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6 tips to improve your team’s customer service skills

How to make sure your customer service team is skilled, empathetic, and engaged

What is the most important thing you can do to improve relationships with your customers? The answer is as obvious as it is overlooked: improve customer service. No matter how great your product is or how talented your staff is, one of the things that customers are most likely to remember is the direct interaction they have with your company.

Bottom line, your customer service team is often the face of your company, and customers’ experiences will be defined by the skill and quality of the support they receive.

A strong company will already have great customer relationships. But a smart company will always be asking “What is good customer service?” Good customer service centers around carefully listening and attending to your customers’ needs and desires. If you are not constantly on the lookout for opportunities to improve your customer service, then your relationships will stagnate.

Want to measure the quality of your service throughout the customer journey? Learn how with our “Ultimate guide to collecting customer feedback using surveys.”

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Why customer service is so important

Customer service is an important factor in a business's success or decline, and each consumer interaction will be a positive or negative experience. A positive customer service experience will likely encourage repeat business and strengthen customer loyalty.

In contrast, a negative experience can provoke doubt in a product, service, business, or brand creating the opposite effect of good customer service and, consequently, declining brand loyalty. When you build customer loyalty, you also build brand equity, giving you an advantage over competitors. This achievement helps establish trust with consumers, who will likely be more trustful toward other products and services you present under the same brand name. 

The other benefit of providing exceptional customer service is building brand equity. Brand equity allows you to sell products and services at a premium since you have already proven your business can meet customers' needs successfully. 

On the other hand, you can achieve all this success, and one bad customer service experience can wipe most or all of that brand equity away. But, there is a way to recover and avoid a negative customer service experience altogether.

How to improve customer service

Here are a few customer service tips for identifying ways to better serve customers:

1. Strengthen your customer service skills

First, it’s important to make sure that your customer service team has the right skills for your managing customers’ needs. No amount of CRM software can compensate for shortcomings in this area. But what skills should you be looking for in a customer service rep?

Empathy, patience, and consistency

Some customers will be irate. Others will be full of questions. And others will just be chatty. You must know how to handle them and provide the same level of service every time. 

Listening to your customers' concerns is a great part of evoking empathy and patience. Sometimes, they'll be displeased, and their emotions might reflect this. In such a scenario, you must be prepared to handle the situation with empathy. Let the customer speak, and don't interrupt them. Repeat their concerns to let them know you're listening. 

Most importantly, teach your team that customers aren't personally upset with them more than they are about the product or service not meeting their needs. Let the customer know you understand their frustration and are here to help. 

Adaptability 

Every customer is different, and some may even seem to change weekly. You should be able to handle surprises, sense the customer’s mood and adapt accordingly. This also includes a willingness to learn. Providing good customer service is a continuous learning process. 

Customer service involves navigating challenging situations, and situations change frequently. The best way to manage difficult circumstances is to prioritize the tasks based on the most important ones to the least pressing issues. More often, there will be demanding issues that simultaneously require immediate attention. Such moments call for good communication. 

Clear communication

Ensure you convey to customers exactly what you mean. You don’t want your customer to think he’s getting 50% off when he’s getting 50% more product. Use authentically positive language, stay cheerful no matter what, and never end a conversation without confirming the customer is satisfied. 

Realistically, every customer service situation must be handled on a case-by-case basis according to the issue and staffing you have. If you can't solve a customer's problem immediately, acknowledge them and let them know you'll be right with them and working toward solving their problem. 

The response is an important attribute in relaying clear communication. Whether verbally, by email, or by text, it's a good representation of exceptional customer service. 

Good customer service also anticipates a problem before it occurs. Learn what consumers consider good customer service.  

Work ethic

Customers appreciate a rep who will see their problem through to its resolution. At the same time, you must have good time management skills and not spend too much time handling one customer while others are waiting. Stay focused on your goals to achieve the right balance. 

It's impossible to be everywhere at once, and it's best to avoid customers thinking you're favoring one customer over another. Every customer is equally crucial to building and strengthening your brand equity. 

Knowledge 

Ultimately, your customers rely on you for their knowledge of your product. Stay informed enough to respond to most inquiries and know where to turn if the questions become too detailed or technical for you to answer. But don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know” either. Customers will appreciate your honesty and efforts to find the correct answer. 

Customers generally expect businesses to be experts in their products or service. While some products might sell themselves–even to customers who are experts in the industry, it's recommended to gain as much knowledge about what you're selling. Customers will have questions that generally come down to what makes your business different from competitors. In other words, you must explain to customers why your product or service is better than the rest. Learn how your product or services are positioned in the marketplace with convenience sampling. 

Thick skin

The customer’s always right, right? The ability to swallow one’s pride and accept blame or negative feedback is crucial. Whether your team works directly with customers or looking for feedback on social media, they’ve got to keep the customer’s happiness in mind.

