The 29 Most Important Customer Service Skills for eCommerce Sellers
Last Updated: September 20, 2020
From patience to product knowledge, these are the 29 must-have customer service skills every eCommerce pro should develop and master.
Nearly every advice article you read about eCommerce mentions customer service skills. That’s because without customers, the ability to sell products online wouldn’t exist. Even if you sell top-quality items and post flawlessly written product descriptions, your business can’t reach its full potential without great customer service.
But what exactly are the traits that you and your staff should hone in order to best achieve your company goals? Let’s take a comprehensive look at the 29 most important customer service skills that every eCommerce seller and / or employee should perfect.
A good place to start when discussing crucial customer service skills is patience. From inquiries about shipping delays to complaints from long-winded callers, your customer service team will face a wide range of situations that require patience.
If a shopper is already upset because their order is late in being delivered or the item they want is sold out, the last thing you want to do is make them feel rushed or like they are getting on your nerves. Likewise, you need to be patient enough to go into each interaction without carrying over any stress from your previous encounter. Each customer deserves and expects to have your undivided attention to the matter at-hand.
Whether via phone, email, chat or any other medium, you should allow customers to fully explain their issue. They may even vent a little or provide extraneous information about their order experience. Don’t interrupt. Let them tell you everything they want to share and then respond to them in a friendly, helpful manner. If they attempt to add extra info or cut you off due to frustration, remain patient and tactful.
With patience comes another all-important skill: attentiveness. When speaking with a customer, place all of your focus on the conversation. Don’t allow yourself to be distracted by how many other emails you have in your inbox or what time you get off work. Pay full attention to the customer and situation you are dealing with at the moment.
Another way to describe attentiveness is with the term “active listening.” This simply means you are intently listening to the customer and making a concerted effort to understand their problem or inquiry.
While it may seem like focusing so singularly on one task will take a lot of time, the opposite is actually true. By putting all of your efforts into solving the customer’s issue, you are increasing the odds that you will get it right the first time — thereby decreasing the need to revisit the same matter later.
Before you can solve a customer’s problem, you need to understand it. This is why comprehension skills are imperative for any customer service representative.
After you’ve listened attentively to the customer explain their inquiry (or read through their email / chat message thoroughly), give some thought to the issue. What exactly are they asking or saying, and how can you address it in a way that leads to customer satisfaction?
This isn’t always as easy as it sounds. Sure, if a customer is asking for their money back after having returned an item within the company’s required timeframe, you can easily comprehend that issuing a refund is the appropriate course of action.
But what if the customer is lodging multiple complaints in a somewhat disjointed manner? You may need to utilize both your active listening and deductive reasoning skills to fully grasp what the problem is and what the shopper’s needs are.
If you’re having trouble figuring out exactly what the customer is asking for or complaining about, try asking follow-up questions in a polite and helpful demeanor. Responses like the one below can help you dial in on the issue:
“I am so sorry this experience has been frustrating, and we appreciate that you are giving us the opportunity to serve you. If you don’t mind, could you please explain the problem in detail so that I can offer an agreeable solution?”
Empathy is a paramount skill that every eCommerce seller or employee should possess or hone. Think about a time when you’ve called in to a store over a problem or with a question. You were likely able to sense whether or not the person with whom you were speaking actually cared about your inquiry.
It is human nature to want others to be able to relate to us when we have a problem. No one wants to email or call about a missing order and feel like the person on the other end doesn’t really care whether we receive our item — especially when we’ve spent our hard-earned money at their shop.
Phrases such as, “I completely understand your frustration,” and, “I apologize that the item you’re looking for is out of stock,” can go a long way toward ensuring a pleasant experience, a positive review and a return buyer.
Another crucial customer service skill is compassion. While people often confuse empathy and compassion as being identical, the two actually differ. By definition, empathy refers to our ability to understand, feel and relate to the perspective of another person. Compassion takes this mindset one step further and includes the desire to improve the situation.
For this reason, empathy and compassion work hand-in-hand to imbue customer service pros with the outlook necessary to genuinely relate to customers AND care that they walk away satisfied. In other words, if you approach a customer inquiry with compassion, then you are emotionally invested in generating a positive outcome — not just because your job depends on it, but because you value the customer’s happiness.
