When you hear the term “customer service skills,” what comes to mind?

Several soft skills might be the first thing you consider. A short list includes the ability to be empathetic and pleasant to customers; being able to think on one’s feet; an effective communication style; patience; a diplomatic nature. The key point is that if those skills aren’t present, an employee tends to fare poorly in a customer service role.

Equally important are the hard skills necessary for a customer service position. Thes include the ability to quickly amass knowledge of the products and services they are supporting. They must also learn how to efficiently use the systems and tools used to assist customers.

These soft and hard are definitely the basis for customer-facing roles. But today’s environment requires even more.

Digital transformation is changing the face of business across industries. As a result, a whole new set of skills are necessary for the modern customer service organization to be successful. Let’s examine several more skills that are necessary and should be sought during hiring and groomed during employment, and where they fit into modern customer service delivery.

Conversational Writing

Studies continue to show that customers are choosing online chat over picking up the phone to contact customer service. Why? Chat has many advantages over the telephone. Rather than requiring customers to navigate frustrating, multi-level telephone menus, they can be easily routed to an agent with the appropriate skills to assist them. Like the telephone, problems are solved one-on-one and in-the-moment, not requiring back-and-forth conversation such as with email-based customer service. In addition, with the conversation taking place online, it’s much easier for an agent to direct customers to solutions that might exist on the customer service website in the form of automated solutions, answers in communities, and knowledge articles.

Customer service performed over chat means skills in conversational writing is a must. How is this different from traditional writing? For one thing, it’s aimed at the target audience and addresses them directly. While spelling and punctuation are still important, many grammatical rules are broken.

The successful chat agent should be able to sound professional yet comfortable and natural in their responses. While some phrases–an initial greeting or request to complete a post-chat survey–might be copy-and-paste boilerplate, the chat agent should not rely on canned responses, instead working to make each conversation unique to the customer. And of course they should be a fast typist!

Instructional Writing

Perhaps an agent who has great grammar isn’t the greatest conversationalist. Not a problem–good writing skills aren’t limited to live chat. Authoring solutions for your knowledge base is also an option.

A knowledge article is typically composed of a short title, a clear description of the problem (including any symptoms or indicators), the steps necessary to solve the issue, and the outcome. The key to knowledge articles is to ensure a customer can easily determine the appropriateness of the article for their problem, as well as follow the steps from start to finish. Therein lies the challenge.

A knowledge article writer must be able to clearly document steps to go from the problem state to the desired outcome. There can be no vague instructions or “leaps of faith;” the steps must be methodical and easy to follow. Article writers should quality test their work; a best practice here is to have a quality assurance team (perhaps composed of fellow article writers) in place that validates articles prior to publication.

Business Analysis

Like chat, self-service also continues to grow in popularity; in fact, it was identified as an important trend in 2017 because customers prefer to seek solutions on their own time. 2018 will continue to see businesses embrace and expand their use of self-service, and a subset of self-service is automated solutions: using automation to connect a customer with a particular problem to an answer or to set them on the course to an answer.

The first critical skillset to building and maintaining automated solutions will be in the analysis of service trends. Across service channels–telephone, email, chat, etc.–reporting and analytics can help identify the common issues customers are having. From that pool of topics, the next step is to distinguish which are eligible for automation: do the systems in place allow for building linked processes so that customers can self-serve to address their issue? (If this isn’t possible, perhaps it’s time to evaluate new customer service management systems.)

With the eligible solutions identified, a corollary skillset will be in actually developing the underlying automation. Some form of workflow is generally used here. This makes it possible to actually connect systems and processes behind the scenes to result in the desired outcome for the customer.

Business Acumen

The concept of customer success–ensuring customers not only use the products and services you sell, but achieve the outcomes they desire–has left the exclusive realm of SaaS companies and is being embraced in non-software industries. Companies realize that not only is less expensive to retain customers, but that satisfied customers buy more. Customer success is the answer.

Delivering customer success is a significant up-leveling from traditional customer service. Customer success agents not only require all the skills of a great customer service agent, but also must understand their customers’ business goals and how the products and services they have purchased can be used to achieve them. This will not only require knowledge of the customer’s business on the part of the customer success agent, but the discipline to regularly check in on those shared success goals and to partner with them in ongoing success.

New Skills For A New Era

Delivering great customer service has always been about a few key skills like empathy, analytical thinking, patience, fast problem solving, and diplomacy. These abilities married to a strong knowledge of products and services result in the makings of a great customer service agent. That hasn’t changed–but it’s no longer enough. Innovations and advancements in customer service delivery mean new skills are needed.

A new year has begun and with it comes new opportunities. Are you evaluating new hires for the skills you need to deliver superior service–both how and where you deliver service today and planned channels of service? And are you developing skills in current customer service agents to match what’s needed now and in the future?