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If you’re looking to grow your customer service team, we look at what what key attributes you should look for, but more importantly, why they matter.

Everyone has a story about bad customer service experience. And if you don’t, just look on social media. You won’t have to search for long to find someone either complaining about how horrible their experience was or recommending a business to everyone they know.

That said, people often misunderstand what makes for a great customer experience.

“Right, first time, every time” is a great goal to aim for, but more importantly, customers want to trust an organisation is listening, and trust that the organisation is competent enough to put things right if they go wrong.

Customer-facing employees set the tone for this. So, what qualities does a great employee have? Let’s have a look, based on research, statistics, and our own experience helping hundreds of companies deliver better experiences.

1. Optimistic and Enthusiastic

It goes without saying that optimism and enthusiasm are necessary traits for any customer support agent. People get what they give, so if you put a customer on the back foot with a “can’t do” attitude, you can expect that customer to make things much more difficult than they need to be.

(Don’t go overboard with though, you still have to remain natural in your writing!)

Gartner say,

“When it comes to making a purchase, 64% of people find customer experience more important than price.”

For every business that offers a product or service, there are competitors selling the same exact thing. The difference, however, lies in how that business sells their product and interacts with their customers.

An important part of creating a positive customer experience is making sure employees are optimistic and enthusiastic about working with customers regardless of how big or small their issues are. This mindset is contagious: instead of being upset or worried their issue won’t be resolved, the customer believes their problems can be solved, and will work with an agent towards that solution.

2. Knowledgeable

It’s no big surprise that support agents need to understand what the products and services their business offers actually do. Research by American Express showed that,

“62% said that a representative’s knowledge or resourcefulness was key.”

The last thing a customer wants is to be put on hold while they’re transferred to another agent for a simple problem. Customers respond well when they know the person they’re talking to is a trusted professional.

You’ve probably heard that customers don’t want to speak to support agents, but we’ve found time and time again that if you can prove your agents are knowledgeable and trustworthy, customers will seek them out.

American Express goes on to say that,

“33% of Americans say they’ll consider switching companies after just a single instance of poor service.”

There’s no reason to risk this when the number is that high. Ensuring your agents are knowledgeable from the start will help improve relations significantly.

3. Willing to Work as a Team

Customer service employees can be very knowledgeable about the products and services a business offers, but they’re not superhuman. Customers always have a curveball up their sleeves. A customer service employee has to be able to recognise when they don’t have the answer.

Sometimes it’s best to bring in a more experienced colleague for help. Yes, it may increase hold time for the customer, but if the ultimate outcome is a first-call resolution, then it’s a worthy trade-off.

Customers are willing to wait for quality service if that’s what they’re actually getting. According to vonage.co.uk.

“Consumers will wait on hold for an average of 11 minutes before hanging up,”

So, there is a window of time which allows agents to ask for help.

Fixing things immediately, with zero hold time is clearly the ideal outcome, but taking things slowly and getting it right first time is better than an agent offering the wrong solution to a problem just because their ego stops them asking for help.

4. Knows When to Back Away

A business which tries to distinguish itself by the quality of their customer experience should always offer interaction with well-trained agents. After all, humans want to talk to other humans.

But there’s no denying that for some problems, for some customers, a self-service solution can be better. Think providing meter readings to utility companies, or checking bank statements.

Again, from American Express’ research:

“More than 6 out of 10 U.S. consumers say that their go-to channel for simple inquiries is a digital self-serve tool (such as a website, mobile app, voice response system or online chat).”

So, for most businesses, a well-maintained knowledge base and self-service tools are useful assets. Agents need the empathy to spot when a customer might get better results via self-service, and the skills to direct a customer down that channel without the customer feeling ‘brushed off’.

5. Empathetic towards the Customer

Jim Bush, Executive VP at American Express, says,

“There are many who subscribe to the convention that service is a business cost, but our data demonstrates that superior service is an investment that can help drive business growth.

Investing in quality talent, and ensuring they have the skills, training and tools that enable them to empathize and actively listen to customers are central to providing consistently excellent service experiences.”

If a customer service employee is unable to empathize with a customer, they’ll never be able to understand the reasons for a customer’s frustration. If they can’t feel that frustration, the agent will never be able to see the customer as anything more than a ticket.

Customers pick up on this feeling. They understand when an agent is doing everything they can to get them out the door or off the phone. So, above all else (this is really the ‘foundation’ of all the other skills), if you’re looking to hire new customer service employees, you need to make sure they can look at problems from the customer’s point of view, establish a relationship and, from there, find a solution to the customer’s problem.

Empathy can be coached. The most powerful tool we know of to help agents understand how they relate to customers is verbatim customer feedback – there’s nowhere to hide when a customer tells you, in their own words, that you weren’t listening as well as you thought you were.

And Finally…

Customer service is an important part of a proper business strategy designed to increase the number of positive customer experiences as opposed to bad ones Tony Hsieh, Founder and CEO of Zappos, says,

“Customer service shouldn’t just be a department; it should be the entire company.”

Viewing customer support as an unnecessary cost and allowing it to get put on the back burner is a grave mistake.

Businesses need to understand that it’s okay to make a mistake, and that it’s okay to defend their actions; however, if those actions are clearly out of line, there’s no reason to act like nothing’s wrong. Hiring the right agents who are optimistic, resourceful, know when to back away, knowledgeable about the business, and are empathetic all give your business the best opportunity to offer positive customer experiences, avoid PR disasters, and help improve your business’ reputation.

We hope you’ve been able to think about and make some changes to your customer service style by reading this article, and we’ve got plenty more where this came from. If you want to champion your customers within your business, read through some of our other resources, including this handy paper all about customer experience – are you improving it or just measuring it?

We want to get you focusing on your customers and championing their experience within your business, and we’ve developed a tried and tested methodology to do just that. Come and find out how you can drive measurable improvements with our innovative software platform and specialist expertise by your side.

Note: Source for all quotes and statistics

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