Article

Customer facing roles 101: everything you need to know

Learn about customer-facing roles, what kind of people do well in them, and how to improve your own customer-facing skills.

By Dave Dyson, Sr. Customer Service Evangelist

Published September 28, 2020
Last updated October 30, 2020

Any type of career a person chooses will require developing a relevant skill set.

Sometimes it’s largely a matter of gaining a pertinent body of knowledge—doctors need to learn as much about the health and medical fields as possible, for instance.

People who choose to work in customer-facing roles have to learn a set of skills that are as much about honing personality traits as learning facts.

Working with customers can be immensely rewarding for people who enjoy helping others. But anyone considering a career that involves interacting with clients or customers directly will need to understand:

  • What customer-facing jobs entail
  • How to develop the proper skills to do them well

What is a customer-facing role?

A customer-facing role is any role or job function that involves direct interactions with customers.

That’s true across channels. Any employee likely to…

  • Have a face-to-face conversation with a customer
  • Exchange emails with them
  • Reply to their social media posts
  • Talk with them on the phone

... is in a customer-facing role.

Customer-facing roles also include employees that work with customers at different touchpoints in the customer journey, from when they’re still thinking about buying from you, to years into being a customer of your brand.

In practice customer-facing roles can take a lot of forms, and the particulars of what different ones look like can vary significantly. But they’re all crucial to a company’s brand image and overall success.

Types of customer-facing roles

What counts as a customer-facing role at your company will depend on the type of business you’re in.

In the hospitality industry, it includes waiters, bartenders, porters, concierges and counter attendants. In the retail industry, clerks and salespeople fit the category. Field service technicians, jobs in IT support, and any administrative personnel that take calls and set up appointments are also customer-facing employees.

Most customer-facing roles involve interacting with external customers—the people paying for a company’s products or services. However, in some cases, customer-facing roles can include those who deal with internal customers. Using this definition, human resources professionals are also in customer-facing roles.

This is a broad category that contains a lot of different job titles. But the most obvious type of customer-facing roles are those that fall under the customer service umbrella. This includes (but isn’t limited to):

  • Customer service agent
  • Customer service specialist
  • Customer support representative
  • Customer success manager
  • Customer support engineer
  • Customer care operator
  • Client services coordinator
  • Customer liaison officer
  • Customer relationship specialist
  • Call center agent
  • Receptionist
  • Account executive
  • Cashier
  • Member services specialist
  • Technical support representative
  • Social media customer care

The details of these job roles may vary, but they all center around the need to serve customers and ensure their experience with the brand is a good one.

What makes someone good at customer-facing roles?

Maybe you’re in a position to hire customer service representatives. Or perhaps you want to pursue a career in a customer-facing job yourself. Either way, it’s a good idea to understand what it takes to succeed in these roles.

Key skills

Many of the same skills and abilities that make someone good at customer service apply to a broader range of positions.

Success in customer-facing roles requires being good at:

  • Communication

    Communication is essential in any customer-facing role. That includes both written communication across channels from live chat to email to social media, as well as verbal communication, whether over the phone or in person.

    Depending on the role, you may need to be particularly good at one form of communication. (Call center agents, for example, must excel at verbal communication.) But as much as possible, anyone that wants to work in a customer-facing role will benefit from developing both their written and oral communication skills.

  • Research skills

    The best customer-facing employees are curious and willing to do the work to learn all the skills they need. This may mean digging into learning all about a new industry when hired in a role, or doing extensive research to understand a specific problem a customer has.

    Knowing how to do research effectively is a useful skill for anyone in a customer-facing role.

  • Problem-solving

    Most of a customer service agent’s job is solving problems. Not only must you be willing to commit time and research to diagnosing problems, you then have to figure out the best solution to them. People who relish this challenge are more likely to thrive in customer-facing roles.

Personality traits

There’s no one type of person who’s perfect for every single customer-facing role. However, people who do the best in these roles often share personality traits.

Here are a few that are particularly important:

  • Patience

    Customer-facing employees frequently have to exhibit patience to do their job well.

    In a given week, they’ll face the screeds of angry customers, not to mention complex problems that defy quick-and-easy solutions. They’ll put up with harsh words and frustrating problems that make their job harder. Patience is crucial in those moments, and it comes more naturally to some people than it does to others.

  • Empathy

    Empathy is the ability to understand and share in the feelings of someone else. Truly understanding what a customer is going through and the feelings involved in their experience makes helping them effectively much easier. Customer-facing employees with a well-developed sense of empathy will do this best.

  • Humblidence

    This term may be new to you. That’s because it’s one of Zendesk’s core values, coined internally. It means finding just the right combination of being humble and confident.

    To be amazing in a customer-facing role, you need the confidence to trust you can help people, but the humility to know their needs aren’t about you. Find that balance, and you’ll serve customers well.

5 ways to hone your customer-facing talents

A lot of the skills and traits above don’t come naturally to everyone. So if you want to work in a customer-facing role, how do you put yourself in a position to excel?

While you may be able to find customer service training books or courses that promise to provide all you need, the best way to improve your customer skills is to take a more active approach to learning.

  1. Look for opportunities to help people

    One of the best forms of customer experience training is simply finding ways to help people.

    That could mean seeking out volunteer roles in your community that involve interfacing with people. Or it could mean noticing when a friend is struggling with obligations they’re balancing and offering a hand.

    Every time you provide help to someone in a hands-on way—friend or stranger—you’re beefing up your problem-solving skills. That’s better customer service training than a course is likely to offer.

  2. Read novels

    Researchers have found evidence that reading novels helps improve a person’s capacity for empathy.

    Getting inside the heads of fictional characters and thinking and feeling what they do is a great way to exercise your empathy muscles. For anyone that wants to improve their customer interaction skills, head to the library and grab some fiction.

  3. Learn the industry

    In order to effectively help customers, you need to know what you’re talking about. If you provide IT support, that means learning as much as you can about the technical issues likely to affect your customers. If you’re a hotel concierge, it means learning all about your local area.

    The specifics of this step will depend on the kind of business you work in. But taking time to learn about the topics your customers care about and need help with is an important step for every customer-facing employee to take.

  4. Take on DIY (do-it-yourself) projects

    When something breaks in your house, see if you can figure out what caused the problem and fix it yourself. Or if you have an old piece of tech no one depends on, try taking it apart and putting it back together again.

    The ability to diagnose and solve problems is a big part of providing customer satisfaction. Practicing those skills in your day-to-day life can make you better at doing the same for customers.

  5. Pay attention to your own customer experiences

    Getting inside the head of a customer is easy if you remember that you’re also one. Every person in a customer-facing role at their job is in the customer role at many other times.

    When you call customer support for a product you use or listen to a salesperson make a pitch, pay attention to how their actions make you feel. What do they do that makes your experience good? And if your experience is bad, what caused that?

A winning customer strategy depends on customer-facing roles

Every interaction a person has with a company plays a role in how they perceive the brand. Each time they have an experience with someone in a customer-facing role, they view them as a representative of the company.

That can be good or bad, depending on how well the people in those jobs handle their responsibilities. Even just one bad interaction can have a serious effect, with half of customers in the Zendesk Customer Experience Trends Report, saying that’s enough to switch brands. Make it two bad encounters, and 80% of customers are ready to ditch a brand for a competitor.

On the other hand, when customer-facing employees nail it and help create an amazing customer experience, it breeds customer loyalty. And 52% of customers in the trends report said they go out of their way to stick with brands they feel loyal to.

Customer-facing employees have the power to make or break the customer experience and shape a brand’s reputation. Making sure the people who work in these roles at a company have the skills to wow customers is imperative.

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