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10 Soft Customer Service Skills for A People-Focused Culture

Jana Love / Feb 25, 2014 10:00:00 AM

proper_fitHow many times have you been in a store, restaurant, or on the phone, and questioned the proper "fit" of the person's skills in relation to the job they were working?  The waiter who is unfriendly, or the person answering the phone who puts you on multiple holds, disconnects your call, or transfers incorrectly?  How about the person at a home improvement store working in "lawn and garden" who can't answer any of your lawn and garden questions?  One of my personal favorites is the person who works in a family fun vacation destination, such as a theme park or resort, who, based on the poor delivery of their service, alters your "fun" experience?  So who is to blame for this improper fit?  During that moment of frustration, it is easy to blame the service person at the restaurant, home improvement store, or on the phone, but as we peal back the layers of "why," there are many reasons for this bad fit and disconnect.

To find the right "fit" of employee, companies must have a people-focused culture and human resource hiring strategy that focuses on finding and developing successful employees who meet company goals.  The disconnect comes when the company's business strategies, company culture, and HR activities are not aligned.

I was recently in Tallahassee visiting my daughter, Madi, when we came across this darling little corner restaurant called Uptown Cafe.  In addition to enjoying a wonderful breakfast, there was a noticeable difference in this cafe.  From the moment we walked in, we were sincerely greeted with genuine smiles and eye contact, and this wasn't just done by the owner and our server. This small cafe has a working people-focused culture.  The employees there are all authentic with their service delivery, and they were hired because of it.  Before we left, the owner visited with us and told us about his staff and how he hires.  He said he had an interview at 2pm that day, and he would know if that person is a fit for his restaurant before he even looks at their work experience.  He believes if the person looks him in the eye when they talk, has a pleasant demeanor and upbeat personality, as well as a care about their physical appearance, that is worth more to him than any experience on their resume.  This owner clearly has mastered the art of good hiring.

So what if you already have warm bodies on your team that perhaps don't meet your expectations?  If you are building a people-focused culture are these skills trainable or not?  Harley Manning and Kerry Bodine wrote a great book, Outside In, which is about putting customers at the center of your business.  In this book they talk about hiring for customer passion and a cultural fit.  When companies make the decision to be customer focused and care about the customer's experience, during this transition you have two choices: 1- reassign front line employees that do not exhibit that passion or customer focus, or 2- ease them out the door.  Manning and Bodine mention that many businesses are still not ready to make these decisions and that the most effective way to shift your workforce is through screening candidates that show customer-centric values.  In their words, "...finding people whose values and personalities match your target culture is often easier than changing the underlying beliefs of current employees."     

In "Top 10 Soft Skills for Customer Service Jobs," Alison Doyle gives a list of skills we feel you should incorporate into your screening process for new hires. These are skills that are important for your team to have to support your people-focused culture.

Top 10 Soft Skills for Customer Service Jobs

  1. Communication ~ Clear communication is essential in customer service. Do they have an upbeat and easy to understand communication style? These skills are essential in phone communication as well.

  2. Listening ~ Listening skills are just as important as communication skills. Do they demonstrate that they are listening through body language and responses such as nodding and making eye contact, etc. An important aspect of customer service is simply making the customer feel heard.

  3. Self-Control ~ People that work in customer service need to be able to calmly handle all customers, even the most negative ones. Do you notice a calm and cool aspect in their personality?

  4. Positivity ~ A positive attitude goes a long way in customer service. Positivity is an easy characteristic to look for in a person. 

  5. Assertiveness ~ Do they appear to be a "take control" type of person, doing what needs to be done in an efficient manner? If they are meek or passive, the customer may not have faith in them.

  6. Conflict Resolution ~ In customer service, you deal with many customers who have a problem that needs to be solved. It is important for you to be a creative problem solver.

  7. Empathy ~ A very important soft skill is being able to recognize and understand a person’s emotional state, how they feel, and react with empathy.

  8. Depersonalization ~ Customers want to feel understood and appreciated. A simple “I understand” or “I know how you feel” will keep the focus on them.

  9. Taking Responsibility ~ Do you feel they will be able to sincerely apologize to a customer on behalf of your company, even when the problem was not their fault?.

  10. Humor ~ A sense of humor can make a potentially stressful customer-service interaction more enjoyable. Crack a silly joke, and see if they laugh with you and join in with humor.

Take these 10 skills and apply them to your team. Remember, you want to have people whose values and personalities match your people-focused culture. Download our FOCUS Concept and learn even more about delivering strong service!

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Topics: Customer Service Skills List, Goals, Customer Service, Hiring and Termination

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