What Customer Service Skills Are Most Valuable

by Vasudha Deming

At Impact Learn­ing Sys­tems we're fre­quently asked which skills are most valu­able for cus­tomer ser­vice — and most essen­tial to include in a cus­tomer ser­vice train­ing ses­sion. The hon­est answer is this: Skills are of sec­ondary importance.

I know that sounds some­what counter-intuitive, but here's why it's true … The most impor­tant aspect of pro­vid­ing good cus­tomer ser­vice is atti­tude. Atti­tude per­vades every part of the cus­tomer ser­vice inter­ac­tion and is the foun­da­tion upon which all the skills are built.

Adopt a Cus­tomer Ser­vice Attitude

Con­sider this: A cus­tomer ser­vice rep­re­sen­ta­tive says the right things and trans­acts the busi­ness with effi­ciency but also with an air of indif­fer­ence (or worse). Are you sat­is­fied? No! Like every­one else, you expect to be treated with cour­tesy and respect.

On the other hand, if a cus­tomer ser­vice provider shows a sin­cere will­ing­ness to serve and makes an earnest attempt to get it right but misses a few of the key skills, are you sat­is­fied? In most cases, yes.

Cus­tomer ser­vice — whether that means sell­ing shoes or fix­ing phones — is an intrin­si­cally reward­ing pro­fes­sion. The peo­ple who under­stand this fact are the ones who excel and who help to dis­tin­guish their com­pany from its competitors.

Over the years, I've heard count­less clients say that when hir­ing employ­ees they value a candidate's service-oriented atti­tude far more than tech­ni­cal skills or even product/industry knowl­edge. This is because they have learned from expe­ri­ence that the skills and the pro­ce­dures can be taught; atti­tude has to come from within.

I could go on and on about the impor­tance of atti­tude, but since I included "cus­tomer ser­vice skills" in the title of this post, I would feel remiss if I didn't iden­tify what I feel to be some key skills in cus­tomer ser­vice. After all, a good atti­tude may be essen­tial, but it can't stand alone.

There are about 20 key skills fea­tured in Get­ting to the Heart of Cus­tomer Ser­viceTM . Fol­low­ing are my picks for three of the skills that tend to dis­tin­guish stel­lar cus­tomer ser­vice providers from their more ordi­nary peers.

#1 Pos­i­tive language

Pos­i­tive lan­guage is the art of using words and phrases to cre­ate a pos­i­tive image in the customer's mind-with an empha­sis on what can be done, not on what can­not. Using pos­i­tive lan­guage shows a will­ing­ness to serve and a com­mit­ment to build­ing cus­tomer loy­alty. It's espe­cially impor­tant to use pos­i­tive lan­guage when say­ing no or deliv­er­ing bad news to a customer. Fol­low­ing are two exam­ples of a cus­tomer ser­vice provider con­vey­ing the same mes­sage with and with­out pos­i­tive language.

Exam­ple 1

With­out pos­i­tive lan­guage: "You have to take the sys­tem offline before I can make the repair."

With pos­i­tive lan­guage: "In order to make the repair, I need to tem­porar­ily take the sys­tem offline. This pre­vents per­ma­nent loss of stored data."

Exam­ple 2

With­out pos­i­tive lan­guage: "I can't get you that prod­uct until April; it's backordered."

With pos­i­tive lan­guage: "That prod­uct will be avail­able in April. I can place the order for you now and make sure the prod­uct is sent to you as soon as it reaches our warehouse."

#2 Lis­ten­ing

Cus­tomers need to feel that they've been heard and under­stood, and that doesn't hap­pen with­out good lis­ten­ing on the part of the cus­tomer ser­vice rep­re­sen­ta­tive. I'm not sure I've ever con­sulted in a cus­tomer ser­vice envi­ron­ment in which I didn't rec­og­nize poor lis­ten­ing as a strong con­tribut­ing fac­tor to poor per­for­mance (and by exten­sion, poor service).

Fol­low­ing are three keys to good lis­ten­ing in any cus­tomer ser­vice situation.
  1. Focus. (This is the hard­est part!)
  2. Lis­ten for key facts and key feel­ings.
  3. Take notes. (Nobody has as good a mem­ory as he or she wants to believe.)

#3 Con­firm­ing satisfaction

Another key skill in cus­tomer sat­is­fac­tion is con­firm­ing sat­is­fac­tion before end­ing the trans­ac­tion. This skill demon­strates to the cus­tomer three impor­tant things:
  • That you care about get­ting it right
  • That you're will­ing to keep going until you get it right
  • That the cus­tomer is the one who deter­mines what "right" is.

Con­firm­ing sat­is­fac­tion also accom­plishes a smooth, sub­tle shift in "own­er­ship" of the issue. When the cus­tomer says in his or her own words, "Yes, I'm sat­is­fied," the trans­ac­tion is com­plete and successful—in the customer's mind as well as in yours.

Posted on March 29, 2010

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