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The 13 Skills Needed for Top-Notch Customer Service (2022)


Today’s retail market requires A+ customer service, but getting it right comes down to more than help desk software and call scripts.

While a dedicated customer service team is ideal, many founders are the sole customer-facing employee in the early days of their business.

That’s why it’s important to understand what’s required to provide great customer service as an ecommerce brand. Once you have a handle on the customer service skills listed below, you can cultivate them in yourself as well as look for them in future hires.

The skills great customer service reps need

Excellent customer service requires the following skills:

  1. A+ communication
  2. Empathy and emotional intelligence
  3. Active listening and attentiveness
  4. Teamwork
  5. Patience
  6. A thick skin and the ability to take ownership
  7. Improvisation and the ability to adapt
  8. Product knowledgeability
  9. A growth mindset and a willingness to learn
  10. Time management and organization
  11. Sales ability
  12. Confidence
  13. Resilience

1. A+ communication

Effective communication is vital because customer service reps have to communicate clearly, empathetically, and in a timely manner. They’re responsible for communicating more than words—they need to convey solutions, directions, and emotions.

Good communicators proactively share insider information about products that’s easy for customers to understand. And you need to be able to do it in real time.

Communicating effectively also means being clear rather than clever, especially when a customer is frustrated. Too many companies lose business by failing to use the right customer service phrases, which provide clarity for the customer. Use direct language and words that are easy to understand.

This skill in action

The below customer service email from Everlane displays an excellent approach to communication. The email outlines its return policy, includes links to more information, and ends with an incentive in the form of a $20 credit that will never expire. While the return policy may not provide the answers the customer is looking for, the free credit is a nice way to soften the blow and maintain a positive shopping experience.

Everlane customer service

2. Empathy and emotional intelligence

Empathy—being able to put yourself in a customer’s shoes and understand the situation from their point of view—is a necessary skill for customer service reps. Whoever is handling customer support should also be able to take things a step further by allowing emotional intelligence to lead interactions.

When customer service reps combine empathy and emotional intelligence, another key skill becomes possible: customer advocacy.

To be a customer advocate, you can seek to solve their problems proactively through the best solution, not just the easiest.

Customers are ultimately looking for a solution to their problem, and the level of care you provide impacts their experience in a big way. That’s why changing your mindset from one of handling cases to advocating for customers can make a huge difference.

For example, Chewy has built a strong reputation as a brand with empathy for its customers. Countless instances of pet food deliveries after the animal has passed away have been shared on social media. Chewy’s typical response is a full refund, a recommendation to donate the food to a shelter, and a follow-up with condolences in some way, shape, or form. It’s highly personalized and empathetic.

This skill in action

The next time a customer reaches out to you with an issue, go the extra mile. Instead of simply offering an apology and moving on to the next support issue, offer a solution. Give your customer clear next steps to take to get them closer to a resolution.

“This approach acknowledges the complexity of their situation and any emotions they may be feeling,” says Mitchell Rossit-Lavigne, Support Lead on Shopify’s Guru Team. “It shifts the focus and tone of the conversation back toward addressing the problem at hand. It builds common ground instead of focusing on how frustrating dealing with said problem may be.”

3. Active listening and attentiveness

Listening and being attentive to a customer’s feelings and problems is one of the most critical customer service skills you need. Before you can apologize and offer assistance, you have to listen to your customers—and listen to understand.

Attentiveness also applies to how you read email, chat, text, or correspond on social media. Understanding context by asking the right questions and reiterating what your customers are saying are also key to active listening.

It’s important to ask relevant questions to give you a full understanding of the core issue. You might also summarize in your own words and share that feedback with the customer in your correspondence to ensure you’re listening effectively.

This skill in action

It’s easy to read a few lines of a customer’s message and jump right to the most obvious solution. Read the entire message and any relevant attachments before responding. You may find they’ve already tried your suggestion or it may not apply to their situation. If you have a tendency to miss details, read the message two or three times before responding.

4. Teamwork

Teamwork is another key customer service skill for ecommerce entrepreneurs. When possible, consult with staff, partners, and contractors to pool knowledge, draw from collective experience, and find the best solution.

Great customer service also means working as a team with your customers themselves. The key is to recognize you all want the same outcome: a solution that works. When you frame customer service in that way, it’s easier to view the customer as a partner and teammate rather than an obstacle or nuisance.

This skill in action

Many times, customers reach out to brands via social media to receive support. It’s an accessible channel and often easier to find the brand here rather than seeking out a dedicated support email. As such, it’s important to sync up with whoever is managing your brand’s social media channels to ensure there’s a clear line of communication between them and yourself (or whoever is handling customer service inquiries). Keep in mind, 40% of customers who complain via social expect a response within an hour.

I’ve had some trouble finding the dedicated support email for Seea, which makes sustainable swim and surf clothing for women and girls. As such, I use Instagram to get in touch when I have an issue, and the brand quickly alerts its dedicated support team, who reaches out to me via email with questions about my problem and solutions on how to fix it. One time there was a delay, so Seea went the extra mile with a personalized discount code for use on my next purchase.

