In this age of online price comparisons and price matching, customer service is increasingly becoming the key differentiator amongst brands. The companies that are amassing large numbers of brand loyalists are those that can deliver a personalized, seamless customer experience.

The reality is that the customer experience still largely hinges on the quality of your team Although it’s necessary to have the right contact center infrastructure in place to effectively help your customers, the reality is that the customer experience still largely hinges on the quality of your team. Customer service agents are on the front line of companies, serving customers whether it’s by phone or via one of the expanding number of digital channels now being used within contact centers. While good old fashioned service and sales skills are still necessary for a customer service agent to succeed, they now need a variety of other skills to manage their jobs in today’s increasingly complex contact center environment.

Below are five essential skills now needed to thrive as a customer service agent, along with some tips on how to develop these skills.

Written Communication

Contact center analysts predict that there will soon be more customer interactions happening on digital channels than by phone. The common thread among online chat, email, text, and social media is the written word. Agents must be able to effectively communicate in writing with customers to provide a quality customer service interaction. In other words, the days of hiring agents who are only comfortable with talking on the phone and entering data into a back-end system are over.

Contact center agents now have to write for the channels that they will be using to communicate with customers. Ongoing training in business communications is a smart investment and is a clear strategy to deliver on the promise of providing a high-quality customer experience. This should include basic instruction in writing emails, Facebook posts, tweets, and responses to blog and forum comments.

Problem Solving

With customers using more self-service applications than ever, assisted-service interactions are now more likely to be customer complaints or highly complex issues. Customer service agents must have the ability to effectively understand a customer’s issue and quickly determine the best path for resolving it.

Through analysis of data, the most common types of interactions can be identified, and suggested courses of action can be developed. These can certainly guide agents as they manage customer interactions; however, they also need the ability and authority, to quickly make a decision that ventures off the prescribed course if it will make the difference between keeping or losing a customer.

Empathy

It is easy for customers to feel like they are only account numbers, particularly when their engagement with a company is limited to online channels. Yet, when they do have a direct interaction with an agent, they want to be heard and understood. Robotic-sounding agents who can only read from scripts don’t transform customers into brand loyalists. They only serve to agitate customers and lead them to jump ship to a competitor.

It makes sense to develop a team of agents who naturally have the ability to listen to customers and understand their challenges. Empathy isn’t a skill that can be taught. Rather, it’s a trait that should be sought in those you hire. Customers can instantly tell if an agent is being sincere or is just checking off steps in a process. Empathetic agents can not only smooth the ruffled feathers of unhappy customers, but they can also create a positive impression on happy customers that motivates them to tell others about their experience.

Clarity

Are your products or services complex? Customers rely more than ever on customer service agents to provide answers to their questions. This means they must have the ability to clearly communicate information whether it’s technical help or an update on the arrival of a shipment.

Role-playing exercises can help tremendously with building agent communication skills. By working on developing clear, understandable directions and dialog, you can prevent a multitude of miscommunications and customer frustrations. When agents better understand customers and their needs, your agents can boost the customer experience and your contact center’s goals, such as improved first call resolution.

Creativity

Because agents are dealing with customers firsthand and listening to their issues, they’re the first to identify problems that can be improved. By hiring agents who have the creativity to develop solutions, you will gain a tremendous asset that cannot be replaced by high-priced consultants and advisors.

The key is giving agents the ability to express the issues they experience with customers each and every day. Whether it’s a problem with a product, a process, a system, or a strategy, creative customer service agents who find better ways to do things are worth their weight in gold. Encourage them to make suggestions and reward those who contribute ideas that make measurable positive improvements.

Hiring Agents To Succeed

Without a doubt, customer service has become much more multi-faceted in recent years. It now requires skills in many areas to meet the needs of customers using multiple channels and to manage the increasingly technically advanced systems required to manage the customer journey. Companies are wise to recruit talent that has the diverse skills necessary to fill these complex and important positions.

It’s also time to compensate agents accordingly for the vital role they play within an organization. Companies that truly value their customer service team members by training, empowering, and compensating them will ultimately gain a competitive edge that will result in more brand loyalists and decreased customer churn, which ultimately results in increased revenue.