Eagerness to Help
Along with empathy and compassion comes another crucial personality trait: eagerness to help. During every customer interaction, you need to convey a willingness to solve their problem or answer their questions.
This customer service skill goes right along with patience and attentiveness as well. Once you have patiently and actively listened to a customer describe the issue and communicated that you care about their problem or question, make sure they know you are happy to provide a solution.
Words and phrases to use that convey an eagerness to help include:
- “I completely understand your frustration and I will be happy to look into this for you.”
- “We apologize that the item you’re looking for is out of stock, but I would love to suggest a similar product that might suit your needs.”
- “I am so sorry your order is delayed, let me check the tracking number and provide you with as much information as I can about the whereabouts of your item(s) and an expected delivery date.”
Optimistic / Positive Language
In the spirit of being happy to help customers, you should also make sure to use optimistic, positive language throughout each conversation. Psychologically, this keeps the interaction upbeat and can help you to avoid conflict.
If a customer is complaining about a delayed order, don’t say, “Hang on a second, I’ll check on it.” Instead, say, “I am so sorry about the delay! I will be glad to check on this for you; do you mind holding for a moment?”
If a customer is already upset, your responding in a gruff demeanor can quickly derail the conversation and cause it to become an exceedingly negative experience. But by responding in a helpful, positive manner, you can improve the buyer’s impression of your company.
In the same way customers can tell when the person assisting them genuinely cares about their problem, they can also sense if an individual is being honest. When it comes to customer service, honesty is paramount to fostering a positive reputation with the public.
While you don’t need to be so honest that it hurts your company or comes off as unprofessional, you do need to be upfront about why issues occurred and what you are doing to rectify them. Below, you will find some “do” and “don’t” examples of how to be honest with customers.
- “I apologize your order is delayed. We are a bit short-staffed this week, but are doing everything we can to get items out as quickly and accurately as possible. Thank you for bearing with us and giving us the chance to serve you!”
- “I’m sorry your item is delayed. Tim called in sick this week and there’s nothing we can do about it. That’s not our fault.”
You also want to be careful about making promises or assertions you aren’t absolutely positive about.
- “I apologize that your preferred item is out of stock. I’m not sure whether or not we will be getting it back in, but we list new stock on Mondays, so I welcome you to check back weekly. In the meantime, can I interest you in some similar products I’ve curated based on your shopping history?”
- “I apologize that your preferred item is out of stock. We will probably get it back in stock soon though. Just check online tomorrow, and I’ll bet it will be back in stock.” (Since you don’t know this to be true, DON’T hint around at it or seem to promise it to the customer.)
While the two are often confused, honesty and transparency differ slightly. Honesty is telling the truth about a subject, and transparency is conducting yourself in a way that enables others (in this case, customers) to see the truth for themselves.
In eCommerce and dealing with customers, transparency involves being upfront and open about your company’s policies, products and practices. One great way for sellers to achieve transparency is through their publicly available terms and conditions.
But for customer service representatives, being transparent means being completely open with customers, telling the truth and providing enough information about your store that they can make an informed decision.
For instance, honesty is saying, “Yes, shipping is slower than usual right now.” Transparency is saying, “Yes, shipping is slower than usual right now, and due to the current crisis, we don’t know when the situation will improve. But if you buy from us, we assure you we will do everything in our power to get your items to you as expediently as possible. We also welcome your feedback on your shopping experience.”
By being truthful with customers about potential setbacks or inconveniences, you are showing them that you are willing to be fully open with them so they can make the best decision for their needs and wants.
As with empathy and compassion, customers can tell when you aren’t being sincere. In other words, they know whether or not you mean what you say. While it is important to showcase empathy by saying things like, “I am so sorry for this inconvenience,” it is equally crucial that you communicate the message in the right tone.
Avoid sounding scripted, robotic or sarcastic. Really think about the words you are saying and try to imagine you are saying them to a good friend. Speak in a conversational way rather than regurgitating the same exact lines in every conversation.
A great way to master a sincere tone is to mix your phrasing up with different vocabulary words so you aren’t so scripted, which we will cover in the next section of this article.
Effective Communication Skills
Combining the 12 previously mentioned characteristics of great customer service with exceptional communication skills can make for truly effective results. This is where good old-fashioned practice comes into play.
