An eCommerce support strategy is more than just questions and answers. Yes, you need to equip every team member with the information they need to understand your products and services. But, if your customer service agents don’t take their work a step further, you will lose potential customers. In brief, if you don’t encourage your agents to master these customer service skills, your business could fail.
Yes, when issues arise, your agents’ top priority is to solve the problem. But, they need to understand that positive customer interaction is just as essential to a thriving business. So, let’s explore a hard and soft skills list that will help ensure you hire the right team.
Working in customer service requires specific skills, including technical knowledge.
When it comes to commerce, customer service hard skills are talents related to the specific techniques required to successfully complete the job. Responsibilities relate to understanding technology and products and services being offered.
It goes without saying that a new team member who knows nothing about your products or service won’t be able to help customers with their most pressing questions. And, someone who has only worked in a call center won’t have the abilities to help with the technical needs required for new media communication with customers.
So, the job-specific aspects of support work are crucial for the success of your online store. Here are the foremost tech skills to look for in an agent.
One of the leading ways customers connect with online stores is through live chat. If your support team isn’t trained in your software, you can miss out on a ton of opportunities for sales. Especially since (as explained in Shopify Help Chat: How Top Teams Leverage This Customer Support Channel) live chat delivers the greatest customer satisfaction of any other communication method for online stores.
So, your support staff should have the skill to navigate live chat platforms, including those that integrate with other platforms like email, social media, etc.
In addition to the tech abilities required to maneuver within the dashboard, your staff should understand how to use the software to nurture upsells and unify marketing campaigns with resolution. This way, you’re not only solving problems for the people that matter the most -- your customers -- you’re also increasing the lifetime value of each transaction.
For example, when a customer reaches out about a problem with their order or a question about a product they’re interested in, the agent should take the time to inform them about potential discounts, and employ sales techniques. Maybe if the customer signs up for your brand’s newsletter, they will get a 10% discount. This way, a live chat is utilized in multiple ways, all of which have a positive impact on satisfaction and ROI.
A bulk of communication with your customers will take place via email. If your staff doesn’t respond quick enough or they do, but without proper etiquette, it will throw a wrench in your support machine. So, make sure your support staff is seasoned in email communication practices and that they understand your email platform.
In email communications, subject lines should be clear and communicate what the message is about. The recipient’s name should be included in the body of the email. A professional signature should be used. And, the sender should never assume that the customer knows what the email is about.
Most people know how to use Gmail and Hotmail. However, if you’re using an obscure email platform like Buzzstream or HubSpot, it’s essential to either make sure your staff member is already comfortable inside the platform or that you’re willing to train them.
If you use social media to communicate with customers (Hint: you should), your support staff needs to have an understanding of the technical aspects of the platform. Social media communications will most commonly happen in the private messaging center. But, in some cases, customers will address problems in public view.
There needs to be a clear protocol for handling public tickets. Will you move the conversation to another communication platform or handle it where it starts? Your support agent should know what you expect as well as how to use the social media platforms you promote your brand on.
The most obvious customer service skill your agents (and your virtual assistants) must possess is the ability to answer questions and communicate information about the products you sell on your store. In most cases, it is your responsibility to train new employees on all aspects of your offering.
On occasion, you may come across an applicant who has existing knowledge of your products, which is a bonus. Still, you should maintain a knowledge base or FAQ template that gives your support team easy access to the information they need to successfully solve customers’ problems.
Product knowledge will include product details. Also, it will include information about shipping times, packaging, delivery, and other technical information about the transaction process. Make sure your team possesses the aforementioned customer service skills.
While there’s nothing inherently wrong with outsourcing your customer service overseas, it’s critical to ensure that your support staff is fluent in the predominant language of your shoppers. The intended message must be conveyed clearly if you want your customers’ problems to be solved well.
Your support staff doesn’t, obviously, need to illustrate beautiful images with their wordplay -- actually, that would be completely over the top. But, they do need to have a sharp understanding of the language they’re using and know how to use proper grammar.
Test your prospective agents for proper use of the following:
Other intricacies and nuances of communication fall under the soft skills umbrella, which will be addressed later.
You can help make language and grammar easier on your support staff by providing them with tools to check their word use. Here are some language and grammar tools to check out:
Grammarly is a writing aid tool that can help you support agents write bold, clear, mistake-free messages.
[Image source: Pro Writing Aid]
Pro Writing Aid is a digital grammar-checker, style-editor, and “writing mentor” that you can give your team access to for writing help.
Hemingway App is an editor that can help your chat agents and support team deliver mistake-free communications.
In addition to the technical aspects of the job, customer service requires subtler communication skills.
In eCommerce, customer service soft skills are personality traits and abilities that affect the interpersonal relationship between the support agent and the shoppers. Soft skills aren’t as easily quantifiable as hard skills, but they can be taught and learned.
So, you’re selling online, and you don’t usually need to deal with customers face-to-face. Nobody will see your body language or the look on your face. Still, soft skills are crucial for customer support. But, why?
In an online environment, it’s necessary to create a personalized experience for shoppers because they will never see you in person. Humans are emotional creatures, even when interacting in a digital world.
This is why online stores employ features like personalized recommendations and use subscribers’ real names in automated emails. And, your customer service reps may be the only fellow-humans your shoppers interact with.
So, they have to up their game to create a great customer service experience for people interested in making purchases from you. Seek employees who possess the following interpersonal and communication skills.
In eCommerce, as in all things in life, emotions have a tremendous impact on success. Your support agents need to understand this. And, the people you hire should have a grasp on it.
