10 Customer Service Skills for Success in Any Job (2024)

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Boost your business by mastering the most effective customer service skills.

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When you walk into a cosmetics store and the salesperson asks if you need any help, that is customer service. When you call your credit card company to dispute a charge and speak with a representative, that’s customer service, too.

Customer service plays an important role in attracting and retaining customers. Businesses can leverage good customer service to boost sales. Empathy, good communication, and problem-solving are core skills in providing excellent customer service.

In this article, you’ll learn what customer service is, why it is important, and the top 10 customer service skills for a thriving business.

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What is customer service?

Customer service is the practice of supporting customers before, during, and after their purchase. Someone providing customer service helps the customer navigate how to use the product or service and troubleshoot any errors or defects that may arise. When a business is hospitable and puts customers first, the response is positive. According to Zendesk, 61 percent of customers would switch to a competitor after just one bad customer service experience [1].

Today, businesses also need to meet customers where they are shopping. E-commerce sales in the US for 2022 were estimated to be $1,747 billion, an increase of 10.9 percent from 2021 [2]. That means customer service should consider how to meet online customers at every touchpoint, in addition to in-person or phone interactions, to foster a holistic customer experience.

Whether you are a restaurant owner or waiter, a technology start-up founder or UX designer, delivering good customer service requires a human-centric approach. Though it can vary by industry, here are some common examples of good customer service attributes:

  • Multi-channel communication: Customer service is available on multiple platforms like telephone, social media messaging, or live chat.

  • Personalized: Customer service is tailored to each customer.

  • Proactive: Answers, such as FAQs and product information, are available without the need to contact the business. Any other needs or desires are anticipated and addressed.

Why is customer service important?

Good customer service can improve a company’s sales and brand reputation. In fact, 90 percent of Americans factor in customer service when deciding whether or not to do business with a company, and 67 percent of American consumers will switch companies if they receive poor customer service [1]. Customers tend to spend more money if they feel special and the service is tailored to their specific needs [3]. This, in turn, helps develop a positive brand association for future purchasing decisions.

Beyond a business’s bottom line, strong customer service skills can yield benefits internally. Informal feedback generated from customer interactions can be an invaluable resource for improving user experience (UX) and product design. Further, hiring respectful, empathetic employees can translate into enhanced collaboration and well-being among and across teams.

Brands known for customer service

Some of the biggest brands use customer service tactics to become associated with the brand. Apple is known for its personalized support portal, so you can view every product you’ve ever bought. It is linked to the Apple Genius bar, so you can easily book an appointment when you need support.

Zappos offers unlimited free shipping and a 365-day return policy for every purchase, operating on the philosophy that advertising dollars can instead be spent on extreme customer service. Starbucks is quick to replace spilled drinks, and customers love seeing their name scrawled on the side of their coffee cup.

10 Customer Service Skills for Success in Any Job (3)

10 customer service skills for success

Anyone may learn these skills and build customer loyalty as well as foster strong relationships among employees and teams. It is likely you already possess some of these skills or simply need a little practice to sharpen them.

1. Empathy

Empathy is the ability to understand another person’s emotions and perspective. Delivering a good customer experience requires tapping into their headspace to fulfill their needs. It means reading cues and anticipating what they want. The outcome of empathy can look like treating customers kindly when they enter your restaurant, allowing for refunds within 30 days, and assisting them in their decision-making process.

Example: A customer calls their internet service provider complaining that their WiFi has been spotty over the past week. The representative says, “I understand how frustrating that can be. Let me do some tests to troubleshoot the issue.”

2. Problem solving

Being able to solve problems is key to customer service. If a customer contacts the business with an issue or complaint, the employee needs to figure out why they are experiencing the problem and how to fix it. Solving the problem at hand may require you to be patient and respectful as they explain the problem. You should possess adequate technical knowledge to help the customer resolve the issue, and help them prevent it in the future.

Example: Over live chat, a customer cannot reset their password to log into their account. The representative performs a manual reset and then walks the customer through how to reset their own password in the future.

