Excellent customer service is key to any company’s success.
So, what can you do to improve your customer service? Start at the front lines – with your customer service agents. They give assistance, provide answers, report issues, and they also build wonderful relationships with your customers.
Peak Support is a business process outsourcing (BPO) company based out of Cambridge, Massachusetts, with more than 500 agents in the Philippines and the U.S. And if there’s one thing that we and our agents are most known for, it’s excellent customer service.
We asked some of our best agents and Peak Support COO Hannah Steiman’s LinkedIn connections, what they thought were important customer service skills to master.
Here are the top 10 qualities that stood out:
1. Product Knowledge
Okay, this may seem obvious. But quite often, agents simply don’t get enough training on the products or services they support. Product training has to happen in the onboarding process, but it also must be an ongoing process as new features and products are rolled out. A well-trained agent will also know which resources to rely on for rarely asked questions and uncommon product issues.
Glenna Abong, Customer Support Associate, Peak Support: “To give excellent customer service, we need to know our product and service by heart. We need to devote time to learn and understand the mazes of what we support. Customers/clients bombard us with many questions and even emotions sometimes, and we need to be ready for that. Being confident with our knowledge is very reassuring and comforting.”
2. Positive Language
When agents use positive language, it reflects well on the company and allows the customer to enjoy the experience. A Help Scout article said it best: “Language is a crucial part of persuasion, and people (especially customers) create perceptions about you and your company based on the language that you use.”
For example, if a customer is asking for a product that is currently unavailable, reps shouldn’t just nonchalantly say: “That item is out of stock.” Instead, they can phrase it like this: “That item will be back in stock in six weeks. I will notify you when it’s available.”
Shirleen Telis, Customer Support Associate, Peak Support: “The ability to use positive language creates happy customers. This focuses on resolving the customer’s issue instead of highlighting setbacks. The ability to use positive language and prompt issue resolution creates happy and satisfied customers. Who wouldn’t want that?”
According to sixseconds: “Empathy means experiencing someone else’s feelings. Sympathy, on the other hand, means understanding someone else’s suffering.” That’s why it’s more advantageous if agents empathize with their customers. Feeling what the customer is going through is very different from just understanding it.
John Michael Manalo, Quality Assurance: “Empathy can also make a difference. This may be a bit tricky in email or chat responses since our customers don’t hear our voices like they do through the phone. But adding a personal touch instead of canned responses or templates will mean a lot to our customers. The act of putting yourself in others’ shoes and seeing the problem from their point of view will gain their trust.”
Gregory Sanchez, Head of Customer Experience at American Exchange Group: “Empathy: As I guide my team, treat every customer as if they’re a loved one. Have patience and show genuine care when responding each time and the customer will then get the sense of familiarity/trust and then we can form the long-lasting relationships we strive for.”
4. Determination & Drive
No matter how friendly a customer support representative may be, if they lack the determination and drive to really answer a customer’s question or solve their problem, it’s all useless in the end. The fact is there’s always going to be at least one customer interaction in one shift that will really test an agent’s patience. Support representatives must never waver in their pursuit to be of service to customers.
Morna Liza Snyder, QA Analyst: “You have to be determined to work harder than most, and to make sure that things get done. You need to drive yourself with purpose in seeing things getting completed and making sure that it is still aligned with quality. Having this trait helps in being able to hit your CPH (contacts per hour) goals.”
5. Eagerness to learn
There is a wealth of knowledge that can be gained simply by listening to customers. Great agents acknowledge the true value of the information provided by customers and know how to extract insights from customers as well. The data they gather is not only useful in improving their performance, but can also be used to enhance product or service quality.
Michael Fontanilla, Customer Service Associate, Peak Support: “Willingness to learn is one of the most important parts of being a customer service representative. After all, willingness to learn and knowing your opportunities/weaknesses are the basis for growing your skills as a customer service professional. A customer service associate that has this skill or ability will surely provide consumers with better customer experiences.”
Stacy Justino, Director of Customer Happiness at Wistia: “I think being humble and curious are two very important skills in addition to the others already outlined in this thread! I think most often the folks I’ve seen not succeed in a customer support role are tied to over confidence or lacking the natural inclination to learn more or research something.”
