5 Examples of Customer Service Skills You Can’t Ignore

January 5, 2012
5 Examples of Customer Service Skills You Can't Ignore | Handing shopping bag

Any list of examples of customer service skills is bound to be incomplete. Customer service and customer experience management incorporate operational, technological, and interpersonal skills that are as diverse as they are numerous. However, identifying and developing core customer service skills — in hiring, in promotion, in restructuring — can be an incredible source of strategic advantage for a company.

Below are 5 essential examples of customer service skills that should apply to almost any organization.

Examples of Customer Service Skills

Learn the Right Customer Service SkillsStrategic Preparation

In almost any organization, the service is only as good as the systems that support it. Knowing how to break down the customer journey and prepare to deliver service excellence at each point along the way is a crucial skill to have (or to hire).

Being able to strategically prepare takes a mixture of experience and creativity; one must imagine what might be based on what has been before, then craft a strategy to prepare for it.


Awareness is one of the great differentiators between good service and great service. Are you reading the body language of the person tapping their foot while waiting in your lobby? Are you on top of the fact that your key customer did not send you a holiday basket for the first time in 15 years? Awareness entails noticing the details and looking for the silent problems that go unmentioned.

Awareness is an inherently proactive activity. It takes desire to be “always on” and the courage to look for problems to put on your desk when you have plenty there already.

Active Listening

In today’s digitally distracted world, listening is becoming an increasingly rare skill. Of course, people speak at different speeds — some take longer to get to the point and some never get to a point at all. But if they are your customer, they deserve not only to be heard but to be paid attention to.

Active listening takes it a step further. It means you care enough to put the effort into providing verbal and nonverbal feedback to the person speaking, feedback that tells them you are listening and are focused on what they are saying. Nodding your head, making a quick commentary to emphasize their points, and maintaining good eye contact all signal to the listener that they, and what they have to say is important.

And eye contact means with the person, not your iPhone.

The opposite of talking isn’t listening. The opposite of talking is waiting.

Fran Lebowitz


Empathy is the ability to relate to how someone is feeling, to understand what they are going through. While we can’t all walk a mile in the shoes of each person we meet, we can attempt to put ourselves in their place.

Empathy is a skill because it involves being able to see past your own frame of reference and attempt to see the world as someone else does. We’ll never see it just right, but trying can make all the difference.  The need for empathy in customer service is really clear in this customer service training video (link no longer active).

Problem Solving

Customer service is all about problem solving — even when there is not a problem to solve. Finding the glitches in your customer experience and the ways to patch them is an example of proactive problem solving.

And of course there is reactive problems solving. How to make a dissatisfied customer happy within the bounds of your authority. How to turn a customer disaster into a customer save while taking into account legal constraints.

Solving problems, before and after they occur, is at the heart of great service.


As noted in the opening, the potential list of skills for customer service is almost endless. However, the 5 examples of customer service skills above should not be ignored. Regardless of the industry, these 5 skills almost universally apply to any customer facing role.

Whether hiring, training, or promoting, these skills are important to the success of anyone in customer service.

What are other great examples of customer service skills? Which of the examples above do you feel is most important?

24 thoughts on “5 Examples of Customer Service Skills You Can’t Ignore”

  1. A friend of mine was getting grief from the used car lot, in stereotypical fashion, when her overpriced lemon started acting up. The day after she bought it. She’s like anyone else – on budget, short for time, but trying to get this done – and was actually told to stop being ‘confrontational.’ Like way to NOT read the situation or body language, esp. since her frustration was caused by them. Contrast with my dry cleaner story, part 2: they wrote me a check to replace what was damaged. They showed some empathy w/ my problem – both missing the item ruined and frustration w/ being unable to find a truly comparable replacement – and solved it as best they could, paying for something else.

    Other skills I’ll toss out there: ‘get it done’ stick-to-it-ness along with a side of ‘takes responsibility for decisions.’ If your CS rep is always afraid their actions and solutions will be second-guessed by higher ups, if they aren’t empowered (authority) to really accomplish a task, they won’t be much help. Same with follow-through; when I left Charter Cable they kept trying to bill me for equipment I no longer had. After they kept calling and billing and I kept telling them “no, I didn’t have the stuff!” I sent an ‘angry’ tweet not really expecting much. Kudos to them for listening, and to @CharterEmily, who stuck it out and got the problem solved. FWIW.

    1. Taking responsibility is huge. Even if a CSR doesn’t have the power to solve the situation (your second point), taking ownership of the situation goes a long way towards moving the situation towards a beneficial conclusion.

      I think empowerment is one of the most interesting topics in customer service — because you can have too little of it (which is the case the great majority of the time) and you can also go too far the other way. I think there is a healthy balance for each company, but the default mindset most places is tighter and less. It is a natural tendency, and one I have had to confront myself over the years.

      Great seeing you in the New Year Davina! I’ve still got to figure out a system with your RSS. 🙁

  2. I go back to the be all, end all. PERSONALITY. Can your customer service team fake it every day all day long? Can your McDonalds teenager be genuine to Gramma when she wants a burger with no pickle? People on the frontlines of customer service have to do the Myers Briggs test…there are some who just shouldn’t be sitting in front of the public.

