Customer service isn’t just about putting out fires and answering complaint calls. It’s the framework that holds the client-company relationship together and builds loyalty. And here's the deal: exceptional customer service reps are the architects of this framework. Sales might bring in new business, but customer service is what keeps business.
In this article, we'll walk you through the labyrinth of becoming an exceptional customer service representative. We'll go over the skills you'll need, how to understand customer needs, ways to improve your problem-solving skills, and 10 tips experts use to provide first-in-class customer support and experiences. Let’s get unpacking.
Essential skills for a good customer service representative
Becoming a customer service representative isn't a piece of cake. It needs a set of skills that go beyond keeping your cool while a customer explains their third problem of the day. Here’s what you’ll need to be great at:
- Communication: A great customer service rep is a wizard of words. You need to communicate clearly and efficiently to make sure the customer understands what you're saying. Plus, you’ll need active listening to genuinely grasp the customer’s problem. Looking to improve your communication skills? Consider taking some public speaking courses or join groups such as Toastmasters.
- Empathy: No two customers are the same, like how no two snowflakes that fall from the sky are identical. That's why understanding each customer’s unique needs and expectations are crucial. You need to empathize with their situation and see things from their perspective.
- Knowledgeability: As a customer service representative, you’re the front-line encyclopedia of your company. Customers will have questions about products, services, billing, and a dozen other things that make your business tick—and they’ll expect you to have the answers. It’s your job to know your company's offerings like the back of your hand. Knowledgeability isn't just about knowing stuff; it's about staying updated on new features, offerings, and policies too. That’s homework for you between phone calls or chats!
- Adaptability: The ability to bob-and-weave (much like our good friend, the boxer) is key to thriving in customer service. You should be ready to handle irate customers, solve unique problems, and adapt to new technologies or processes. A slow Tuesday might suddenly turn into a stormy Friday evening within a few minutes, and you need to be prepared to switch gears on the fly. Remember, adaptability also means embracing feedback, because there’s always room for improvement.
- Time management: We know you're not a time lord with a TARDIS. But as a customer service rep, time management is a crucial skill to hone. It's like spinning multiple plates at once: juggling active customers, following up on earlier conversations, processing requests, all while keeping those hold times to a minimum. Time and customers wait for no one, so being prompt, efficient, and respectful of your customer’s time is the name of the game. Plus, good time management skills can lower the stress of your day-to-day tasks in a big way—it simply helps work suck less.
These skills provide the foundation of great customer service. But if there was one more we could add to the list? It would have to be patience. You’re going to have to learn to let customers take their time explaining their problem to you. The best customer support reps are like Zen masters while they wait for the customer to finish typing.
Understanding customer needs
At its core, customer service is all about catering to customer needs and expectations. It might seem like a no-brainer, but truly understanding your customers' needs requires a dedicated effort. From the moment a customer gets in touch with you, your main objective is to identify their needs and find the best possible solution for them. Let's be real here, their perspective is your reality. If the customer thinks there's a problem, there's a problem. Grasping this is the make-or-break of being an extraordinary customer service rep.
Understanding what your customer needs and expect also works like a compass, pointing you in the right direction. It allows you to tailor your approach, helping you deliver service that not only solves their immediate problem, but also anticipates future requests and sets an expectation of a seamless experience. Yes, we're talking customer service clairvoyance. And remember, meeting customer expectations is good. Exceeding those expectations? Now, that's where the magic really happens. We're dealing with people, not pixels on a screen; the more we understand them, the better we'll be at offering solutions they didn’t even know they needed.
5 expert tips on how to better understand customers
- Try active listening: Active listening is beyond just hearing the words customers say; it's about catching the nuances and understanding the complete message being delivered. When you listen actively, you can read between the lines and connect with what the customer is truly feeling or needing. Example: If a customer is repeatedly mentioning how disruptive an issue has been, they might be anxious or frustrated. Acknowledge their sentiment and reassure them that you’re there to solve their problem swiftly.
- Ask probing questions: Inquiring minds really do get the goods. Probing questions can help you gather detailed information and clarify confusion. It helps get to the bottom of the real issue the customer is facing. Example: If a customer is having trouble with your software, ask about the exact operations they're performing. Probe until you can replicate the issue.
- Get feedback: Remember, you’re not a mind reader. The best way to understand what your customers need is to ask for their feedback. Use surveys or casual conversation at the end of an interaction to know if their needs were met and how the experience was for them. Example: Ask for feedback once you’ve solved a customer’s issue to know if they felt the process was smooth and their issue was resolved fully.
- Analyze data: Don't shy away from the numbers. They tell stories. Using data analytics, you can track trends, common complaints, customer behavior, and more. This can offer deep insights about your customers' needs. Example: If data shows high contact volume about a specific product issue, you can address it proactively with other customers facing similar issues.
- Put yourself in the customer's shoes: Empathy can be a potent tool. Imagine yourself from the customer's perspective to understand why they're upset, confused, or elated. Example: If a long-time customer is upset about a recent change in your product, consider how you would feel if a familiar and vital feature was altered without your understanding.
Here's what Stacy Herman, from Doing CX Right says:
“You can’t have a cookie-cutter approach to customer experience ever. You can have a cookie-cutter approach to agent success ever. It has to be personalized and customized to the needs of both.”
