Grab your headphones and turn up the volume because Ruby’s on the radio! Ruby’s Founder and CEO, Jill Nelson, sat down with Luke Anderson from ESPN affiliate, 1080 (The Fan), a local Portland radio station. The segment, Northwest Business, focuses on local businesses that make your economy work. Jill discussed the history of Ruby, how Ruby’s unique people coupled with their cutting-edge technology to form the perfect pair, and how being in Portland has been a big part of what makes Ruby successful.

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When it comes to customer service, soft skills are the keys to success. Working with people requires a certain level of emotional intelligence and people skills. While these skills can’t be quantified the way “hard” skills can, they are no less impactful. If you Google “soft skills” you’re results will probably include things like teamwork, communication, and problem solving; all important skills for success. But these aren’t the only valuable soft skills, especially when it comes to customer service.

Here are the three often forgotten, but no less valuable soft skills that will help take your customer service game to the next level, and leave customers (and coworkers) thoroughly impressed!

Conflict Resolution

While conflict is uncomfortable, it’s also an important part of how we improve communication and deepen relationships with others. After all, true growth doesn’t come without a little bit of discomfort! Most commonly, conflict in customer service scenarios stems stem from a lack of knowledge, miscommunication, or a misunderstanding. Conflict resolution is the ability to handle these misalignments with a level head, emotional control, and a strong will to solve the problem. The goal is to be able to take a potentially difficult situation, conversation, or customer and turn that interaction into something positive.

Quick Self-Assessment

How well do you handle conflict? Think about the last time you had to handle a frustrating phone call, someone yelled at you in traffic, or the barista at the coffee stand got your order wrong.

What was your initial reaction?

Did you take the conflict personally?

Were you able to solve the problem?

How long did it take you to recover from the interaction?

Improving Your Conflict Resolution

If you struggle with conflict, you aren’t alone. Handling conflict on a regular basis takes an emotional toll. Luckily, conflict resolution is a skill that can be built with self-assessment and a whole lot of practice. You can start improving this skill by taking the time to think about past conflicts and considering how the conflict arose, your own role in it, and how you perceived it. Then, when you experience conflict in the future, you’ll be more equipped to handle it.

Here are some quick tips:

  • When you’re experiencing a tough conversation, take a few seconds to pause and put it in perspective. Avoid responding with your emotions.
  • Figure out how you best handle stress and equip yourself with the tools to overcome it. Whether you need a stress ball, a minute of meditation or a photo of a kitten, being prepared always helps.
  • Remind yourself before, during, and after the conflict not to take it personally. Anger is a secondary emotion born of frustration or sadness, and determining the root cause of your frustration can go a long way in helping to resolve it.

Patience

It is well understood that customer service takes patience, yet in this fast-paced world where customers expect instant communication and resolutions, it can be difficult to maintain. Patience is the ability to control your emotions and proceed calmly when facing difficulties or delays. Possessing a high-level of patience helps you reduce stress, make better decisions, and empathize with others. If you can maintain your patience during hard conversations, everyone is more likely to leave the conversation satisfied and stress-free.

Quick Self-Assessment

When you’re in the middle of a tough conversation do you:

Interrupt the other person or wait until they’re finished?

Do you listen to what they’re saying or try to make your point first?

Do you find yourself getting angry or can you master your emotions?

Improving Your Patience

Building this skills takes time, and it’s important to give yourself some slack if it takes a few tries before you find success. The great part is there are lots of opportunities to practice patience in your everyday life! Next time you feel yourself getting frustrated in a long line or in traffic, take a deep breath, relax your muscles and consider why you’re feeling impatient. Push the stress out of your body and manage your emotions. The more you think about it and the more you try, the better you get. This everyday practicing of patience will roll over into your workplace and how you interact with others.

Critical Observation

Critical observation or analysis is a combination of critical thinking and observation/listening skills. It’s the ability to go beyond observing something and move to dissecting, analyzing, and finding a solution—similar to the scientific method. Think of as the ability to recognize the problem, even if it isn’t explicitly stated, then resolving the problem.

Quick Self-Assessment

Take a moment to think about the last time you were helping someone over the phone, in your personal or professional life. Were you able to:

Recognize how the person was feeling?

Interpret those feelings?

Appropriately react to those feelings?

