Customer Care agents: Must-Have Skills
So, you decided to create your customer care team and you’re now wondering which skill set to look for. And between the many hard skills and soft skills out there, it’s not easy to choose.
Well, look no more!
Onepilot selects and trains more than 50 support heroes a month, across countries. And we now have a pretty good idea of what to look for when meeting them, so we thought we would share our insights into which skills to look for when hiring customer care agents.
Experience in customer care
We know, it’s not a skill. It’s also not always a prerequisite.
While the standards for customer care have changed these past few years, a previous experience in customer care may be problematic depending on the politics and processes of your potential agent’s former company.
Customer service today needs to be personalized, empathetic and taken one step further. When looking at your potential CS representative’s previous experiences, make sure that they learned the right type of customer care, or be prepared to retrain them completely.
Be also aware that many paths can lead to customer service. Experience in hospitality or retail, for instance, asks for an abundance of social skills, while product-related experiences are essentially the same thing as customer care, but directed at a public just as picky as end-users: developers.
Anyway, let’s look at the killer skills you should look for when hiring your CS agents
First things first: the difference between hard skills and soft skills
By definition, Hard skills are abilities that can easily be measured. They are usually specific to a particular job, and they can be learned through schooling or on-the-job training. Think periodic tables, data management, branding, art history, or gem knowledge.
Hard skills can be learned, taught, and improved.
Soft skills, on the other hand, are usually what makes an employee a nice person to work with: etiquette, empathy, politeness. They are much less easy to measure, and therefore, less easy to manage or improve, although more and more companies are trying to find ways to do so.
While hard skills have been dominating the scene for a long while, it has recently been discovered that employers value soft skills over hard skills. And that is probably because while you can train an employee into becoming better at hard skills, it’s much more difficult to train them at having different values.
And then, came… the mad skills. What are those?
They are the skills that people may have developed thanks to their passions or hobbies. For instance, a seasoned traveler may have a wonderful sense of direction, a person crazy about theatre will be comfortable speaking in public, and a musician will have great knowledge of instruments and keys. And we will see later that these are very important when it comes to customer care.
Ok, let’s get back to business: which skills should you look for in customer care agents?
Today, customer care expectations are higher than ever. Customers expect conversational, personalized, VIP treatment, which means speaking to CS representatives who deeply care about their end-users. The logical output would be that soft skills should be the number one priority when hiring your team. Yes, but…
Kenza El Ghadouini, our CHRO, says:
“You can teach anything to anyone. But sadly, you don’t have the time to teach them everything.”
Simply put, you need your customer agents to master at least a few hard skills if you want them to be operational quickly.
First up: Digital Awareness.
The ability to understand and utilize technology in an ever-increasingly connected world. Digital awareness is an ever-evolving skill: while a few years ago, it was enough to know where to click and where not to click, now customer agents may need to be able to understand some basic programming or back-office lingo to help customers. Your CS team will be the first to see if your API between your back-office and your logistical partners is no longer working; and they will need to be fast in understanding the problem, to not let customers hanging.
The second reason why your agents need to be digitally aware is that customer service is changing: during the pandemic, a new demographic of buyers discovered e-commerce. Less versed in the internet of things, this demographic has overturned many rules of CS, bringing pre-purchase and during-purchase CS queries to a staggering 73% of reasons for contact. While this demographic needs to be accompanied during shopping to feel more comfortable, much like they would expect to be in a physical store, they also need help with the digital aspect of e-commerce.
Less tech-savvy than your usual customers, these senior customers may call your customer service team for help and experience problems that have nothing to do with your website. But, if you want them as customers, your team may need to be able to help them set up their screen zoom, work around their 3D-secure authorization failures, or help them with their cookies questions.
Finally, digital awareness also means understanding the new rules of the internet: everything is public, or may end up public. Answering clients’ queries on social media is a new exercise in itself, where you should simultaneously satisfy your client, present a good image of the company while being aware that a commercial gesture may bring thousands of customers knocking at your door to ask for the very same gesture.
Foreign language skills
Another hard skill that you should look for when hiring customer care agents is, at least, ease with foreign languages.
If your company is present in every corner of the world, it’s pretty easy to understand why: your agents should be able to at least identify the language in which your customers speak and be able to master a few buffering sentences while they assess which language can be used during the conversation, or which agent they should direct the call or conversation to.
And if your company only caters to a local market, remember that tourists, as well as foreign-speakers, can also be customers. Make sure that you don’t lose their business by being unable to answer their queries.
Writing and speaking skills
This one seems pretty basic, but.
You spend lots of money on presenting a beautiful website, creating great ads, and writing wonderful content. But be aware that while the average marketing email open rate across industries is 21%, the average transactional or customer support-related email open rate is closer to 80%.
You might therefore want to make sure that these are well-written, with not a single spelling mistake. And that’s where your writing and speaking skills become important when hiring customer care agents.
Your branding should not stop with your communications and website, but should also be felt whenever speaking to a customer care agent. For this reason, look for persons able to understand, and emulate your branding’s tone of voice, both written and spoken.
Basic Math and Logical Skills
Charge errors, inch to centimeter conversions, VAT, or the number of liters needed to paint 50 square meters… Maths and logic are very much needed in customer service.
But beyond being able to answer customers logically, you might also want your customer agents to be able to help with your KPIs and administrative tasks.
