Building Blocks of Exceptional Customer Service: Essential Soft Skills and Strategies for CX Success

Building Blocks of Exceptional Customer Service: Essential Soft Skills and Strategies for CX Success

In the world of customer experience (CX), success hinges on more than technical skills—it requires finely tuned soft skills like humility, willingness to learn, and empathy.

For this round of 4 Questions with a CXpert we chatted with Mercer Smith, VP of Managed Operations at PartnerHero, about cultivating these essential qualities within teams, emphasizing their critical role in fostering customer satisfaction and organizational growth.

Excellent customer service requires strong soft skills. What three soft skills do you believe are essential for success in a CX role, and how would you go about developing these skills within your team?

Mercer Smith: I think humility, willingness to learn, and empathy are three of the most important skills for CX folks. I refuse to call them “soft” because they take just as much energy and effort to cultivate than the “hard:” skills, and also need to be learn. It’s not like everyone has them innately.Honestly, the best way to start developing these skills within your team is to hire folks that already have them. So, for instance, when I am hiring for a new team member, I almost always prioritize applicants that have worked in the service industry. Servers, baristas, and folks that have had to serve have an innately deeper ability to be empathetic and understanding in the face of adversity. Beyond that, encouraging team members to walk in the shoes of the customer, especially during onboarding, can be a particularly helpful exercise for encouraging and fostering these skills.

Beyond providing excellent support, what are some ways a CX professional can demonstrate their potential for growth within the organization?

Mercer Smith: The good thing about CX is that it is not just about working in the queue. There are so many other things that make a team run well: operations, knowledge management, engineering, etc. If you are in a mature and established team, the path for much of this growth is likely already mapped. However, in a smaller, scrappier team, the best way to demonstrate your potential for growth is to figure out the area that interests you the most and start advocating for that. For instance, if you really are keen to move into knowledge management, start taking any time you get out of the queue to start auditing and perfecting your documentation. If you are interested in Support Operations, build paths and processes for optimizing your tooling such as macros, bots, or even social media triggers. CX is evergreen because it’s constantly changing and evolving, and there is always something to do to suit your interests.

How do you maintain high motivation and morale among your CX team, especially during challenging times? Can you discuss a time when you successfully boosted your team's confidence during a period of low performance or high stress?

Mercer Smith: I think the best way to do this is to show the team that you are all in it together. Get your team leads, directors, and everyone else involved who, perhaps usually, are out of the context of the queue. Recognizing the work that your team members are doing and that it’s hard goes a long way, too. For instance, giving them the opportunity to gripe about things that don’t feel good and, instead of trying to solution it away, say “Yep, I hear you. Things are hard right now. They won’t be like this forever, but right now it definitely feels like a slog. I get it.”When Trello was getting acquired by Atlassian, the team was very nervous about how our culture would change. Atlassian was a much larger company and Trello was at a sweet spot for culture at that point. Truly a golden age. There were many policies that changed for us when we were acquired, including the channels that we supported, many of our benefits, and even moving from salary to hourly employees. That said, I spent a lot of time just listening to the team. Not trying to solve any of their problems, just hearing them and reassuring that I heard them and understood why they were upset. We had zero attrition during that period, which I’m really proud of. We kept the whole team and we made it through.

Beyond happy customers, how can a strong customer support team directly impact a company's bottom line?

Mercer Smith: Well, I think this is a bit of a trick question, no? It’s the happy customers that impact the company’s bottom line. If customers aren’t happy, they’re not going to buy other products, re-up their subscription or tell their friends about you. Ultimately, your support team can have a huge impact on up-sell/cross-sell by doing things like recommending products in their support responses (if they are a good fit of course). They can also impact work of mouth marketing—if a customer has a really excellent experience, they’re going to talk about it. Lifetime value is also something that we don’t talk about often enough in the CX game. When customers are happy, they stay longer. They sign up for the one-year subscription rather than month-to-month, they buy the new products that you release. That is incredibly valuable. Everyone talks about how much cheaper it is to retain a customer rather than get a new one, but few of us talk about how much more a happy customer is worth than one that is grumpy.