It’s time to bring out your inner support guru. In this post, we’re sharing the five most essential customer service skills every support agent needs in their professional toolbox to not just meet, but exceed their targets.
The internet is overrun with resources telling you how to do everything from poach the perfect egg to hike the Himalayas. If you’re in a customer support role, you know this better than anyone. Just one quick google search for “customer service guide” pulls up 1.5 million results. But where are you supposed to start? Who has the best advice when it comes to the customer service skills you need to master?
As the art of customer service is the foundation of what we do at Gorgias, we’re obliged to share our perspective on the five most important skills of highly effective support agents. And this advice couldn’t be coming at a better time. After all, as we mentioned in our previous post (How to Nail Customer Service in 2021), since the start of the global pandemic, the number of online retail stores has actually increased, and with it an increased demand on support agents to deliver superior customer service.
Now’s the time to stand out from your competitors. By the end of this guide, you’ll know the five most important customer service skills that will transform you from a good support agent, to a great one.
Use the list below to quickly navigate to the sections that interest you most:
1. Stay attentive: employ effective listening
Does it seem obvious? Maybe, but you’d be surprised what the facts say about how effective we are at hearing what others are actually saying. Scientific American explains that, “the older people get, the more their listening comprehension sinks. Making matters worse, studies show that people wildly overestimate how good they are at listening.”
You could be the friendliest agent in the world but if you aren’t making the most of your time by actively listening to what your customer is telling you, you will certainly miss out on the opportunity to deliver them the best service possible. Listening is more than just “mhm-ing” along to what your customer is telling you, it’s creating an environment where they feel understood and acknowledged in a genuine way.
According to a recent statistical round up from Nextiva, “67% of customer churn is preventable if firms resolve issues the first time they occur.” If you’re really listening to your customer, your chances of solving their issue the first time around increases significantly because you will be dedicating your full roster of skills to tackling the task at hand.
As we are now discovering, multi-tasking is a myth. Stay present in the moment with customers and communicate this presentness by swapping scripts for personalised conversation, rephrasing their problems in your own words and keeping them in the loop as you work through the problem on your end.
2. Be clear in your communication: brevity is your friend
The next step after brushing up on your listening skills is mastering the way you communicate them. In a world where customers prefer self-service over speaking to a support agent, you can expect that by the time they reach you they are ready for help and help fast.
While this may leave the average agent flustered as they’re hurried along by an impatient customer, it’s critical you resist the urge to compensate for the pressure with too many words. Remember, you aren’t getting paid by the word so while it helps to apply a friendly tone, keep things short and to the point. Speak in short sentences and avoid employing too much superfluous language.
Take this interaction below for example. The support agent is hit with a complicated question from a confused customer. They maintain a friendly tone but get straight to the point, not wasting a word in explaining the solution to the customer’s problem. It’s a great balance between friendly and factual.
When it comes to support where more interactions aren’t always better, take a look at this conversation between a brand’s support agent and a dissatisfied customer:
Of course we all know stocking errors happen and unfortunately sometimes customers are not kept up to date when they should be. But this situation goes from bad to worse when the problem is explained by the customer and the agent’s initial response spreads across several messages despite failing to solve the customers practical and emotional needs. The customer grows more impatient and frustrated as they repeat the problem (i.e. the held money and the trouble of restarting the search of the product) and continue to receive answers in bits and pieces.
Instead, by keeping things short and sweet, you’ll encourage a calming effect on the conversation while also keeping things clear to you and your customer and ultimately, you’ll arrive at the resolution faster thanks to the brevity.
3. Have a thick skin: patience really is a virtue
As our conversations move out of storefronts and online the way we communicate with each other is changing. That’s no surprise if you’ve been performing your customer support role online for a while…or if you have a public Twitter account but with this layer of anonymity comes a pinch of unearned bravery that can make us all a bit too free when it comes to expressing our frustrations.
Unfortunately, when you’re on the front lines you’re at the mercy of this new era of communication. But there is an untold power in turning someone’s negative experience into a positive one. When a customer comes in hot, take a deep breath and remove yourself from the equation.
Remember their frustration isn’t about you personally, even if that’s where the conversation eventually veers. Your priority should be customer satisfaction but your loyalty is to the company (and yourself). You’re representing the brand and also trying to enjoy the experience, so having a thick skin will serve you well on both fronts. Counter negativity with sympathy. Stay clear but confident. Deescalate rather than intensify.
