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7 must-have skills for customer experience professionals

Empathy, communication and adaptability are just some of the skills that all customer experience professionals should have in their toolbox.

The experience that potential customers have when interacting with a brand doesn't just determine if they will make a purchase. It also determines whether they will become lifelong fans and tell everyone they know to shop there -- or leave negative reviews and shop the competition.

Given the importance that's placed on customer experience today, decision-makers are on the lookout for individuals who have the right skill set to positively affect their businesses.

Here are some of the skills necessary to land a job as a customer experience (CX) professional.

What is customer experience and why is it important?

Customer experience is the perception that customers have of a brand -- before, during and after a product or service purchase. This includes how quickly a customer service representative was able to solve a problem, how fast a website or mobile app loads and how well a customer could find what they were looking for.

Customer experience drives over two-thirds of customer loyalty, according to a report from Gartner. Customers tend to remember their interactions with brands for three months following their most recent experience, and those are what influence their loyalty.

To deliver a great customer experience, brands need to make sure that the content they provide is timely. They need to be able to solve problems quickly and accurately. They need to provide a consistent high-quality product or service. But above all, businesses need to put the customer at the center all interactions to keep them coming back.

What is customer experience?

Customer experience isn't just limited to customer service. In today's digital world, customer experience involves the entire company, starting in the C-suite and extending to marketing, sales, engineering and IT. That means that there are jobs for customer experience professionals across several different areas, including customer success, sales and product management. 

Top skills for customer experience professionals

Regardless of the exact career path you want to take as a CX professional, here are some of the top customer experience skills that you'll need to make the cut.

1. Strategic outlook

Anything you do as a customer experience professional should align with the overall objectives of the business. Every CX initiative needs to be mapped to a specific goal, considering where the company is today and where it wants to head in the future.

CX professionals need to be able to identify ways to improve the customer experience and build more loyalty and trust among customers. If the business is new, then gaining new customers may be your top priority. An established brand may focus more on customer retention, depending on what else is happening within the business. Ultimately, identifying those targets and then developing a plan to meet those goals is a critical skill to have.

2. Data-driven mindset

As a CX professional, you need to know the areas where you're already doing well and the areas where you need to improve. However, you can't improve what you can't measure, and that's why having a data-driven mindset is essential in a customer experience role.

Businesses can measure customer satisfaction with surveys and other data collection methods. There are many surveys and metrics available to determine how satisfied your customers are, but two of the most popular metrics include net promoter score and customer satisfaction score.

While quantitative, measurable data is necessary, it's just as important to collective qualitative data to understand why a customer provides a business with a given rating. Knowing how to blend metrics with subjective feedback to improve the customer experience will help you shine above your peers.

Learn how Kroger drives customer experience with data here.

3. Communication and storytelling

Reading the numbers and determining the best course of action for a business is crucial as a customer experience professional. But more importantly, you need to be able to communicate that course of action to those around you.

Communication skills are necessary at all levels of customer experience. Sales and customer service professionals need to be able to speak with customers, understand their problems and help them solve them. And CX leaders need to be able to encourage their team members and explain their vision.

One effective way for every CX professional to communicate better is through storytelling. A good story helps get a message across to internal stakeholders and show them how data collected affects the business. Storytelling can also highlight how a product or service you're selling can benefit customers.

4. Relationship building

Customer experience involves more than just one department -- from pre-purchase to post-purchase. These departments include marketing, sales, customer service and customer support. Therefore, another important skill to have in your arsenal is the ability to build relationships.

Relationship building means identifying and getting the most critical internal stakeholders on your side and collaborating with them to enhance the customer experience. Your work will never be siloed, even when you work independently, so cultivating relationships should be top of the agenda if you want to be effective.

Read this Q&A with Raghu Kalé on how building customer relationships is key to loyalty.

5. Project management and process simplification

Project management skills can also set you apart in the customer experience industry. You should be able to break down complex problems into manageable pieces and identify others around you who can help complete various tasks.

With numerous digital channels and new competition popping up on a regular basis, most companies work on multiple initiatives simultaneously. This means that you need to be able to juggle multiple items at once, prioritize key initiatives and lead others to stand out.

6. Empathy and listening skills

While it's a good practice to solve customer issues as quickly as possible, it's just as important to have empathy when solving those problems to understand how they're feeling. Empathy is key to retaining loyal customers and driving business success.

No two customers are the same, so it is important that CX professionals are adept at addressing a variety of customer emotions -- including delight, frustration and anger. Businesses need to acknowledge customer feelings, which can be done through active listening, making statements and asking questions related to what the customer has said.

Some common empathy statements CX professionals can use to show they are listening include:

  • I apologize for your experience.
  • I understand how frustrating this must be.
  • What can I do to remedy the situation?
  • You're right.

The best customer experience professionals can listen to their customers and keep finding ways to solve their problems.

7. Adaptability

Customer experience is a fast-changing industry. Technology and customer preferences are constantly changing, and it's for that reason that CX professionals need to be adaptable and flexible.

This not only means being able to work in a team or independently as the situation requires, but also pivoting to new channels and initiatives, picking up new skills and working with emerging technologies. No matter what, you must adjust as necessary to continue finding ways to improve the customer experience.

More and more businesses are recognizing the importance of customer experience today. Customers are the lifeblood of a business, and without them, every company would cease to exist. Therefore, it's up to CX professionals to develop the skills necessary to continue bettering themselves and improving the experience for their customers.

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