Essential customer service skills

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Contributed by Mac Mackay

Word "service" in a dictionary

Client care is fundamental to any business - but how do you measure up? What are the specific skills you need to ensure we perform well?

Here are some checklists to help you evaluate how good your customer service skills really are.

Assessing customer service standards

Start with this list to assess how good your personal customer service skills are.

  1. I always arrive on time at our offices or at a customer's premises.
  2. I know our products and recognise opportunities to sell them.
  3. I know and help my team.
  4. I can put personal problems aside.
  5. I know regular customers by name.
  6. I care for myself, my health, and appearance.
  7. I show a genuine desire to help my customers.
  8. I work cheerfully.
  9. I give a warm welcome/final farewell in my voice (meeting or on the phone).
  10. I always greet customers quickly and confidently.
  11. I know the company's basic care standards.
  12. I keep the workplace neat and tidy.
  13. I know how to use the equipment in view of the customers.
  14. I look at the whole area regularly for neatness and tidiness.
  15. I give of my best throughout my shift.
  16. I ensure I never let the business down inside or outside work.
  17. I always assist customers.
  18. I know all of my job.
  19. I put myself in my customer's shoes to check my care of them.
  20. I would be happy with my performance if I were my customer.

As you see with this list, either you do these things, or you don't.

Having thought about the range of customer service activities, we now need to think about how often these things are done. From a customer's point of view, they don't care about how well you served the last customer or will serve the next - it is about the way you treat them. So, whenever you are in contact with a customer it's important to think about that moment - a 'moment of truth' and how well they are being dealt with.

Taking a similar list to the one above, evaluate yourself against the list of activities and decide how frequently you do these things on a day-by-day, moment-by-moment basis:

Assessing your personal standards

Have a look at each area and assess yourself objectively on your performance. Working through the list you enable you to take a fresh look at some of the areas that impact customer care. Score yourself between 1-5 below (1 = Never, 5 = Always):

  1. I am neat and tidy.
  2. I am presentable to customers.
  3. I welcome new customers in a positive way.
  4. I enjoy talking to/dealing with regular customers.
  5. I am a good member of the team.
  6. I am quick and efficient with my work.
  7. I know all the products the company sells.
  8. I respond to the customer's needs.
  9. I know the care standards.
  10. I enjoy my job.
  11. I deal efficiently with difficult customers.
  12. I deal efficiently with complaints.
  13. I am tactful, patient, and sincere.
  14. I help colleagues in my team.
  15. I know the company procedures.
  16. I leave customers more positive than when we met.
  17. I carry out the necessary paperwork.
  18. I am confident and caring.
  19. I sell through caring about my customer's needs.
  20. I am good at my job.

Now total your points and you have a percentage score out of 100. Wherever you have scored less than five, you should focus your efforts to improve. Develop your own plan to improve. You can use the checklist again to monitor your own self-improvement.

Which areas are you going target for improvement first? How do you compare with your colleagues? What can you do collectively to improve the 'moments of truth' for customers?

Now you have thought about a range of things that you do well and could do better - let's look at two key areas when thinking about general approaches to customer care.

The first areas is connected to your personal customer care skills (those things that are important to customers). These are things that you can learn.

The second area is how you put these things into practice. It is one thing to know what to do - it is quite another to show a customer that you can do it.

Personal skills

The following nine skills are important if you are to deliver exceptional customer care. You can evaluate yourself or appraise others in your organisation - or they can be used as objective selection criteria when taking on potential new recruits. Score yourself or others against this checklist giving a score out of five for each one. Do I:

  1. Make the client feel important: by greeting courteously, showing concern for their needs, asking the right questions, giving compliments.
  2. Listen and respond: particularly to feelings or moods, attempting to establish empathy with the client to achieve satisfaction.
  3. Ask for ideas and offer suggestions: getting interest, creating conversation, reassessing when a customer is overawed or uncertain.
  4. Acknowledge the customer: using the client's name when possible, giving full attention, adjusting to the mood or pace of the client once a response has been given.
  5. Clarify details: asking effective questions, getting all the details and giving out all the essential information clearly.
  6. Exceed, rather than simply meet, demands: working to solve problems, suggesting additional services, and going out of the way to be helpful.
  7. Ensure satisfaction: asking, checking, asking, and then checking again that the client is satisfied before saying 'Goodbye'.
  8. Prepare, know the job, the products, and the services: I have everything needed for the job available, am well-groomed and attentive and am trained regularly.
  9. Follow up: keeping everyone informed, working with others to maintain communications and ensure customer satisfaction.