3. Communication

Communication can occur in many forms, through various channels, penetrating customers through in-person interactions, the instruction manual, and social media copy. Effective communication is utilizing clear and concise language when educating customers on products and company policies, so that they feel confident making a purchase and feel that they’ll be supported even after the purchase. When speaking with customers in person, body language should be positive, refraining from mumbling or crossing the arms and looking bored.

Example: A customer calls a local cafe to inquire about opening hours. The barista on the phone responds quickly and cheerfully, instead of muttering incoherently and placing them on hold.

4. Active listening

Every conversation requires a listener and a speaker. Listening to a customer’s questions and concerns and responding in a way that makes them feel heard paves the way forward to a solution. The use of verbal cues like “mmm”, paraphrasing, and clarifying with questions, are all part of the practice of active listening.

Example: When a customer calls a restaurant to make a reservation, the host listens and then repeats, “You’re all set! To confirm, your reservation is 7 PM on Saturday at our Brooklyn location.”

5. Technical knowledge

As a customer service professional, you’ll want to be familiar with technical and industry knowledge to help customers make informed decisions and troubleshoot any issues. Representatives should be up-to-date on all product specifications, the purchasing process, product or service usage, and company policies. Plus, technical knowledge is helpful if you’re trying to upsell a product or service because you’ll be able to list out the features of the newest edition.

A good practice for businesses is to list out FAQs on the website to empower customers to find the information without contacting the support team.

Example: An electronics sales representative helps a customer decide which mechanical keyboard to purchase because they explained every model, brand, and key type. They even convinced the customer to opt for the pricier, but higher quality option.

6. Patience

Patience comes in handy when dealing with customers, especially if they are angry, resentful, or rude. A heated argument with a customer can diminish your brand reputation, especially given the star rating systems on Google Maps, Yelp, or Glassdoor, where your business might be listed. Practicing compassion can help you deliver a positive customer experience. Your presence and actions can lift someone’s spirits instead of making a bad situation worse.

Example: A customer drops her umbrella while leaving the nail salon and ruins her just-polished nails. The nail technician calls her back with a smile and repaints the ruined nails.

7. Tenacity

Tenacity, the ability to remain doggedly persistent throughout a difficult situation, is a quality often overlooked but very important in customer service. Along with patience and developing a thick skin when working in customer service, tenacity is required to get the job done thoroughly and accurately. Customers appreciate it when service professionals walk them through the process when they need help. They are more likely to continue doing business with you if you have ensured customer satisfaction.

Example: A landscaper who is new to the job makes a mistake when tending the lawn and accidentally cuts the client’s beloved rose bush. The next day, he drives several hours to find the exact same plant to replace it.

8. Adaptability

Customers want to be able to reach a business on nearly every platform. Their channel of communication might change depending on the situation. That means your customer service needs to be adaptable. Sometimes, the same customer will contact a business through different channels each time. Integrating customer information with a customer relationship management (CRM) system helps to streamline inquiries from multiple channels. It also helps to be accommodating to the different backgrounds and personalities of your customers.

Example: A customer contacts a dermatologist by phone (with a headset) if they’re in the car and running late for their appointment, but prefers to email or text for appointment confirmations and administrative questions.

9. Resourcefulness

Resourcefulness is a useful customer service skill in problem solving. Finding innovative and quick ways to solve the problem can decrease time with each customer so that you can help more customers in a day. It requires being familiar with different departments within a business and referring customers if needed. Developing creative approaches to problem solving is a skill that can be sharpened while on the job.

Example: Customers are responsible for return shipping for a company that is based in Australia. With an uptick in complaints, the CEO decides to experiment with free shipping for two months to keep up with the status quo. Five-star ratings increased shortly thereafter.

10. Positive attitude

Maintaining a positive approach to customer service can be difficult if your customers are frustrated with your product or service. A rule of thumb is to stay calm and try to meet the customer where they are, to empathize with their situation and why they might be upset. Driving customers away with a negative attitude will only cause more pain for the business, as it can lead to a poor reputation and a decrease in sales.

Example: A customer who just bought a board game from the store is upset because some important pieces are missing. The employee thanks the customer for their patience and understanding as they mail the missing pieces to them within one week.

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