Who Needs Customer Service Skills?
When most of us got into IT, we weren’t thinking about customer service skills. Not one little bit. We did it because we’re fascinated by technology. For many people, a career in IT was a natural outgrowth of gaming. For others, it came from tinkering with technology. When I was a child, I was fascinated with electronics. I built a radio station in my backyard. (The signal only went about a block, but I was on the air!) Nobody told us that, in addition to being technologists, we would also have to figure out how to work with people. Sometimes, we even have to act as therapists, mediators, and counselors to help an embarrassed, frustrated, or angry end-user or coworker.
Think of the times when you were struggling with something you didn’t understand. Recall how the person helping you was either patient with you as you worked through your struggle or impatient with you which only added to your struggle. The person who was impatient probably exacerbated the issue by making you feel nervous, anxious, and frustrated. That, in turn, made it harder for you to concentrate on doing what needed to be done. The person who was patient with you, on the other hand, helped calm your nerves so you were better able to concentrate on doing your part to resolve the issue. The customer service skill of patience is tough to master because we’ve become accustomed to instant gratification, our world moves so quickly, and we see others acting impatiently. I’ve noticed however when I’m more patient with myself, it’s an act of self-compassion. I feel more relaxed and more in control. Similarly, when I’m more patient with others, I’m also more relaxed, less judgmental, and, frankly, easier to be around. I also find that others are more receptive to my ideas and suggestions.
To be more patient, start by being aware of when you begin to feel impatient. Notice how it feels. Then, work on being intentional about changing your reaction. Take a deep breath. Think about how you wanted someone to be patient with you in the past. Don’t expect change to happen instantly. You may need to practice this before it becomes natural.
If it seems like empathy is nearly always part of discussions about customer service skills, that’s because it is! One of the most basic ideas in customer service is to put yourself in the customer’s position, to try to feel what they’re going through when they contact you for assistance. You must be careful, however, not to project your wants and needs onto your customer or coworker. For example, you may prefer a customer service agent to avoid small talk and just get right to work fixing your issue. (That’s how I feel.) Your customer, however, may need more of a personal touch. They may be embarrassed by what happened and need some assurance that others have dealt with similar problems. Empathy is your ability to imagine what the other person is going through from their perspective, not yours. This requires you to be aware of how the other person is feeling and intentional about tailoring your words and actions to their individual needs. Psychologist and author Brene Brown commented, “Empathy is connection.“
To be more empathetic, start by realizing that different people have different needs. What works for you may not work for someone else. Yes, think about what you would want if you were in the other person’s position, and also pay attention to the clues they give about how they want to be treated. Adjust your approach based on the needs of your customer or coworker.
You may be getting tired of listening to me talk about listening. Good listening skills really are that important! Here are three keys to being a good listener: Focus on understanding and remembering what the speaker is saying, be patient and let the speaker finish what they’re saying, and don’t interrupt or talk on top of the speaker. Of course, there’s more to being a good listener than that, but if you start using those three tips, you’ll be light years ahead of most people. You could also work on active listening skills, where you’re engaged with the speaker by asking relevant questions and acknowledging what they’re saying. One of the tests of whether you’re using active listening skills is whether you understand the speaker’s message and remember it later.
So, to be a good listener, be focus on what the speaker is saying, be patient, and don’t interrupt or talk over the speaker.
How to Improve Your Customer Service Skills
You can improve your customer service skills by being aware of those times when you’re impatient with a customer or coworker, when you don’t consider how the other person feels or what they need when they come to you for help, and those times when you interrupt someone or talk over them. You may need to practice awareness for a while before it becomes natural. Once you’re aware of those behaviors, you can then be intentional about changing yourself to be more patient, more empathetic, and a better listener.
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