Shep Hyken

By Shep Hyken

The Top Traits an Employee Needs to Deliver Great Customer Service

The Top Traits an Employee Needs to Deliver Great Customer Service 150 150 Shep Hyken

Everyone needs great customer service skills because every employee deals with internal and external customers, or both.

“But what exactly are the traits an employee needs?” a subscriber asked me recently.
“Are you asking about the traits that a support rep must have?” I asked.

“No,” he replied. “I am hiring to fill an IT position.”

First, I told him, as you think of traits, they come in two categories: skills and attitudes. A skill is self-explanatory. For instance, if you’re hiring someone who will be doing a lot of corresponding with customers, you’ll obviously need someone with good communication skills – a command of the English language, as in punctuation, spelling and grammar. An attitude is the way you would describe someone’s personal characteristics. For example, he or she is optimistic, witty or a team player.

To determine traits, we do an exercise in our customer focus workshops. We set a large whiteboard or flipchart in front of the audience. Then we ask the audience to shout out the traits of someone who would be good at customer service. As you can imagine, we get lots of adjectives. A few of them are:

Confident, empathetic, engaging, friendly, funny, good communicator, good people skills, happy, helpful, honest, kind, knowledgeable, nice, outgoing, passionate, poised, polite, positive, responsive, sympathetic – and the list typically goes on.

As you closely examine the list above, notice how many are skills and how many are attitudes. You’ll find that most of the traits are attitudes while just a few are skills! “Good communicator” and “good people skills” are obviously skills. You can even argue that “knowledgeable” is also a skill. But we find that out of the twenty or so traits that are typically mentioned, only about three of them are skills. Yes, we could add a few more skills to the list to try to balance it out, but for every skill we could add, there are probably three or four more attitudinal traits we could add as well.

By doing this exercise of creating a list, we’re not trying to imply to the audience that skills just aren’t important. They absolutely are. For example, if a medical center needs to hire a skilled nurse, they are going to be looking for more than just somebody with a great attitude or somebody who really wants to be a nurse. Any serious candidate for the job will have gone on for continued schooling, passed exams, got a degree and became licensed. Without those qualifications, all of the attitude in the world won’t land someone a job as a nurse.

And this discussion isn’t meant to support the saying “hire for attitude and train for skill” either. That may work for some jobs, but for many jobs, a person needs certain skills just to get the job, such as that of a nurse.

Another example of a group of employees that needs specialized skills are those whizzes in the IT department. They can understand things the average human can’t easily comprehend. However, regardless of how strong someone’s technical skills are, without the right personality, as exhibited by many of the aforementioned attitudes, a single employee can potentially bring down an entire customer-focused culture.

So what are the traits of an employee capable of delivering a great customer service experience? More importantly, how can you determine them for a position that you are trying to fill?

My suggestion is to have a group of employees in your company go through the whiteboard exercise we just mentioned. List all of the traits you can think of that are both attitudes and skills. Hone the list down to the top ten core attitudinal traits needed to be customer-focused in your organization. Then add to the list the specific skills required for the job. An accountant needs accounting skills. A doctor needs medical skills. And, of course the IT department needs people with technical skills. When you add the ten attitudes to the needed skills, you may have found that next AMAZING person to work with!

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