Examining Common Soft Skills Needed in Today’s Workforce
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In today’s climate of workforce burnout and stress, I can’t help but feel that practicing soft skills is more important now than ever before. The past few years have been difficult for everyone, and unfortunately, those working in customer service are often the ones most likely to experience firsthand the regrettable ways in which heightened stress and anger can manifest during business interactions.
Whether a customer is reacting to something massive like losing everything in a natural disaster, or something minor like an online order delivered to the wrong address, the development and understanding of soft skills are necessary for any customer service representative.
By definition, soft skills refer to the humanistic qualities put forward during customer interactions. They require patience, understanding, and compassion. Soft skills aren’t necessarily taught in school, and they may come more naturally for some than for others. But focusing on, and mastering these skills aren’t only necessary for making the customer experience easier, they are also important tools for maintaining a sense of calm and patience during difficult interactions.
Below are a few of what we feel are the most important soft skills that any customer service representative should resolve to further develop in 2023:
Empathy is arguably the most important soft skill to develop for customer service representatives and acts as a cornerstone for most others. Empathy allows for CSRs to imagine themselves in the same situation as their customer on the other end of the interaction. Leading with empathy may be a struggle during times in which customers have an outsized reaction to a relatively minor issue, and particularly challenging when a customer is relaying a devastating loss.
As a soft skill for CSRs, empathy is less an invitation to completely absorb a customer’s current mental or emotional state, and more of a means to connect with someone on a deeper level and provide a meaningful level of care and support. Developing empathy as a skill can be tricky, as it can be classified more as a feeling and a state of being than a tool for a direct course of action. Still, without a strong sense of intrinsic empathy in each customer service interaction, other soft skills may be more difficult to access.
Similar to empathy, positivity is less of “a thing you do” and more of “a feeling that you embody.” In practice, positivity helps set the tone of customer interactions, allowing the person on the other end of the line to feel more at ease with a CSR. Do you ever feel a smile through the phone? That’s the goal.
Maintaining a positive attitude during difficult customer interactions is no easy task, but a commitment to remaining cheerful, upbeat, and helpful is a critical part of the job. Not only does a strict adherence to positivity instill customers with a sense of comfort, but it can also prevent objectionable callers from escalating a difficult situation.
Agility and Flexibility
Agility and flexibility are what allow customer service representatives to quickly adapt to the specific needs and wants of each new customer they interact with. These soft skills require a great deal of problem-solving capabilities and the ability to think on one’s feet in a quick, decisive manner.
The cultivation of these skills may be dependent on a customer service representative’s knowledge of the resources at their disposal to address a wide array of customer complaints and objections. Don’t feel too discouraged if it takes more time to develop these soft skills than others. Learning about specific processes and procedures inside and out may take years, but once these soft skills are locked in, they will remain with you for the long term.
Critical thinking may be compared to flexibility and agility, as it can also allow customer service representatives to resolve issues in a timely manner. But critical thinking can also require more creativity and situational analysis than other soft skills. For interactions without clear solutions or helpful resources, critical thinking is essential for uncovering the next steps and ways to resolve customer objections.
This soft skill encourages customer service representatives to delve deeper and learn as much about the customer’s situation as possible to determine how to best address their objections in lieu of any obvious answers. More than flexibility and agility, critical thinking also requires immense amounts of patience, focus, and a deep understanding of the capabilities of the businesses you are representing. Balancing these traits with the ability to provide reassurance to a customer in need is a skill that can take a very long time to develop.
While soft skills cannot be taught in the same way as more technical and analytical processes, they do require a similar amount of practice and development to get right. Even if these skills can also be seen as innate, human traits, we are all well aware of how high-stress situations may cause us to act outside of our own best interests. Unfortunately, this luxury isn’t expected from customer service representatives
The mastery of soft skills not only requires adequate training and discipline but also a focus on mental health resources and appropriate outlets to vent frustrations and relieve the pressure felt from objectionable customer interactions. Remember, the practicing of soft skills need not be exclusive to customer interactions. When experiencing high levels of stress, consider taking what you’ve learned from developing soft skills and treat yourself with the same level of compassion and humanity that you would a customer on the other end of the line.