Ramp up your new agents by focusing on the key hard and soft customer service skills they need to make your service shine.
Good customer service requires more than answering incoming questions with clear communication and a friendly tone. To truly thrive at a customer service job, agents need to have a deep understanding of your product, your support channels, and the customer service platform (or helpdesk) your brand uses. Plus, they need to use problem-solving skills and proactive thinking to deliver the best overall customer experience possible.
Great customer interactions are a key ingredient for customer retention: PwC reports that 32% of customers will refuse to do business with you after one bad experience, and 59% will ghost you after just a few bad experiences. And 73% of people say that customer experience is an important factor in their purchasing decisions.
With that in mind, let’s explore 11 hard and soft skills that will help ensure that your agents deliver an excellent customer service experience with every interaction.
Crucial hard skills for a phenomenal customer experience
Starting with the hard skills that every customer service representative needs to possess to offer great customer service, there are several technical skills that your customer service team needs to master.
What are hard skills?
Customer service hard skills are defined as the hands-on, technical requirements of the job. This entails understanding the company's products and the tools and technology that your customer service team uses. A few important customer service hard skills include:
1) Live chat: Fast, on-the-fly support
Nealy 80% of customers told PwC that a speedy, helpful answer is the most important aspect of good customer service. So, brands are turning to messaging-based customer support channels (like live chat, WhatsApp, and SMS texting) to meet these expectations. If your support team isn’t trained on these fast-moving channels, you’ll let your customers down and miss out on opportunities for sales and repeat business.
Answering live chat is more involved than you may think: Agents must incorporate previous customer context, pull up the right information, and think ahead to provide forward resolution (or proactively answering customer follow-up questions) — all at a fast pace, and potentially handling other interactions at the same time. Here’s what answering an SMS in Gorgias looks like:
In addition to the technical skill required to maneuver these channels within your helpdesk, your staff should refine their skillset to drive upsells and request customer feedback to improve in the future. This way, you’re not only solving your customers' problems but also increasing each transaction’s lifetime value.
For example, when a customer reaches out with a product question, the agent could provide a great answer and also offer them a time-sensitive discount for that product. Maybe if the customer adds another product to their cart to reach a certain cart value, they will get a 10% discount:
Your bottom line can benefit from live chat in several ways — all of which positively impact customer satisfaction and ROI.
Tips for enhancing live chat skills
- Use templated Macros to help your live chat agents address customer questions more efficiently
- Use automation tools like self-service flows and automated responses to decrease customer effort
- Ensure clear communication by prioritizing proper spelling and grammar
- Use a customer support platform that lets customer service agents ask team members for help within the platform
2) Email: Long-form, in-depth support
A bulk of communication with your customers will take place via email. If your staff doesn’t respond quickly enough, or rushes too much, it will throw a wrench in your support machine and degrade your customer experience. So, make sure your support staff has excellent email communication practices in place — and that they understand how to leverage your email platform’s features.
One great way to make email customer support more streamlined and convenient for your team is to utilize a single platform for all of your customer support channels. With Gorgias, agents are able to respond to emails, SMS messages, and social media messages from a single, easy-to-use dashboard rather than having to master each channel individually.
Tips for better emails
- Include the recipient’s name in the body of the email, and use a professional signature at the end of the message
- Speed up your email response time with automated responses to common customer questions
- Create an efficient system for responding to email inquiries so that nothing slips through the cracks
- Limit back-and-forth responses and reduce your resolution times by requesting all necessary information in your initial email to the customer
3) Indirect channels (like social media)
Did you know that 59% of the world's population uses some form of social media? The fact that so many of your customers are already comfortable using these platforms makes social media an excellent avenue for customer support.
If you use social media to communicate with customers for marketing, your support staff needs to be ready to field questions and concerns that come through your social media comments. Social media communications will most commonly happen in the private messaging center. But, in some cases, customers will state their problems in public view.
In these instances, you need to have a clear protocol for handling public tickets. Will you move the conversation to another communication platform or handle it where it starts? Your support agent should know what you expect as well as how to use the social media platforms you promote your brand on.
