Top customer service skills to win over the toughest customers
If you want to retain your customers, it all starts with mastering the most important customer service skills. A lot of organizations rely on loyalty programs to grow and retain customers, but these incentives can only be effective if customers have a positive impression of your business to begin with. The fact is, loyal customers have higher expectations in terms of service and experience, so you have to double down on customer service enablement to meet those expectations. The following examples and corresponding skills should be included as part of company training to be able to breakthrough to the most challenging consumers.
You have an angry customer who reaches the front of the line after a long wait. They’re venting their frustration and even shouting about it. In a situation like this, empathy is imperative. If your associates recite a few tired lines about how “we do our best to serve everyone in a timely manner,” platitudes might make them angrier. But if your staff is able to generally empathize with their frustration and communicate that clearly, you might just win them over.
In most cases, frustrated customers just want to be heard—and it really makes a difference. Consider that the most empathetic businesses have been shown to increase their value more than double the amount of the least empathetic businesses.
Communication is critical in any customer interaction, but it can be especially important for those customers who are non-communicative. For instance, let’s say there’s a customer who has been quietly browsing merchandise and avoiding eye contact. Maybe they’re not sure of what they want. Maybe they think they can get it cheaper somewhere else. Maybe they’re waiting for an employee to take the initiative to help them. At any rate, your staff will need to put their communication skills to good use if you want them to make a connection and close the sale.
Effective communication involves matching the customer’s communication style while retaining brand consistency and meeting customer service expectations. It involves using positive language as well as positive body language, maintaining the optimal tone of voice and delivering the message in a way that’s professional, friendly and rapport-building.
Let’s say the customer is looking for a smartphone. They’re impressed by the latest model but turned off by the price. Making the sale in this case is going to require optimal persuasion skills as opposed to another shopper who is already incentivized to take the product home.
Persuasion requires understanding the customer’s needs and communicating value. While it’s obviously important for closing sales, it’s also a useful skill for overcoming objections and de-escalating customer conflicts so there’s a sense of consideration and alignment.
4. Emotional intelligence
Sometimes using all the basic communication steps to win over a customer who’s hard to read won’t be enough. When they’re clearly dissatisfied and not offering much in the way of useful feedback, a developed emotional intelligence is needed to interpret what’s going on and meet the customer at their own level.
Research shows that businesses that provide an emotional connection with customers outperform the competition. It’s important not just for dissatisfied customers but for all customers. This skill allows the customer service representative to read the customer, understand their mood through context clues without being told and adjust the level of service to match. Only then can the customer service professional break through.
5. Time management
Let’s say you have a chatty customer who loves sharing the details of their day with your grocery cashiers—even after the customer’s items have been processed and bagged. The cashier has to determine when it’s okay to extend the conversation and when to buckle down and focus on efficiency based on the length of the line. They’re managing their own time plus the customers’ time.
Time management skills are imperative in customer service. And even when staffing isn’t a pressing, industry-wide issue, customer service representatives still have to adhere to tight schedules and heavy demands while juggling other considerations. Being able to effectively manage their time is a skill that cannot be undervalued.
6. Product knowledge
Indecisive customers who can’t decide which product to buy can make for a challenge to your staff and cause other customers to become increasingly impatient if they’re waiting for service. Sales staff need to understand the products inside and out so they can clearly communicate their merits. Then, they can align product features with the customer’s priorities and actively help to guide decision-making.
Product knowledge is typically regarded as a separate category from customer service, but it’s essential for meeting customer expectations, especially if the customer has already done their homework online. If the customer knows more about the product than your sales team, it’s a recipe for a poor customer service experience.
A customer marches into the store to return an item. They’re angry that the quality of the item didn’t meet their expectations and they feel ripped off. They bombard associates with a litany of complaints and even throw in a few uncalled-for personal attacks.
If your staff is trained to keep the interaction in context, remain emotionally grounded and build rapport with the customer, they have a better chance of overcoming the frustration and helping to maintain a positive impression of the business. More importantly, it will help associates to safeguard their own mental well-being in these types of tough scenarios.
8. Written communication
This one is often overlooked, but it’s still one of the most essential customer service skills. And it’s becoming increasingly important for businesses as more of the customer experience moves toward live chat and other digital means.
If you have to communicate with customers on a computer or mobile device while working a click-and-collect shift or the live chat feature at an insurance company, for example, written communication skills are imperative.
How to develop these skills in customer service professionals
It’s easy to see why the above skills are important for customer service and how managers need to prioritize imparting these skills to team members If you want to ensure that your customer service team is ready to tackle even the toughest customer service scenarios, keep the following in mind:
- Hire people who already have a foundation for the more difficult skills. For instance, you can teach the fundamentals of communicating professionally in writing, but you can’t teach basic writing skills to employees who don’t already possess them. When looking through each customer service resume, it can help to seek out employees who have demonstrated the necessary skills in other industries rather than relying solely on people with similar work experience and hoping for the best.
- Ensure that your training program focuses on a combination of durable skills and job-related proficiencies. Product knowledge should be part of the equation as well.
- Train continuously. You can’t expect to pack so much complex knowledge into an onboarding phase. You need to start with the fundamentals and build on them gradually. Consider investing in a good retail LMS with microlearning.
- Include a variety of training formats. Digital training is important, but so are live simulations and direct coaching—especially when it comes to sharpening the employees’ durable skills.
- Measure the success of the training based on customer satisfaction. An employee might seem proficient on paper, but are they actually delivering excellent customer service on the job? Consider your customer satisfaction scores, sales trends and related factors. Your LMS might provide insight as well. Axonify, for example, allows you to set custom KPIs based on desired company outcomes. You can view measurements of how your training impacts these outcomes.
- Define what “good” looks like in terms of customer service expectations and provide ongoing feedback regarding performance (manager observation and coaching) to hold people accountable to that standard.
Customer loyalty begins with great customer service, and great customer service skills begin with the right training. For more information, refer to our guide to successful retail training programs.