Delivering great customer experiences (CX) needs to be everyone’s job. Read our research report about building teams that deliver exceptional CX in growing business.

Not sure if your reps have the right customer service skills? Survey or interview your customers to understand whether your service team is showing each of these traits. Running a customer feedback survey through your CRM program, at the point of sale, or when you send customers an invoice is a great way to see where your team’s skills do and don’t measure up.

2. Look at every touchpoint

A bad customer experience at any point in the customer lifecycle can ruin your relationship. In addition to making sure the right skills are demonstrated, you need to be sure they’re being demonstrated consistently. Pay the most attention to key touchpoints, but make sure you have a full view of the customer experience, or you risk lapses in service that can really hurt business.

Key touchpoints involve how customers come into contact with your brand before, during, and after the purchase. So, it's crucial to consider all these steps when engaging with a customer who might have had a positive or negative experience. 

3. Improve your customer interactions

If your staff has the necessary skill set, that’s a good start. But they still need to relate to your customers. Here are some tips for making sure customer service is both thorough and well received:

Identify common ground

Ask reps to try to identify a common ground—like shared interests-–with the people they help. This point of understanding makes conflict easier to overcome by humanizing the relationship and endears customers to your rep (and ultimately your company). For instance, asking how a customer’s day is going makes a difference in how customers think about your business. Talking about the weather is another way to establish common ground. 

Practice active listening

Practice active listening so your customers feel heard. Clarify and rephrase what the customers say to ensure you understand them. Empathize with and reflect on their feelings by saying things like, “That must have upset you” or “I can see why you feel slighted.” Repeating a customer’s issue back to them affirms you’re listening to them and establishes that you understand the problem and have the goal of solving it quickly and efficiently. 

Admit your mistakes

Admit your mistakes, even if you discover them before your customers do. Taking ownership builds trust and restores confidence. It also allows you to control the situation, re-focus the customer’s attention and resolve the issue. Admitting a mistake shows you take responsibility and demonstrate strong leadership skills.  

Follow-up after resolution

Follow-up after a problem is solved. Ensure the issue stays fixed and that your customers are satisfied with the service. Sending an email or even a feedback survey is an excellent way to let the customer know you’re still on their side. A feedback survey is a great way to understand customer service performance and where it might need improvement.

4. Enhance your customer service strategy

Your staff may have the skills and know-how to interact with your customers. But what organizational strategies can you employ to please customers? Practice proactive customer service by making your customers happy before they come to you with problems. Here’s how:

Get personal

Your customers want to feel like they have access to real people, not bots and FAQs. Offer more than just automated email responses; don’t let your telephone prompts or website send them down a rabbit hole. Take full advantage of social media platforms (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, and Yelp) and write responses when your customers post on your page. Post photos and bios on your website. This shows your customers that you are real people working on their behalf.

Be available

Part of the personal touch is making sure your customers can reach you. For example, if your business is primarily online, meet in person occasionally with local customers and offer video calls for those farther away. Work early and late when needed, especially if your customers are in different time zones. Even providing customers with your physical address helps build their trust and reminds them that your company also exists off the internet.

Cater to your customers

Make sure you are fully meeting your customers’ needs. Consider assigning reps to specific customers so they can build a relationship. Offer VIP treatment for your best customers to let them know they are appreciated. What special services might your customers like? Set up focus groups, interview customers, or run a survey to get ideas.

Create communities 

Your customers will feel even more valued if you treat them as important community members. You can bring various customers together, including webinars, interactive websites, social media, trade shows, and conventions. And don’t forget that while your customers come to these forums to learn from you, you can learn as much—if not more—from them.

5. Make sure your reps are engaged

You can have the best customer service skills and the best training in the world, but if your reps are checked out, it won’t matter at all. Improving employee engagement is another way to make sure customers have a great experience. Dissatisfied employees are unlikely to come forward with their problems, so consider an anonymous suggestion box or an employee engagement survey to see what makes your employees tick.

You’ll want to know how your customer service team feels about working conditions and compensation, opportunities for career advancement, training and their peers. Our employee engagement template offers a good overview. We’ve also compiled benchmark engagement data to help you understand how your employees’ engagement compares to other companies.

Since engagement can vary from industry to industry, you may also want to look at more specific data through a service like SurveyMonkey Benchmarks.

6. Give your customers a way to provide feedback

No matter how proactive you are, you’ll never be able to get in front of every customer issue. To make sure you learn about the good, the bad, and the ugly experience your customers have, create an easily accessible way for customers to give feedback.

Whether it’s a phone survey at the end of a service call, an email survey sent directly from your CRM tool, or a form on the “Contact Us” page of your website, creating a means for customers to give feedback makes it easier for you to learn what needs improvement. It also helps keep unhappy customers from voicing their displeasure on highly visible places like your social media pages.

