Dozens of customers in line at a grocery or department store.
PHOTO: Paul Townsend

Editor’s note: This article was updated to reflect new data and commentary on customer experience skills and traits.

Indeed in its report on customer service skills cited active listening, adaptability, attentiveness, conflict resolution, creativity and empathy as paramount skills to survive as a customer service specialist. Those skills — and many other customer experience skills — will be in high demand since businesses are prioritizing customer experience (45.9%) over things like product (33.6%) and pricing (20.5%). And lest we forget: the paradigm of customer experience has changed because of shifts in customer behavior the past 14 months due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“As teams grow remotely and customers embrace new digital channels, organizations must find new ways to improve teams’ customer-experience skills,” said Dorian Stone, GM of Grammarly Business. “Yet, too many are investing heavily in upskilling initiatives without a clearly defined objective.”

Adopting an Outcome-Based Approach

Stone pointed to a study that found only 35% of companies have formal upskilling programs, with the majority delivering them on an ad-hoc basis.  “Business and CX leaders looking to upskill in 2021 need to adopt an outcome-based approach, considering the overarching business goal they want to achieve, and then building customized strategies and programs to support that objective,” Stone said. “In certain cases, upskilling as a dedicated strategy may not even be required based on available resources and tools.”

Businesses and customer experience (CX) teams must be adaptable in 2021 and prepared to tackle new challenges as a result of COVID-19. Customers have less time and declining confidence since the onset of the pandemic, and CX leaders need to ensure their largely remote teams have the skills and knowledge to address changing customer needs, Stone added.

“A key to this is building and training teams as diverse as the challenges they’ll face,” Stone said. “Leaders need to prepare their teams to face unforeseen challenges head-on and protect their team’s resilience while delivering consistent experiences in key channels while working remotely.”

What else will it take for CX pros to help their brands navigate through CX expectations of their consumers and prospects? What skills and traits must they have? We went to leaders in the customer experience space for their thoughts on what the skills, traits and characteristics they look for in their workers.

Related Article: The Skills Your Customer Experience Team Needs to Succeed

Aligning Your CX Program With Business Objectives

Tracking your program’s ROI is a must for securing the next round of funding, but it’s something that companies bring even more into focus during hard times, according to Andrew Park, InMoment's vice president, strategy and enablement. 

“Rain or shine, though, it’s vital that your CX program is as aligned with your business’s objectives as much as possible,” Park said. “This will help your program not only make a difference, but also make proving financial linkage between your actions and the company’s success much easier.” 

A CX initiative is much stronger when it’s built around understanding what your brand is trying to accomplish, Park added, as well as the economic pillars of customer acquisition, customer retention, cross-selling/upselling to customers and lowering cost to serve. It’s common to think of experiences as something to just be managed: something to react to only as new developments cross your CX team’s desk, according to Park.

“But why settle for managing experiences when you can improve them?” he asked. “You know that your team is capable of so much more than scrolling through numbers… These experiences can be built on the one and same fundamental meaning we all seek as people, and they’ll also keep your customers coming back even amid fierce marketplace competition.”

Balancing Speed and Quality

Across industries, customer experience professionals have been hyper-focused on illustrating the value prop of their organizations over the past year through amplified CX programs, said Tony Sandhu, VP of customer success at Comm100.

According to a 2021 Benchmark Report from Comm100, live chat teams around the world experienced a 7% increase in average monthly chat volume from 2019 to 2020. However, chats per agent per month dipped across every team size, dropping by 56% on average.

"Over the past year we have increasingly seen customer experience professionals shifting value away from time to resolution — and so shorter chat duration — in favor of developing relationships with customers, and allowing agents to take longer to resolve queries. This is not to say that time to resolution is not still highly valued, as it should be. Instead, these stats indicate that customer service professionals are recognizing the need to balance speed with quality of service.”

Related Article: Customer Experience Pros Have a Mix of Technical and Soft Skills

Being Data-Driven

Customer experience teams are looking for a “swiss army knife” type of individual, someone who has the data background and understands how to quantify key metrics. This professional helps the organization tell a bigger story from a data perspective. 

“Anyone can collect data,” Sandhu said, “but the professionals who can analyze those results and determine why those metrics matter to a customer will stand out on top.”

Being Curious With a Purpose

Customers oftentimes don’t know what they need. The role of a customer experience professional is to get the information out of them to determine what they need and how we can help. “Having good interview skills enables professionals to ask the right questions to get the answers they need, efficiently and effectively,” Sandhu said. “Remember, every touchpoint along the customer journey shows how a customer feels. Using that to your advantage will be key in helping realize the voice of the customer.”

Related Article: CX Decoded Podcast: Elevating Your Voice of the Customer Program

Being a Good Storyteller

Ryan Lester, head of product excellence at LogMeIn, cited storytelling as a key trait for a customer experience professionals. Too often, he said, we rely on being data-driven without a good story behind it. “Your NPS scores may have gone up and customer retention rates went up,” Lester said. "But numbers aren't storytelling, and that's what people remember. … How do you tell those great stories? How do you bring it to life through your actual customers?”

Being a Visionary

Being a stellar CX professional and delivering quality experiences starts with being able to have a holistic view of the customer journey and a vision of what great customer experience means. “Precisely understanding all the touchpoints of a customer’s journey and the market opportunities each touchpoint presents is critical to delivering great customer experiences,” said Sandhu. “However, going a step further and using that valuable information to define and build a strategy that's innovative and succeeds at reducing customer effort is key to success as a CX professional.”

Designing for Experimentation

Customer experience professionals should be very good at designing for experiment, according to Lester. “We think about the customer experience as part of the world of marketing,” Lester said. “It's how do you set up a hypothesis, and then experiment with metrics that validate the hypothesis or disprove it? So having that mindset, which is more traditional, like an engineer's mindset than it is a marketer’s mindset. I think marketing is moving in that direction — design for experiment.”

Ability To Break Down the Complex

Customer experience professionals must be able to break down complex processes into more simple processes, Lester said. “In this modern world,” he said, “you'll make a change to a process. And all of a sudden, these weird things will start happening downstream in other parts of the processes, and you want to stop and then reassess why those changes happen. So it’s about being able to understand complex processes and breaking those down.”

Responsiveness and Adaptability

It’s no surprise that COVID-19 has had an impact on all industries, especially in terms of accelerating digitization adoption. Customer experience professionals especially have needed to quickly pivot to adapt these emerging technologies in order to meet their customers where they need them, according to Sandhu.

“Over the past year, they have also learned that responsiveness and expertise are great for a strong CX program, but relationships are what drive success at the end of the day,” Sandhu said. “Obtaining the skills needed to define what success looks like and achieve it are what will move the needle for customer experience professionals.”