Careers advice

The 6 most important skills for customer service jobs

What are employers looking for in this space?

Last updated: 18 October 2023

There are few things more important to businesses than customer service. Think about it – before you part with money, you’ll often check out reviews on Google, TripAdvisor or industry specific platforms to decide whether or not it’s a purchase you want to make. If you see a bunch of negative comments about the service past patrons experienced, you’re likely to think twice before giving them your custom..

This is why employers in Aotearoa care deeply about the level of experience they offer to their customers. And sure, we’re all seeing the use of chatbots and the like becoming more common in customer service roles, but we’ve all discovered how deeply frustrating these tools can be when they simply don’t understand what you’re getting at.

As a result, there’s still plenty of demand for real human customer service representatives in businesses of all shapes and sizes across the country. But what do employers really want to see in staff they employ for these roles?

Skills to put on a resume for customer service jobs in NZ

1. Communication

Ironically, the word communication has been thrown around by businesses for so long that it’s come close to losing its meaning. But, when it comes to customer service jobs, there’s no skill more important than being able to understand and be understood by the person you’re talking to.

In fact, this vital soft skill is one of the things that chatbots really struggle to replicate. While chatbots can be trained to pick up important words or phrases in a user query, which they can use to direct customers to what they believe to be relevant help pages, they often struggle to understand more complex problems. This is typically where, when communicating with a chatbot, it will come back with the ‘talk to a real person’ option. Unfortunately from the perspective of this real person, the customer they’re about to communicate with is already pulling their hair out in frustration.

All of this is to say that you need to put communication skills front and centre of any application to work in customer service. And, ideally, show that you can communicate well in written and verbal formats as, chances are, you’ll need to do both in a customer service job.

Communication is perhaps the most important skill for customer service staff.

2. Empathy

While understanding your customer’s question/complaint/feedback is the single most important factor, this is closely followed by an ability to empathise with their situation. Even if you know that, ultimately, you can’t give them what they want (for example, a refund request that falls outside their consumer rights), you still want to provide the most positive experience possible. Why? Because even if they’re dissatisfied with the outcome of their interaction with the business, if they feel that they have been treated reasonably and with respect, they’re more likely to come back, than if they feel that you simply don’t care about their issue.

This doesn’t mean you need to be a pushover, or to actively undermine your employer’s stance (for example, saying something like: “If you ask me, it’s a stupid policy not to give refunds on this”), but being able to connect with them on a human level will at least count for something.

3. Patience

Any experienced customer service professional will tell you that patience is worth its weight in gold in this field. At some stage, you’ll encounter an angry or upset customer, or someone who doesn’t seem to understand anything you’re telling them. As frustrating as this might be, you’ll need to stay calm and professional at all times. Reacting negatively isn’t going to help anything, and will likely make the situation worse.

Another element of this is resilience. Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for upset customers to take out their dissatisfaction on the customer service agent they’re communicating with, even if the issue has nothing to do with them. While, of course, you can terminate conversations with people who become abusive, this can still be an upsetting experience. Therefore, you’ll need to develop methods, either individually or with your teammates, to help you process these encounters and not let them get you down.

Dealing with your fellow human beings can require extreme patience at times!

4. Problem-solving

One of the awesome things about some customer service jobs is that you can do them with no prior experience necessary. This is because it’s very common for new starters in the customer service space to receive plenty of on-the-job training that will help you understand the company and its products/services. However, despite this training, you’re going to encounter some questions which are not in the company manual and this means you’ll need to think on your feet. We’re an unpredictable bunch, so expect curly questions and complex issues to resolve.

5. Product knowledge

This isn’t something that employers will usually expect you to have from the get-go, but, to be a successful customer service representative you’ll need to develop an in-depth understanding of the business you work for and the products and services it offers. Customers will expect you to be able to answer their questions accurately and speedily, so it’s not a good look if you’re constantly needing to go and ask your manager or consult documentation to answer every single question they have.

6. Technology proficiency

Okay, so you don’t need to be the next great technological mind in order to work in customer service, however, some familiarity with digital systems is going to be required. Most businesses of all sizes will have some sort of customer relationship management (CRM) system that you’ll use to record your interactions with clients. The functionality and complexity of these systems will vary considerably depending on the business type, size, customer base and needs. Again, in most cases, you won’t be expected to be familiar with individual software packages, as there are a wide variety of these. However, given that there’s often a degree of crossover between CRM systems, if you have used one before, it’s worth mentioning this on your CV.

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Al Hall
Al Hall

Al Hall is a regular contributor at Trade Me Jobs and Trade Me Property. He’s dedicated to helping people succeed in their aspirations to find their dream job and place to live.