The five essential skills for sales and customer services teams

Sunday 8 March 2015

I’m often amazed at the resilience and helpfulness of good frontline teams, even when dealing with very difficult customers. Recently, when working with a well-known pharmacy chain, I observed a customer being rude about the quality of service. The sales assistant, recognising that the customer’s complaint was the result of illness and concerns about their prescription, stopped what she was doing, came around the counter, sat down next to the customer and asked what the matter was. It turned out that the customer hated taking pills – so the sales assistant was quickly able to solve the problem by suggesting smooth coated pills, which were much easier to swallow. By taking the time to listen to the customer, understand their emotions and behaviours and identify the real issues, she was able to provide a better solution and a positive customer experience.

So what are the five key attributes of effective sales and customer services teams?

#1 Empathy
Can your people see the customer’s point of view? By actively listening and understanding the customer’s concerns, your frontline teams will be in a better position to suggest an appropriate solution. The ability to connect to their issue/request can also help manage difficult situations and customers’ frustrations. Whilst an agent might not be able to solve the problem, entirely to the customer’s satisfaction, empathy and friendliness can go along way to recovering the situation.

#2 Effective communication skills
Whether you are in retail, a call centre or out in the field –choice of vocabulary and use of positive language helps frontline teams better manage the conversation.  Being self-aware is a key part of connecting with customers. If your frontline people can focus on ‘being present’ their tone of voice, body language and eye contact will all display their attention to the customer and they are more likely to hear the message the customer is trying to convey rather than just what they are actually saying. This further builds the all important emotional connection.

#3 Confidence
Your frontline teams will benefit from having confidence in their ability to conduct high quality conversations with customers. Regular practice of conversational sales skills can help your people understand how to use a structured process to lead the conversation to a positive conclusion for both parties. How often do your people practice how to speak with customers; not as often as we think, I bet.

#4 Flexibility
The ability to empathise with customers and seek mutually satisfactory solutions can demand a great deal of flexibility on the part of frontline teams. Being able to quickly adapt their approach and style to each particular situation will give customers confidence that they are being listened to and understood. Your people need to feel empowered to take the initiative and treat each customer as an individual. Empowerment comes from setting clear guidelines on what your frontline people can offer when things go wrong and what is negotiable and what is not. This gives them the ability to demonstrate that their customers are valued because problems can be resolved swiftly.

#5 Willingness to learn and use feedback to continually improve
Research has shown that the attitudes and behaviour of employees impact a customer’s perceptions of the quality of service (McKinsey & Co). The attitude and leadership style of line managers is critical in developing the capability of their frontline people to deliver an excellent customer experience. They require the ability to deliver regular, impactful coaching to all their team members that is received positively. Line managers must also develop empathy toward their people and whilst corrective feedback may be required, criticising people, especially in front of others will not engender personal development. The team at Prosell has developed and certified the performance capability of over 10,000 line managers worldwide. We have seen first hand what a positive impact a culture of coaching can have on the attitudes and behaviour of people.

It is clear that excellent frontline people have a dramatic impact on the customer experience. The pharmacy sales assistant, described earlier, provided outstanding customer service through sensitivity, empathy, and the desire to go the extra mile. Are your people equipped to rise to this challenge?

Prosell provides customised customer services and sales training and coaching programmes to improve the performance of frontline people. If you would like to discuss developing your team’s customer service or conversational selling skills please do get in touch. We would be delighted to hear from you.


This post was written by

Mark BW McDermott

Account Director