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The Surprising Truths About Frontline Skills

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Fri Jul 30 2021

The Surprising Truths About Frontline Skills
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Frontline workers have borne much of the brunt of the global pandemic. With repeated quarantines, social distancing measures, and the rapid transition to working from home increasing, considerable pressure has been placed on those in these essential roles.

Coupled with rising customer expectations of sales and service interactions, frontline professionals are facing stressful situations more often than ever before. According to a 2020 Harvard Business Review analysis of more than 1 million customer service calls, the percentage of “difficult” interactions more than doubled during the pandemic.

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How, then, can these essential workers adapt to today’s workplaces and the requirements of their evolving jobs? How can managers best support their sales and customer service teams? What are the skills that will help these professionals achieve their goals and exceed expectations?

High Touch in a High-Tech World

The developing dominance of essential human skills comes at a time of heightened stress for sales and service professionals due to the effects of the global pandemic and the prevalence of increasingly automated customer interactions. Sales and service associates are being tasked with handling more difficult customer conversations alongside internal pressure to meet quotas and hasten speed to resolution or close. These monumental changes in the workplace have emphasized the mastery of active listening and empathy.

A recent report conducted by Mursion and Future Workplace, an advisory and membership organization that prepares HR leaders for the future of work, studied more than 600 sales, service workers, and learning leaders across a wide range of industries including retail, healthcare, financial services, technology, and manufacturing. Responses revealed that soft skills such as emotional intelligence and resilience were the most critical traits for building successful client relationships in today’s transforming marketplace. Two-thirds of survey participants indicated that building trust with customers will be one of the most crucial customer service skills over the next two years.

Creating Customer-Centric Relationships

Building trust is a complex process, especially in limited client interactions where much needs to be accomplished in short amounts of time. Ruchi Sinha of the University of South Australia Business School describes the foundational elements of creating a trusting bond with customers as integrity (character), competence (ability to deliver), and benevolence (good intent). A great customer service professional can quickly demonstrate all three traits to customers, which is crucial for establishing rapport in today’s fast-paced, virtual environment.

The 4 Soft Skills for Sales and Service Success

How do we bridge the gaps we may experience when interacting with another person in a professional setting to achieve successful outcomes?

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Soft skills such as emotional intelligence, empathy, and resilience are the key to building meaningful customer connections. These are the top four skills needed by frontline workers today:

  • The ability to accurately “read the room.” Cultivating employee emotional intelligence is the number 1 quality for building long-term, profitable relationships.

  • Creating customer connections. Demonstrating authentic empathy for a customer’s situation builds trust and value.

  • Staying calm and confident. A high capacity for resilience and stress tolerance in the face of adversity is an important component of higher performance.

  • Communicating competence. Sales and customer service professionals must navigate more technological advancements than ever before. They must also display this knowledge in an accessible, confident manner to their clients.

Can Soft Skills Be Learned?

Soft skills, or social instincts, are our innate understanding of how to interact with one another. Everyone has them, but we may be at different stages of our development.

That’s why identifying the right starting point and developing soft skills is critical to improvement. If the development technique (including immersive learning experiences such as virtual simulations) meets people where they are and sufficiently challenges them as they progress, with practice, anyone can cultivate these essential instincts.

To learn more about the findings from Mursion and Future Workplace’s The Human Edge in an AI World, download the report.

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