Whatever steps you choose to take, remember feedback’s importance to customer satisfaction. Unsure what your strengths and weaknesses are? Don’t know why the numbers are dipping? Make an effort to get closer both to your customers and your reps.

Not only will you discover touchpoints and skills that need improvement, but your customers will see that are dedicated to providing top-notch, proactive customer service.

Customer satisfaction survey

Asking meaningful questions using a robust AI-powered experience management framework can give you valuable insights into how well your business operates. You can ask binary or open-ended questions or use the Likert system that allows survey respondents to rate their experience with your business. Utilizing a researched bank of questions from Momentive, you can pinpoint what’s working well and which part of your customer service model needs work. 

Net Promoter Score®

A Net Promoter Score (NPS) is another way to learn about the customer experience in a qualitative way that will make the analysis process more efficient. The NPS can measure a customer’s opinions, attitude, and overall perception of your business in contrast to a binary question requiring a yes or no answer. For example, you can ask customers how they felt about the purchase experience by gauging it with an NPS. Create a Net Promoter Score online questionnaire.  

Additional tips to keep in mind

Here are some more helpful tips to keep in mind when improving your team’s customer service skills:

Improve technical skills

Improve technical skills by utilizing technology that can increase efficiency. It’s best practice to master navigating your customer service management platform to avoid lost tickets and unsatisfied customers. Learning how to process a ticket proficiently will also improve the problem-solving process. And utilizing your platform to make notes for follow-up conversations is also important because, in many cases, customer service issues are handled by more than one person. 

Be human

These days, many businesses are replacing human customer service with Artificial Intelligence (AI). While this technology has its benefits, it can also be frustrating for customers who require specialized attention AI cannot provide. Even with live chat, a customer service interaction may seem distant. That’s why it’s important to humanize the customer experience. Encourage your team to respond with empathy because customers can tell the difference between someone speaking to them in a scripted response vs. being genuinely sincere. 

Be solutions-oriented

Engage every service call with a solution-focused attitude. This approach relays authority and confidence to the customer, ensuring them you’re the person who can help solve their problem or at least direct them to someone who can. 

Customer service representatives are the face of a business, especially in e-commerce, and your customers expect your representatives to be experts on the product or service you’re selling. That’s why educating your team on all possible solutions they can provide to your customers is vital.

Be willing to learn

Always be willing to learn and teach your team new ways to improve the customer service experience. Providing scripts with various responses to anticipate customer issues was an innovative approach. Then, the next big thing was AI chats. While these things are still effective, we’re learning people also appreciate a human approach to special circumstances. And the way we learn about customers’ opinions is by asking them. Learn what your customers think about your service.

Learn to prioritize

Having good organizational skills plays a huge role in improving customer satisfaction. Often, there will be simultaneous issues that require your attention, and you won’t be able to take care of them at once. However, you can prioritize each case according to the immediate need of each customer’s problem and the order in which you received their ticket. 

For instance, if three customers share the same concern about a product not meeting their expectations simultaneously, then address the customer waiting for the longest. You never want to keep customers waiting too long. Keeping this in mind, you also don’t want to spend too much time on one customer because that means you could be neglecting another. 

Keep your composure

Feelings can be infectious, so it’s important to keep your composure when communicating with a disgruntled customer. It's worth repeating that the customer isn’t displeased with you. They’re upset about how the product or service did not meet their needs. It’s your job to keep calm and ensure the customer that you hear them and you’re here to help, and you may have to tell them more than once. This approach might also aid in calming the customer down. 

One helpful way to keep your composure is to ensure you’ve eaten a good breakfast, lunch, or dinner and take a breath before responding to customers. Taking a moment to compose yourself will avoid answers triggered by emotions.  

Adapt

Priorities can change fast, and you and your team should be ready for such circumstances. Reprioritize situations as they arise while keeping your composure. Turn an unpleasant situation into a memorable customer service experience by following up with customers to assess their satisfaction after you’ve solved a problem. This approach is another way to expose where your customer service skills might need to be developed. Gauge customer satisfaction using an online survey template.

Set and communicate clear service standards

Let customers know they’re being heard by personalizing your replies and perhaps even following up with a hand-written thank you note. Attention to detail goes a long way with customers. Addressing them by name affirms you’re taking their concerns seriously. Another way to ensure customer satisfaction is to monitor social media sites and respond to any questions or issues that might arise there. This approach demonstrates other ways your business is dedicated to customer satisfaction. 

Increase customer satisfaction with good customer service skills

See how SurveyMonkey can help improve customer service by gathering valuable feedback and insights from customers and employees. Get started today to garner targeted responses to enhance customer service operations. 

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