Improving your problem-solving skills
Customer service is an endless game of Whack-A-Mole—problem pops up, problem gets whacked down. It's a major part of a service rep's job and a critical skill to develop. Excellent problem-solving skills can help you resolve issues quickly and ensure each customer leaves satisfied, spreading positive word-of-mouth about your company. It's not always easy—some moles are trickier than others—but becoming an effective problem solver can boost your career and raise the bar for your whole team.
3 expert tips and strategies for effective problem-solving
- Understand the entire problem: Before you rush to put out the fire, first understand how big it is and how it started. Ask clarifying questions, rephrase the problem to the customer to ensure you've got a full grasp. Doing this can prevent miscommunication and reduce problem resolution time. To put it into action, next time a customer presents an issue, take time to repeat it back to them to verify your understanding.
- Think creatively: Problem-solving isn't just about by-the-book solutions. Sometimes, you need to think outside the box. This requires creativity and a willingness to try alternative methods. Master this by constantly asking, "Is there another way to approach this issue?" For instance, if a customer’s problem can’t be solved immediately, instead of leaving them hanging, are there temporary solutions that can be applied? What about a workaround, or an alternative, that might even be better than what they initially wanted?
- Review and learn from past interactions: There's a saying, "History is our greatest teacher". The same holds true for problem-solving. Review past customer interactions to learn how similar issues have been handled. See what worked, what didn't, and apply those learnings to your current situation. In practice, consistently set aside time to go over previous customer cases. Not only will it help you solve current problems effectively, it's also a fantastic way of proactively preparing for future issues.
This is something Justin Robbins, Founder of Metric Sherpa, says is key:
"I think there is an interesting opportunity of us to effectively scale the delivery of knowledge. To our customers and to our agents. I think there’s an opportunity for us to scale the accuracy of getting information out to people. And I think there’s also an opportunity for us to scale the way we collect data and leave it it as bread crumbs for whoever’s next in the interaction chain so they have a better source of truth on the customer.”
The role of a call center agent
Call center agents are at the heart of a company's customer service efforts. They're not just voice-over specialists; they're problem solvers, brand ambassadors, and sometimes, their company's last line of defense. They field a barrage of calls every day, dealing with everything from customer inquiries and complaints, to processing orders and offering technical support—all while maintaining a high degree of professionalism. It's not a walk in the park, but it sure is rewarding.
3 expert tips to excel in this role
- Keep calm and carry on: As a call center agent, you're bound to face various challenges daily—from aggravated customers to difficult issues. Staying calm under pressure is essential. Remember, your demeanor can significantly impact how the interaction progresses. Try to incorporate relaxation techniques and remember, it's never personal.
- Invest in tech know-how: Technology is an integral part of the call center environment, and to be a good call center agent, you need to master the tech tools you're provided. Looking to step up your game? Attend training sessions, webinars, or spend time understanding your CRM software outside of your shift hours.
- Be proactive: Interactions are not just about resolving the issue at hand. Being proactive and anticipating the customer's future questions or problems can leave a long-lasting positive impression. You can implement this by analyzing previous interactions and predicting future customer needs based on that.
This is something customer support expert and keynote speaker Shep Hyken agrees with:
"If you track what a bunch of these customers are doing, you can start to predict what sales are going to be. What products people are going to need and buy. And if you train your support people the right way, they can engage the customer. Earn the customer’s trust. And ethically, cross-sell or upsell to what the customer is going to need because they know they’re going to need it, and they know why."
The role of a chat support agent
Chat support agents are the silent heroes of customer service. They are the unseen yet essential bond linking the company and customers in real-time chat interactions. Their role includes more than just typing fast and reading scripted responses. They are there to assist customers by answering questions, resolving issues and providing information about products or services. It's an art of balance – guaranteeing the conversation flows naturally while ensuring that customer queries are properly addressed.
3 expert tips to excel in this role
- Succinct communication: With chat support, you don't have the luxury of tone of voice or vocal emphasis. You need to be clear and concise with your messages. Work on your written communication skills, practice writing short yet comprehensive responses, and ensure that your message is easily understood.
- Multitasking mastery: Chat support agents often juggle multiple chats simultaneously. This requires a high level of multitasking ability and attention to detail. An exercise to get better? Practice handling multiple tasks at once in a controlled environment, and remember, concentration is your best friend.
- Tech-savviness: Being a chat support agent requires speed and technical know-how. Familiarize yourself with the chat software, learn the shortcuts, and become comfortable navigating the programs you use daily. Knowing your technical tools as if they were extensions of yourself will smooth the path to your chat support success.
Here's what customer experience consultant Brad Cleveland says:
"AI can assist agents in handling complex inquiries by providing real-time information and recommendations. AI-powered virtual assistants can help alleviate long wait times and provide more consistent and personalized service."
Don’t just be a good customer service rep. Be great.
So there you have it. A walkthrough of the wild and rewarding world of customer service from the ground up. From honing essential skills like communication, empathy, and problem-solving to understanding the nitty-gritty of customer needs and the roles of call center and chat support agents—you're now equipped with knowledge to help you become an exceptional customer service representative.
But remember, even the best warrior needs a sharp sword. That's why our Magical automation software is here to have your back, leaving you more time and energy to focus on what you do best—serving customers. Magical can help you automate tasks like repetitive messaging and updating your customer databases. Try downloading the free Chrome extension and discover for yourself how customer support teams like DHL, Netflix, Mission Lane, Verizon, and Rippling save an average of seven hours a week using this handy tool.