Five customer service skills every employee should have

Customer service in the digital age is becoming more important than ever. This is because competition traditionally becomes more cut throat as prices rise and people are less inclined to part with their money.

It isn’t always possible to beat the competition on price or even on like for like products, but there is one area where any company can shine, and that is in customer service.

But, to truly shine it’s necessary for your employees to be skilled in customer service. Acquiring this skill takes more than just a few training sessions or a couple of meetings. It’s an ongoing process.

Here are five customer service skills that every employee must have. They are the foundation for building quality customer service.

1. The ability to listen.

This sounds like a no brainer, but it’s vital. It can also easily be overlooked.

Employees are often under considerable pressure with deadlines and quotas. They may not have the time or desire to stop and listen to a customer’s problems or needs. In some corporate cultures, employees are even punished for taking “too much time” with a customer. If there is one place where the executive must eschew the bean counter mentality, it is in customer service. Think of the time that an employee takes with a customer as an investment in future sales.

It’s also important to make sure that the most “people friendly” employees are the ones who most regularly come into contact with customers.

2. Excellent Product Knowledge

Customer service can suffer if an employee doesn’t understand or can’t relate to a customer’s problems. Lack of product knowledge is one of the two most prominent causes of unresolved customer complaints. We’ll get to the other one in a moment.
The need for good product knowledge flies in the face of the modern tendency to hire the least expensive employee possible. Hiring from the bottom or outsourcing to some boiler room “customer service” centre may save money in the short run, but it will cost you more in the long run. You want employees who are knowledgeable and can learn about your products or services. They must be capable of engaging customers at more than a paint by numbers level.

3. The Ability (and Authority) to Resolve Issues

This is the second biggest cause of unresolved customer complaints. How is the ability to resolve issues a skill? Here’s a story to illustrate the point. Back in the 1980’s before the age of outsourcing to foreign countries, a prominent bank, which shall remain nameless, had a two tiered customer service policy.

Tier one were those customers who did over $100,000 in business with the bank. These people were treated like royalty and any issue they had was quickly resolved right at the branch where they did business.

Tier two was the rest, such as the people who had only a few hundred dollars in their account. When one of these people came into the branch with a problem, they were directed to a phone in the lobby that was connected to a call-in centre where employees, who had no authority to do much more than stop payment on a cheque, would answer their calls. The idea was to simply placate the customer with vague promises until they went away. It wasn’t considered cost effective to service tier two customers. Which meant, of course, that tier two customers were constantly raising a ruckus. So, it cost more in time and bad PR to service them than if the bank had simply treated everyone equally.

It doesn’t matter how skilled an employee is if he or she has no authority to resolve issues. They might as well have no skill at all.

4. Empathy

The ability to walk in the other persons shoes is an acquired skill. This skill is very hard to teach in the corporate environment. Competitiveness within the organisation and the demands on time mitigate against it. So, it’s a good idea to put customer service in the hands of those employees who enjoy dealing with people. These tend to be those employees who are least competitive and least interested in climbing the corporate ladder.

5. Internet Skills

This doesn’t necessarily mean at the web master level. But, there should be at least one employee in every medium sized business who has social networking skills and can run at least a facebook page for that business. Social media is one of the best and least expensive ways to get useful feedback.