Seea customer service

5. Patience

Patience is required in each of the following situations: 

  • When a customer is angry and venting.
  • When a customer takes forever to explain the problem.
  • When a customer disappears for minutes at a time in the middle of a chat.

At the end of the day, patience underlies many of the other skills needed for customer service. With patience, you can more easily stay calm, actively listen, and remain attentive while customers vent, explain their problem, and test out solutions.

Patience is a key part of being a customer advocate. Proactively solving problems before they become the customer’s problem can be a more involved process than deploying patchwork solutions as trouble arises, but it offers a much better experience for customers.

This skill in action

I once ordered some products from skin care brand Versed. When I received an automated email asking for my feedback, I responded that my skin didn’t respond well to the products. I wasn’t seeking a refund, I was simply providing honest feedback and didn’t expect the brand to get back to me.

To my pleasant surprise, Versed proactively reached out and asked if I wanted to initiate the refund process. When I forgot to respond, the brand patiently reached out again to remind me and offer support with my issue. I was able to get set up with new products that made my skin happy. Note how the brand responded with empathy and friendliness as well.

Versed customer service

6. A thick skin and the ability to take ownership

A basic rule of customer service is being able to take accountability for customer issues. At the end of the day, customers are looking for brands to own both the problem and the problem-solving process. This requires a combination of humility, integrity, and sincerity. The last thing you want to be is defensive.

While you shouldn’t have to tolerate or endure abuse, accepting fault when applicable for customer problems and owning responsibility to find a solution are two of the quickest ways to get customers to feel good about your business again.

This skill in action Cosea swimwear has a specific return policy, which is outlined on its Shopify website. I once ordered a couple of bathing suits from the brand, and they arrived in poor condition. I reached out to return the items but due to traveling and lack of access to a printer, I missed the 30-day return window. However, the brand was flexible, accepted accountability, and provided a refund outside of its typical policy. This instills more trust in the brand and now I’m willing to give it another shot. Cosea customer service 

7. Improvisation and the ability to adapt

Good customer service requires a lot of preparation. Many support teams use scripts and canned responses for common issues so they can provide customer service quickly.

But it’s impossible to prepare for every situation, and many times, customer service issues should be approached on a case-by-case basis. Making customers wait while you ask for help from other team members, escalate tickets, or search for a new solution negatively impacts the customer experience.

That’s why it’s so important for customer service reps to possess the ability to improvise, adapt, and solve problems on the fly.

You should know when to abandon or adapt scripts to create custom solutions—built from a deep understanding of both the product and the customer.

This skill in action

Here’s a great example from eBodyboarding.com. I’ve ordered multiple products from the Shopify merchant and often have shipping questions and concerns. Rather than ignoring me or telling me it can’t change the shipping options, the brand has been responsive and overly accommodating to my requests. Because of this, I not only return to the website for future purchases but I also recommend it to others seeking similar products.

ebodyboarding customer service

8. Product knowledgeability

Deep product knowledge is especially important when it comes to customer service. When you have a strong familiarity with the product and its use cases, you can enter customer conversations equipped with more context. This makes you more nimble and adaptable, finding solutions to fit the unique context of each customer’s specific issue.

Product knowledge also prepares you to meet customers’ needs. Customers contact you because they need help—they’re expecting product expertise, and that’s what they should receive.

This skill in action

The best way to get to know your products is to use your products yourself. Nothing beats first-hand experience. And while this may be a no-brainer for founders, you’ll need to be more proactive as your business—and team—grows.

At beverage company Olipop, all new hires get a chance to test out the different flavors. “They’re also given a product guide and are encouraged to explore our website. Not only do we want them to know what our sodas taste like, but we want them to know our list of ingredients, benefits, and more,” says Melanie Edwards, senior ecommerce and digital product manager.

“Our team is encouraged to ask questions and make suggestions,” says Melanie. “The more you know, the more you’ll be able to answer any customer question that comes your way.” As a founder, you can get involved in this process. Share, from your point of view, why you started your company, why you created your products, and what makes them great. Consider creating a knowledge base of important product information and common shopper inquiries.

9. A growth mindset and a willingness to learn

The next customer service skill is harder to quantify but is equally as important as the others on this list: a willingness to learn.

Your product may evolve, your business may pivot, your customers’ preferences and habits may change, and throughout all of this, your customer service team needs to be able to both roll with the punches and grow into the changing reality of their day-to-day jobs.

That’s why having a growth mindset from the start is one of the best ways to future-proof your team. The willingness and hunger to continuously learn and to do better for customers are invaluable.

This skill in action

Consider surveying your customers to find out how they’re using your products. Run these surveys regularly, maybe every six months or on an annual basis, so you can also track how customer preferences and sentiment change over time. Then look for ways to improve based on this feedback.

