Here are our top 5 fundamental skills that will save your customer service team time, energy and (very often) their sanity. Embed them and get your team managing customers better and working better together.

Before we go any further, let’s take a quick trip down memory lane about 10 years…

Picture your customer service department sitting there; manning the ‘phones, running to the fax machine occasionally (remember those?). Back then, technology hadn’t even begun to affect customer care in the way it does today.

Most evolved customer service teams now have new technology coming out of their ears. Internal tech that monitors everything from common phrases mentioned in calls to detailed stats on live chat conversations. External tech and channels that mean customers now have a huge array of ways to get in touch with you. Very often all of this is linked together to help managers and directors benchmark performance.

Back then Jack Dorsey hadn’t even launched Twitter – an event that would eventually cause a million exuberant marketers and consultants to herald “social” as the answer to all our prayers.

All this technology is often touted as a panacea for building better customer relationships. But for us, it’s only half the equation.

While the world has moved on since the heady days of fax machines and bad coffee – the skills customer service teams need really haven’t.

So, here are the Top Five skills we believe make the biggest difference to customers:

1. Better writing (no, not basic business writing)

I put this at the top of the list because virtually all the new channels opening up to customers mean your customer service teams need to understand the more advanced aspects of writing.

If your teams are managing emails, social media or live chat their ability to come across well in their writing is critical. Everyone will have a basic grasp of English but that’s just the start – knowing how to write in a way that’s empathetic, clear and avoids the usual jargon and buzzwords will have a profound effect on how customers see you and respond to you.

From our research, poorly written responses account for 45% of complaint escalations where a written channel is the primary form of communication. And it’s not what is written but HOW it’s written. A customer-centric tone of voice has become an essential.

When your customers are dealing with you through written channels – social, email, live chat – it makes sense to make sure your team is packed with people who are great written communicators.

2. Active listening, or why hearing is not enough

Negotiation training can teach you a lot about the power of active listening. It’s an incredibly powerful reassurance tool and, from our research, has a profound impact on customer behaviour. We’ve found customer service teams can apparently fix a problem only to be confused because the customer still left dissatisfied. Part of that is the emotional context of replies and solutions, the other side is how actively the needs of the customer were listened to.

When we’re working with clients on complaint and escalation improvement you’d be amazed at how often active listening comes up. Time restraints, hitting quota and system limitations mean it becomes a ‘nice to have’. But if you run the figures you’ll find spending those few extra seconds on a call *really* listening has a huge impact on overall satisfaction.

The important distinction here is to really understand what’s being said and to make it obvious you’re truly listening to the other party.

3. Interpreting customer feedback

We’re working with a few clients who are putting together a interesting concept… They’re encouraging customer service teams to actively influence customer policy by understanding and interpreting customer feedback.

Does it work?  Well, your front line staff are the eyes and ears of realtime customer conversations. They get to hear the emotional context of customer issues, they get up to the minute feedback from the people buying from you. Controversially, you could say feedback programmes are what you do when you don’t want to listen to your customer care teams.

The biggest problem with getting customer care teams to get involved in feeding back customer issues is how well they interpret the root of the problem. Reading between the lines of a customer complaint isn’t an easy thing to do, nor is it easy to trace that back to a process issue. But it can be done – and we’re already seeing some impressive results by giving front-line teams the autonomy and empowerment to really make a difference to how customers are treated. The trick is in teaching teams how to read situations and translate that into a business improvement.

4. Empathy & tone of voice

I heard the other day that “customer empathy” is becoming a popular concept. Anyone who’s been in this industry for a while may smile wryly at the thought that this is a new concept. Empathy needs to be at the heart of any customer-centric business or programme.

Empathy is at the heart of great customer service teams. To get the customer’s point of view and work from their perspective is one of the most effective ways to increase customer satisfaction and reduce complaints. Empathy also has nothing to do with fixing the problem – that’s why so many customers remain dissatisfied even after their issue’s apparently been resolved. “They just didn’t see it from my point of view”.

Management has a role to play in building a more empathetic approach. Teams need the emotional and procedural space to empathise with customers.

5. Teamwork

I’ve put this at the end but it’s the most important aspect of a well functioning customer service team. Dealing with customers all day, particularly if there’s a blizzard of complaints, can be a demoralising experience.

At the heart of all the great customer care teams we’ve worked with is a deep level of teamwork. In turn it creates a camaraderie of support, alignment and a single purpose – to do the best they can for the customer.

Teamwork comes in many guises and the best ones don’t always involve making rafts in the lake district. It’s about creating a network of support, feedback and awareness of each other. Very often we’ll take leadership training designed for the board and apply the same principles of problem solving, mutual respect and strategic thinking to the teams manning the ‘phones and terminals.

You’d be amazed what a difference an aligned team makes to customers.

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Without the right skills customer service teams can be left struggling to care for customers. At Rubuss we design learning courses specifically for customer service teams to empower them with the skills, perspective and approach to excel in customer care.

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