Improving Customer Service Skills
Making the leap to VoIP technology for your customer service offers a number of benefits, including cost savings, increased flexibility for agents, and heightened efficiency — which in turn should result in more satisfied customers.
However, a tool is only as good as the person who wields it, and it’s no different with VoIP technology. Customer service representatives are generally the only people from a company that customers will talk to, and then those customers will base their entire view of the company off of that interaction. If customers have a negative experience, they won’t think well of the company and may take their business elsewhere. That’s why it’s so important to make sure you are constantly improving customer service skills in your agents.
To help you in this, we’ve researched some of the top skills for customer service your customer relations agents should have in their arsenal to increase customer satisfaction and help your business thrive and grow. Check out this list of skills every agent should have to help customers have the best experience possible.
You never know who’s going to be on the other end of the line when a customer calls in for support, and you never know what their specific issue will be. Customers reaching out to the customer service arm of an organization usually do so because they’ve encountered a problem or difficulty with the company’s products or services. Such customers may be calm or frustrated, they may be hard of hearing, they may struggle to articulate what the problem they’re experiencing is, and they may have a hard time implementing the directions they receive.
Whatever the case may be, it’s critically important that the customer support agent who responds to their call is equipped with the ability to communicate well. Communication is one of the most critical skills for customer service an agent can have; not only to understand and solve an objective problem, but also to solve it in a way that keeps the customer calm and satisfied, and ultimately happy with the company.
Communication has two primary elements: listening and responding, but the third element to successful communication is empathy or sympathy, which means making the customer feel cared about. Agents should be trained to listen and strive to fully understand the issue a customer is bringing to them, and also to assess how the customer is feeling. Then, agents can respond appropriately, in terms of both providing the needed answers and providing the appropriate emotional support and confidence the customer needs to hear to feel valued and to accept the solution they are given. When all of these elements are at play in a customer service interaction, customers are more likely to come away satisfied with the help they received, and good customer relations are more likely to be maintained.
Highly knowledgeable of company processes and products
No matter how well-mannered, hardworking or efficient a customer service representative is, if he or she can’t ultimately resolve whatever a customer is calling about, the customer will come away from the call disappointed.
With how large a company’s catalog of services or products may be, it can be hard for a customer service agent to know everything there is to know. Additionally, updates can be implemented to a brand’s products, policies, and services at any time, so it’s no surprise call center agents may not immediately know the latest or best answer to a customer’s query or complaint. This is especially true when customer service is outsourced to agencies where agents are a step removed from the company culture, or where training isn’t as thorough as it could be.
The best way to help agents improve their knowledge of a product is to ensure that as they develop their skills for customer service, they receive very thorough training to properly equip them to handle any issues. Crucial to this process is making sure there is a handbook or database that holds the answers to whatever they may come up against, and it’s important that those resources are easy to navigate quickly. Tutorials and FAQs can be helpful for agents searching for answers for a customer, but it’s also a good idea to have outward-facing resources available that agents can point customers toward to find the answers to their questions themselves if they prefer.
Proactive and resourceful
Suppose a complicated question comes in to a customer service representative, and the manual or database doesn’t seem to offer an obvious or preferred resolution. One of the vital customer service skills for maintaining good customer relations is for the agent to be willing to take initiative to find or devise a solution — and to follow through completely.
This is especially true when customer service agents are new to working with the company; they may not be as familiar with its products and services and with what information is available. (That’s why step No. 2 above is so important — the more knowledgeable an agent is, the more likely they will be able to solve problems efficiently.)
When things on a call become difficult, agents may be tempted to escalate or redirect a call, or even to terminate it altogether so the customer has to call back and speak with someone else — which is one of the worst things an agent can do, but unfortunately does happen in some call centers.
Encouraging agents to search for or devise a solution when the normal resources have been exhausted can lead to happy customers who would otherwise come away disappointed or frustrated. A good way to accomplish this is to have agents reach out to supervisors for help overcoming issues without abandoning the call, and to make sure agents are thoroughly trained not only in common issues but in how to find or create realistic solutions where none seem to exist, even if that does require calling a customer back. If that’s the case, however, the agent absolutely must understand the importance of calling back — and do it!
VoIP technology makes it easier to connect customers with agents faster than ever before, but you don’t want to lose that momentum by having agents who can’t include efficiency on their list of skills. Among their skills for customer service, agents need to be able to find solutions to problems quickly, but they shouldn’t sacrifice quality as they hurry to accomplish the task.
For example, a key part of being efficient is to fully understand the correct problem before seeking or sharing a solution. Well-meaning agents can jump the gun if they don’t take the time to communicate clearly with a customer to get the full story of what’s going on. Taking an extra minute to allow the customer to better understand a problem can lead to a better solution that is more likely to leave the customer satisfied — which is, after all, the overall goal. At the same time, agents need to be careful that customers come away from a call feeling that they were listened to and cared about and not rushed to get off the call.
To support agents in being efficient without sacrificing quality, it’s a good idea to have training where agents learn how to properly listen to customers and accurately note the issues they face before hunting for a solution. While setting time goals is a common practice used to keep agents working as fast as they can, goals that are too stringent can lead to mishandled calls and bad attitudes in the workplace. Work with supervisors to determine realistic goals and to develop training to help agents process calls faster.
When improving customer service skills in your agents, don’t overlook this one! Interpersonal skills means how well agents are able to relate and communicate with customers. These skills are often undervalued because they aren’t as black and white in each situation; it’s really up to an agent to read a situation or attitude of a customer and then respond in a way that is appropriate to that specific set of circumstances.
This is one on the list of skills that can’t be easily laid out in a manual; some people just aren’t what you’d call a “people person.” However, empathy is something that can be developed, and you can set guidelines in place to ensure even the least empathetic among your agents still conduct their calls in a way that’s less likely to cause or escalate unhappiness in a customer.
For example, active listening can play a big role. This is where an agent listens to a customer’s problem and then repeats back the problem as they understand it to the customer. The customer then knows they are being listened to, and they have the opportunity to confirm that the agent has it correct — which is satisfying to both parties — or to offer further clarification.
An interpersonal skill sometimes forgotten among customer service skills involves setting aside the need to assign blame, which can make the other party feel like a victim. Customers need to feel as though the agent is there to help them find a solution rather than fighting them over one — and if one doesn’t exist, the customer shouldn’t be made to feel unintelligent. An agent may have to deliver bad news to the customer, meaning the customer won’t get the solution they want, but the agent can do so in a way that doesn’t come across as abrasive. For example, instead of saying, “You misunderstood the policy and you’re wrong,” an agent could say, “I’m sorry, but the policy for this issue is different from what you’re saying.”