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Retorio 10 Essential Soft Skills to Succeed in Customer Service woman wearing earphones waving into laptop
Briah Handa Oakley 07.02.2023 7 min read

10 Essential Soft Skills to Succeed in Customer Service

As customer expectations rise at a time when we are facing talent shortages and major skill shifts, it is essential that organizations enhance and expand learning and development (L&D) initiatives to keep up with customer care demands.

And this starts with fine-tuning the social and emotional abilities machines cannot master.

Soft skills are the backbone of any customer service role. In fact, the proportion of companies addressing empathy and interpersonal skills has doubled in 2020. 

So what soft skills exactly are the most important for customer success employees? And how can representatives train these vital skills?

What’s in this post?

  1. What are soft skills? 
  2. Why are soft skills so crucial for customer service?
  3. What are the 10 most crucial soft skills in a customer service role?
  4. How can customer service reps train their soft skills?

What are soft skills? 

First, let’s cover the basics - what is the difference between hard and soft skills? What are some examples of each?

Hard skills are those quantifiable skills usually gained through formal education, experience, or training. Some examples of hard skills are:

  • computer programming
  • creative writing
  • proficiency in a foreign language
  • video production
  • photoshop

On the other hand, soft skills are those interpersonal skills that are harder to quantify, those social competencies and skills that you develop over time. Some examples of soft skills include:

  • negotiating
  • teamwork
  • leadership skills
  • problem-solving
  • time management 


Why are soft skills so crucial for customer service?

Soft skills are crucial in customer service because they directly impact the customer's experience. Good communication, active listening, empathy, problem-solving, and interpersonal skills allow customer service representatives to effectively understand the customer's needs and provide a positive solution. When customer-facing employees master their soft skills, their customers are more likely to feel heard and satisfied with the service they received, leading to increased customer loyalty and positive word-of-mouth recommendations.


What are the 10 most important soft skills in a customer service role?

So, what exactly are the 10 most important soft skills in a customer service role? 

  1. Active listening

    “Man’s inability to communicate is a result of his failure to listen effectively.”—Carl Rogers, pioneer of the humanistic school of psychology.

    Listening is often mistaken for hearing, a casual, ambient condition. But listening is much more than that. It is cerebral, mental, conscious, and decision-based. Listening is a skill. A skill that can be earned, practiced, and improved.

    When it comes to customer service, there isn't too much more that can be ranked higher in importance than listening. By actively listening, customer service representatives can accurately understand the customer's needs, concerns, and expectations, which is critical in providing a positive solution. It shows the customer that they are being heard and understood, which helps to build trust and rapport with the customer, making them feel valued and respected.

  2. Communication skills

    Communication skills are critical in customer service, there is no doubt about that.

    But it's also a skill that requires a lot more improvement, also among leaders and managers. In fact, research from Ketchum Communications finds only 31% of employees believe their leaders communicate effectively.

    Having good communication skills allows customer service employees to effectively interact with customers and provide solutions to their needs - this involves not simply speaking clearly and concisely, but also actively listening to the customer, asking questions to clarify understanding, and providing feedback in a way that is easy for the customer to understand.

    Furthermore, clear and effective communication can help to prevent misunderstandings, which can save time and improve the overall efficiency of the customer service process. 

  3. Empathy

    Empathy involves having the capability to perceive the emotions of others, understand their viewpoint, and imagine their potential thoughts or emotions. Customer service employees who have high levels of empathy can connect with customers on a personal level, which ultimately can help establish trust.

    According to research by the Harvard Business Review, "The top 10 companies in the Global Empathy Index 2015, increased in value more than twice as much as the bottom 10 and generated 50% more earnings."

  4. Patience

    Patience in customer service refers to the ability to remain calm, understanding, and professional, even in situations of high stress, or difficult situations. It involves taking the time to listen to the customer's concerns, ask clarifying questions, and provide practical solutions without becoming frustrated, upset, or dismissive.

    It isn't unusual for customers to become frustrated, upset, or confused, and it's important for customer service representatives to remain patient and professional in order to effectively resolve the issue. 

  5. Flexibility

    The last couple of years have taught us well enough the importance of flexibility and adaptability. And it seems like its importance is only going to increase. 

    For customer service employees, flexibility is crucial because it allows representatives to adapt to changing situations and provide effective solutions to customer needs. Customer service representatives may encounter a wide variety of issues, and having the ability to think creatively and approach problems from different angles can lead to more positive outcomes.

  6. Positive attitude

    A positive attitude in customer service means happy customers, and that in turn means success for the company.

    I'm sure we can all remember the times we've been served by a super friendly waitress in a restaurant, and how that elevated our entire dining experience. We can also all probably remember a couple of times when a grumpy waitress ruined your night out. 

    When customer service representatives have a positive attitude, it can easily spread and have a profound positive effect on customers.

  7. Conflict resolution

    Conflict resolution skills refer to the ability to effectively manage and resolve conflicts or disputes in a professional and respectful manner. According to research done by McKinsey, conflict resolution and problem-solving come down to five techniques:

    1. Improving communication: improving the quantity and quality of interactions with your counterparty prevents miscommunications and establishes a platform for trust.
    2. Taking perspective: adapting to your counterpart's perspective demands a genuine interest in their wants, concerns, and reasons, and is an effective way to eliminate personal biases and predict their future actions.
    3. Eliminating any unnecessary escalations: a quick temper can complicate matters, increasing the likelihood of engaging in a negative and detrimental cycle of retaliation, which is a warning sign of a failed agreement.
    4. Uncovering issues sooner rather than later: when it comes to an issue or question that may be sensitive for either party, addressing the point sooner rather than later can avoid the counterparty's feeling cornered or deliberately maneuvered into a foreclosed position.
    5. Hitting the pause button where need be: a break can present the opportunity to reflect and reconstruct what they have experienced, to decide on new behaviors, and to practice them.

  8. Continuous learning mindset 

    We are witnessing an ever-developing business landscape, and customer service employees, as for employees in other roles, need to keep learning to remain relevant and in demand. Customer service representatives need to stay informed and updated with the latest developments and trends, and continuously develop and improve upon current skills, which will in turn boost confidence and keep them engaged and motivated in their role.

  9. Time management 

    Time management skills are critical to success in most positions, and customer service roles are no exception. By managing their time effectively, customer success employees can ensure they attend to customer inquiries and issues promptly, leading to higher customer satisfaction.

  10. Negotiation skills

    Negotiation skills in customer service involve the ability to effectively communicate and reach an agreement with customers in a mutually beneficial way. For customer service employees, this becomes crucial when resolving customer complaints and finding mutually acceptable solutions, de-escalating difficult situations, and overall improving customer satisfaction. 

How can customer service reps train their soft skills? 

Now that we've covered why soft skills are vital for customer service representatives, and which soft skills are necessary in order for employees to perform, the next question is, how can you train these soft skills? 

Today, companies around the world, including the German international shipping and container transportation company Hapag-Lloyd, are incorporating artificial intelligence into their L&D strategies to achieve immersive, engaging, and learner-oriented training programs.

Hapag-Lloyd made the decision to employ Retorio, an AI-powered Behavioral Intelligence platform to train employees on-demand, wherever they were in the world. During a 3-month learning program, Hapag-Lloyd's participants from the Middle East and across Europe were able to access a new learning path that focused on personalized learning and soft skill development with interactive client video simulations. 

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Briah Handa Oakley

I work as part of the marketing team at Retorio, conducting in-depth content strategy at the intersection between artificial intelligence and L&D. I cover emerging technology and the latest advancements in AI technology and ultimately fuse technical knowledge with storytelling skills.