Shep Hyken's Customer Service Blog

The Traits That Make for Good Customer Service

Recently one of our subscribers asked me, what traits a person must possess to deliver a good customer service experience. I asked if this was for a customer support rep, and he said no. He was hiring for his IT department. We went back and forth via email, and I thought that a summary of my answer might be worth sharing.

First, as you think of traits, you should consider both attitudes and skills. Skills are obvious. If you’re hiring someone that is going to do a lot of written correspondence with customers you need someone with good communication skills – a command of the English language, as in punctuation, spelling and grammar. That’s a skill. Attitude is the way you would describe someone. For example, he or she is funny, outgoing and helpful.

There is an exercise we occasionally do in our workshops. We have a large whiteboard or flipchart in front of the audience. We ask the audience to shout out the traits of someone who would be good at customer service. As you can imagine, we get lots of answers. A few of them are:

Friendly, outgoing, funny, engaging, poised, empathetic, sympathetic, helpful, knowledgeable, good communicator, happy, confident, kind, good people skills, responsive, positive, passionate, nice, honest, polite – and the list went on.

What’s interesting about the list is that most of the traits are attitudes versus just a few being skills. A “good communicator” and “good people skills” are obviously skills. You can argue that “knowledgeable” is also a skill. So, out of the nineteen traits mentioned, only three of them are skills. Yes, we could add a few more skills to the list but for every skill you add, there are probably three or four more attitudinal traits you can add as well.

I’m not suggesting that skills aren’t important. They absolutely are. If a medical center needs to hire a skilled nurse, they are going to be looking at more than just an attitude. Nurses have to go to school, pass exams, get a degree and be licensed. Without that, all of the attitude in the world won’t land someone a job as a nurse.

This isn’t meant to be about the old saying that advocates hiring for attitude and training to skill. That may work for some jobs, but for many jobs, a person needs skills to get the job, such as that of a nurse. And, those peeps in IT are uber smart. They understand things the average human doesn’t easily comprehend. However, regardless of how strong someone’s skills are, without the right personality, as in many of the aforementioned attitudes, one employee can potentially bring down a customer-focused culture.

So what are the traits of a good employee, capable of delivering a good customer service experience? All of the above and more. My suggestion is to have a group of employees go through the exercise of listing all of the traits they can think of, both attitudes and skills. Hone the list down to the top ten core traits needed to be customer-focused for your organization. Then add to the list the specific skills needed for the specific job. The accountant needs accounting skills. The doctor needs doctor skills. And, of course the IT department needs people with IT skills. And, when you add the ten traits to the needed skills, you may have found that next AMAZING person to work with!

Shep Hyken is a customer service expert, keynote speaker and New York Times bestselling business author. For information contact or www.hyken.com. For information on The Customer Focus™ customer service training programs go to www.thecustomerfocus.com. Follow on Twitter: @Hyken

(Copyright © MMXVII, Shep Hyken)

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  1. Great article, Shep! I see a lot of those skills on that list that we often like to group under the category of “soft skills” in the contact center. I think it’s important to note that while some of those come more naturally to some than others, with a little practice and self awareness, even the prototypical IT guy can improve. Easier said than done sometimes!

    • Yes, Jeremy! You nailed it with the IT peeps. They are uber smart. It’s the skills with the right attitude(s) – and the ability to communicate that can make ordinary people become extraordinary. And you are right… easier said than done!

  2. I work in customer service in the service department of an auto dealership. I have had to learn some of these skills very quickly because this is the first time I have had to work face-to-face with a customer. These skills are all important. Knowledge is what I have to work with right now, and I am trying to get a handle on the other traits. Great article!

    • Thank you Adam. Don’t try and work on all of the traits or skills at once. Focus on one at a time. Much easier to digest. Easy to make a good habit out of one. Hard to do a bunch at the same time. Good luck!

  3. Royan Braun says:

    Hi Shep,

    Great piece.

    I agree that efficient customer service stands at the forefront of any business, irrespective of its size and industry. By offering a medium for your clients o interact with your business, you place yourself in a position that demands additional attention and dedication.

    I would say that client servicing becomes a double-edged sword as you have to display the expertise to resolve client queries and identify the ‘right’ staff who uphold the company’s image. In such a situation, a knowledge management tool like ProProfs.com Knowledgebase can come in handy as it provides a central, accessible and informative platform. It enables a busienss to share support while offreing a positive client experience.

    What do you think about the implementation of knowledge base for better customer support?

    • Yes, a knowledge base can be very helpful in getting CSR’s info they need. Can also serve as a self-service customer service tool.

  4. I really enjoy that exercise, Shep!

    A fun bonus twist is to take the list you come up with and compare it to your successful employees. The big test is to determine whether the employees had those attitudes and skills when you first hired them. If not, take the item off the list because it’s not essential!

    Why is this important? Because the longer your list of must-have attitudes or skills, the harder it is to find that person!

    • Great idea, Jeff! We actually do this with our behavioral style assessments. We take the top 10% (as well as the bottom 10%) and look for the common personality traits. And… Thanks for being on Amazing Business Radio. Your interview, which was great, will go live on April 4. (www.AmazingBusinessRadio.com)

      • I really like the idea of looking for common themes like that in behavioral assessments. Thanks for the tip! And, thanks for having me on Amazing Business Radio! It was such a fun time and I can’t wait to hear it on April 4.

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