To any business owner, it would seem like a no-brainer that customer satisfaction is a top priority. With the advent of technology such as AI chatbots and online knowledge bases, it might stand to reason that with more avenues to getting their concerns answered, customers would be more satisfied than ever. However, that’s not the whole truth.
While it is true that online customer service interactions are satisfying enough to customers, the numbers are actually not that high — only 47% of customers prefer online interaction to other types of customer service. For many, what’s missing is the human element — a meaningful, personal interaction with a live human being that expresses a genuine desire to solve their issue. In short, not every customer is going to be happy with an automated solution.
What does this mean for businesses that want to get the most out of their customer service teams? It means “soft skills” are more in demand than ever — and employers should look for candidates with a strong grasp of both hard and soft customer service skills.
What Are Hard Customer Service Skills?
Hard customer service skills are specific technical abilities required for a job. They are referred to as “hard” because they’re measurable and can be improved through training, education, and practice. Anything having to do with the technical end of a job (customer service or otherwise) is a hard skill.
While the precise hard skill requirements will vary for any given job, there are a few specific to customer service that likely require particular attention:
- Point of sale systems. Employees may have to familiarize themselves with a variety of payment systems in order to effectively take payments from customers.
- Customer service software, such as a help desk system, CRM, ticketing system, or other service software.
- Detailed knowledge of the company’s products and services, including any statistics and hard numbers that can be furnished to the customers.
- Data entry accounts for almost 20% of a typical salesperson’s day, and that data must be efficiently and accurately entered in order for it to be useful to the business.
What Are Soft Customer Service Skills?
Soft skills, on the other hand, are generally more related to personality, attitude, interpersonal interactions, and insight. While these sorts of skills can definitely be trained and learned, they tend to come naturally to certain personality types.
Common soft skills in the customer service industry include:
- Communication. The ability to communicate clearly is vital to good customer service. This includes things like enunciation and tone, but also knowing what the customer wants and accurately representing what you can do for them. This includes having good listening skills and emotional intelligence. Making the customer feel heard is a vital component of customer service.
- Self-control. Customer service can be stressful and challenging. An individual must demonstrate patience, focus, stress tolerance, and a collected attitude in the face of customer anger.
- Assertiveness. A good customer service rep must be prepared to take control of a situation, especially when tempers are running high. Customers don’t want an aggressive or demanding customer service rep, but they do want someone who will step up and take control of whatever problem they’re facing. This requires confidence, quick thinking, and strong communication skills.
- Conflict resolution. This soft skill isn’t just about taking charge of a situation, but rather about creative problem-solving. A good customer service rep must be able to think creatively and come up with solutions that will fit the customer’s needs, without necessarily taking it to upper management or breaking company policy. This also means helping the customer find additional help if they themselves can’t solve the problem, and (ideally) following up with a customer to make sure the issue has been resolved to their satisfaction.
Why They’re Needed
So why are these soft skills so important? It comes down to one important reason: customer service is ultimately about people skills. Customers are not machines and will rightfully object to being treated as such. Good soft skills allow employees to make full use of their hard skills. After all, accurate data entry or mastery of a CRM suite isn’t going to mean much if the customer service rep ends up losing it and blowing up at a customer.
Also, it’s important to remember that employees with a strong grasp of soft skills tend to make great managers. Having strong interpersonal skills, a knack for teamwork, and leadership qualities are all traits an employer needs in their management.
In an increasingly more tech-driven world, it can be tempting to focus solely on technological solutions and the hard skills necessary to implement them. But successful customer service is, and always will be, about people — which means soft skills are going to be in demand for the foreseeable future.