Think back to the most recent positive feedback you received about your customer service team. What things stood out to the customer?
Many customers will remember a customer service professional’s warm demeanor, patience, and ability to solve their problems. Customers also commonly praise a customer service professional’s ability to quickly serve them and anticipate their needs.
The thing is, while customer service soft skills may be easier for customers to appreciate, the best customer service professionals have a balance of both hard and soft skills for customer service.
For example, to be efficient, a customer service representative must be able to skillfully work their way around a Point of Sale system. Likewise, the ability to solve a customer’s problem is linked to possessing both product and industry knowledge.
So if you want to develop a team of world-class customer service professionals, ensuring they possess the necessary hard skills in customer service is just as crucial as doing so for their soft skills.
The question is, which hard skills are most important to focus on? This guide will teach you everything you want to know about the top hard skills needed for customer service representatives to succeed.
What are hard skills?
Hard skills describe the specific technical abilities an employee must possess in order to perform a given job. They are tangible and measurable skills that can be learned and strengthened through education, training, and practice. It’s for this reason that hard skills are often referred to as ‘teachable’ skills.
One of the key differences between hard and soft skills is that soft skills are more generally applicable than hard skills. Hard skills are job-specific, so the hard skills each employee needs to possess are dependent on their particular profession and role.
Why are hard skills in customer service important?
Hard skills in customer service are important because they enable customer service professionals to engage in the technical aspects of their jobs.
They provide your customer service team with the technical know-how to use critical customer service systems and perform their duties. Hard skills also equip them with the product and industry knowledge they need to stay at the top of their game.
In short, possessing hard skills for customer service empowers customer service professionals to fulfill many, if not most, responsibilities associated with their jobs.
[Read more: 18 Key Customer Service Skills and How to Hire For Them]
Hard skills list for customer service
There are several hard skills customer service professionals need to possess to offer your customers world-class customer service. Given how many there are, it can be difficult to know which ones are most critical to pay attention to as an HR professional or business owner.
The following hard skills list for customer service highlights the eight most pressing customer service hard skills your team should work on.
1. Point of Sale (POS)
Mastery of Point of Sale (POS) systems is one of the most essential customer service hard skills your representatives should have.
POS systems are devices that enable your business to accept payments from customers. The reason we say ‘systems’ is that there are numerous types of POS systems available. Depending on how your business is set up, your team may need to know how to navigate multiple types.
According to Fit Small Business, there are seven main types of POS systems:
- POS Apps
- Mobile POS Systems
- Touch-Screen POS Systems
- Cloud POS Systems
- Open Source POS Systems
- Multichannel POS Systems
- Self-service Kiosk POS Systems
With POS systems rapidly advancing and new players entering the market every year, it’s important to be mindful that the POS skills your team needs may change over time.
For example, a study by Capterra found that 57% of businesses using POS systems currently prefer on-premise/installed POS systems over web-based POS For example, a study by Capterra found that 57% of businesses using POS systems currently prefer on-premise/installed POS systems over web-based POS systems. However, their data also found that this won’t be the case for long, as there is a clear trend of businesses increasingly opting for web-based POS systems.
2. Data entry
Data entry may not get much glory as a hard skill for customer service. But this doesn’t negate the fact that it’s a key hard skill you should prioritize in your team, not least because data entry makes up 17% of a salesperson’s day on average.
As you may know from first-hand experience, customer service professionals who are skilled in data entry are highly valuable to the performance of your team.
Data entry supports your company with everything from planning and goal setting, to rectifying its shortcomings. There’s a caveat, however. The data your customer service team enters needs to be accurate. A single data entry mistake can lead to errors that completely tarnish statistical results and conclusions and wreak havoc on your company’s reputation and bottom line.
Of course, accuracy isn’t the only consideration when it comes to this customer service hard skill. Your representatives need to be efficient at data entry as well. That’s not to mention the fact that data entry doesn’t only entail entering data. It can also involve analyzing it and communicating data-related findings to other team members.
3. Sales floor
If your customer service representatives sell products or services to your customers face to face, possessing sales floor skills is a must. Whether at your physical stores, a showroom, or an event, it’s crucial for your customer service team to know how to work the sales floor.
If you’re wondering what this involves, sales expert Mark Roberge describes it well:
“You know you are running a modern sales team when selling feels more like the relationship between a doctor and a patient and less like a relationship between a salesperson and a prospect … [Sales] is no longer about interrupting, pitching and closing. It is about listening, diagnosing, and prescribing.”Mark Roberge
Excellent sales floor skills aren’t only reliant on soft skills, however. Being skillful in this area may require your team to rely on a range of other hard skills including maintaining the appearance of the sales floor, replenishing stock, using the POS system, and preventing theft.
4. Outbound calls
The ability to make effective outbound calls is without a doubt one of the most vital customer service hard skills.