In most companies, agents are tasked with providing post-contact conversion rates, a split of reasons for queries, or looking at the evolution of several KPIs such as NPS, CSAT, or First response Resolution rates.
Having a basic knowledge of how to calculate these numbers and how to look at their movements will help you steer your team towards a better performance overall.
Soft Skills should be the backbone of your customer service
Now that we’ve looked at hard skills, let’s get back to the basics: soft skills. Sometimes seen as values or personality traits, soft skills are usually identified as the traits that will define the relationships between colleagues.
When working in customer care, these should be the backbone of your hiring politics. Your customer agents must give every customer the feeling that they are important, and that their opinion is valued. And a lot of soft skills are needed for this.
Thank you, Captain Obvious?
But empathy is now an absolute necessity in customer service while being very much overlooked.
A customer who had a problem with their order might be more receptive to an honest apology, or a recognition of their disappointment than to a commercial gesture accompanied by a neutral, copy-pasted email.
But going further, anger is not the only emotion a client or prospective client might feel, and answering with the right tone at every step of the customer’s journey will help your brand grow.
Pre-transaction, many customers are faced with doubt, or sometimes outright fear: will this product arrive at the right time? Should I trust this company with my information? An empathetic customer agent will find the right tone and words to gently reassure the prospective customer and therefore, convert them.
Post-transaction, you might also encounter satisfied, and sometimes even ecstatic customers. A grateful approach to their messages might push them towards becoming ambassadors for your brand and increase their loyalty even further.
Precision and rigor
Most customer service positions ask for precision.
Because customer care is not simply picking up the phone or answering messages: it’s also handling logistics, following multi-step processes, and communicating internally.
You may have found a great agent, with lots of people skills, but if they constantly forget to follow-up on a dispute with a logistics partner, to personalize their emails, or to click that last button, you might find yourself with little fires everywhere.
But precision and rigor go even beyond processes: it’s understanding that every single customer is important to your brand, and that every single message, call answered, or chat handled will have an impact on your turnover.
Critical Thinking is the ability to always question the status quo. In customer care, that means being able to understand when to make an exception, and when not to follow the process.
Yes, we just said before that following processes was important. But sometimes, exceptions happen. Let’s say a customer complains because their parcel was not delivered at the right address. After investigating, you realize that the customer is responsible for this mistake. But, this customer is an influencer; or this customer buys repeatedly from your company; at this point, you should consider making an exception and going against your usual politics.
Critical thinking should also help your team question the information they are provided.
One of our agents recalls this exchange with an end-user of a food delivery company:
The customer sends a picture of rotten carrots and asks, “I don’t understand how your carrots can be rotten after one day in my fridge”. The agent starts looking for the customer’s order so as to offer a commercial gesture, and doesn’t see carrots in it. However, they do see carrots in an order placed two weeks ago.
Without any critical thinking, this agent would not have been able to question what they were told; but once they started truly investigating the problem, they were able to restore the image of the brand they were representing, while showing their customer that their complaint mattered so much that a real investigation was opened.
Yep. Lots and lots of it.
Of course, when dealing with angry or irritated customers, patience is everything: sometimes, simply letting a customer vent and get to the end of their rage is enough. Sometimes, it’s not, and patience will also let you get through that particular conversation.
You might also need to speak with confused customers and walk them through a not-so-simple (and sometimes, a very, very simple) concept.
Finally, patience also comes into play when understanding your customer’s concerns and problems, and taking the time necessary to grasp the entirety of a situation.
Remember when we talked about mad skills? You need those, too.
They are more and more important today, especially to DNVBs or specialized marketplaces. Mad skills will help your customer agents in several ways.
First, they will help your agents give educated, technical answers to your customers.
Consider a baking tools company. Many of your customer’s questions will revolve around baking: Should I use a siphon-made or a gelatin-based mousse when it’s really hot? None of my sponge cakes are flat, is it because of the mold, the oven’s temperature, or the recipe?
Not only will your customers expect an educated answer so as to enjoy the products they purchased, they will also be happy if they can learn something new along the way.
Strengthen your customer-brand relationship
The second reason why you should favor mad skills is because this will help build an even stronger relationship between your brand and your customers.
A marketplace specializing in home renovation for instance, should provide assistance not only regarding their products, but also regarding handiwork. By showing the expertise of your brand through your customer care, your customers will trust your brand more, and probably come back the next time they need to renovate their home.
Finally, feeling like they share the same passion as the person in front of them will help customers feel more loyal.
And lastly, actually being local is a mad skill.
We tend to forget that trends, norms, regulations, but also values widely vary from one country to another.
For instance, some cultures value neutrality as a proof of professionalism. On the opposite, in other cultures, the display of emotions can be seen as a mark of trustworthiness, while neutrality can be seen as hypocrisy.
Similarly, while in some countries, it is expected to address customers by their high title or position, and to provide important customers with an immediate access to a manager or even higher hierarchy, this could be seen as overly dramatic and classist in other countries.
Working with local customer care agents may help you navigate the widely different ways customer care should be provided according to the country you cater to, or the type of customers you speak with.
It all seems a little too much?
Onepilot makes outsourcing customer care simple and flexible.
We hire, train, and manage agents locally to offer your end-users delightful, human, round-the-clock customer service.
Book a demo with our sales team!
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