Positive language leads to positive emotions, which generates positive sales outcomes. So, watch for this when interviewing and hiring customer service staff.
Here are some examples of how positive language can be used in customer service situations.
And, in case you need to see examples, here’s what similar statements look like when negative language is used.
Do you see the difference? Your support staff should be able to.
How is the customer feeling? Another key customer service skill to possess is the ability to show empathy for a shopper. And, agents should be able to do it in a meaningful way.
Showing empathy means to understand and express understanding of the feelings of another (in this case, your customers). This should be done with sensitivity. And, it’s especially necessary to employ when a customer expresses their feelings.
Here, you can read some hypothetical customer issues and empathetic responses.
Hypothetical Customer Issue #1: “When my order arrived, it was three days late and broken. This was supposed to be a birthday gift for my daughter, and now I’m not going to have this in time to give it to her on that day. I’m angry and I demand a refund.”
Empathetic Response: “Wow. I can see how that would make you angry. I apologize that this happened. Let me find out what I can do for you.”
Hypothetical Customer Issue #2: “You’re the only store that sells X Product and I’ve been trying to order it, but every time I come to your site, it’s out of stock. I’m super sad. I really want it. Can you help me?”
Empathetic Response: “I totally get the disappointment. Let’s see if we can put you on a list to get notified as soon as X Product is back in stock. And, I will certainly see if I have access to find out when we might be getting more. ”
Your support staff should be able to communicate that they appreciate the feelings that the customer is experiencing.
One customer service skill that can be easily overlooked by digital support staff is active listening. It is obviously important when communicating verbally, but can’t be ignored in text conversations either. Agents need to be aware and pay attention to what every online shopper has to say.
Active listening is listening with the intent to obtain information and understand it rather than listening with the intent to reply. Many people are ready to send a canned response to every query before they’ve even given it attention. Your staff needs to know how to read and digest the information customers give them. And, they need to provide relevant responses.
Active listening requires that the agent is present in the moment, makes sure to send an acknowledgment of understanding throughout a conversation, and provides feedback when appropriate.
First, let’s look at a hypothetical customer issue:
“Hey, I ordered Product X several weeks ago and still haven’t received my package. I haven’t gotten an email with tracking updates. Can you tell me whether or not my order was shipped?”
Then, here’s what a canned response looks like:
“Thank you for contacting us. Did you receive a confirmation email with your order number?”
Finally, here’s a reply that showcases active listening:
“Hi there. I apologize that you haven’t received a tracking email. And, I’m here to help. I would like to make sure your order is en-route. Do you happen to have your order confirmation number? If not, we can try looking it up another way.”
The second example response showcases the fact that the support agent has heard the problem and is actively looking for a solution; this should be the aim.
Customer service response times tremendously impact your store’s bottom line. In the event that a response to a query takes too long, customer satisfaction plummets. Low satisfaction leads to low eCommerce conversion rates. Time management skills are crucial for your support team to possess.
Time management is the ability to effectively and productively utilize one’s time. As a customer service skill, it will make or break the successful completion of the job. The better time management abilities an agent possesses, the quicker response times become and the more tickets resolved.
In a customer support environment, effectively managing time allows an agent to divide their time appropriately between tickets. If each ticket is served appropriately, none will be neglected and trust will be built with customers.
Imagine that an agent has been assigned ten tickets for their four-hour shift. In this time, they have been asked to resolve ten issues. An agent who addresses them in the order of importance will be able to complete their assignments on-time.
However, an agent who fails to do so will leave more work on the plate of the agent who comes in to work after. The rest of the day will be rushed for everyone on the team.
Most people can understand when a situation is tense. And, as a customer service skill, this is essential since many if not most shopper problems are at least a little tense. Support service is just one of the industries that is stressful by nature.
So, your agents need to understand when a situation is tense, and they need to know what to do to diffuse the emotional heat.
Here are some steps a support agent should know how to take:
In addition, it’s important for support agents to care for themselves, drink plenty of water, and get enough rest. This way, they are prepared to be resilient to stress.
In the following example, @ultabeauty received some less than positive tweet from a dissatisfied customer, @TheDaniC_. She let them know that both of her local brick and mortar stores had disappointed her.
In their response, Ulta patiently asked Dani to send them more information via DM so they could make the situation right. We don’t know exactly what they offered to make it up to her, but you can see that they gave an empathetic response, which is gold.
When someone has a problem or a conflict to resolve, the person being spoken to has a responsibility to listen and show that they are listening. By repeating their understanding back to the speaker, they show that they have heard the concern. In online sales customer support, this is key.
A part of active listening, reflecting -- the act of repeating the concern back to the person speaking -- is a crucial customer service skill your agents must master. By doing so, they show that they have a grasp on the issue at hand. It will make your shoppers feel heard.
Reflecting accomplishes three things:
Let’s see what reflecting looks like in action in a customer support situation.
Hypothetical Customer Problem:
“I’ve been having trouble getting my Product X to work properly. I’ve written in three times for help with the same problem, and it keeps happening. Please help me find a permanent solution.”
“Okay, so I hear you’re having a problem with your Product X and you’ve tried getting help with the issue already. And, now, you’re looking for a fix so that you don’t have to reach out again. Is this right?”
Reflecting is easy to understand, yet crucial to master. Make sure your agents have this skill
The skills above are going to skyrocket your support strategy to the next level, so make sure your agents’ skill sets include everything above. When you do, you will see a massive shift in your satisfaction levels, hence your sales.
If you'd like to test your agents on some of these dimensions, you could also have them write some answers to some common FAQ questions.
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