Employ good manners and correct grammar to take your communication to the next level. Never interrupt customers, use polite language and speak in a clear voice. Simply conversing in a pleasant way puts your customer at ease and can help keep the interaction positive.
Another good method is to brush up on your vocabulary. Don’t use ultra-long words that confuse customers, but rather, learn synonyms for commonly used words like “help,” and “happy.” That way, you can mix your phrasing up from time to time and won’t sound as if you are reading from a script.
For instance, you may at one point say, “I would be glad to assist you with that,” while at another time saying, “I will be happy to help you with that.”
Along with impressive communication skills comes a personable disposition. In order to delight customers and avoid confrontation, you need to approach conversations with a cheerful and friendly demeanor.
One of the quickest ways to derail a customer interaction is by sounding bored, frustrated or tired when you answer the phone. We have all been assisted by someone who sounded like they wanted to be anywhere but at work. Customers need to feel like you want to help them and are happy to address their concerns.
Remember sincerity though and don’t be phony. A forced “happy voice” can sound sarcastic — so it is important to be yourself while also projecting a helpful and personable tone. Through practice, you can learn the right balance for you.
Commitment to Satisfaction
At the end of the day, customers want their problems solved. While your demeanor is of the utmost importance, your desire to actually provide a solution is also critical. Being committed to customer satisfaction means that you are dedicated to addressing the issue to the best of your ability and ensuring the customer walks away pleased with the outcome.
Show customers your commitment to satisfaction by asking questions such as:
- “What would your ideal outcome for today be?”
- “Is there anything else I can help you with today?”
- “Have I answered all of your questions and adequately addressed your concerns?”
Passion for Customer Service
Like with any job field, if you are working in customer service, it is absolutely paramount that you have a passion for the industry. We aren’t saying that you have to be overwhelmed with glee about going to work every day, but you shouldn’t be miserable either.
If you hate your job, it will show in your communication style and mood. And just like with empathy and compassion, customers will be able to tell if you don’t genuinely care about customer service.
If you need to rekindle your fire for serving customers, take some time to think about the things you love about your job. Have you ever had a conversation with a customer that went so well that you walked away absolutely proud of how you handled the situation? Has a customer ever called your manager just to tell them that you did a fantastic job or given you a 10-star rating?
Remembering these events can help you bring positive energy to your customer responses and strive to achieve the same level of success on every call, email or chat.
Product / Service Knowledge
Anyone who is helping customers needs to possess a certain level of knowledge about the products or services their company sells. In fact, product knowledge may just be one of the most important customer service skills of all.
When staff members are well-versed in the products their company sells, customers are more likely to get quick, accurate answers to questions. The last thing any eCommerce seller wants is for customers to receive incorrect information about the items they’ve purchased or are potentially interested in buying.
Adequate product knowledge can also keep touchpoints to a minimum. For instance, if a customer asks if a specific shirt is available in blue, the first person on your staff who receives the message should be able to answer the question — rather than having to pass the customer to multiple teammates.
Understanding of Marketplaces
In eCommerce, knowing about the products and / or services your company sells isn’t enough. You also need to maintain a comprehensive understanding of the marketplaces on which you operate.
When it comes to buying products online, customers will frequently need to ask questions about the shopping platforms. These question possibilities are endless, but could include:
- “Why did your product appear in Amazon search results, but show up as ‘Out of Stock’ when I clicked on it?”
- “Why aren’t my saved addresses showing up when I check out at Amazon?”
- “What is ‘Bid’ vs. ‘Buy It Now’ at eBay?”
Much of your time as an eCommerce customer service representative will be spent assisting customers with navigating and troubleshooting the marketplaces where you sell. Spend some time learning about the different platforms and also figuring out how to contact the right departments at Amazon, eBay, Shopify, etc., in order to answer customer questions completely and accurately.
Ability to Teach / Explain
Customer service agents often feel like teachers, and for good reason. Typically, a customer contacting your shop with a question or problem will need a clear level of explanation to comprehend the solution or answer you are providing them.
Remember, they don’t work for the same company you do. They aren’t entrenched in your company’s protocols and product offerings on a daily basis like you are. The ability to explain your store’s policies, product specifications and methods for addressing customer issues can go a long way toward boosting customer satisfaction.
