5 Essential Soft Skills for Every Customer-Facing Team
Communication with a customer service professional is often times the only human interaction a customer has with your product or service. If that experience is negative, you’ve likely lost the customer or will lose the customer long-term. It’s not surprising that customer service skills are the 9th hottest soft skill trending in 2018 on our Udemy platform of 24+ million learners.
There are a number of statistics that demonstrate the importance of a positive customer experience—and the power of a negative one. When American consumers have a positive service experience, they’ll share it on average with 11 people, but when they have a negative experience, they’ll tell an average of 15 people. This means that you have to work extra hard to prevent negative customer experiences, or they’ll prevent your business from growing. US companies lose more than $62 billion annually due to poor customer service.
Most people already possess the skills that customer-facing professionals need to succeed in their roles. But when we consider the scale that’s required at most companies—being active on 10 chats while on a phone call and composing an email, or helping 100 customers in a retail setting—it’s essential to provide training to help people learn how to handle these dynamic situations. These are some of the topics I cover in my Udemy for Business course Customer Service: Soft Skills Fundamentals. To equip your customer-facing teams with the soft skills they’ll need to provide best-in-class service around the clock, check out Udemy for Business.
Here are five soft skills that will help your set your customer-facing teams up for success and help your company create a positive experience customers can’t wait to share.
5 essential soft skills for your customer-facing team
1. Planning, preparation, and presentation
I like to think in groups of three, and this first category is about making sure you or your customer service team prepares for the task at hand. Taking the time to plan what to say and how to take on the day provides a better base to stand on and eliminates the risk of being blindsided by unexpected events. Preparation can involve tasks like practicing scripts for when something goes wrong, creating clear workspaces, making sure water bottles are handy, and wearing comfortable shoes. It’s also important customer service professionals think about presenting their “best selves,” whether they’re working in an office, at home, in a video call, or over the phone. I recommend focusing on posture, appearance, and how to project a professional attitude.
2. Proactive, self-directed learning
It’s essential for customer service professionals to become subject matter experts, and a huge part of this is developing the soft skill of being a proactive, self-directed learner. Customer service professionals should explore the different ways of staying up-to-date on their industry, whether that involves taking classes like the wide variety of courses offered through Udemy for Business, going to meetups, paying attention to industry trends via blogs or Twitter feeds, or going out to coffee with colleagues to get their perspective.
One area that can be especially tricky for people who are new to customer service is documentation. I recommend spending time researching common applications and approaches to documentation. Personally I use Salesforce, Quip, Google Docs, and Trello, and I know that Evernote and Asana are also popular. Depending on the industry, customer service professionals may be asked to use a specific Client Relationship Management (CRM) program or to record notes in a way that they remain confidential. When starting at a new company, customer service professionals should ask their new colleagues what they’re doing and emulate the behaviors of the people who are doing the best work.
For many people, customer service begins as an entry-level job, so they may not necessarily think about “doing homework” for their role, but it’s probably more critical to develop this skill at this stage than at any other stage of their careers. I recommend learning about trends in the industry, what competition is doing, and which changes are likely to happen in the next year or 18 months. By creating habits of learning outside of work and becoming familiar with every aspect of the business, customer service professionals can better service their clients today and set themselves up for success in the future. And developing the skill of learning can have other benefits, such as helping customer service professionals adapt to changing business needs. See How L&D Helped a Customer Service Firm Prepare for Digital Transformation.
3. Clear communication and transparency
Communication is critical for every business unit, which explains why it’s one of the most in-demand skills on Udemy. But for the customer service professional, clear and transparent communication skills can make or break a career.
One common misconception is that the customer service professional needs to know everything. This simply isn’t realistic—there will always be a percentage of the product or service that one person is familiar with, and the colleague who’s sitting across from them will be familiar with a slightly different percentage. I encourage customer service professionals to share their knowledge with coworkers and take advantage of their expertise. This means developing the soft skill of clearly communicating when they don’t know something and asking for help.
Similarly, it’s essential to be able to communicate with customers to create realistic expectations. This will occasionally involve telling them no or letting them know that it will take more time to find an answer or resolve the issue. It takes practice to feel comfortable with this type of communication, but it can have a significant impact on the customer experience: 66% of adults feel that valuing their time is the most important thing a company can do to provide them with a good customer experience.
4. Ability to receive feedback
Learning to accept constructive feedback is an indispensable soft skill as a customer-facing professional. Supervisors will often listen to recordings of calls or monitor email exchanges and offer suggestions on how to make improvements. It can sometimes be difficult to hear feedback without taking it personally, which is why it’s important for customer-facing professionals to learn that feedback is not meant to hurt them—it’s an important part of the growth and learning process.
One of the things I included in my course is the idea of customer-facing professionals being self-aware of what they sound like. If you’ve ever listened to a recording of yourself on voicemail, you were likely surprised to hear what your voice sounded like. It may be higher or lower than you imagined, or perhaps your pace is much faster or slower than you believed. The practice of recording and listening to oneself regularly will help customer-facing professionals develop self-awareness of how they sound to others, which is especially important if they spend the majority of their time on the phone.
Your customer-facing teams have the power to make or break the way customers perceive your company. This is why it’s so important to help them develop the soft skills that will allow them to succeed on the job and present your company in the best possible light.
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