Customer Support: 7 essential skills for success

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Darragh O’Sullivan , Marketing

People who work in customer support often have different titles. Agents, specialists, representatives, superstars, etc. We call them surfers, because like surfing, customer support agents have to move with the waves of customer support requests while staying calm and focused.

The surfer is one of the most important positions in any company, because they interact with the customer every day. The quality of these interactions with customers has a massive effect on the success or failure of a support team.

Companies of all types and sizes rely on surfers in many different ways. Support teams are tasked with turning negative experiences into positive ones, while the surfers themselves are often the face of the brand. 

Needless to say, the importance of hiring the right people to work in a support team is mission critical. For the purposes of both managers and surfers, below we have outlined the skills needed to build a strong support team and ultimately to delight customers. 

The 7 Skills needed for customer support roles

Problem solving

In customer support roles, a strong indicator for success is a surfers ability to problem solve. Can they think on their feet and quickly solve problems for customers? That doesn’t necessarily mean solving every single problem the first time around (one can dream), it just means that they can communicate to the customer that something is being done to solve the issue they have raised. 

It can also simply be finding out more about what a customer perceives as a problem. Asking probing questions can often lead to discovering that what the customer initially thought was a problem, might be disguised as something else entirely.

Patience

When solving customer problems, surfers will often very quickly realise exactly what the problem is and how to solve it. However, cutting a customer off before they feel as though they’ve told their full story can be frustrating.

In many customer support interactions, it’s less about the actual problem that needs to be solved, and more about the emotional needs of the customer. They want to feel seen and heard, and know that they’re in good hands. Sometimes they just need to vent, and in that case, should be allowed as long as they need in order to do so.

Empathy

Putting yourself in the shoes of someone else is a vital skill for all customer support agents. Without the ability to experience and feel a problem from another persons perspective, how can surfers build a relationship with customers, or let them feel heard? The answer is they can’t.

Empathy is one of the most important skills a surfer can have, and contrary to popular belief, it’s not a natural gift. People can actively train to be more empathetic.

Curiosity

Having spoken about probing questions, it brings up the concept of surfers being curious. Yes curiosity helps the problem solving process, but importantly, it’s also needed to get up to speed. This is particularly relevant for new surfers. They should be intellectually curious and, ideally, driven to learn as much as possible about whatever it is their new company does.

Calmness

In our eBook, Shamas Aziz, seasoned enterprise support leader, talks about how he gets prospective team members to work with others in a simulated environment to test how they respond to stressful situations. A big reason for doing so is to see how they use reason and logic to solve difficult problems, but also to prove that they can stay cool under pressure.

Undoubtedly, customer support is a role where stressful situations will arise, and teams need to know that they have the ability and character to handle it.

Resilience

Prior to popular belief, resilience isn’t all about gritting your teeth and getting through difficult situations no matter what. It’s more so about the ability to deal with a certain incident or situation, and to then quickly return to how things were before the incident.

For example, if a surfer has dealt with a particularly difficult situation, how can they bounce back? A hugely important thing to consider here, is that in order to bounce back, surfers need to be supported in doing so.

For managers, a vital aspect of building a team is not only hiring resilient people, but enabling them to be resilient by helping and supporting them when confronted with difficult scenarios.

Communication

Communication in customer support doesn’t simply mean speaking with customers over the phone, or writing to them through emails or live chat. It’s about the ability to distill a lot of information into a succinct, simple message that customers can understand and act upon.

It doesn’t stop there though. It goes both ways in that customer problems and issues must also be communicated in house to team mates and management. Often, support teams will have a knowledge base or ticketing system, and clear communication while using these tools for the purpose of internal documentation is just as important as communicating with customers externally.

Bonus tip – Flexibility

We know we said 7 essential skills, but here’s an eighth for good measure!

For companies who want to position their support function as a profit centre (and not a cost centre), the support team and the individual surfers have to be flexible enough to work with other teams in the organisation.

Customer support never sits in isolation and should always be
thought of in the context of the broader customer experience.
This means that your support team is just one ingredient in how a customer interacts with your product or service.

Integrating the support, product, and engineering teams together to solve customer problems is an effective way to provide great customer experience. In order to do so, support teams need surfers that have the flexibility to do this.

For more insights on customer support, check out our resources, read our eBook, “scaling a customer support team”, or get in touch below.

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