15 Essential Customer Service Skills Every Service Representative Needs

Customer service is the backbone of any business aiming to stand out and improve its bottom line. Yet, it isn’t always as straightforward as it seems. Handling customer interactions requires a special set of skills that we’ll explore in this article. Here are 15 essential customer service skills every customer service representative needs to meet but exceed customer expectations.

Ian Mutuli | October 17, 2018 | 15 min read time

Article Last Updated: April 03, 2024

15 Essential Customer Service Skills Every Service Representative Needs

In the highly competitive digital era, good customer service has quickly become an essential part of building a great business – some even claim customer service is the new marketing.

With this trend, it’s become more important than ever for representatives to master the essential customer service skills that lead to consistently satisfied customers.

Without good customer service skills, your company could struggle to grow as service failures large and small lead to customer loss.

So what are the essential abilities customer service reps need to develop to offer great support?

Great question!

We’ve put together this customer service skills list to answer exactly that. Read on!

1. Product Knowledge

Perhaps the most important customer service skill, product knowledge is essential to providing great support.

The deeper the better, as without knowing your product in and out, you’ll run into roadblocks when trying to help customers solve problems.

That doesn’t mean you need to be able to build your product from scratch, but the more you can understand how the average customer uses it, the faster you’ll be able to understand the challenge they’re having and find a solution.

Best case: actually use the product your company sells!

There’s no better way to figure out how it works and learn the best tricks to help your customers get back to work quickly.

You can even start with creating the best product demo for customers and employees!

2. Active Listening Ability

Good customer service goes beyond knowing the product and having the technical answer to a customer’s problem – 70% of buying experiences are based on how the customer feels they’re treated.

Knowing that, active listening is clearly an essential customer service job skill!

But, listening is about more than just turning up the headset volume to hear a customer over the background noise of a busy call center; most customers prefer live chat anyway.

(Worthy reads: why live chat is crucial, and the best live chat tools your customer service team can use!)

Whether you’re talking on the phone, answering emails, or responding to chat messages, “listening” is about understanding the problem your customer is facing, empathizing with their situation, and letting them know you’re there to help.

Customer service reps have a reputation for being among the least engaged employees – totally understandable given the barrage of challenging situations and conversations you face every day.

But there’s a huge opportunity to surprise your customers and build loyalty by committing to listening to them even when it’s hard. For a lot of customers, a little active listening can mean the difference between “this is just another company I have to deal with” to “[your company] has really amazing support, I definitely recommend them.” And, it’s best to start assuming your customer is always right; see the top reasons here!

Taking the time to hear a customer out, comprehend their issue and how it pertains to them, really makes a customer feel heard. Often, simply rephrasing a problem in your own words can convey to the customer that you care about their problem and instill confidence that you’ll do everything in your power to help solve it. Here’s an easy way to build your active listening skills and improve the support you provide:

Once you’ve heard the customer’s story, rephrase their issue and ask “Does that sound right?”

This will help you confirm you know what they need while making them feel like you really appreciate their frustration and can help.

Simple active listening techniques like this not only make customers feel good about the support you provide but also build a connection that can come in handy if you have to tell them something they don’t want to hear.

3. Clear Communication Skills

This may seem obvious, but you’d be surprised how many customers struggle to communicate with their customer service representative. And, a whopping 33% of customers say the ability to effectively answer questions is the most important skill a service rep can have!

Which confirms the obvious: mumbling, losing focus, or using unclear language can be a big factor in leaving a customer unhappy with your support.

But it’s also essential to get to the problem at hand quickly. If, out of common courtesy, they ask how your day is, don’t share your life story. “I’m great, thanks, how can I help you?” is enough.

And if you need certain information like an account number or password before you can solve their problem, get these quickly – the faster you can dig into their question, the better for both of you.

It’s also important to be careful about how your communication habits translate to customers; it’s always better to err on the side of clarity.

