape.

Agents need to be able to listen to complaints, handle aggressive language or tones, and still manage to work towards an issue as the circumstances rapidly shift. In terms of the agent's agility, 74 percent of customers are reportedly more likely to change brands if the customer service process becomes too difficult.

How Can Agents Become Quicker to Adapt?

Perhaps the critical difference between those professionals and customer service reps is that agents assess the emotional or information dynamic and steer it to an actionable resolution.

Supervisors in top-level call centers must train agents in the following areas to pivot when things change:

With those personal tools functioning at a high level, professionals can change the emotional direction.

10. In-Depth Product Knowledge

Companies that consider outsourcing customer service generally worry that an agency will not fully grasp the nuances of the product, service or brand due to a lack of familiarity, or understand. Those are absolutely fair concerns, especially in today’s ever changing and technology ruled world.

Products and services are always receiving updates, changes and new solutions are emerging everyday -- it can be hard for agents to stay on top of it all.

What Makes Is In-Depth Product Knowledge So Important?

But it is the very nature of high-level contact centers to know the product from front to back. Clients and customers are calling in for assistance with these products or services, and agents must be knowledgeable to understand the issue, and how to work towards a solution. This is almost step one of high-level service.

Professional call centers must insist on thorough employee training, so they can speak intelligently to issues regarding the brand. With proper knowledge, agents are better trained and equipped to handle known issues. More important, knowledgeable agents will be better equipped to handle new and unknown issues.

How Can Agents Become More Knowledgeable of Products?

At the end of the day, corporations enjoy a refined and teachable knowledge about products and services. But rarely do they have the seasoned customer service professional to train a team. However, that doesn’t mean these resources should go unused.

The Bottom Line: Skills For The Modern Contact Center

When thinking about what to expect from the modern contact center, it might make more sense to think about the future. Living in the technology age means that the call center landscape shifts rapidly. It wasn’t many years ago that customers phoned in via landlines to banks of operators who assisted them off hard copy information and scripts.

These days, Omni-Channel communications are trending, and cutting-edge communications rely on multiple platforms to interface with businesses and customers on a variety of modes or channels. Texting, emails, social media, live chat and voice connectivity are common customer service vehicles that have proven vital. Consider for a moment that upwards of 98 percent of Americans use multiple platforms on any given day.

In the coming years, perhaps even months, new mediums may emerge that shift contact center methods. But even with the inclusion of tools such as AI and emerging technologies, the foundation of customer service excellence relies on highly trained agents to provide a person-to-person experience to valued customers.

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