If you don’t have a helpdesk, you’re missing out on opportunities to provide great experiences and turn more casual browsers into loyal buyers:
“Gorgias has so much integration between Shopify, Instagram, and Facebook. The Facebook ad commenting has been very interesting. People have been converting right there, thanks to a simple social interaction.”
— Cody Szymanski, Customer Experience Manager, Shinesty
Tips for social media customer service teams
- Move negative customer interactions to a private channel so that they don't damage your brand image
- Use the social media channels where your customers are the most active
- Monitor social conversations that are relevant to your brand with social listening tools
4) Switching between channels: Omnichannel customer service
Most customer relationships span multiple channels, which means good customer service skills require bouncing from one channel to the next. As your brand grows, make sure your customer service agents are comfortable switching from one channel to the next.
If you don’t have a helpdesk, this will require a bit of tab-shuffling throughout the day to respond to comments and messages from all these different platforms. That said, a helpdesk will save your agents hours every week by unifying your omnichannel approach to one platform, where agents can see every past interaction — be it an hour-long phone call or a 5-star review — and respond to customers without leaving the platform.
Tips for omnichannel customer support
Offering customer support via multiple channels such as live chat, email, and social media provides customers with more options for contacting your company.
A helpdesk that can unify customer support interactions across channels in one view is helpful for agents because it reduces the amount of app swapping they have to do. It also gives every customer's entire interaction history with your brand across all channels.
Here are a few effective tips to optimize your omnichannel support approach:
- Use a centralized customer support dashboard so support reps can access messages from multiple channels in a single location.
- Offer mobile-friendly customer support options.
- Create a system for efficiently transferring customer interactions between support channels.
4) Product knowledge: To answer pre-sales and troubleshooting questions
The most obvious customer service skill your agents (and your virtual assistants) must possess is the ability to answer questions and communicate information about the products you sell in your store. In most cases, you must train new employees on all aspects of your offering so they can help troubleshoot issues and answer questions before a customer places an order:
- “Is this compatible with…?”
- “What materials is this made with?”
- “Will I be able to use this to do…?
Occasionally, you may come across an applicant who has existing knowledge of your products, which is a bonus. Still, you should maintain a knowledge base or FAQ template that gives your support team easy access to the information they need to solve customers’ problems successfully.
Product knowledge will include product details. However, it should also include information about shipping times, packaging, delivery, and other technical information about the transaction process, so make sure your team knows these things — or at least knows how to access the information.
Tips for expanding your product knowledge
- Create a comprehensive knowledge base so support agents can easily access the product information they need.
- Have your product development team brief support agents on new products and product updates.
- Identify frequently asked product questions and ensure that your agents have canned responses to these questions.
5) Language and grammar: To communicate clearly and professionally
Your support staff obviously doesn’t need to illustrate beautiful images with their wordplay — actually, that would be completely over the top. However, they do need a sharp understanding of the language they’re using and know how to use proper grammar and spelling.
Test your prospective agents on the following:
- Word use
(Other intricacies and nuances of good communication fall under the soft skills umbrella, which we will address later.)
Tools for language and grammar
Apps that automatically check your agents' grammar and spelling are a great way to ensure written communication professionalism. A few great language and grammar tools to consider include:
- Hemingway App
Top customer service soft skills for ecommerce with examples
In addition to the technical aspects of the job, customer service also requires several “soft skills” such as communication skills and active listening skills. If you would like to generate more happy customers, these interpersonal skills are essential.
What are soft skills?
In ecommerce, customer service soft skills are personality traits and abilities that affect the interpersonal relationship between the support agent and the shoppers. Soft skills aren’t as easily quantifiable as hard skills, but they can be taught and learned.
Why are soft skills essential for your ecommerce business?
If you’re selling online, you don’t usually need to deal with customers face-to-face. Nobody will see your body language or the look on your face. Still, soft skills are crucial for customer support.
In an online environment, it’s necessary to create a personalized experience for shoppers because they will never see you in person. Humans are emotional creatures, even when interacting in a digital world.