To offer customers a clear understanding of what you are telling them or how you are helping them, be sure to provide details in simple, step-by-step language.
For example, don’t just say, “Our store policies on returns / refunds are clear if you’ll just read them.” Instead, say something like, “I completely understand and empathize with your frustration, and I will be happy to explain our return / refund policy to you. Our store policy states that refunds will be issued if the product is returned within 30 days, but any items sent back after that date can be returned for store credit.”
Talent for Reading Social Cues
Every great customer service pro is keenly adept at reading verbal and physical cues. Whether communicating in person, over the phone, via email, through chat or by any other means, you should practice homing in on customer cues to know how best to respond to them.
Here is an example scenario:
After Alex has listened to a customer voice frustration about having had to wait on hold for a customer service representative to pick up the phone, he begins offering an apology and expressing his willingness to help with the issue.
While he is in the middle of verbalizing this apology, he hears the customer sigh impatiently. Alex knows this means the customer is annoyed by having had to wait, and doesn’t want to be on the phone any longer than necessary. This is Alex’s cue to handle this particular situation quickly and efficiently, taking as little of the customer’s time as possible.
The ability to read cues enables staff members to gain insight into each customer’s state of mind, needs and expectations so inquiries can be addressed in the best way possible.
In addition to the ability to read social cues, adaptability is another fundamental characteristic of any successful customer service representative.
Every situation is different, and it’s important to be capable of tailoring your approach to fit each individual interaction. One minute, you might be on the phone helping someone who is angry or difficult to please, while the next inquiry could be an email from an overly friendly customer who just has a few questions.
You want to be every bit as helpful and courteous to each customer, but you also need to adapt your demeanor to fit the buyer’s needs and wants. The angry phone customer most likely wants a knowledgeable, quick, adequate solution to their problem. The happy shopper who contacted you via email is probably looking for answers to their questions offered in a cheerful disposition that matches their own.
Adaptability also comes into play when assigning or re-assigning queries. You may not always be the one with the answer, and that’s okay. It is more important to make sure each inquiry is handled correctly than it is to be the one who resolves it. There may be issues that need to be handed off to a manager or another department. Knowing when to do so and being flexible enough to roll with the punches can go a long way toward setting your company up for success.
The best customer service reps are also quick thinkers. You won’t always have a lot of time to determine how to respond to an inquiry. You may interact with a customer who’s in a hurry to get the answer they seek, or you may be inundated with messages and need to move quickly.
While it’s important to give each customer your undivided attention while you are helping them, you also need to know how to think on your feet and provide fast resolutions. The previously mentioned skill of active listening can really help you to develop your quick-thinking judgment.
By paying close attention to your customer, you can gain a better understanding of their needs and rapidly determine the best plan of action.
Do you need to look up tracking information? Is their question one you can answer? Or, is this a situation for the manager? Whatever the case, attentiveness combined with quick thinking can help you take care of your customers efficiently and effectively.
Creative Problem Solving Skills
Along with adaptability and quick-thinking judgment comes creative problem solving. While the best responses to certain inquiries may be obvious, others can require a bit more imagination.
For instance, it’s typically easy to know what to say if a customer asks, “Where is my order?” You will simply use the tracking information and let them know when their order shipped, where it’s located and when it is expected to be delivered.
But what if a customer says, “I paid extra for guaranteed 1-day shipping and I still don’t have my item 10 days later; what are you going to do to rectify this situation?” That problem calls for more creativity on your part.
Of course, your response will be limited to what your company allows — but if it’s within your power to do so, you may offer a refund of the shipping cost or a store credit to make up for the customer’s inconvenience.
Whatever the case, approaching customer issues with an innovative, out-of-the-box mindset can help you to come up with solutions that delight shoppers.
Good Grasp on Limitations
When it comes to providing solutions to customers, you need to first know what you are allowed to do. This will differ from company to company, but knowing your limitations is crucial to ensuring you can actually follow through with the resolution you are suggesting.
For instance, are you allowed to issue or promise refunds? If not, and a customer calls in who needs one, you may need to transfer the call to a manager. And if you can’t issue refunds and do need to transfer the call, be careful how you phrase your communication with the customer.
