Is the delivery of exceptional customer service a skill that can be learned, or are those who excel in customer service simply born for the job? I posed the question recently to a LinkedIn group of customer service professionals, and overwhelmingly they said they were born for customer service…
Said Lizzie Taylor, a CSR for a UK pharmaceutical group, “It certainly has come natural to me. I’ve always felt as though this was my only real skill. I’ve never needed training on how to deal with difficult customers, how to feel and come across as empathetic, friendly and yet professional.
“However, we’ve all come across those, that sometimes despite feeling like they want to be in customer services, are unsympathetic and unable to place themselves in the customer’s position, and end up several weeks or months later, copying and parroting those who have this natural sense of service.”
Empathy, considerate listening, patience, a true desire to help others – are these attributes that only come natural to a select few? If you’ve ever suffered through a customer service experience where the CSR was just going through the motions and reading from the script on their screen, the answer is yes. Blogger David Newton, however, says we’re all born with these desired “people person” traits. The difference is, some individuals have had these traits emphasized as positives and nurtured during childhood – and continue to outwardly display them – while in others, these personable traits have been stifled. (Read David Newton’s Can Empathy be Taught?)
The Perfect Combination: Sweet, Yet Salty
Markus Schweda, head of customer service for a German appliance manufacturer, notes that the best CSRs are not just naturally kind; they are also able to swallow large daily doses of negativity while still keeping a smile on their face, an admirable and truly underappreciated trait.
“A service guy should be able to live with continuous negative feedback, respectively,” says Schweda. “He / she should be very stress resistant, especially for psychological stress. Customers contacting service are very seldom telling you how great your product or service is, or handing over some sweets and flowers…
“They contact you to get some action, and to tell you how disappointed they are. Receiving day by day such negative feedback is a challenge in itself, and thus, the person in charge needs to be balanced in many aspects to compensate for the customer’s frustration and to make the best out of the situation.”
Born vs. Trained for Customer Service
So if individuals aren’t born for customer service, if empathy and care just isn’t there, can it be taught? Customer service trainer and speaker Teresa Allen says both yes and no. “I constantly consult clients to make sure they notice their impression of a potential service employee in the first 30 seconds of the interview, because that is how long it will take (at most) for a customer to form a first impression. So there has to be some natural ability to connect with people.
“Once you get beyond that hurdle, however, training absolutely can enhance the performance of the employee by instilling skills of how to respond and react in various circumstances/transactions,” says Allen. “This aspect is learned, not innate.”
But in the end, can even the best-trained CSRs deliver consistent, positive customer care? “If the natural attitude of calming and empathy towards customers isn’t there, then you will make a very bad agent,” says Alain Minsart, a Brussels-based CSR, “and you will become just that what you hate the most when you yourself are calling towards a service desk.
“Anyone of us hates it when we get someone on the phone that isn’t involved, incompetent and not understanding of our problem as a client. So if you as an agent don’t have the natural ability to be comprehensive, understanding, empathetic and logically thinking and solution minded (all talents that come natural and that can be perfected through training, but not from nothing), then being a customer service agent sadly enough, isn’t the job for you.”
To follow or add to the continuing conversation on LinkedIn, visit this discussion in the Customer Experience Solutions group.