Ask any agent how many times they’ve been screamed and/or cursed at; or how many times their resources have failed them; or how many instances they’ve had to listen to a customer going in circles and not making any sense, and most of them will probably tell you that they’ve lost count. That’s why agents should be able to keep their cool and not absorb all the anger and negativity being hurled at them by customers.
Lawrence Montecillo, Customer Service Associate, Peak Support: “Most customers need help, that’s why they reach out to us. They want to talk to someone who can help them and be patient with them until their issue is resolved. It’s not enough to close out interactions with customers as quickly as possible. You have to be willing to take the time to listen and fully understand every customer’s problems and needs.”
Agents should always aim for consistency when it comes to their performance. When agents are consistently great, companies end up worrying less. That means agents must find a sustainable pace of work – solving 25 tickets in an hour won’t get you very far if your performance plummets the rest of the day.
Edmar Aque, Customer Support Associate, Peak Support: “This quality is somehow hard to find. Being consistent on tasks that you do is very important as this shows how you value your job. Once you have this kind of attitude towards work, you’ll definitely end up successful since you always strive hard every day to reach your goal.”
8. Problem solving
Some of the best agents are exceptional problem solvers. They take initiative and can think on their feet. They know exactly what to say to pacify irate customers, and which methods are the most efficient and effective to use to resolve issues. More importantly, excellent problem solvers have a wealth of knowledge and invaluable experience which allow them to provide excellent service.
Raylen Enamno, Customer Service Associate, Peak Support: “1. The representative should be able to come up with creative solutions on the spot. 2. The agent should have the ability to get to the bottom of an issue by asking relevant questions and understanding the customer’s ultimate goal. 3. They should be able to navigate a complex set of priorities to reach a solution that satisfies the needs of the customer while staying within the company’s guidelines.”
Kristin Diaz-Rodriguez, Head of Customer Experience at Public Rec: “One skill that I really value when hiring support agents—thinking quick on your feet! Especially for reps handling live support like phones. Not every interaction is going to be regurgitating FAQ and you have to be able to improv when a customer throws you a curveball.”
9. The ability to say no.
Not all companies will be able to meet every single customer’s demands and expectations – and that’s fine! You know that old adage: “The customer is always right”? Well, in the real world, that’s not always applicable or accurate. Sometimes, customers really do ask for the impossible. An agent who knows how to politely decline customers when they’re making impractical demands, is a good asset to have in any team.
Yvette Johns, Senior Community Manager, Operations at Vox: “Oftentimes your gut says, ‘find a way to make this a yes.’ But sometimes ‘yes’ is a worst solution and a worst customer experience. ‘No’ isn’t always bad. It might be a ‘no, it didn’t work this way because X would happen which would make your goal impossible.’ Or ‘no, but here’s another option that’s actually better.’ And even if that ‘no’ is full stop, coming to terms with it really helps avoid wasting a customer’s time.”
10. Being personable
What does it really mean to be personable? I’m not sure if trainers still do this today, but back when I was just starting out in the BPO industry in 2003, trainers would often ask me and my fellow agents to smile when talking to customers on the phone because it apparently helps us sound more pleasant and approachable. But does it really? Being personable goes beyond just looking or sounding happy, it genuinely comes from within.
Gregory Sanchez, Head of Customer Experience at American Exchange Group: “Show off why you are here. You bring a unique, special set of skills to the team, and I want my team members to show that through the way they correspond. The more personable you are, the more likely a customer is to respond with understanding (no matter the frustration of the issue). Everyone wants to talk to a person who understands their issue, so my team does exactly that!”
There are many more skills agents can learn that will help them provide great customer service. But the qualities listed above are a great starting point for companies and their teams. Of course, asking your representatives to master certain skills is just one part of the journey towards offering exceptional customer experiences. You must also take into consideration setting KPIs for your team to meet, and allotting time for coaching and refresher training.
If you would like advice on how to improve your team’s performance, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us.
Illustration by Cloyd Villarubia