Don’t say, “I can’t issue a refund, but I’m sure my manager will. Please hold.” Since you aren’t in the position to issue refunds, you also aren’t in the position to promise them. And if your manager is for any reason unable to offer a refund, the customer will be highly disappointed and potentially even angry when they find out. In this instance, you should instead say something like, “I am not authorized to issue refunds, but let me transfer you to someone who can better answer your questions and assist you.”
A good grasp on limitations and allowances also comes in handy when you are discussing technical issues. As we discussed in a previous blog post, customer service representatives usually handle surface-level inquiries and problems, while customer support technicians are typically responsible for technical questions and troubleshooting.
If a customer has a technical problem that you don’t have a resolute answer to, don’t guess at it. Instead, transfer them to someone who is trained to help.
Conflict Resolution Skills
We can’t always prevent conflict when it comes to eCommerce. No matter how good we are at providing excellent customer service, sometimes things just go wrong and customers wind up being upset, angry, frustrated or otherwise unsatisfied.
It is during these times that our customer service skills really need to rise to the occasion. When an unhappy customer contacts your company, it is your job to do everything in your power to make the situation right. The best thing you can do is to remember all of the aforementioned traits and put them into action.
Regardless of the customer’s demeanor, it is crucial that you show patience, attentiveness, empathy and an eagerness to help. Listen carefully to the customer and wait your turn before responding. When it is time for you to respond (or email back), make it clear that you empathize with their inconvenience and are dedicated to ensuring their satisfaction. Offer well-developed product knowledge along with an adaptable demeanor and, if necessary, a creative solution to their problem.
The most important thing to do when resolving conflict is to communicate an apology to the customer on behalf of your company. Avoid passing blame or getting defensive. Simply address the problem to the very best of your ability and provide a solution that is doable on your company’s part and will make the customer whole again.
For example, if the customer paid for an item that was never received, a great first step would be to issue a full refund. Then, maybe you could offer an exclusive discount or a special store credit.
A critical step is to try to defuse the situation before ending the conversation whenever possible. If the customer is mad when they call or email in, you want them to be happy when hanging up or saying goodbye. This may not always be possible, but more often than not, offering stellar customer service and a workable solution can turn a negative interaction into a positive one.
When your job is to offer solutions to customer problems, it is necessary to see the issue through to the end. This is where tenacity comes in.
Tenacity is the grit and determination to stick with a situation until you’ve provided an adequate resolution for all involved parties. This may not always be easy, but it can be the difference between an angry customer and one who will leave you a stellar review and keep coming back to your store.
You may have to get creative. What if the first solution offered to a customer leaves them underwhelmed or still dissatisfied? Keep going (within your limitations) until you have settled the customer’s query in a way that they can be happy with.
For instance, if a customer’s preferred item is out of stock and they didn’t like your suggestion for a replacement, continue utilizing your knowledge of your store’s stock until you come across an item that actually does fit their needs and wants.
The right solution for them might not be an item-for-item replacement. For example, if they were looking for a specific board game for their children and it is sold out, other board games you suggest could meet with disapproval. But depending on the age of their children, other potential entertainment options, such as crafting supplies could be the perfect compromise until the item they were originally shopping for is back in stock.
When serving customers, persuasiveness can be the key to ensuring they accept the resolution you are offering. In this case, the language, demeanor and approach you use are paramount to fostering a positive outcome.
This is one of the areas in which you will see that customer service skills and sales aptitude go hand-in-hand, as you are utilizing many of the same techniques a great salesperson uses to “close the deal.”
For instance, simply offering another in-stock item to replace the out-of-stock product your customer originally wanted may not be good enough. You might need to use your persuasion skills to convince the customer that the item you are offering is the best solution for them.
In doing so, you will be bringing many of your other talents together, such as product knowledge, tenacity, comprehension and communication skills. Explain to the customer what’s so great about the item you are offering, and show them that you understand their needs and wants by relating the product’s features to what they are looking for.
For example, let’s look at the customer who was looking for an out-of-stock board game for their children. Say the board game was a picture-drawing-and-guessing game. Use this information about what the customer’s children enjoy doing to suggest crafting supplies that also allow them to get creative, draw, color and have fun.
You could even explain to the customer how the children can make up their own fun guessing game with the items you are offering. Use your persuasive sales ability to really amp up the customer and get them excited about the idea you are offering — without being pushy, of course.
