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7 Overlooked Support Skills when Dealing with Customers

Often overlooked support skills can elevate your service offering to a more delightful, high-quality customer experience.

Customer Service is a difficult job. Many customer-facing roles deal with high-pressure situations, emotional customers, negativity and insults, delivering bad news, and many other draining activities.

On top of that, agents need to handle these scenarios with a smile and polite, helpful service. That is an immense expectation that can be hard to summarize in a job description.

Common interview questions examine a candidate for the right fit for the team and explore if they can handle support basics. This interview-style works well, but are these all the skills your customers expect? High customer expectations and the human element of support mean many skills can be put to the test while resolving a ticket. These skills can be hard to illustrate in an interview and require development throughout your career.

These complex and often overlooked support skills can elevate your service offering to a more delightful, high-quality customer experience. Let’s explore seven overlooked support skills that all customer-facing professionals should strengthen.

Writing Under Pressure

As live chat and text become more popular channels within customer service, response expectations are increasing. A one-hour response time may be acceptable with emails, but with a real-time communication channel, they need to be seconds or minutes to meet customer demands. This adds to the pressure of communication. It’s relatively easy to draft, edit, and re-read an email, but when the customer is angry and staring at their phone or watching a chat widget sit idle, you need to research, structure, and type your response quickly. A couple of things you could consider are:

  • Doing an interview over a text-based medium to help test for this skill early on
  • Using a text-expansion tool to speed up common responses or phrases
  • Improve your expectation setting skills so that customers understand how much time you need

Learning to be clear, accurate, and fast to respond in high-pressure situations is a critical skill as customers request more real-time channels.

Knowing What you Don’t Know

How often do you admit when you don’t know something? It’s a challenging skill that we don’t receive a lot of practice on. Don’t know the answer on a test? Take a guess! Can’t remember the name of a band? Google it! Not knowing isn’t penalized in many life situations. However, in a customer service context, guessing is bad.

Early in my technical support career, a customer asked me about an unusual upgrade path. I didn’t know the answer and didn’t want to seem ill-informed, so I quickly thought about it, didn’t immediately see any red flags, and told him it was fine. When it, of course, failed, I had to admit my mistake. The customer was angry that I had wasted his time, and negatively impacted his entire team. He likely would have been less angry had I stated I didn’t know and asked for the time to research the right answer.

Admitting what you don’t know is a skill that has to be practiced and encouraged inside a support team. Not knowing must not be seen as a weakness, rather an invitation to learn.

Sharing What you do Know

Speaking of knowing things, every team member has to be set up with the right knowledge to succeed. Having knowledge stored only in the minds of one person, lost in someone’s email, or buried in a Slack channel is a recipe for failure. Your agents and leaders must constantly share and revise their knowledge so that everyone, including your customers, benefits.

For many people, this is a skill that doesn’t come naturally. It is not always easy to recognize when you know something that can help others, and without the right tools and processes in place, it is not easy to share that knowledge widely. Promote your knowledge base internally and teach your agents the value of documenting any new information they receive in an easily searchable and accessible way to all who may need it.

Staying Positive in Crisis Mode

Staying positive under pressure is a skill that takes a lot of practice. Maintaining the same customer-facing tone, helpful attitude, and all other customer service best practices can be incredibly difficult when ticket loads spike or some mass failure event occurs. You can ask how someone handles pressure during an interview, but nothing will be a true test until it happens.

Leaders can help their agents develop confidence and remain positive by implementing communication protocols that keep them informed, recognizing burnout, and encouraging breaks during the crisis. Being prepared can make a world of difference when the pressure is on. Also, agents can develop this skill themselves by having a pattern or template they use when speaking to customers in a panicked state. Include any details you do know, timelines for more information, or a direct and dedicated contact person or website for more information.

When you remain calm, it will help de-escalate the situation and give the customer confidence in your response.

NPS dataSpeaking Up

Successful teams thrive because employees are engaged in their work. Encourage your teams to share their concerns, express creative ideas to solve customer problems, celebrate success, and learn from failure. All of these actions are skills that only develop in an environment that allows for them to exist.

As the phrase says: “Leaders who don’t listen will eventually be surrounded by people who have nothing to say.”

As a leader, coaching people to speak up and then acting on what they say will give them confidence in their skills to help your customers thrive. When they see something that can improve, you want them to share it with others. Listening to the diverse ideas from your team and allowing them to try new ideas, regardless of whether it succeeds, will give your team the confidence to share more and try new things.

NPS dataTaking Ownership

There is a significant difference between answering a ticket’ and ‘taking ownership of the ticket resolution’. It’s the gap between: “I am sorry, we don’t do that” and “I will work with you to find some way I can help.” Customer advocacy means ensuring that you are there for the customer at each step, from initial contact to ticket resolution and beyond.

This skill is a combination of other skills: Listening, following up with other teams, validating the solution, documenting interactions, setting expectations with all stakeholders, etc. Some of these are very hard abilities to determine at the interview stages, but if you dedicate time to coaching on advocacy, your customer experience will improve. Every individual should act in the customers’ best interest and not just put their name on a ticket.

NPS dataStaying Mentally Strong

It’s a shame this has to be on the list, but protecting your or your team’s mental health is a vital skill.

Sadly, customers can be abusive, angry, and emotional when speaking to a service team member. You need to have thick enough skin to understand the anger and frustration is at the situation and isn’t (typically) directed at you personally. You also have to know that, should it get personal, racist, demeaning, or too much to handle in any way, that your company will stand up for you. The skill is not to learn to accept the negativity, it is to recognize when it is impacting your mental health.

Strengthen this skill by:

  • Talking about this topic often amongst the team
  • Watching out for examples in your ticket QA process
  • Ensuring your company has, and that everyone is aware of, appropriate protection policies in place
  • Practicing how to use facts and tone to defuse situations
  • Checking in during one-on-one meetings.

Everyone needs to feel safe at work, which makes this skill absolutely integral to your success in a customer service role.

Looking at the Overlooked Support Skills

Human interactions are complex. Support agents are tested every day on skills that aren’t taught in a classroom.

While clear communication, empathy, time management, and positivity might top the list of skills support leaders seek, there is an entire world of abilities that are developed through experience and strong coaching.

Add focus to these overlooked support skills in your interviewing process, one-on-ones, and team meetings and your customers will notice a service improvement from a highly skilled customer support team.


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Craig Stoss Craig Stoss

Craig has spent time in more than 30 countries working with support, development, and professional services teams building insight into Customer Experience and engagement. He is driven by building strong, effective support and services teams and ensuring his customers are successful. In his spare time Craig leads a local Support Thought Leadership group. He can be found on Twitter @StossInSupport

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