    1. Good point Jayme! I have a friend who has a great expression along those lines: “hire the smile, train the skills.” Not everyone is cut out for a customer facing role, though I do believe that a lot of people have the ability and just need the skills and a reason why to care.

      1. I wonder if you’ve addressed that very thing in your posts. Providing spot-on tips for those front-line employees who need the training but are lacking in some skills. How does an employer address this? Are all employees trainable? What skills are teachable and which have to be innate?

        Just thinking.

        1. A great point Jamie! These are definitely some of the topics I’ll be exploring further as I develop the in-depth content sections on the new site. I think one of the most important items that has to be at least partially innate is caring. You can have all the skills in the world, if you don’t care about the customer and their experience, it won’t matter.

          1. These are some really great points here but think most businesses are more worried about competition these days as thats what seems to be knocking them down while staff traning seems to be less of a worry. I think some people are great for dealing with the public while others arent but there is no difference between these people normaly the people who work at the background away from the public are the spine of many businesses its just a matter of the business understanding where the individual as their strong points.

  3. If your business allows, you definitely want to hire for your culture instead of trying to teach it after the fact and find out you have a bad fit. Unfortunately with the McDonald’s of the world you might not have the luxury of being as selective.

    On paper it sounds simple and a no-brainer; on the front lines sometimes not so good.

    Your 5 examples are spot-on however and the closer you can stick to these, the better organization you will have all around.

    Good food for thought; thanks for sharing.

    1. You make a good point Bill. The industry or job can affect how you approach what you look for. Some of the skills are more elusive than others. Awareness is in some ways more about dedication and caring that about a natural skill. Anyone can be aware; they just have to have it in them to try.

      Wish everything that sounds good on paper was the same on the front lines! 🙂

      Thanks for stopping by! TTYS.

  4. Hey Adam!

    You brought up 5 great necessary skills. I just wanted to add something to “Active Listening.” That’s really such an important skill. You mentioned making a quick commentary to emphasize their points and I just wanted to expound as I see people struggle here.

    It’s important to make sure that you really understand what the customer wants when they’re talking to you. They may say one thing but you interpret it as something else. The best way to make sure that you’re on the same page is to repeat/paraphrase when they’re finished speaking. You can say something like, “That’s great! So, what I’m hearing is…” By reiterating their main points you show the client that you really “get” them and you were paying attention. They will really be confident when working with you.

    1. Hey Alicia! That’s a great tip. Repeating back can be really important, particularly with a customer that is dissatisfied. The angrier people are, the more they seem to hear what they want to hear. But as you point out, it really shows that you get them — so it’s a great technique for any customer.

      Thanks for taking time to comment and for adding to the conversation!

  5. Bottom line, ignore these and you’re sunk. I think another facet to bring into the spectrum for review: expectations. Don’t get me wrong, good customer service should be paramount, whatever the business and wherever you are, but often I think expectations of what counts as ‘good’ or ‘excellent’ is out of line with ability to provide it. For example, I expect exceptional customer service whether it’s McDonald’s or a four-star restaurant. Unfortunately, and much to husband’s chagrin, it doesn’t always happen. Is the expectation of what counts for high quality customer service shared with the staff? For Chic-fil-A, absolutely. For others? It does not appear as if it always is.

    1. Erica, Expectations are huge! (Have a few posts in the hopper on that topic.) You hit the nail on the head with that one. I think on the business side the goal is to help set the expectations as well as, of course, exceed them. That’s where you marketing folk come in to the picture, as you really are the first step in the customer experience in many cases.

      Let me know if someone ever comes by your table at McDonald’s with a crumb sweeper — I’m going to want to write about it! 🙂

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  7. Great tips! I think one big challenge is providing good customer service from the top of the company down to the “boots on the ground.” A great customer service philosophy is worthless if the people interacting with customers don’t follow through. It’s obviously possible, because even some large companies are able to accomplish it, but I think it’s a challenge for most.

    1. Good point Aaron. Once you get past philosophy and strategy, it really is all about execution. And that’s where the proverbial rubber meets the road.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  8. I’d have to agree that PERSONALITY sums these all up. A good customer service employee must have that specific personality that can help bring up the customers’ expectations. Customer service can be taught and learned, yes, but it could also be boosted by the personality of the person providing it. Love this topic! ♥

  9. Pingback: The Importance of Listening in Customer Service | Customers That Stick

  10. Adam, your 5 points is spot on. Customer serv. is the key for business success.
    I believe employee customer service starts at home with Family, Friends etc. ex. begin the day by greeting each family member, thanking a child for good school grades, greeting each fellow employee as met upon entering the workplace, etc.
    Customer serv. skills helps & strengthens Personal family Life, making life Happy & enjoyable. Offers personal Satisfaction.

  11. Pingback: Communication: The Most Important Skill in Customer Service

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