Go the extra mile to understand the customer’s perspective even if you disagree with how they’re expressing it. Seeing things from their side will help you to remain unflustered when things get tough and don’t ever be afraid to take a mindful moment between chats to decompress and avoid boiling over.
4. Consider implementing Everyone on Support (EOS)
“Everyone on Support (EOS) or all-hands support is a customer service strategy that extends beyond a designated support team to other staff members like the marketing and sales teams or even the CEO. EOS tends to get employees who would otherwise never have contact with customers out of their shell and involved. EOS cultivates company habits that focus on customers.” Ashley Kimler, eCommerce specialist.
Oftentimes support agents feel like they’re left alone on the front lines of an intense battle. While other departments are safely tucked away from dissatisfied customers and uncomfortable high-stake conversations, support agents like you are trying to put out fires and create review-worthy CS interactions. It can quickly devolve into an environment of resentment where support agents feel abandoned and departments like Marketing or Sales fall out of step with the interests of real buyers.
Everyone on Support can be the quickest way to get your external departments into the CS team’s world, helping them to learn more about your customers while also giving you and your agents the time they need to deliver award-worthy service faster. The benefits can have a major impact on eCommerce companies, including up to around an 80% decrease in first response time on your customer support tickets.
So speak to your team about embracing the practice of EOS and you’ll reap the benefits of an environment where less burn-out happens, the backlog fades away and your support team gets the time they deserve to apply creativity to more complex tickets.
Curious to get the full story on how Everyone on Support can change the customer service game for the better? Read it here.
5. Balancing priorities: time management is everything
We are all familiar with the fleeting nature of time. It’s the world’s most limited resource and our only power against the draining sandglass is to manage our routines effectively, both at home and at work. And the pressure is not without justification, after all, “40% of consumers expect brands to respond within the first hour of reaching out on social media, while 79% expect a response in the first 24 hours.”
So with customers knocking on every door of your company, how do you manage to serve them all in a timely manner?
Your first priority should be establishing a quick response time, even if it’s a simple acknowledgement of the enquiry. It doesn’t matter if you’re reading and working on tasks if the customer doesn’t know that. Keep them in the loop at the first stage (reach out) and as you work towards the resolution. The point: customers shouldn’t only hear from you at the beginning and the end if you want to stand out from your competitors.
When it comes to managing the other parts of your job (customer service ironically isn’t just about serving customers), set aside a specific time in your work day to complete your miscellaneous and administrative tasks, where you can work undistracted before returning to processing tickets for your clients. The best part is that a lot of these tasks can be automated with the right tools on your side.
Our last piece of advice when it comes to time management is identifying which customers require urgent care. Similarly to how doctors prioritise care in an emergency room, you should develop an identification system that allows you to quickly decide which problems require your immediate attention.
Are you dealing with a simple problem from an irate customer? Or a more complex issue from a person who indicates they’ll be patient? Choose which one has the higher short term impact for you (negatively or positively) and triage them accordingly. You’ll find that through practicing a triage system you’ll make the most out of your time and process high-impact tickets faster than before. You’ll also feel like you’re following a plan despite the unavoidably chaotic moments.
But of course, none of the skills we’ve mentioned above will work if you don’t have the right tech tools to support your team.
6. Bonus: What is the most important customer service skill?
Sometimes the most important customer service skill is knowing when to ask for help. In this case the help you need comes from technology. With Gorgias, you can centralize all your support tickets in one place, with the exceptional benefit of having all your customer's data displayed while you're talking to them. Do everything from edit orders to modify subscriptions, and even refund payments without leaving your workspace.
You can also fight against junk messages and other repetitive tasks by using Gorgias to set up actions that will allow you to close irrelevant tickets automatically. Watch the tutorial here and see how easy it is to set up: Automating repetitive tasks using rules.
By pairing our five most important customer service skills with exceptional technology you can provide the superior support to your online shoppers that competitors just won’t be able to match. Learn more about what Gorgias has to offer and embrace your inner support guru.
Jackie is a Senior Content Specialist who has been helping a wide spectrum of brands enhance their digital marketing workflows and deliverables for nearly 10 years.