Improving Your Critical Observation Skills

Critical observation builds on the previous skills we have shared. If you aren’t able to manage your emotions, or maintain patience, it can be difficult to view a situation objectively and apply critical observation. Once you’ve mastered those skills, the best way to improve your critical observation is asking questions to determine the root cause of a conflict or a customer’s frustration.

Before road testing this skill with your customers, first try it with a friend or family member. Next time they are upset, take some time to think about how they’re feeling and see what you can do to improve their mood. Listen to an offhand comment about the struggles of moving and offer to help. Then, when you’re on the phone with a customer, you’ll be able to listen for cues that can give you insight into potential roadblocks, helping you best determine next steps. This ability to anticipate and solve problems will help you WOW your customers at every opportunity.

Do you know of any underappreciated soft skills? Leave us a comment and let us know!

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The Ritz-Carlton is famous for anticipating the needs of their guests, winning dedicated lifelong customers in the process (and getting some pretty great press). How do their employees achieve the impressive task of providing guests with what they need before they ask for it, or even think of it? By making it a priority: “Anticipation and fulfillment of each guest’s needs” is part of their Three Steps of Service.

Although Ritz-Carlton’s legendary service certainly sets a high bar, there are many ways for businesses big and small to fulfill unexpressed customer needs, without the aid of a Ritz-Carlton-sized budget. At Ruby® Receptionists, we call it Giving Them What They Don’t Even Know They Want, and it’s the second-highest level of our Ruby Service Pyramid. (If you missed our recent blog posts detailing each level of the Ruby Service Pyramid, you can catch up by starting here.)

Just like Ritz-Carlton, surprising and delighting customers is an achievable goal for any business that makes it a priority. Here are three ways to start enriching your customer experience with the unexpected:

Pay attention to subtle clues

Listen to what your customers tell you, and what they don’t tell you. A pause, a change in tone of voice, a facial expression, a sigh, or a casual-seeming “Hmmmm” can all be signs that your customer wants something they aren’t asking for. Take hesitation as your cue to proactively offer solutions. No mind-reading necessary—if you’re not sure, take a guess!

I’d be happy to see if we can expedite your shipping time—would that be helpful?

Why don’t we finish these forms later—how does that sound?

How about I meet you before the presentation so I can answer any last-minute questions?

Even if your guess misses the mark, it’ll provide a jumping-off point for a deeper conversation, and encourage your customer to disclose a bit more.

Put yourself in the customer’s shoes

What does your typical customer journey entail? Walk yourself through it, and as you do, ask yourself what you’d like to experience if you were a customer. What could make it easier, more efficient, more pleasant? It may be as simple as providing water and coffee in your break room, including driving directions in any correspondence, or keeping tissues within customer reach during cold and flu season. Don’t underestimate the power of little niceties—the comfort they provide can make the difference in your customer’s day.

Live and learn

Use common requests as an opportunity to refine your customer experience. If there’s something new customers often ask for, start delivering it proactively. Pay attention to seasonal trends, and use them as opportunities to show customer appreciation. An uptick product sales around the holidays might prompt you to offer a discount, for example. As you develop relationships with customers and learn more about them, use that knowledge to guess their next steps, and provide them with what they’ll need before they get there.

When you make it a part of your standard customer experience, anticipating the needs of your customers gets easier over time—and it never gets less fun. Giving customers what they don’t even know they want is one of the most rewarding aspects of being on the Ruby team. As excited as our customers get when met with a well-designed surprise, we’re just as thrilled, if not more so. Nothing feels better than brightening someone’s day, and nothing goes farther in building a strong customer relationship. If you invest the effort to fulfill unexpressed needs, prepare to be as delighted as your customers.

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The OEN Tom Holce Entrepreneurship Awards honor the skill and courage it takes for entrepreneurs to create a business out of an idea. The awards are intended to not only celebrate entrepreneurs, but to highlight their importance to the region’s economy. Ruby was announced as a finalist for the Growth Stage Company Award category which recognizes a company with past-year revenue of at least $8 million and projected revenue for the current year of over $8 million. Ruby’s success in providing exceptional customer experiences has led to an annual average revenue growth rate of 40% for the past seven years.

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*Ruby is delighted to offer a money-back guarantee to first time users of both our virtual receptionist service and our chat service. To cancel your service and obtain a full refund for the cancelled service (less any multi-service discount), please notify us of the service you wish to cancel either within 21 days of your purchase of that service or before your usage exceeds 500 receptionist minutes/50 billable chats, as applicable, whichever occurs sooner.