Calm, Unflappable Demeanor
Another highly useful customer service skill is a calm, unflappable demeanor. This mindset comes in handy when you are dealing with conflict, as well as when you are simply inundated with inquiries.
Rather than letting multiple incoming messages and calls stress you out, try to remain calm, cool and collected. Remember, you can only answer one at a time, so there’s no point in getting worked up over them. Handle each and every interaction to the best of your ability and then move on to the next one (only after you have fully resolved the previous question, or successfully sent it to another department).
The same goes for your demeanor when resolving conflict. Remember not to take anything an angry customer says personally. Defuse the problem using your well-developed customer service skills and then carry on with your day.
Remaining unflappable in the midst of each interaction will help you to better address customer issues as well. If you allow communications to get under your skin and cause you to become anxious and upset, you will be less likely to offer a viable solution. Stay calm, listen to the customer, and use your abilities and skills to arrive at the correct response.
Backbone / Bravery
In resolving conflict or defusing a volatile situation, it is often important to have a strong backbone. While no customer service representative ever wants to be involved in a heated situation with a customer, it is an unavoidable fact that sometimes people will already be angry when they begin a call, email or chat conversation with you.
It is crucial to weather these difficult interactions and continue to do everything you can to bring resolution to the problem. In a case where the customer is upset and being aggressive or difficult to please, having the bravery and backbone to stick with the conversation and persist in offering solutions can help you to de-escalate the situation.
Remember not to take anything the customer says personally. Typically, in these scenarios, the customer is mad about the problem, they probably don’t mean to aim their frustration directly at you specifically. Treat the conversation like you would any other and do everything in your power to use your previously honed skills to come up with a creative and swift answer or resolution to the issue.
Backbone is also important when it comes to situations that truly spiral out of control. In very rare instances, a customer may call in who is abusive. As a customer service representative, it IS your job to take care of all legitimate customer inquiries — however, it is NOT your job to take actual abuse.
Discuss with your manager ahead of time how to handle situations in which a customer is verbally abusive. Most managers will tell you to politely ask a customer once not to curse at you or call you names, but to hang up if they continue to do so.
As with the aforementioned passion for customer service, company dedication is a highly valuable customer service trait. In order to offer workable solutions, promote a store’s products and stand by its policies, you need to actually believe in the company you represent.
This is something you should consider when initially interviewing for the job. Do your research. Read employee reviews, shopper reviews and any information you can find on the company you are applying to. Learn about what their requirements are for customer service representatives and what their policies are for addressing customer concerns.
Making sure you are completely onboard with the way your company does business can help you immensely when it comes to being a customer service representative.
Think about it this way, if you believe a store sells sub-quality items, do you think you’ll be able to genuinely recommend their products to customers? On the flip side, if you are excited about what your employer sells, talking them up to shoppers will be easy — and the customer will know you are being authentic.
Finally, solution-oriented responsiveness is the last piece of the customer service experience puzzle. Any time you are handling customer inquiries, you need to always keep your mind geared toward finding solutions.
Is the customer asking a question? Answer it. Does a buyer need order information? Find the info they need. Are you faced with a problem that requires a creative solution? Use your imagination and skills at reading cues to determine the very best resolution for this particular situation and customer.
You answer phones and emails with, “How can I help you?” So, that needs to be your mindset whenever you are interacting with any customer. No matter what the issue, question or inquiry, your primary concerns should be: “What do they need? What are they saying / asking? And how can I best serve them?”
Top-Notch Customer Service Skills = Keeping Customers Happy
Once you have mastered all 29 of these skills, your customer service department should be running like a well-oiled machine. Customers will be receiving the best possible solutions to their inquiries and negative feedback will be kept to an absolute minimum.
Now it’s time to assess your communication practices. Are messages being responded to quickly? How are you handling query allocation? Is your team overwhelmed by incoming emails from different marketplaces?
If you sell on multiple platforms (Amazon, eBay, etc.), you can receive all of your messages in one inbox with Replyco. Not only that, but we also enable you to create templates, filters / labels and automation rules for optimal organization and lightning fast responses.
Shoring up your customer service is just the first step in achieving your eCommerce goals. Set yourself up for success by making sure your communication processes are operating at peak level. Learn how Replyco can help with all of this or start your free trial today!