For example, the last time I went to switch mobile carriers, I was told an iPad would be “included” in the monthly rate I was quoted. I was skeptical that I’d be given a free iPad, though it didn’t seem impossible with all the promotions carriers run out these days. So I asked and found out that the iPad would, in fact, cost me $12 a month. I respected the salesmanship, but politely declined the extra charge and left feeling like this was a bad start to a new relationship.

The lesson: leave nothing to doubt, be clear about what you mean or you’ll risk damaging the relationship.

Truth be told, your support team can be the most empathetic, professional, and positive people in the business, but if they can’t communicate well with customers, it’s pretty much in vain. Hire already strong communicators and commit to training them well in the art of communication.

4. Persuasion Skills

Who’s the most persuasive person in your company? If you think it’s one of the salespeople, you’re probably right. But they’re not the only ones who need to be able to influence customers.

Facts show that 80% of customers are willing to invest more in a company because they had n excellent customer service experience.

Now, experienced customer support representatives know that a lot of the calls and messages you’ll receive are more about curiosity than having a problem with your product that needs solving.

This is why, in addition to building loyalty by solving problems fast, taking your customer service skills to the next level means gaining some mastery of persuasion so you can turn interested potential customers into actual satisfied customers.

5. Time Management Skills

In both professional and personal life, we could all use more time.

Unfortunately, it’s a pretty limited resource, especially in the world of support, which is why effectively staying on schedule and managing your time is crucial.

It can be tempting to let the phone ring a few extra times or an email sit in the inbox a little longer. But doing so is not good for your customer relationships or your reputation as a service. Put a customer on the back burner, even for a few minutes, and it may cost your company repeat business.

One example of this: 83% of online shoppers will abandon their purchase if they aren’t helped within 5 minutes!

While I meant what I said about active listening and making sure your customers feel heard, the bottom line is that you’re working in a limited time frame if you’re going to keep all your customers happy.

Product knowledge will help you get to a solution fast; so will communicating clearly. But it’s also important to recognize your limits and learn to identify when you can’t solve a customer’s problem so you can quickly transfer them to someone who can.

6. Willingness to Learn

This is probably the most general skill on this list. It is an incredibly important skill for an employee in any department, so it goes doubly true for your support reps.

You may be tempted to trust that everything you need to know to offer good customer service will be in the scripts and knowledge base. That might be true.

But great, proactive customer support means developing a continual habit of learning – about your product, about your customers, and their ever-changing challenges and expectations.

Plus, willingness to learn is about more than building the skills and experience to get ahead in your career – if you’re like most employees (62% to be specific), staying informed about important issues and changes is a key part of staying motivated at work.

Also, speaking to clients day in and day out means your customer service professional likely learns something new every day on the job. So, how do you motivate your employees to improve?

Financial incentives might be a good place to start, but many people are more motivated by approachable management, having the right tools and resources for their jobs, and feeling connected to the team. Here are some of the best customer service software to use today!

7. Adaptability

When working directly with dozens of strangers a day, no two (days or people) will ever be the same.

Different personalities, different problems, different communications channels – there’s a lot of variability in the average customer support rep’s day-to-day work.

This makes adaptability and skill with handling surprises key; the customer support world will throw you curveballs. Customers will come to you with problems that aren’t covered in the guidelines.

The bottom line: if your help desk or FAQ page can’t solve the issue, users will eventually call your company, send an email, or reach out via social media. And they won’t react the way you think they will. Your patience will be tested.

There are times when a rep might be new and a rather complex issue presents itself in their first few weeks, or a customer might just happen to have done a ton of research and know more than a particular rep.

While it may feel a bit embarrassing, it’s always infinitely better to admit they need to ask someone else a question or check out research than give inaccurate information or get flustered. Encourage your reps to respectfully admit when they don’t know something or are wrong, and offer to find the answer.

And, often, a mix of good old-fashioned thinking on their feet and a plan for handling never-before-seen challenges will help any customer service representative deliver quality service time after time.

Here’s one quick system that can help them do this:

  • Figure out who their go-to person is for when they don’t know what to do, then add a few more to the list in case that person can’t help either
  • What will they send to those people when they need help? The full conversation, just the important parts, an annotated screenshot of the problem?
  • How will they contact that person to get a quick answer? If they’ll answer the phone, great; maybe email’s best, or perhaps the company uses the Slack workspace where they can hash it out

8. Thick Skin

The harsh reality: one-third of customers would rather clean a toilet than speak with customer support.

