Excelling in customer support of any kind requires an entire toolkit of skills. Not only must service agents and technicians know the product inside out.
They must also have the people skills necessary to understand customer needs, and elicit their trust in helping to find a resolution and fulfill those needs.
Basically, there’s a whole set of so-called ‘soft skills’ that can enhance just about any employee’s performance, regardless of the role they’re in. They’re skills that can help any team member take ownership of the product and contribute meaningfully toward finding solutions and overcoming challenges.
1. Product Knowledge
This seems like a no-brainer, but it’s remarkable how common it is for employees to only focus on their specific involvement with the product, or their specific role in an organization.
For example, developers are often only familiar with the features or modules they actively work on and not hot how users engage with the product as a whole. Similarly, sales might only be familiar with core features, and not the user experience as a whole.
By getting to know the product inside out, however, employees can better help both customers and other team members get more out of the product and overcome challenges.
Essentially, but by approaching their job as a client of the product itself, employees can not only offer better customer service and support but contribute to better product development (and future releases).
2. Clear Communication Skills
Of course, whether you’re talking to a client or a teammate, it’s not just enough to know what you’re talking about; you should also be able to know how to talk about it.
In other words, keep it simple.
For example, customers (or other team members) do not need to know your entire history with the product. Rather, they need you to get directly to the issue at hand, employ your expertise on the matter, and offer a solution. Anything beyond that is superfluous and is likely to only complicate matters.
Just because you know the product inside-out and are adept at explaining it, that doesn’t mean that clients will always get it. Sometimes they’re coming at things from a different perspective. Sometimes things simply lie beyond their expertise or understanding.
Be patient. Even if you’re met with resistance or frustration, remain calm and try another approach. Focus on where the communication is not working, and try different ways of explaining yourself or the situation.
4. Positive Language Vocabulary
Language shapes the way we think — about everything. If we don’t have a word for something, it can be very challenging to discuss or even understand it. Similarly, the words we choose to describe something have a profound impact on how we understand it, as well as approach it.
This is why you should use positive instead of negative language.
Whether you’re dealing with customers or other team members, you’re usually trying to find solutions or overcome challenges, and your language should reflect that. Focus on what can be done rather than on what can’t be done. For example, suppose that your product will only support a certain feature/functionality in the next release:
- Negative Language: Unfortunately, the product won’t support that feature until next month.
- Positive Language: That feature will actually be available in the next release. Let’s make sure we get you that update as soon as it’s available.
Using negative language tends to get us stuck on the problem rather than the solution, leads to undue frustration, and generally complicate things more than they need to be.
Using positive language, however, helps keep all parties focused on finding solutions and the conversation moving in the right direction.
5. Diplomatic Skills
Good developers have a saying: criticize ideas, not people. Well, when it comes to customer service, frustrated customers will often take the inverse approach.
However, don’t’ take criticism (or frustration, or insults) personally. Deflect them onto the situation, and keep moving in a positive direction (along with your language).
Sometimes customers will become frustrated, angry, or impatient and say mean things. These are directed at their problem and not you. Remember that.
Similarly, sometimes a team member will criticize an idea as though it’s part of you. It’s not. Deflect it onto the idea, and find new ways to communicate (see point #2 above) its merits or value.
6. Goal-Oriented Focus
The whole point of (1) being patient, (2) using positive language, and (3) being diplomatic is to stay goal oriented. In other words, it’s about more than being focused on finding solutions. It’s about finding solutions that are conducive toward certain goals.
Of course, customer satisfaction should be one of our goals, but not everyone is a customer service rep, and the business has goals other than customer satisfaction. By understanding the business goals that you’re there to support, you’ll be more apt to find solutions and communicate those solutions.
7. Persuasion Skills
The communication skills you’re working to hone, the patience you’re working to practice, the positive language you’re using, and the diplomacy you’re employing are all working toward the same end: persuading a customer or team member of the solution you’re bringing to the table.
Remember, your job isn’t just to identify and describe solutions to problems. It’s also to persuade other stakeholders (customers or coworkers) of the value of those solutions.
8. Ability to Close
Of course, a big part of persuasion is closing. In other words, it’s not just about convincing stakeholders that a solution is the right one, it’s about seeing it through to completion or implementation.
In addition to the knowledge, communication, patience, and diplomacy, the right attitude goes a long way in this regard. And characteristics of that include demonstrating that (1) you care about getting it right, and (2) you’re willing to keep going until you get it right.
9. Time Management Skills
Things take time — usually more time than we realize. Once you learn to (1) appreciate that, and (2) evaluate what’s actually involved, you will lead a much happier, much calmer, and much more prepared existence. You’ll also become a more effective member of the team — whether you’re a customer service rep or play some other role in your organization.
For instance, you might have the perfect solution to a problem, and you might be employing all the right strategies to convince stakeholders (customers, bosses, coworkers, etc.) that it is the right one.
But you should also take the time to assess the time involved in implementing that solution. Doing so will help you better understand how it related to other business goals, and advocate for its implementation in due course.
Similarly, you have to realize when something is laden with sunken costs or is an outright lost cause. For example, if something will take more time to implement than it will save, then it’s usually better to just let it go.
10. Willingness to Learn
A big part of Closing and Managing Time is learning from your experience and, of course, your mistakes.
As you go through the motions of different customer problems or different software releases, you’re going to learn a lot about the product, communicating its value, being patient and diplomatic, and focusing on the business goals that actually matter.
In other words, be open to learning from when your best solution wasn’t necessarily the best solution.
In fact, a big part of being diplomatic is also being diplomatic with yourself. Just as you need to deflect criticisms to your ideas, you have to do the same with failures and success so that you’re able to learn from them, and contribute more to the customer or development experience moving forward.
Source: Written by Stephanie Petry for AppDirect