It wasn’t until I started working in tech that I learned to value my customer support skills. I worked in a creative industry prior, and I assumed everyone could write, speak, and generally communicate effectively. Then I met engineers.
I love engineers—don’t get me wrong—but the stereotype proved to be true for many of my colleagues. They were great at math, science, and coding. But they had terrible customer support skills.
Once, I got a standing applause from our developers for writing a particularly delicate email about a server outage to all our customers. I realized then that what I always assumed was a natural ability was actually a carefully trained skill set.
Today, I’ll share with you the skills I’ve come to learn are at the core of customer support success, along with tips and examples for improving these skills within yourself and your company.
What is customer support?
Customer support is the interaction between your company and your customers. Customer support spans far beyond the actual job title of customer support agent or manager.
In 2022, every single interaction—whether with the company’s founder, social media accounts, or associated personalities—defines how customers perceive a brand’s customer support.
Why are customer support skills important?
It’s important for every member of an organization to hone their customer support skills. Highly engaged customers buy 90% more frequently, spend 60% more per transaction, and have 3 times the annual value compared to other customers.
Improving customer service skills across your team will lead to more sales and higher profit for the company. It’s one way to ensure your product’s value in a saturated market, and a great way to differentiate from competitors.
Top 15 customer support skills
The top customer support skills present a mix of natural talents and thoughtfully trained abilities. The good news is that they can be improved. No matter where you’re starting from or what your innate skills look like, you can sharpen your customer support skills.
For hiring managers, these skills are a great reminder of what to look for in a good candidate. Build interview questions and mock scenarios revolving around these traits. You’ll want to hire candidates that excel at these skills to provide stellar customer service.
For customer service professionals, take note of each skill and how it can help you perform better at your job. Pay close attention to trouble areas for you, and read up on our tips to improve the skill. If you’re applying for jobs, these skills are the ones you’ll want to highlight on your resume and in interviews.
Non-customer service people—you’re not off the hook. These days, small businesses and e-commerce companies get by with a skeleton crew. This means founders are answering emails and engineers are writing product copy. Whether you know it or not, you’re doing customer support.
These 15 customer support skills are essential to providing great customer experiences, no matter where you fall on the company roster.
You never really know someone until you walk a mile in their shoes. Empathy asks you to put yourself into someone else’s world. In customer support, this expands far beyond compassion. You need to literally understand what this person knows and doesn’t know, in addition to what they’re seeing or thinking.
The best way to heighten empathy is to consistently take the place of a customer. Use your website. Purchase your products. Every single time I did this, I noticed something new. You’ll be surprised at how much you miss by simply not taking the time to look.
Here are a few more tips to improve empathy in customer support:
- Pay close attention to your own interactions with customer service reps in the wild and note what you love and what you hate.
- Get to know your customers as humans, not just ticket numbers. Use social media or past purchases to help build a real relationship.
- Take breaks and come back with fresh eyes. Remember, your customers don’t know nearly as much as you do about the product. Step away to remind yourself what it’s like to come at it from a different perspective.
Extra credit: Read this article from The New York Times on “How to Be More Empathetic.”
Sometimes, talking to customers can be like a game of Twister. If they go one way, you need to adapt to fit around them.
Even internally, teammates might not give you the answer you were hoping for, so in turn, you need to adjust your messaging to customers. Your ability to easily adapt to changes will encourage your customers to accept the changes as well.
A few examples of when you’ll need flexibility in customer support:
- Unexpected delays in shipping
- Wrong inventory numbers
- Website or shopping cart glitches
Practicing flexibility allows you to stay calm in the midst of these obstacles and come up with creative solutions for your customers.
3. Active listening
What’s the story behind the story? Active listening encourages agents to seek out more information from a customer’s report. Especially for technical bug reports on your website, customer service agents must be adept at understanding the full picture.
Often, the issue may lie with someone’s device or operating system—not with your product. It could simply be that your UX isn’t intuitive to them. Active listening ensures that you’re not missing crucial information that could solve the problem before it even really starts.
How to improve active listening skills:
- Turn off music or silence other distractions when talking to customers
- Avoid multitasking
4. Communication skills
It feels like this one should go without saying. If you’re not obsessive about improving your communication skills, then you’re not the right fit for customer support.
Customer service people aren’t marketers (although they make great ones, but that’s a different article). Rather than glitzy messaging and eye-catching copy, customer teams’ main goal is to communicate clearly.
- Writing: Emails, social media replies, knowledge base articles
- Speaking: Recorded demos, live walk-throughs, phone calls
- Reading: Customer emails, reviews, focus group feedback
Customer teams will want to have a hand in all these activities to make sure they’re constantly honing their communication skills in every realm of your business.
A natural curiosity is essential to the customer service profession. Always follow the string back to the why.
- Why didn’t the customer understand how to use our website?
- Why did they purchase the wrong item?
