Good customer service requires a healthy mix of both hard and soft skills. Operational customer service skills, such as working a cash register or processing a return, are necessary for running a business efficiently at the fundamental level. Soft skills, however, require a certain finesse that needs to be constantly groomed and developed.
Hard skills in customer service include things like operating a cash register, computer, or phone system; knowing how to process sales, returns and refunds; knowing the ins and outs of customer accounts and profiles; and being able to provide quick and efficient service. The more proficient an employee is with hard skills, the better the business can be run.
Soft skills include all the things that can't really be quantified, such as keeping a friendly tone of voice, making eye contact, having a positive attitude, and going above and beyond to please the customer. For some, these things come naturally, but for many, these skills need to be constantly reinforced. Customer service is a dynamic industry; no two days are alike when dealing with the public. For some customers, a quick and easy transaction is all they're looking for. For many, however, the difference between acceptable customer service and excellent customer service is the way they feel after the transaction. Soft skills are required to take customer service to the next level and keep customers coming back for more.
The major difference between hard skills and soft skills in customer service is that hard skills are typically learned once and continue to improve over time without much intervention. Once you learn how to run a cash register or process a credit card, it's almost like riding a bike; you continue to improve and get more efficient at performing that task with no additional training. However, soft skills require constant attention and refreshment, because it's easy to let them slip if you come in to work on a bad day. Soft skills require more mental and emotional fortitude, especially when dealing with dozens of different people each day, as is common in customer service.
Training is Imperative
The solution to balancing hard and soft skills in customer service is to provide ongoing training and reinforcement. Periodically retrain employees on technical details to keep them up to par. For soft skills, formal training courses aren't needed; a quick group huddle or check-in before shifts start is often all that is necessary to instill a positive attitude in employees. Periodically, workshops that focus on role-playing, mentoring and problem solving are helpful refreshers, and they can provide an incentive for employees to work on providing better customer service.
Both hard skills and soft skills are important qualities in a good customer service employee. Consistent positive reinforcement is the key to keeping soft skills sharp.
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