What Are Soft Skills?
Soft skills are a set of skills that are inherently challenging to define. An employee in a new job can learn role-specific tasks, such as how to answer a phone, how to memorize a script, and how to use the technology they need to perform their role. Those are so-called “hard skills” – the repeatable, measurable, scalable tasks that everyone is asked to do.
Soft skills, on the other hand, are more people-oriented. Soft skills include people management, interpersonal communication, problem-solving, and other social skills. They regard how a person handles situations and people, and can be critical to success.
While it seems like a challenge to train soft skills, it can be done. There are tools for giving employees real-life situations to practice soft skills so they can put them into practice. These methods can be automated through AI simulations, saving time, money, and people-hours.
Soft skills, it turns out, are actually very hard. But they can be taught.
Soft Skills in Customer-Facing Jobs
Soft skills are often seen as important for internal business. How well an employee works as a team member, if they have leadership qualities, if they can be trained easily, and so on. And while this is true, soft skills are also vitally important in customer-facing roles.
Customer-facing roles include customer service and support, fraud detection, sales, and collection. In all of these roles, employees will be working with customers who might be frustrated, defensive, suspicious, or even outright angry. It is the job of the employee to walk them through their emotions toward a positive resolution.
Soft skills – the ability of someone to relate to and work with another person – it vitally important in customer-facing roles. They are the difference between what’s on paper and what happens in real life.
What Are the Most Important Soft Skills?
While the idea of “soft skills” is challenging to define, there are a set of skills that most people agree are important.
Interpersonal skills relate to the way a person interacts with others. It encompasses the tactics and approach in dealing with any kind of situation. This can be anything from brightening someone’s day with common courtesy to defusing a complicated and challenging situation.
People who have the most refined interpersonal skills have an innate sense of empathy. They understand what is motivating the other person or people, and what they need to have a resolution. A customer-facing employee with excellent interpersonal skills will know how to listen to their caller and figure out the best way to respond to them.
The key to developing interpersonal skills in a customer-facing role is to learn how to understand the language the customer is using, to read tone, and to figure out what is between the lines.
A customer-service script can often say that if a customer asks for X, you can respond with Y. But what if they already know Y? What if they want Z? What if they want X+Y+Z? That’s a problem.
Problem-solving soft skills are not a way for the employee to go off-book entirely. But problem-solving skills allow them to understand the question and find a way toward a resolution. They involve not panicking and remembering all the aspect of their training. What is it?
- Identify a complex problem
- Break it down into its component parts
- See a path toward resolution
- Work calmly toward the end
Ability to communicate
This seems straightforward for someone in a customer-facing role. They of course have to communicate clearly and directly, without any ambiguity. But the ability to communicate is more than the ability to be heard. They need to be understood.
Communication skills involve the empathy to talk in a way that the customer can relate to. If a customer is having trouble understanding jargon or official language, a representative with excellent communication skills will be able to simplify it for them. If someone seems nervous, a representative will be able to slow down their approach in order to calm them down.
Communication starts with listening.
Leadership skills are extremely important for an employee’s progression through a company. They can help pave the way toward management positions, where the employee can train others. But these skills are also crucial for customer interactions. Some leadership skills include:
- Relationship building
- Motivational skills
- Conflict management
- Critical thinking
It’s pretty easy to see how these soft skills translate to customer interactions. Build a relationship with them. Be able to adjust to the unexpected in creative ways. Make decisions toward a resolution, and stem conflicts where they arise. And finally, the critical thinking to apply a straightforward script and training to a complex and changing situation.
It turns out that the qualities that make a good leader make for great customer interactions.
How AI Coaching Can Improve Soft Skills
The biggest question about soft skills is how they can be trained and transferred to other people. There are some employees who are innately great at soft skills. There are some who will never be good. But the vast majority are in the middle: people who want to be better but need the confidence and the experience.
That comes with training. The problem with on-the-job training is that unsuccessful interactions stifle creativity and hurt morale. Negative interactions can be harmful on the willingness to deploy soft skills.
That’s why simulation training is so important. But training with real-world scenarios while avoiding real-world risk, customer-facing employees can practice the application of soft skills alongside their hard skills.
This simulation training doesn’t have to take up the time of more experienced leaders, either. An AI coaching platform can run employees through simulations, offer feedback, and score them not just on metrics such as time of call, but on empathy, understanding, and language used. It can report to managers areas of success and identify areas for improvement.
Training makes soft skills possible. Training in real-world, AI-driven simulations makes soft skills an innate part of your representatives’ job performance.