Customer Service: Essential Soft Skills for Balancing Quality & Efficiency

Sage CrawfordLast updated on January 2, 2024
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With Aircall and Plecto, companies can visualize their performance, coach their employees more effectively, and celebrate success in their daily operations. This is why customer service teams rely on Aircall’s Plecto integration to help them with everything from employee retention to achieving top CSATs. 

Plecto recently published an eBook containing nine best practices top-performing customer service teams swear by to help them provide best-in-class service. As research for the eBook, Plecto asked eight customer service experts from top companies to share experience-driven insights that other companies can implement today!

Among these experts is Aircall’s own Customer Success Manager (SMB Accounts) Samantha Avillo, who talked about the importance of training customer service reps to master certain soft skills and how companies can strike the right balance between quality and efficiency in customer service.

3 Essential Soft Skills for Customer Service Reps

Samantha believes that ongoing learning and skill development are critical when it comes to delivering top-notch customer service.

“The goal at the end of the day is for our customers to succeed and be happy with their experience with the product. This goes hand-in-hand with adaptability as a customer service rep who has to support constant changes and consistent product releases. They’re in a really tough role because if we introduce something new at 8 a.m. and they have a call at 10 a.m., they’re going to be expected to be an expert,” she says.

It's a given that most new-employee training covers things like internal processes and systems, tech and software setup, KPIs and performance reviews, and product training. However, companies that are committed to providing world-class service are also training their customer service teams in critical soft skills like these:

  • Providing customer-centric service

  • Managing complaints 

  • Owning responsibility for follow-through on cases 

Providing Customer-Centric Service

To provide customer-centric service, reps must be trained in how to uncover and understand each customer’s needs, apply critical thinking to solve problems, and communicate effectively and with empathy. Without the ability to communicate clearly and pleasantly, even the most well-intentioned reps will have a difficult time building rapport and achieving top CSATs.

Samantha emphasizes the importance of effective communication skills.

“Customer service reps are fielding all different types of requests, questions, complaints, and also personalities. You have to be able to match who you’re speaking to. Building a connection is essential,” she says.

Managing Complaints

Dissatisfied customers come with the territory, and Samantha encourages her team to uncover the source of each complaint—a step that she believes is key to providing customer-centric service. This is a core element in her team’s training. 

“With negative reviews, we want to provide a customer-centric experience no matter what. I think that while it’s not the first instinct, the first thing to do is to dig into the true cause of the complaint. So I train my staff to dig a bit deeper into what steps have been taken to rectify the situation and what can we do to prevent this sentiment from customers moving forward,” she says. “We want to make sure that the same issue isn’t popping up again and again because at the end of the day, that will result in unhappy customers. We definitely have to lead with empathy and understanding in all situations.”

Owning Responsibility for Follow-Through on Cases 

While first contact resolution (FCR) is the gold standard, even the most efficient and well-trained teams struggle to hit that target every time. A quick resolution that meets the customer’s satisfaction is one of the most important drivers of high CSATs, so the next best thing to an FCR is making sure that each rep owns responsibility for following through on cases that can’t be resolved during one phone call or chat session. 

Samantha says, “If it’s a situation where a technical support ticket is open and the customer really needs an answer or we might lose a customer within a few days if they don’t get a resolution, it’s on the responsible rep to work cross-functionally to make sure it’s resolved in a timely manner.”

Balancing Quality & Efficiency in Customer Service

Recent technological advances like self-service tools, omnichannel support, and AI-enabled chatbots have driven customers’ service expectations to new heights. Recent McKinsey & Company research shows that call volumes are increasing and becoming more complex while customers’ expectations continue to rise. 58% of customers say that their customer service expectations are higher than a year ago, and 90% expect a response within 10 minutes of initiating contact. 

This presents a conundrum for customer service teams: Is it better to sacrifice a little bit of quality to serve more customers in less time or to serve fewer customers with a more personalized experience? 

At Aircall, Samantha’s team tries to balance quality support with a reasonable level of efficiency, 

“We want to make sure that the same issues aren’t popping up again and again because that will result in a very unhappy customer. So, we make sure to gather all the details—take the time to understand the full picture so we can choose the appropriate next steps,” she says. “I think what’s really important though is while doing all of this that we’re keeping efficiency and time management in mind. Of course, we don’t want to rush the wrong solution and end up with that ‘Band-Aid effect,’ but the quicker the better. We want it to be solved in a timely manner, and not just with a quick fix.”

According to Zendesk research, the most important aspects of the customer service experience in any channel are a combination of quality and efficiency:

  • Speed of response (89%)

  • Speed of resolution (89%)

  • Friendliness of the representative (82%)

While efficiency is fairly easy to quantify, “quality” is more subjective. So how can you know if your team is delivering the right level of quality? The most obvious avenue would be to set some quality-related KPIs. CSAT is the best indicator of whether customers are satisfied with your company’s service. The next best indicator of whether you’re striking the right balance between quality and efficiency is your first-contact resolution rate. Most customers would rather spend a bit longer on the phone if it means having their issue resolved right then and there. 70% to 75% is a good target.

Measuring efficiency or “quantity” is a numbers game that can mostly be handled with a few strategically chosen KPIs. Important quantity metrics include average wait time, average call duration, calls answered over time, and abandoned calls.

Download the eBook

Ready to dive deeper into these and other customer service–related topics? Download Plecto’s eBook today for a step-by-step guide for training customer service reps to master the five soft skills that are essential for delivering the service that today’s customers expect. It also includes situation-specific guidelines for deciding whether to focus on quantity or quality of service and seven tactics top companies are using to strike the right balance. 

Published on October 23, 2023.

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