What makes a great customer service employee?

I’ve just been reading an excellent article by Anneke Steenkamp of Zendesk. Anneke suggests that the perfect customer service employee has five main qualities: loyalty; good employee traits; natural problem solving skills; conscientiousness; and persuasiveness. I have reproduced the article below and acknowledge the ownership of the copyright in this article is held by Anneke Steenkamp and Zendesk.

Personally, I agree with the article, although I would add four extra characteristics of my own. These would be: empathy; versatility; tenacity; and being well-organised.

What do you think are the most important characteristics of the perfect customer service employee? Email the Editor Darren Bugg with your suggestions and we will publish the best responses next month.

Five Qualities of the Perfect Customer Service Employee

Perfection doesn’t exist - but some people just happen to possess the skills and characteristics that make them more suited for the role of customer support agent, while others only have the job traits of a good employee. So what customer service qualities make these individuals different? Besides possessing the right customer service skills and job requirements, what are the traits that make them the ideal candidates to handle other people’s problems?

Below are some guidelines and common customer service qualities that help set fantastic employees apart from people in an organisation who are merely doing the job:


1. They are loyal

Author Alexander Kjerulf says: “Happy employees make the customers happy”. It might sound rather straightforward, but happiness and satisfaction within a company will inevitably lead to loyalty.

When interviewing a candidate, pay attention to what they say about the previous companies they’ve worked for. Some underlying unhappiness may be suggested as they put their experience into communication, but a potential employee that speaks highly of their previous company despite having left is one that is both respectful and loyal. A loyal customer care representative will put the company’s interest during interactions with angry customers (a skill that takes lots of patience). They are likely try their best to protect the company’s image even in the presence of the most difficult customers.


2. Good employee traits

Although most companies have a limited customer service budget, finding the ideal employee has taken precedence over lowering costs in recent years. The perfect customer service employees do more than seek to meet expectations: They have positive attitudes, patience with customers, and display politeness to all. These are the basics of satisfying the needs of both the client and the company. If you neglect these details while hiring, you might find yourself attempting to convert a hot-headed, negative individual into a suitable member of your customer support team.

Your HR team, or the person conducting the interview, should also know how to decipher a CV in order to find the right match. When reading through your prospective employee’s CV, look for keywords that suggests good soft skills in their testimonials, such as “works well with others” and “maintains a positive attitude”.

Positivity is important because dealing with customer issues day after day can strain an employee’s mental health. Being able to maintain a positive outlook despite the daily churn can help negate the negative aspects of customer service. Patience and politeness allows the customer service rep to project their voice, tone, and brand without sounding rude or agitated. They will also be able to handle complex customer problems without losing their cool.


3. They are natural problem-solvers

Companies that excel at customer service don’t wait for a problem to arise before addressing it. One of the great customer service skills is the ability to take a pre-emptive approach in managing possible risks and being prepared with a solution when a problem does arise.

Similarly, customer service employees must be able to provide a solution even before the customer poses the question (within reason, of course). In combination with their problem-solving skills, the candidate should also be a great listener in order to gather “clues” and read between the lines during communication.

With reference to the above mentioned temperament types it is ideal for customer service reps to be either the Artisan or Guardian type since they are known for being stable and conscientious, as well as pleasant to talk to and great at problem-solving.

In customer service, nothing is perfect and things will go wrong. This is not a failure. The best businesses show how they fix their mistakes.


4. They are highly conscientious

Look for candidates who are highly conscientious. The candidate that arrives late for the interview, looking completely flustered and confused is probably not the ideal choice.

Conscientious individuals are reliable, disciplined, methodical, organized, and goal driven. The Journal of Applied Social Psychology noted that “[individuals] who are identified through tests as highly conscientious are more likely to be aware of how good interpersonal interactions positively affect customer service - and are more likely to behave this way”.

To a degree, conscientious individuals are ‘pleasers’ in the sense that they are aware of what works for certain people and what doesn’t. They have a strong intuition about what is morally right and wrong as well as how to treat another person.

When customers call a company, they’re actively seeking help in resolving a problem. A conscientious customer service agent will be better equipped to pick up the clues interlaced in the customer’s words, which will allow them to resolve pain points.


5. They are persuasive

A great customer service employee will also have some amazing marketing and sales skills. It’s not always about being a manipulator, but being able to steer the customer into a direction that is beneficial for both the company and the client.

If you want to know if your candidates have this skill, ask a simple question in the interview such as, “Why should we hire you?” This way they have to sell themselves in a persuasive manner while listing qualities, traits and reasons - a perfect, practical test of their customer service skills.

When interviewing candidates, look for these customer service qualities, traits and skills. Look for someone who is communicative, persuasive, is polite, patient, conscientious, and loyal.

Anneke Steenkamp