Despite advances in technology, soft skills such as emotional intelligence and resilience remain the most critical traits for building successful client relationships. A study of more than 600 respondents, in a range of industries including retail, health care, financial services, technology and manufacturing, found that two-thirds of respondents believe that building trust with customers is one of the most crucial customer service skills. The study was conducted by Mursion, an immersive virtual reality training provider, and Future Workplace, an advisory and membership organization serving human resources leaders.

“Customer service and sales roles have changed dramatically in the past year,” says Jeanne Meister, managing partner at Future Workplace. “These professionals now must have a mix of digital and relationship-building skills to meet the new challenges of the hybrid workplace and achieve goals for growth.”

In reporting on their survey results, Mursion and Future Workplace noted that developing essential human skills comes at a time of heightened stress for sales and service professionals due to the effects of the global pandemic, as well as the rise of increasingly automated customer interactions. Sales and service associates are being tasked with handling more difficult customer conversations alongside internal pressure to meet quotas and hasten speed to resolution or close. These transformations in the workplace have put an elevated emphasis on the mastery of such social instincts as active listening and empathy.

“Sales and customer service require faster, more complex and personalized service than ever before,” says Mursion VP Christina Yu. “Many of the tools and technologies available to frontline professionals hold incredible promise but also raise expectations. And we’re living in the ‘age of the review’ where service quality is more transparent than ever. Social instincts, cultivated with repeated practice, are the key to survival in these times; they empower professionals to thrive in even volatile and uncertain circumstances.”

The survey found that 68 percent of respondents say artificial intelligence has made “human touch” more critical for sales. And respondents in industries that are early AI adopters—financial services, manufacturing and technology—were more likely to say that AI has made the human touch more critical for sales.

Also, 71 percent report that emotional intelligence is becoming more important than cognitive intelligence for customer service jobs. Respondents named the need for faster service, expectations of personalized service, increasingly complex technologies and a quickly changing competitive landscape as the biggest changes to customer service over the past five years.

The full report, “The Human Edge in an AI World,” can be found here.