The most important skills to look for in employees for the customer service industry

Businesses in the customer service industry rely on a high level of service to survive and grow. If “service” is in the industry name, you can be sure it’s very important to success! You need skilled employees to serve your customers

As a manager, there is only one place to get this service from, and that’s from employees. Add this all together, and the reliable, consistent, and skilled employee is the most important part of a business that is centred on customer service. Customer service is so important, that 70% of consumers state that their purchasing habits are based on how they are being treated in a business.

The top skills for customer service employees

But what skills does an employee need to have? How does a manager hire employees with these skills, and if the business is already fully staffed, how does a manager train existing employees to improve these skills? We’ll talk you through some essential skills below, and how you can both find these when hiring and develop them in existing employees.

A friendly attitude and approachable manner

The first required attribute is pretty easy: just to be kind! Kindness is sometimes overlooked as a skill, but it is absolutely something that can be learned and improved on by an employee. It’s very easy for anyone to bring the stress and tension of their day in to their workplace with them, so an employee with great service skills will be able to leave everything at the door and focus on the customer.

Being friendly might just sound “nice”, but believe us, it pays too! 73% of consumers agree that a friendly customer service employee can make them fall in love with a brand. In contrast, 89% of customers will move to a competitor after a negative experience!

Solid business knowledge

Another skill that is critical to success as a customer service employee is knowledge of the business. In one study, 33% of customers surveyed said that being able to efficiently answer questions was the most important service skill an employee could have. Even if the employee isn’t the most personable, if they are knowledgeable and helpful it can make all the difference when dealing with technical issues or customer queries.

Plenty of empathy

The next important skill is the ability to empathise with others. An employee that is able to pick up on social cues that a customer is giving can tailor the interaction for each individual customer. If they can empathise and see things from the perspective of the customer, it creates a more positive and personal experience. The customer feels that they are being heard and that they are not just another face in the crowd.

Empathy has come to be recognised as such a strong factor in customer service that companies are even making use of scripted empathy statements to add this skill into their dealings. Some may say this sort of misses the point, but it does at least confirm that empathy is a customer service skill managers want their employees to have!

A willingness to improve

Finally, an employee must be willing to learn and improve. While this may seem an innate mindset, the desire to develop and educate themselves is one that can be promoted in employees. Rewarding development and setting aside time for education opportunities will show your employees that they should value self-improvement.

An employee that is willing to learn and to better themselves is invaluable, because their options for growth are nearly limitless. The ability to learn new skills has even been highlighted as the most critical attribute to an employee’s success.

How to hire the right customer service skills

If, as a manager, you’re not sure how to start looking for these types of employees, you could start by thinking of great service experiences you have had as customers yourself. Using a real-life example can help establish the expectations of service that you have for your employees and make searching for those employees easier.

Attitude can be an easy one to spot, as some people are talented at conversing and making everyone feel at ease in social encounters. If they recognise the importance of business knowledge, they will likely have done some research into your business—ask them about it! Empathy can be gauged from times when they’ve had to compromise and negotiate with others, while a willingness to improve could manifest itself in their professional development or hobbies.

If the number of applicants for your job opening is not as large as you would have liked, consider going out and recruiting the employees instead. Visit other establishments and find the employee that is going above and beyond. Leave a business card with that employee and tell them why they have been recognized—because of their impeccable service.

Finally, when interviewing potential employees, make your expectations clear. If the future employee knows what skills and abilities they need to have in their role, there will be fewer surprises down the line.

How to train customer service representatives

If the existing employees are not exhibiting the skills desired, there are options to improve their service.

First, wherever possible managers should be the example and exhibit the skills themselves. Employees are inspired and motivated by what their leadership is doing, and if the management is half-hearted and unwilling to improve, the employees will feel the same way.

Next, have employees participate in some role-playing activities, so they can become used to using the skills that the manager wants them to have. If an employee is not confident in their skills, they will not use them in real interactions with customers. Training these in a lower pressure setting can often be the first step.

Finally, hold the employee gently accountable to their new abilities. If you see them reverting back to their old habits, address this immediately and consistently. Be sure to ask the employee how they think they can be helped with developing or growing new skills.

Great service is necessary for success in the service industry, without it, even the business with the best products and highest quality goods will fail. Hopefully these tips get your business off to a great start.

About the author

Jake Waller is a wordsmith who plies his trade here at Findmyshift. He uses his background in engineering to simplify complex topics for a variety of tech firms. When not writing for Findmyshift he blogs under a pseudonym at My Name is Skylance and has a passion for creative writing and editing, about which he's always talking on Twitter.