Why Self-Confidence Matters in Customer Service

August 14, 2017
Why Self-Confidence Matters in Customer Service

One of the most overlooked aspects of great customer experience is the self-confidence of those who work with customers.

Self-confidence is important because it is inextricably tied to competence.

When frontline service reps lack confidence in their positions, they often fumble about struggling to perform. This creates a further decrease in confidence, which results in a downward spiral that is inevitably felt by the customer.

We’ve all seen it happen.

The link between confidence and competence is not only in the mind of the service provider but also in the mind of the customer.

When a customer engages with a rep, who’s stumbling for words, fumbling about for information, and generally not presenting themselves as confident in their dealings with the customer, the customer will often make judgements about the rep’s competence based on this behavior.

For customers, competence is a signal that lets them know that the person they’re working with has the requisite skills and abilities to complete their transaction or resolve their issue.

Customers often interpret a lack of confidence as a lack of competence.

Where Does Self-Confidence Come From?

When evaluating those working in customer-facing roles, you will tend to find that self-confidence comes from three major sources:

  1. Psychology/Personality. Frontline reps are either comfortable working with people or they’re not. Customer service is a human-to-human dynamic, and those who are not comfortable with basic social interactions are generally not well-suited to customer facing roles.
  2. Environment. Familiarity with the environment is often crucial to self-confidence. One’s comfort in an environment can often dictate their comfort with interactions in that environment. You will see immediate differences between a rep who has never been on a retail floor or in a call center and someone who’s been doing it for years. Fortunately, reps almost always adapt to their environment over time.
  3. Competence. How comfortable someone is with the various skills and knowledge sets necessary to perform their job at a high level has a large impact on their self-confidence. If someone knows their systems well, understands their products and services thoroughly, and has a toolbox of great customer service skills, they will be more confident and will bring that confidence into each interaction.

At the heart of a frontline rep’s confidence is comfort — comfort with people, comfort with the environment, and comfort with the roles and responsibilities of their job.

Key to a customer service rep’s confidence is comfort: with people, the environment, & their job.

How Can You Develop Self-Confidence in Your Customer Service Team?

The easiest way for organizational leaders and managers to impact the confidence of their team members is to look at the above three dynamics and to do everything they can to maximize the chances of success in each one.

Good Hiring Practices

When it comes to overall psychological self-confidence, effective hiring practices are key. The interview process should be designed to make sure that people who actually have to deal with other people for a living are actually comfortable dealing with other people for a living.

Environmental Orientation

While comfort in the environment and the confidence that comes with it is usually acquired over time, this process can be shortened through techniques like orientation, shadowing, and realistic role play. Absent exigent or extreme circumstances, environmental comfort is generally the quickest and easiest dynamic to remedy.

Effective Training

Finally, and often most importantly, the skill sets needed to create great service and the knowledge base needed to be confident in one’s products and services comes from training.

Too often training focuses only on the product or service side. Reps are onboarded to learn the system and the basics of the products and services their company offers; however, they are not given customer service skills training and this is often one of the most crucial flaws in most organizational training programs.

Product knowledge is crucial. Understanding systems is essential. But without the ability to work with people in productive ways and to handle difficult situations, frontline reps will not have the confidence they need to navigate the wide range of interactions they will have in a customer-facing role.

Confidence Leads to Competence which Leads to Confidence

When I wrote Be Your Customer’s Hero, I purposely made sure that the jacket copy included the words, competence and confidence. In a book written for frontline customer service reps, I knew how important it was to address the confidence issue head on.

I watched too many frontline reps struggle over the years, not confident in their dealings with customers and delivering average to poor experiences as a result.

Frontline reps can only deliver great customer experiences when they have the skills and knowledge needed to create those experiences and have the confidence to use those skills and knowledge at the right place with the right customer at the right time.

From a managerial perspective, confidence can certainly seem hard to measure. While measuring confidence at scale certainly requires careful testing and survey approaches, for those in more direct supervisory positions, there are a few key techniques you can easily use to determine if a lack of self-confidence is at the heart of a rep’s challenges.

  1. Observe. Look for telltale signs of a lack of self-confidence — sheepish speech or an inability to answer questions well, fumbling around on the computer excessively, asking for help from other team members far more than their peers, and obvious intentional avoidance of specific situations or customers.
  2. Review. Have nonjudgmental discussions about customer interactions that did not go as well as planned. Drill down specifically into areas where the experience broke down; you’ll soon find areas where the rep is not confident in their skills or abilities. “Is that an area you usually find challenging?” “Would you like some assistance in this area?” 
  3. Just Ask. Separate from any specific service situation, during huddles, check-ins, or more formal reviews, ask team members where they feel they struggle? What do they wish they were stronger at? If they could improve in one area, what would it be? Understanding how reps feel in specific situations and in specific contexts can go a long way to letting you know where the holes are in both their individual games and in your team’s overall delivery of service.

Self-confidence may be hard to manage and even harder to measure, but looking at your team’s performance through the lens of self-confidence can often be immensely useful in helping them become the team members you want them to be.

The more you can do to bolster the confidence of your team members, not through empty slogans and false bravado, but by strategically supporting and solidifying the building blocks of confidence, the more comfortable they will be in their roles and the more happy your customers will be to interact with them.

4 thoughts on “Why Self-Confidence Matters in Customer Service”

  1. Thanks Adam. I like the way you emphasized on supporting one’s staff. Formal training through workshops and seminars also helps.

  2. Pingback: 312: John Garrett, The Personal Side of Business

  3. Pingback: 314: The Power of Empowerment: What I Wish I Knew

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