There are a plethora of statistics to support the importance of this hard skill in customer service teams. For example, RAIN Group found that 82% of buyers accept meetings with sellers who cold call. Sales representatives themselves also value this skill, with one study finding that 41.2% of sales representatives say that the phone is the most effective sales tool at their disposal.
As any good sales representative knows, there is a certain art to making outbound calls. According to Hubspot, 69% of customers believe sales representatives who listen to their needs make for positive customer service experiences.
Customers also appreciate when sales representatives aren’t pushy, with the same study identifying that 61% of customers consider non-pushy sales representatives as a key quality that makes their experiences positive.
There’s certainly a lot for your customers to think about in order to make successful outbound calls, which is why this skill ranks so high on this hard skills list for customer service.
5. Customer information
Entrepreneur Jay Baer once said, “The more you know about your customers, the more you can provide to them information that is increasingly useful, relevant, and persuasive”.
Baer’s quote provides a good insight into why customer information is so powerful for your customer service team to leverage.
It comes down to the fact that in order to serve customers, your team needs to understand who they’re serving. To this end, they need to possess the skills to verify, enter, process, and research customer information on your company’s customer service systems.
They also need to be aware of and follow any relevant laws and regulations regarding customer information and also abide by your company’s own rules regarding the handling of customer information.
6. Ability to hit sales goals
The ability to hit sales goals is another desirable hard skill your customer service representatives should possess.
Needless to say, while it’s a top customer service hard skill, hitting sales goals can be challenging even for the most experienced of customer service representatives. The reason is that this hard skill takes a combination of expertise, perseverance, time, and sometimes even luck.
The good news is that the ability to hit sales goals can be developed. Some key ways your team can develop this skill include monitoring their sales pipeline, prospecting consistently, and reducing the length of their sales process.
7. Product knowledge
Even if your team possesses most of the skills in this list of hard skills for customer service, they won’t be able to go very far without product knowledge. Product knowledge allows your team to support your customers on a number of levels, which can in turn positively contribute to your company’s growth.
As The Balance notes, product knowledge can:
- Increase sales
- Strengthen your team’s communication skills
- Boost customers’ excitement for your products
- Increase their confidence in your products
- Assist them in handling customers’ objections
Fortunately, your customer service team doesn’t need to memorize every tiny detail about your products. They can instead turn to your company’s knowledge bases when they don’t have the answers they need.
In this context, knowledge bases refer to a library of information about your products. They’re becoming increasingly common in customer service, with Salesforce finding that 66% of customer service teams use knowledge bases.
If you’d like your team to keep developing their product knowledge, it’s worth training your team regularly on your products, and looking into developing knowledge bases for them to use.
8. Industry knowledge
Likewise to product knowledge, industry knowledge will help your customer service team to excel. Industry knowledge is so powerful because it gives your team a competitive advantage.
Think about it: if your team knows all about the history of your given industry, as well as current trends and the latest industry news, they will have a solid understanding of what it takes to beat your competitors.
Industry knowledge also allows your team to take into account best practices in your industry when assisting customers. They’ll know what works in your industry — and what doesn’t. This understanding may save them from making costly customer service mistakes, as well as empower them to capture valuable leads.
Is customer service a hard or soft skill?
Before we wrap up, let’s touch on a question that often crops up in HR circles: Is customer service a hard or soft skill?
As we discussed in our customer service soft skills guide, there’s debate about whether customer service should be considered a hard or soft skill.
Most experts concur it is a soft skill, as customer service encompasses a number of intangible skills. However, there are some experts who argue against calling it one. They explain that customer service can in fact be readily defined, observed, and measured, so it doesn’t fit in with the typical definition of a soft skill.
Whichever side of the fence you sit on, the fact remains that customer service is a critical skill that your team must possess to do their jobs well.
[Read more: 10 Key Customer Service Soft Skills Your Team Should Master]
In this guide, we covered a variety of considerations when it comes to hard customer service skills. We not only touched on why customer service hard skills are important, but also shared a hard skills list for customer service.
The key takeaway from this article should be that customer service hard skills are essential to the effectiveness of your team. The research clearly demonstrates that these types of skills are important for your representatives to possess. So what now?
It’s time to support your team to develop and strengthen these skills. While it’s easy to place the onus on your employees to do so, your guidance will be critical.
And for those of you in charge of hiring for customer service roles? It’s important to keep in mind that while the hard skills we highlighted above are highly-desirable for candidates to possess, they’re not necessarily deal-breakers. That said, if there are certain skills you’d like to keep an eye out for, consider using skills tests to assess whether candidates possess them. Vervoe’s customer service recruitment software takes the guesswork out of hiring and assessing hard skills.
Remember, hard skills are important, but with a bit of guidance, they can usually be taught.