This is why online stores employ features like personalized recommendations and use subscribers’ real names in automated emails. Since your customer service reps are on the front lines, they may be the only people at your company that your customers interact with. As a result, they need to have positive attitudes to generate positive experiences.
Great customer service means creating an enjoyable customer service experience and requires employees who have the skills to implement the following customer service best practices. Here are some of the key elements of great customer support:
Now, here are some of the soft skills that help you achieve the four qualities above:
6) Positive language: To provide a friendly customer experience
In ecommerce, as in all things in life, emotions have a tremendous impact on success. Your support agents need to understand this and should have a firm understanding of how their tone of voice and word choice affect customer satisfaction.
Positive language leads to positive emotions, which generates positive sales outcomes. This makes it a good idea to ask interview questions designed to gauge positive language skills when hiring customer service staff.
Examples of positive language used in customer service
Here are some examples of how your team can use positive language in customer service situations.
- “Absolutely! We will definitely get this sorted out for you.“
- “That sounds beautiful; I will do everything I can to make it happen.”
- “Oh, that certainly does sound like something I can help you with.”
- “Would you be encouraged if I told you I will get to the bottom of this?”
- “Thanks! I hope you have a fantastic day. Please reach out again if I can assist you with the next steps of your transaction.”
For further clarification, here are a few examples of what these same interactions might look like using negative language instead:
- “Oh no! I’ll see if I can fix your problem.”
- “That sounds awful; I wish there were more I could do.”
- “Ah, I might be able to get you through the issue you’re having.”
- “Don’t be upset; this is why I’m here.”
- “There you go. If you have more difficulties, I am working for the next few hours, so feel free to reach back out.”
If your support agents still need help utilizing positive language, customer service scripts can be a strong onboarding or training resource — whether they're brand new employees or established senior team members.
7) Showing empathy: To build relationships with customers
How is the customer feeling? Another key customer service skill to possess is the ability to show empathy for a shopper. When customers open up about their struggles and frustrations, they want to know that their complaints are falling on empathetic ears.
Showing empathy means understanding and expressing understanding of the feelings of another (in this case, your customers). This should be done with sensitivity, and it’s especially necessary to employ when a customer expresses their feelings.
Examples of empathy in customer service
Here are some examples of hypothetical customer issues (like an angry customer) and empathetic responses:
- Hypothetical Customer Issue #1: “When my order arrived, it was three days late and broken. This was supposed to be a birthday gift for my daughter, and now I’m not going to have this in time to give it to her on that day. I’m angry, and I demand a refund.”
Empathetic Response: “Wow. I can see how that would make you angry. I apologize that this happened. Let me find out what I can do for you.”
- Hypothetical Customer Issue #2: “You’re the only store that sells X Product, and I’ve been trying to order it, but every time I come to your site, it’s out of stock. I’m super sad. I really want it. Can you help me?”
Empathetic Response: “I totally get the disappointment. Let’s see if we can put you on a list to get notified as soon as X Product is back in stock. And I will certainly see if I have access to find out when we might be getting more. ”
Rather than just solving their problem, your support staff should be able to communicate that they appreciate the feelings that the customer is experiencing. No matter what the issue happens to be, approaching customer problems from a place of empathy improves both a customer's patience with your rep as well as their ultimate satisfaction.
8) Active listening skills and adaptability: To deeply understand your customers
One customer service skill that can be easily overlooked by digital support staff is active listening. It's clear why it's important when communicating verbally, but it can’t be ignored in text conversations either.
Agents need to pay close attention to what every customer says. Active listening is listening with the intent to obtain information and understand it rather than listening with the intent to reply. It’s a key step to adapting to nuanced questions or tense situations with customers.
Many people are ready to send a canned response to every query before they’ve even truly understood it. Your staff needs to know how to read and digest the information customers give them, and they need to provide relevant responses.
Examples of active listening in customer service
Active listening requires that the agent is present in the moment, sends acknowledgments of understanding throughout the conversation, and provides feedback when appropriate.
