Customer service is a big deal. In fact, almost three quarters of businesses say that improving customer service is their top priority. The rapid decline in in-person customer service, the rise of online shopping and increasing consumer expectations are all contributing to the need to rethink the role and responsibilities of the customer service representative (CSR).
But the biggest driver might be financial: Some experts say bad customer service is costing companies over $62 billion per year.
If you’ve thought about getting into the fast-growing field of customer service, now is the time to act. And if you’ve been wondering what kind of skills you need to become the ultimate customer service guru, you’ve come to the right place. Aerotek’s CSR recruiting experts are here to help!
We asked a panel of our top recruiters what kind of skills they were looking for when hiring for customer service positions:
Senior Professional Recruiter Matt Wiehe was clear about what he’s seen in successful candidates. “The #1 thing is empathy,” he observed. “This is the key to great customer service and what sets the best apart from the rest.”
Recruiter Amy Hargrove agreed. The best candidates know how to “put the customer first and deliver the same service they would hope to receive.” Recruiter Cory Weigel encourages those with experience in retail and service settings to explore jobs as customer service representatives. “Fundamental customer service skills are universal and translate well to life as a CSR. Some of my best candidates have come directly from retail, restaurant or bartending jobs.”
Psychologists have always known that “active listening” — concentrating on what others have to say — is key to great interactions. Great customer service reps have always known it, too. After all, if you can’t understand the customer’s problem, you can’t solve it.
Recruiter Rachel Markel couldn’t agree more. “I believe a great aspect of customer service,” she told us, “is truly listening to a customer and what they are looking for — then showing them how you are working to help them achieve that.”
Of course, listening and empathy go hand-in-hand. Matt Wiehe was quick to point out the connection, especially when it comes to dealing with unhappy customers.
“The ability to listen and relate to someone who is having an issue and not take their words personally takes a special person,” he said.
If a customer is contacting customer service, chances are they’ve got a problem they need help with. Identifying and solving those problems is key to customer service success. Naturally, problem solving was high on our recruiters’ lists of must-have skills.
Recruiter Amy Hargrove puts a premium on problem solving; it’s a core skill she says employers are clamoring for.
“Companies want someone that can stay calm and collected even when the customer is upset,” she said. “They want someone who has the ability to think through issues and problem-solve.”
While you may think of customer service representatives as people who spend all day on the phone, the reality is more and more interactions with customers are taking place across an ever-widening number of digital channels including email, social media, live text chat and even videoconferencing.
Today’s customer service gurus must be able to handle these channels equally well. That requires keyboarding skills, deep experience with traditional office applications and a familiarity with a wide range of social media.
Recruiter Jean Herzog says employers she works with need customer service candidates that have “advanced Excel knowledge, typing/data entry speed and accuracy”, but companies also want CSRs with crucial “hard skills” in this new “omni-channel” environment.
Amy Hargrove offered similar advice. “Personally,” she noted when asked about specific skills, “I am noticing a demand for the ability to type accurately and quickly.”
Matt Wiehe sees the challenges and opportunities facing customer service in a world of rapid technological change.
“As technology advances, so does the need for people who are not only proficient but also able to expedite their work. The days of just knowing how to navigate through Word, Excel and Outlook are gone,” he said. While quality is an enormous aspect of providing top notch customer service, many CSRs are also measured on the quantity of call they resolve. CSRs need to understand how to use these programs at a higher level — from shortcuts and macros to keystrokes and actions — to boost productivity and help more customers in a shorter amount of time.
Want more specific advice on what you can do to sharpen your skills and get to that next level of customer service? Ask an expert.
And if you’re looking for a job, visit our job board to browse your options.