Be honest with yourself! You may feel that there are some areas where you need to sharpen your skills to improve the way that you handle customers - and don't forget those internal customers too!

Again, wherever you have scored less than five, you see those areas that you can focus on and make a determined effort to improve.

While this is quite a list, it is useful when planning customer care training sessions and ensuring that everyone in an organisation actually does these things!

With these skills in mind, we can now turn to look at the competencies (categories of behaviour) or those things that define in detail what we have to do.

Personal competencies

This list of competencies (behaviours) impact directly on the customer's experience. Review the range of skills and the description of the competencies below to help ensure you deliver exceptional customer care providing the very best customer experience. Evaluate yourself, honestly, against the frequency with which you actually do these things.

  1. Communication (a): being able to clearly express oneself when communicating with customers (verbal or written), with no recourse to jargon.
  2. Communication (b): being able to listen and ask appropriate questions to understand what a customer needs, wants and desires.
  3. Customer sensitivity: recognising and showing concern for a client's needs or points of view.
  4. Sympathy: showing understanding of a customer's needs, wants and desires.
  5. Empathy: demonstrating, where appropriate, a shared feeling about a particular set of circumstances (eg frustration having to return faulty goods).
  6. Decisiveness: taking action or making quick decisions that address clients' needs - in other words, not dithering or blaming someone else.
  7. Energy: being alert and attentive, playing a major role on the front stage.
  8. Flexibility: able to quickly change a service style, action or approach to meet a perceived need, personality or disposition, but still remain within the company's standards and rules.
  9. Follow-up: delivering what has been promised or committed on time and according to the order.
  10. Impact: having a neat appearance and creating a positive impression on the customer.
  11. Initiative: consistently trying to meet or exceed the customer's expectations and be 'one step ahead'.
  12. Integrity: being open, honest, and ethical, making no false promises, not letting the customer, colleagues or company down.
  13. Job knowledge: showing a thorough understanding of a company's products and services as well as the policy or procedure for customer care.
  14. Judgement: using available information to address and solve customers' problems, thinking for themselves to meet needs.
  15. Motivation: gaining job satisfaction and fulfilment from serving or dealing with customers, meeting their needs or handling concerns - not quite born to it, but certainly pleased to perform.
  16. Persuasiveness: moving customer care into 'selling mode', not only obtaining customer acceptance of the solutions to problems, but also convincing them of the benefits of the company's products and services.
  17. Organisational skills: so there is time to talk to the customers and a readiness to cope with reactions.
  18. Resilience: most jobs involving customer contact require patience and tact; there will be an element of unpredictability regarding what is a priority for a particular customer and a need to withstand the pressures and overcome problems, so it follows that looking after customers calls for good health and fitness.
  19. Analytical skills: gathering relevant information and facts about a situation, analysing what the best solution will be, then reacting, planning, and organising a solution to everyone's benefit.
  20. High standards: knowing, establishing, and maintaining high standards of customer care and service, striving always to achieve them or exceed them.

This list is not exhaustive. Remember, nobody can expect to achieve all of them, all of the time. It is important to recognise too that they are not equally important to all customers in the same way. This variability is called the 'customer experience', what a given customer receives in terms of customer service at that given moment they interact with your organisation. Clearly, consistently good experiences are the cornerstone of customer care.

Again, total your points to get your percentage score out of 100. As before, wherever you have scored less than five, you will see the areas that you can focus on and make a determined effort to improve. Develop your own plan to improve and then use the checklist again to monitor your own self-improvement.

Written by Mac Mackay.

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