People will come to you frustrated by their problem, with a keen sense of all the poor customer service experiences they’ve had, ready to take it all out on you. When you’re on the customer support front lines, come with full-suit armor.

As stressful and anxiety-provoking as a customer service job can be, developing solid self-control skills is a must.

9. Patience

When being shouted at, spoken down to, or even at times directly insulted, there are times it can be a bit draining, nerve-wrecking, or flat-out exhausting to have to pick up the phone. But, keeping your cool is one of the most important customer service skills!

You’ll need to remain calm when attacked, positive when facing pessimism, and professional when a customer gets personal (though it’s okay to feel sorry that, right after her dog died and her car got hit, she’s now having trouble logging in).

According to a study at the University of Toronto, impatience makes doing hard things (like talking down an irate customer), even harder. It also can even affect the quality of life of your reps. Hiring people who have a naturally calm demeanor and are inherently patient is a major key to providing good customer support.

10. The Ability to Empathize

No list of strong customer service skills is complete without empathy.

Empathy is the ability to understand another person’s emotions and to meaningfully understand their point of view.

A significant percentage of a customer’s experience is about how they feel they were treated. It’s not only about whether the issue was technically solved or if there was a refund, but about how you made the customer feel along the journey.

It goes without saying, then, that an empathetic experience is memorable to your customers, and is one of the best ways to retain them.

Worthy read: our detailed customer retention guide for this year and beyond!

11. Tech-Savviness

Today’s reality is that a significant portion of customer interactions and solutions involve technology. Whether it’s software applications, online platforms, mobile apps, or hardware devices, customers frequently encounter challenges that require technical assistance.

The type of technology depends on the industry and the products or services offered by your company. For instance, in a telecommunications company, tech might include smartphones, routers, and connectivity services. In a software company, it could be software applications, cloud services, or cybersecurity products. You get the gist!

Now, tech-savviness means you’re the go-to for navigating and fixing tech hiccups to make customers’ digital experiences smooth. It’s all about knowing your way around the latest apps, gadgets, or software your customers use and being quick to pinpoint and solve their tech troubles.

To get really good at this, dive into the tech you support – play around with it, break it, and fix it. This hands-on experience is key.

12. Cultural Awareness

Cultural awareness is about understanding that not everyone sees the world through the same lens you do. People (read customers) from different backgrounds have their own ways of communicating, interpreting information, and expressing satisfaction or dissatisfaction. Recognizing and respecting these differences can turn a good customer service experience into a great one.

The best customer service professionals start by being curious. So, listen – really listen – to what your customers are saying and how they’re saying it. Notice the nuances in their communication style. Are they more formal or casual? Do they appreciate directness, or do they prefer a more roundabout approach?

In addition, pay attention to holidays and significant dates in different cultures, especially if you’re interacting with customers from around the globe. It shows you care and respect their background.

Remember, it’s not about knowing every single cultural nuance – that’s an impossible task. It’s about being open, respectful, and willing to learn. When you make a mistake, and chances are you might, own it. Apologize sincerely and take it as a learning opportunity.

13. Attention to Detail

This implies the ability to notice, consider, and act on even the smallest elements of service interactions, ensuring nothing is overlooked. This skill is crucial because it impacts the quality of service, customer satisfaction, and your brand’s perception.

Pay close attention to what the customer is saying and ask clarifying questions. This involves recognizing the subtleties in their requests, catching potential errors before they become issues, and personalizing the service to make each customer feel valued.

You can leverage CRM systems to keep track of customer interactions, preferences, and history. In addition, implementing checklists or templates for common tasks and queries can also help maintain a high level of accuracy and consistency. And don’t forget, you can set reminders for follow-ups or important dates related to customers to enhance the service experience.

Whether it’s a callback, a renewal notice, or a birthday greeting, these small gestures show customers that you’re attentive and proactive.

