Skills and competencies

Customer service skills and how to demonstrate them

25 Jan 2023, 13:38

Customer service skills are vital for graduates seeking a job in many different sectors. Find out what customer service skills are and how to demonstrate them to prospective employers.

The picture shows a lady in a professional-looking suit using her customer service skills to help a client.

Don’t think that a customer or client is always external to your workplace.

Many students think that they only need customer service skills if they are applying for dedicated customer service jobs. However, if your job requires any interaction with a customer, a client, a service user or the public, you will benefit from having a good instinct for customer care.

Don’t think that a customer or client is always external to your workplace. For example, HR professionals often refer to, and treat, their colleagues as customers or service users.

Customer service skills can also help you with ‘stakeholder management’ – a task that is sometimes listed on graduate job descriptions. If you are working on a project, you will probably have to consider the views of various interested parties (stakeholders). Showing them the same courtesy that you would a client will do you no harm at all.

What are customer service skills?

Effective customer service skills work to ensure that customers and clients are happy with the service or goods provided and that any complaints or problems are resolved.

The best customer service skills will make the customer feel valued and listened to, while at the same time dealing with their issue efficiently so that they can then go on to serve other customers promptly. Sometimes, of course, it may not be possible to resolve the situation to the customer’s satisfaction, in which case the aim is to try to assuage the customer’s disappointment in order to neutralise any reputational damage.

Examples of customer service skills

Customer service skills is the umbrella term for a range of competencies and qualities. These can include ‘soft’ customer service skills that you could develop from your everyday personal or working life such as emotional intelligence and communication, or more transferable customer service skills that relate to a specific job, such as commercial awareness, that require you to undertake research or get more experience in the workplace. We’ve listed out a selection of what we feel are key customer service skills below along with links to their dedicated article offering a more thorough explanation and examples. There are more skills that factor in to customer service, so why not take a look at our article on Skills that will get you a job when you graduate for more inspiration too.

Customer service listening and communication skills

Listening and communicating effectively is excellent for your job hunt to impress recruiters, but as a customer service skill, you also need to be able to communicate with people outside of your traditional peer group. You may need to change your communication style on the fly to handle problems, as well as maintain a professional appearance and body language throughout. To find out more, check out our dedicated article on good listening and communication skills .

Emotional intelligence

Emotional intelligence allows you to identify, decode and deal with your own emotions about a situation, but also to do the same to other people. You may also see this described as empathy. In customer service you may be dealing with people that are unhappy about the service that they received or may have a problem that has affected their life which developed as a result of their dealings with the company that you work for. Emotional intelligence will help you to understand the people that you’re dealing with and improve your (and by proxy the business’) relationship with them. Take a look at our dedicated article on emotional intelligence to find out more.

Influencing skills

Influencing skills may utilise both communication and emotional intelligence skills but they are not the same thing. Influencing others is not the same as having power over them, but rather your ability to talk and persuade people to collaborate with you willingly on a project, change or new direction. In customer service, this may be persuading a customer to choose a different product that may be better for them, or make a compelling argument against the customer complaining about a problem. Find our more by reading our dedicated article on influencing skills .

Commercial awareness

Commercial awareness is always one of the most tricky workplace skills to master. It requires an in-depth knowledge of the market, economic and political trends over a considerable period of time and change up to the present. As a customer service skill, commercial awareness will more likely involve an semi-encyclopaedic knowledge of the company’s processes, products and services so that you can best translate this into plain English to meet a customer’s needs. Read up on this essential customer service skills with our dedicated article on commercial awareness .

Problem solving

Problem solving requires you to get to grips with a situation, understand the issues and come up with a creative solution to them. As a customer service skill you could be working directly with customers or clients when they have experienced a problem, or within the company to ensure that problems with logistics or processes don’t create a problem for customers further down the line. Take a look at our article on problem solving for more information.


Resilience is the ability to deal with setbacks and then to go on to learn and grow rather than collapse or shy away from problems. This is not only typically about stress or pressure, but about the things that you do in order to remain unaffected when things don’t go entirely to plan. In a customer service sense, you may not be able to ‘win out’ over customer problems every single time. When it does go wrong or the customer is unhappy, it may be about how you learn from the experience and how you manage to remain positive and professional when it comes to the next customer that you deal with. Find out more about this customer service skill by reading our dedicated articles on resilience and what you can do when dealing with an angry or disappointed customer .

How to develop customer service skills at university

Lots of the part-time jobs you can get as a university student will help you to develop your customer service skills. The typical student bar job, working on the shop floor in retail or in a call centre are all brilliant for this. In fact, any part-time jobs that involve dealing with the public are advantageous: for example, temping as a receptionist, being a lifeguard or being a city tour guide.

You can also gain vital customer service skills outside of paid employment. Taking a public-facing role in a student society – such as running a stall during freshers’ fairs – can build customer service experience. Becoming a representative for your student body – for example, as a course, college or hall rep or helping out with student union activities – will provide you with essential interpersonal skills. Joining your student Nightline society (a student-run counselling service) or similar will also develop your active listening skills and emotional intelligence.

How to show customer service skills on your CV or application

Recruiters partly assess your customer service skills by looking for evidence of it on a CV or job application . When writing up customer service skills for your CV, you need to show them off to the best advantage by listing: good instances of customer service; any praise you received from your managers; the numbers of customers you would typically serve in a shift; and how you met or exceeded your sales target.

Get inspiration on how to write up your retail, hospitality and call centre work experience from our penultimate-year CV template.

At the application stage, your customer service skills could also be assessed through an online ability test, such as a situational judgement test (SJT) , or in a scenario-based video test . In both cases, you will be given scenarios (such as what you’d do if a client was unhappy) and asked to select the best option from multiple choices or write a brief answer. The best ways to succeed at these is to practise these tests beforehand and bear in mind the principles of good customer service.

Get links to free practice online tests .

How to show customer service skills at interview

‘Customer service’ interview questions are likely to be based around your understanding of the practice, your previous experience of providing customer service and hypothetical situations (‘What would you do if…?’). Common interview questions that test your customer service skills include:

  • What does good customer service mean to you?
  • Have you ever received very good or very bad customer service?
  • Tell us about a time when you exceeded a client’s expectations.
  • Give us an example of when you gave good customer service.
  • What would you do if a client complained?
  • (In retail job interviews especially) What would you do if a customer tried to return an item without proof of purchase?
  • How would you go about saying no to a client’s request?
  • How would you deal with a frustrated or unreasonable customer?
  • Would you ever go against our policies or ‘bend the rules’ to provide customers with a better level of service?

In general, when answering these questions, be guided by your definition of customer service. However, bear in mind that it is OK to check whether the company has any policies that would either inform your response or mean that you'd need to discuss how to proceed with your manager.

How to show customer service skills at an assessment day

At an assessment centre, your customer service skills could be one of the competency areas that are tested when you are working on a case study group exercise . For example, you may be asked to solve a theoretical problem for a client.

Alternatively, you might be given a role-play exercise , particularly if you are interviewing for a role in retail. For example, you might be asked to sell something – such as a paperclip – to the assessor. Or the assessor might pretend to be an unhappy customer.

targetjobs editorial advice

This describes editorially independent and impartial content, which has been written and edited by the targetjobs content team. Any external contributors featuring in the article are in line with our non-advertorial policy, by which we mean that we do not promote one organisation over another.

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