This is part 1 of a customer service blog series based on conversations with members of Insightly’s client services and customer success teams.

Experienced support professionals are at the center of your company’s ability to delivery exceptional experiences, generate loyalty, and ultimately, drive retention. Successfully guiding customers through stressful circumstances is the mark of a talented customer service representative. But what skills do you need to deliver amazing experiences that lead to long-term customer relationships?

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According to Zeke Silva, Sr. Director Client Services at Insightly, it comes down to five important skills:

  1. Showing empathy
  2. Being honest and transparent
  3. Steering the conversation
  4. Slowing things down
  5. Identifying creative solutions

Let’s explore how these skills enhance customer service and lead to strong customer relationships.

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1. Showing empathy

Skilled support employees are fast, efficient, and inquisitive. Another imperative for great customer service is empathy. “Customers are coming to you at a very vulnerable moment when they open support tickets,” says Zeke Silva, Sr. Director Client Services at Insightly. “They don’t want to be treated as support tickets. They want to be treated like human beings.”

Tip: Lead with the understanding that the customer is currently grappling with a problem that’s making it difficult for them to perform their role, that you’re here to help them be successful, and that they can rely on you to help get them back to productivity.

2. Being honest and transparent

Empathy is a great starting point, but it can’t solve the customer’s specific problem. To build long-lasting relationships with customers, agents must go beyond empathy and take swift action to find a suitable resolution. That can be challenging, especially when there’s no obvious solution at hand. But, according to Silva, there’s still an opportunity to solidify the relationship when nothing can immediately be done. “It’s about being honest and transparent that you may not have the answer at that moment, but you’ll work to get it,” says Zeke.

Tip: Every ticket that comes into Insightly’s new Service application is matched to a Service Level Agreement, so customer service agents know exactly how long they have to respond to a customer, and how long to resolve customer issues. You can define SLAs for for specific segments of your customer base to dictate how long you have to first respond to tickets, and how long you have to follow up or resolve issues to ensure you meet and exceed customer expectations.

3. Steering the conversation

Each customer has a unique way of communicating his or her frustration and support agents must be prepared to steer the conversation productively. Setting the tone for a calm, outcome-based dialogue is key. “Keep in mind that the customer isn’t mad at you, they’re mad at the situation,” says Zeke. “Taking things personally can derail your ability to keep the conversation on track and deliver a positive outcome for the customer.”

Tip: Staying positive, asking questions, and focusing on delivering a successful outcome are all ways to steer the conversation in a productive direction and focus on what matters: finding positive resolution for the customer.

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4. Slowing things down

Proactively controlling the pace of the conversation is another subtle way to reduce friction and recalibrate an unhappy customer’s demeanor. “Slow down and add a pause to your response,” says Zeke. “By taking this approach, you may notice that the customer slows down, too.”

Slowing down the conversation gives both parties more time to think about a creative solution to the problem. And, quickly solving a problem is one of the best ways to turn an unhappy customer into an advocate for your brand.

Tip: Pausing is one tactic for slowing down the conversation. But, you might also try using clarifying phrases like “What I’m hearing is…” and “If I understand what you’re saying…” These help you stay in control while simultaneously confirming the situation and allowing the customer to surface additional information. Listen and ask open-ended questions.

5. Identifying creative solutions

“Being creative in the support world is crucial,” says Zeke. “You may not have the answer right then and there, but can you give them a workaround that at least gets them up and running?”

Providing a creative solution to the problem may ultimately help the customer do his or her job more efficiently and effectively. What was previously seen as a limitation may ultimately serve as an educational opportunity for the customer, which could lead to a deeper affinity for your brand.

Tip: Ask the right questions to understand the customer’s true objective. Is there another way to provide the same (or similar) data, information, service, or outcome? Staying up-to-date on your company’s full capabilities and sharing known issues within your team will help you align the customer’s goal with a viable workaround solution.

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Build better relationships by providing excellent customer service

Empathize with customers. Provide honest and transparent feedback. Stay in control, slow things down when possible, and be creative. Developing these skills will help your team provide better service, and, in the long-run, build even better customer relationships.

Stay tuned for the next post in our customer service series. Next time, we’ll explore common issues in customer service and how to overcome them.