10. Time management and organization

There was a time when customer service was done primarily over the phone. Reps answered calls and worked until that customer’s problem was resolved. Today, customer service reps are pulled in so many directions—from social media to chat to phone—that it can be hard to focus on one-to-one customer conversations.

That’s why proper time management and organizational skills are essential. Customer service reps need to be able to handle multiple conversations at once. They need to prioritize channels and tickets and use their time in the most efficient way.

Reps who know how to manage and organize their time are also better able to slow down and give each customer the care and support they need—because they aren’t rushing to get through ticket after ticket.

This skill in action

With so many different communication channels, it’s important to find a way to centralize your customer service tickets in an effort to help you stay organized and on top of every issue. You can use one of many customer service apps for Shopify to help organize and even automate some of the organization. Remember to prioritize queries accordingly as well. Developing a system early on will help you stay organized as your business scales.

“Respond to all customer feedback, and even faster to the negative comments. People value it if you reach out to them quickly when they have trouble, have a question, or need a solution. If you can prioritize your customer queries into levels of importance and reach the most urgent ones within two hours—those experiences which are likely to have an impact on your brand—you have a winning formula,” says Kanak Hirani, founder of JULAHAS.

11. Sales ability

Customer service often can be the last line of defense before a customer defects to the competition. By solving customer problems effectively, service reps can mitigate churn and help inspire customer loyalty.

In addition, with chat support, customer service reps can easily end up fielding pre-purchase questions and helping prospects better understand and choose the right product for them. When that happens, those same reps can become your best salespeople, helping to up- and cross-sell to customers. That said, selling to customers who’ve just had to contact customer service can be dicey, and it takes a savvy, emotionally intelligent rep to understand when and how to do it best.

This skill in action

For example, when I placed an order for swim fins from eBodyboarding.com, the founder quickly reached out to let me know about complementary products the brand carries in case I needed them. While I wasn’t seeking support, this level of customer service made me feel cared for, not sold to.

ebodyboarding cross sell

12. Confidence

All of the skills we’ve listed here are less effective when you don’t have confidence in your own abilities—whether that’s confidence in their improvised or creative solutions, in their people skills and emotional intelligence, or in their ability to manage and organize their time and workload.

When you lack confidence, you might stick too close to the script (to the detriment of customers) or spend too much time prioritizing less-involved cases.

This skill in action

Building confidence in your customer service skills is often easier said than done. But Irene Kwong, founder and CEO of simply gilded, has a fun way to remember her positive customer interactions that also boosts her confidence: a “win wall.”

“I have created a ‘win wall,’ a place where I physically display positive customer feedback. If you’re feeling overwhelmed or discouraged, it’s great to go back to a place where you can remember your ‘why’ and also recount the times that you were successful.”

simply guilded win wall

Confidence also means proper self-care. “Fill your own cup,” Irene says. “A good night’s rest, a cup of coffee, morning meditation, a hearty breakfast—whatever it takes to get to a good place will help as you navigate all types of sticky situations.” 

13. Resilience

The first solution you propose may not fix the customer’s problem. The company may experience broad issues, wherein customer service reps have to wade through dozens of identical complaints. Some customers won’t be satisfied by any solution or reparation.

It’s important to be undeterred when solutions don’t work and apologies fail to appease customers.

This skill in action

Resilience doesn’t have to mean tough. In fact, it can mean quite the opposite. Courtney Barrett, customer service representative for Tastebuds, goes by the old adage, “kill them with kindness.” She says, “Whenever I’m faced with a rude or frustrated customer, I try to remain sympathetic and kind toward the situation. Of course, there are always moments when you’ll be pushed to the limits, but if you stick to what you know and give customers alternative options, you can quickly resolve the situation.”

Alexis Taub, founder of jewelry brand Alexis Jae, takes it a step further and gets personal with her customers with a real conversation. “When customers are rude, I always pick up the phone. It’s easy for people to forget there’s another person on the other side when they’re behind a computer.” Often people hide behind the safety of their keyboard or screens, but a phone call can give you an opportunity to be kind yet firm and also remind shoppers that you’re a human too.

The right skills for customer service

Some customer service skills are innate, some can be cultivated, and others require proper training and support from the company and management as a whole.

Developing the right customer service skills will help you be more effective and efficient while keeping customers happy and loyal—an end well worth the investment.

Illustration by Lynn Scurfield


Customer service skills FAQ

Why is it important to practice customer service skills?

It’s important to practice customer service skills so you can have confidence in your ability to make every interaction a positive one. Positive brand interactions build customer loyalty and ultimately drive sales.

What if I don’t have a customer service team?

If you don’t have a customer service team, you can handle inquiries yourself. You can use one of many Shopify apps for customer service to help you stay organized and efficient.

What are some specific ways to improve my customer service?

  • Develop strong communication skills
  • Practice empathy, active listening, and emotional intelligence
  • Lean on your team
  • Manage time and prioritize inquires effectively
  • Strengthen your sales skills
  • Grow a thick skin and develop patience
  • Work on your confidence and resilience





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