First, let’s look at a hypothetical customer issue:
- “Hey, I ordered Product X several weeks ago and still haven’t received my package. I haven’t gotten an email with tracking updates. Can you tell me whether or not my order was shipped?”
Then, here’s what a canned response looks like:
- “Thank you for contacting us. Did you receive a confirmation email with your order number?”
Finally, here’s a reply that showcases active listening:
- “Hi there. I apologize that you haven’t received a tracking email. I’m here to help. I would like to make sure your order is en route. Do you happen to have your order confirmation number? If not, we can try looking it up another way.”
The second example response showcases that the support agent has heard the problem and is actively looking for a solution.
Active listening is only one tactic to deeply understand your customers. With a helpdesk like Gorgias, you can go a step further and empower your customer service agents with detailed customer information, including past orders and loyalty data, alongside every conversation:
Related reading: Our full guide on personalized customer service.
9) Time management: To keep up with incoming customer requests
Customer service response times tremendously impact your store’s bottom line. If a response to a query takes too long, customer satisfaction plummets. Low satisfaction leads to low ecommerce conversion rates and less revenue. This means that your team needs to have good time management skills.
Time management is the ability to effectively and productively utilize one’s time. As a customer service skill, it's make-it-or-break-it: The better an agent's time management, the quicker their response times and the more tickets they can resolve.
Examples of time management in customer service
In a customer support environment, managing time effectively allows an agent to divide their time between tickets. Imagine that an agent has been assigned 10 tickets for their four-hour shift, so they have 10 problems to solve in four hours or less.
An agent who addresses them in the order of importance will be able to complete their assignments on time. However, an agent who doesn't will create more work for the next shift, leading to a crunch for everyone on the team.
10) Patience and awareness of tense situations
Most people can understand when a situation is tense. And, as a customer service skill, this is essential since many — if not most — shopper problems are at least a little tense. Support services are just one of the industries that are stressful by nature.
So, your agents need to understand when a situation is tense and what to do to defuse the emotional heat:
- Recognize the situation as emotionally tense
- Detach from taking anything said personally
- Maintain control over internal negative emotions
- Employ empathetic responses to the customer
In addition, it’s important for support agents to care for themselves, drink plenty of water, and get enough rest. This way, they are prepared to be resilient to the job's stresses.
Examples of patience and awareness of tense situations in customer service
In their response, Ulta patiently asked Dani to send them more information via DM so they could make the situation right. We don’t know exactly what they offered to make it up to her, but you can see that they gave an empathetic response, which is gold.
When someone has a problem or a conflict to resolve, it's the listener's responsibility to show that they are listening. A part of active listening, reflecting — the act of repeating the concern to the person speaking — is a crucial customer service skill your agents must master. By doing so, agents show that they understand the customer’s needs. It will make your shoppers feel heard.
Reflecting accomplishes three things:
- Enables the speaker to hear their own thoughts spoken back to them so that they can focus on what they have to say and what they feel
- Displays empathy to the speaker, letting them know that you are trying to understand the concern at hand
- Encourages the speaker to continue expressing themselves
Example of reflecting in customer service
Let’s see what reflecting looks like in action in a customer support context.
- Hypothetical Customer Problem: “I’ve been having trouble getting my Product X to work properly. I’ve written in three times for help with the same problem, and it keeps happening. Please help me find a permanent solution.”
- Reflective Response: “It sounds like you’re having a problem with your Product X, and you’ve tried getting help with the issue already. And, now, you’re looking for a fix so that you don’t have to reach out again. Is this right?”
Reflecting is easy to understand yet crucial to master. Make sure your agents have this skill.
Maximize your customer service skills with Gorgias
Many customer service teams are full of skilled agents but can’t make an impact because of slow processes, too many disjointed tools, and an excess of repetitive tickets. Gorgias arms customer service teams with the automation, data, and unified customer service hub they need to spend less time on menial tasks and more time using their skills to delight customers.
If you haven’t been introduced to Gorgias yet, check out our video to meet your new favorite customer service tool:
Sign up for Gorgias to start saving time, putting your skills to use, and turning your customer support team into a revenue-generating machine.