- Why did they have trouble finding the tracking info?
All of these questions will allow you to move into more proactive customer experience territory. You’ll be able to not only reply to support tickets, but also suggest product improvements, UI enhancements, and copy changes to benefit the entire customer experience.
If it’s starting to feel like you need to be a saint to work in customer service…well it’s not far off. You’ll need the patience to deal with angry customers, confused buyers, and a never-ending support queue.
Customer support reps must educate, engage, and calm hundreds of people each day on various mediums. It’s not an easy job. It requires patience with both yourself and your customers.
Inc.com offers these four tips to help you be a more patient person:
- Make yourself wait
- Stop doing things that aren’t important
- Be mindful of the things making you impatient
- Relax and take deep breaths
The best customer service experience I ever had involved an extremely nice woman who helped me cancel a flight after a terrible moment in my life. Years later, I still remember how kind she was.
“Don’t worry, sweetie,” she said, “I’m going to cancel the flight right now and you won’t have to pay a thing.” Her kindness nearly brought me to tears.
Truth be told, no one goes into customer support for the money or the accolades. Unfortunately, it can be a pretty thankless job. Most people who excel at it simply love what they do. We believe we’re put on this earth to help people.
Find yourself a customer support representative who feels this way and you’ll have the best customer service on the block.
89% of customers say “speed of resolution” is the most important aspect of the customer support experience. Ultimately, all customers really want from your support is a resolution.
Train your team to be action-oriented when handling customer issues. Involve other teams or create bug tickets as soon as possible. Let customers know what you’re doing to resolve their issue and keep them updated.
A few ways to be action-oriented in e-commerce customer support:
- Automate emails to send once a product has shipped.
- Proactively reach out when there’s a problem with delivery.
- Post updates on social media when inventory changes.
As much as collaboration is a necessity in support, you’ll want your agents to rely on themselves first and foremost. Since going between people and teams takes a long time—and feels even longer when there’s a customer waiting on the line—support reps who can understand and resolve problems on their own will make the whole process much smoother.
Here are some tips to help your team be more self-sufficient:
- Create an internal knowledge base with instructions for resolving most customer issues.
- Build a comprehensive onboarding and training process for customer service.
- Give agents access to helpful resources (ex. The ability to change orders on your e-commerce platform) so they can resolve issues without needing to involve others.
The best customer service agents will find creative solutions to problems and insert a bit of creativity into all their work.
Some ways to be creative in customer support:
- Include some fun information about yourself in your email signature.
- Match the customers’ tone when responding to their message.
- Create workarounds for problems that allow for immediate resolution.
Customer service requires you to feel compelled to respond as quickly as possible to every inquiry. There’s a sense of urgency that you need to succeed in this job.
45 seconds is how long on average customers are willing to wait for a response via a live chat.
Move quickly and connect with customers even just to acknowledge their request. Use AI and chatbots to confirm you received their inquiry and let them know help is on the way.
Everything is going to be okay. That’s the mantra in customer support. We never give up and we never let them see us sweat.
Optimism is a key skill in providing great customer support. The New York Times points out some ways to be more optimistic:
- Visualize your best possible self
- Accept the inevitability of disappointment
- Argue against yourself
- Put things in perspective
The world revolves around your customers—not you. Humility goes a long way in customer support. If you’re always putting the customer first, you’ll be able to accomplish a lot.
It’s one trait that most people outside of support have trouble grasping. The engineers don’t understand how anyone could not know how to restart their phone. Product managers take too much pride in their work to accept that some people might not find it intuitive.
Customer agents must work to bring humility throughout the office. When everyone has a better understanding of what even the most confused customer understands, it will help elevate the entire company’s mission.
14. Acting skills
Any person-facing role includes some level of acting ability. You must be outgoing, friendly, and engaging. Let the customer know they matter and they’re your first priority—regardless of what’s actually going on in your head.
Role with the punches and find ways to mirror your client’s behavior. Entertain them when things go off track. Acting skills can definitely be learned, any of these types of classes will help improve your skills:
- Acting classes
- Improv or sketch exercises
- Creative writing courses
15. Product genius
It’s a tall task, but the best customer support agents will know everything there is to know about your product or service. They’ll know how the website works, what the latest marketing email said, and which delivery service you use.
Holistic support means that customer service can answer any and every question that might pop up. That’s what 360 support means.
Here are some ways to ensure your agents are product geniuses:
- Make sure they actually use your products! Send them home with freebies or let them test new products before they launch.
- Encourage them to take supplemental courses (ex. a Shopify class to learn the platform better).
- Shadow other departments to understand how the product works from creation to shipping.
These skills may be more or less important depending on your role or company:
- Time Management Skills: The ability to balance multiple tasks, set priorities, and allocate the appropriate amount of time to your work.
- Technical Skills: Proficiency using help desk software, Excel, Google Drive, Trello, Jira, Shopify, Amazon, Magento, Yotpo, social media platforms etc.