14. Conflict Resolution

If the skills we’ve discussed above are anything to go by, then you can understand what customer conflicts are. These are complaints that you want to resolve constructively.

Every member of your customer service team should be good at identifying the root cause of a conflict, exploring all possible solutions, and finding a resolution that satisfies all parties involved. This skill is crucial for maintaining positive customer relationships and ensuring customer satisfaction, even in challenging situations.

To effectively resolve conflicts, start by acknowledging the issue and the customer’s feelings without placing blame. This sets a cooperative tone for the conversation. Next, gather all relevant information to fully understand the problem. This might involve asking specific questions to clarify details and ensure you have a complete picture of the situation.

Then, work collaboratively with the customer to explore possible solutions. Offer options that address their concerns while also being feasible for your company. It’s important to communicate these solutions clearly, outlining the steps you will take to resolve the issue and any follow-up actions that may be required.

Finally, after the issue has been resolved, check back with the customer to ensure they are satisfied with the outcome. This will show you value their business and want to prevent similar conflicts in the future.

15. Teamwork and Collaboration

Want to improve your customer satisfaction scores? Then, you must create a formidable customer service team through teamwork and collaboration. In customer service, teamwork and collaboration mean that individuals are not working in silos – but are actively engaging with colleagues to solve problems, share insights, and improve service delivery.

Team collaboration is vital in customer service for several reasons:

  1. Pooling expertise: When customer service teams collaborate, they bring together diverse skills and knowledge. This collective expertise means that no matter how complex a customer’s issue might be, someone in the team likely has the experience to solve it. It leads to quicker resolutions and a higher level of customer satisfaction.
  2. Consistency in service: Collaboration ensures that all team members are on the same page regarding policies, procedures, and service standards. As such, customers receive the same high-quality service regardless of whom they interact with, which is good for the overall customer experience.
  3. Innovative problem solving: Two heads are better than one, and in customer service, this means more creative and effective solutions to customer issues. Collaborative teams can brainstorm and come up with innovative solutions that an individual working alone might not consider.
  4. Support and morale: Working in customer service can be challenging. However, a collaborative environment provides customer service reps with the support they need, boosting morale and reducing burnout. And see, happy and supported employees are more likely to provide excellent service, according to Forbes!
  5. Learning and development: Collaboration is a learning opportunity, and reps can learn from each other’s experiences and insights, which will lead to continuous improvement and personal development within the team.

To perfect these skills, ensure your reps are trained in different areas of customer service to foster empathy and understanding among the team and allow for more flexibility in managing customer queries. You also need reliable collaboration tools that promote teamwork, even in remote settings.

To Sum it Up, Zight Makes Customer Support (Just a Bit) Easier

Developing customer service job skills, like any worthy pursuit, is difficult.

And, mastering the skills on this list will take time, practice, and a few well-that-could-have-gone-better moments.

But at the end of the day, delivering exceptional customer service boils down to solving customer problems quickly, in a way that leaves them feeling glad you were there to help.

And visual communication can help you do that – which is why we built Zight.

Zight brings annotated screenshots, GIF creation, and a free screen recorder to the cloud in an easy-to-use, enterprise-grade app so you can quickly create and share visual content.

We help customer service teams:

  • Easily create support materials such as video tutorials to communicate intricate instructions or solutions. This helps avoid lengthy, confusing email or chat threads that bore customers
  • Optimize customer support workflows
  • Provide customers with detailed answers and close Zendesk tickets faster
  • Improve your team’s CSAT scores
  • Track bugs and document problems
  • Improve customer support initiatives – download your FREE 6-slide template here
  • Gather visual feedback from customers, with insights into their experiences and how products or services can be improved

In summary, Zight offers a powerful suite of visual communication tools that can help customer service teams provide more effective, efficient, and personalized support. By incorporating Zight into their workflow, teams can enhance their problem-solving capabilities, improve collaboration (collaboration statistics), and ultimately, deliver a superior customer service experience.

Click here to get started with Zight today!

Create & share screenshots, screen recordings, and GIFs with Zight