- Problem Solving Skills: Creating workarounds or asking the right questions to determine the root cause of an issue and implementing a solution.
- Self Control: Maintaining calm in the face of chaos, angry customers, and unexpected problems,
Take the time to understand the exact needs of your customers and build a customer support skill set that revolves around it.
For technical sales, you’ll want to sharpen your understanding of tech jargon and software. For e-commerce, you might need to improve your social media awareness and get comfortable using the backend of e-commerce platforms.
Benefits of these skills & skill development
Improving these skills directly affects your overall business metrics. We can trace them back to benefits ranging from more sales and better retention to improved customer team metrics and brand reputation.
Increase customer retention
When you master these customer support skills, it sets a solid foundation for your entire organization to not just attract customers, but to retain them. Keeping current customers happy results in more stable revenue and more accurate predictions.
The majority of consumers sight good customer service as a reason for sticking with a company. Beyond product satisfaction or value, customer satisfaction reigns supreme in today’s landscape.
Your unique product or service may reel them in, but customer support keeps them.
Higher NPS scores
NPS surveys ask customers how likely they would be to recommend your product or service to another customer. For consumers overwhelmed with options, a recommendation from a friend often tips the scales.
NPS is a proven metric to predict business growth. Positive customer service experiences lead to higher NPS and more sales.
The best way to sustainably grow a company is through word-of-mouth. Viral social media campaigns and paid ads have their place, but nothing beats the oldest trick in the book. Great customer service leads to happy customers who talk about your product or service with future customers.
Improve customer support team metrics
Skill development directly impacts the support team’s metrics. You’ll see resolution time go down when team members focus on active listening and action-oriented solutions. CSAT will improve as you build skills around empathy and optimism.
Ticket volume will correlate with communication skills and product understanding. Customer support reps can start to build a hefty knowledge base with detailed answers to anticipate the needs of customers before they even email you.
Average reply time lessens as responsiveness and self-sufficiency increase. Team members will be more eager to jump on tickets and have the tools to resolve issues or ask for more information.
Better brand and company reputation
Reputation goes a long way in a business. It attracts customers, investors, partnerships, and employees. When seeking to improve your company’s reputation, start with excellent customer service.
Positive customer experiences play a huge role in brand awareness, as they often lead to word of mouth advertising. 55% of customers become a customer of a company because of their reputation for great customer service.
Provide a positive experience for existing customers and watch them rave about your brand. When you build a brand awareness strategy around customer loyalty, you’ll see authentic and sustainable growth.
How to improve these skills
There are many ways for both employees and managers to improve upon their skillset. Some skills might require individual learning outside of the workplace. While others can be part of team training. You can even hone some of these skills in your day-to-day life at the office.
For customer service managers
Managers who focus on constant improvement and learning will want to encourage team members to improve each of these skills. Talk to your teammates about what skills they’d like to prioritize.
Offer a stipend to those who want to take classes (like acting or writing courses). Or block out time each week to focus on skill enhancement.
Using these 15 skills as a rubric is a great way to open up conversations about promotions or taking on more responsibility in the company. Focus on this skill set to give feedback on what they’re doing well and where they need more work.
For customer service agents
Great resources exist for skill building right at your fingertips. You can find courses online that cater to your needs and availability. LinkedIn Learning offers many courses specifically designed for customer service professionals. Find courses on Udemy for how to delight customers and build a proper support strategy.
You could even take writing courses online through Coursera to improve your communication, email, and chat messaging when talking to customers.
Ask your colleagues to help you practice these skills every day. You can proofread each other’s work, role play as angry customers, and shadow other departments to understand the product better.
Tips for adding these skills to your customer support resume
There are many ways to format your resume these days. If you have a section listing your skills, don’t hesitate to add many of these soft skills to it. Especially for customer support, the hiring manager will look for these traits in addition to hard skills like familiarity with certain software.
I like to craft a resume blending both soft skills with tangible results. My bullet points look something like this:
- Created an action-oriented strategy to proactively notify customers of shipping delays, improving CSAT by 10%.
Think of tasks you’ve completed or projects you’ve spearheaded, then tie these support traits back to it. You’ll probably realize that you use these skills everyday without really noticing it.
Job interviewing is the time to bring these skills to light and boast about your abilities, even if they seem commonplace to you.
Pocket guide: 15 most important customer support skills
With customer service agents handling so much everyday, it’s difficult to remember to improve these skills. Having a little pocket guide on hand can help keep them top of mind and encourage you to provide the best customer support each day.
Customer support is a constantly changing field. It’s become a gamechanger for new companies and e-commerce stores. They can compete against larger corporations knowing that their customer experience gives them leverage.
These skills are at the core of great customer support. No matter what changes over the years, this skill set will always be relevant. Start improving it now and you’ll reap the benefits for years to come.