According to Microsoft’s 2020 Global State of Customer Service report, 90% of consumers say customer service is important to them when choosing whether to purchase from a brand, and 58% of customers have stopped doing business with a brand due to a poor customer service experience.
With such high stakes, it’s critical to make sure all of your customer-facing team members are operating at their full potential. A strong customer service training program, like any other employee training program, will help your team get comfortable with their duties and acquire the knowledge and skills they need to perform at a high level. The ideas below will help you create a successful training program.
An effective customer service training program does three things.
First, it helps team members develop hard skills: the technical knowledge and abilities required to perform a job.
Second, it reinforces and refines team members’ soft skills: the non-technical abilities and traits that affect how a person interacts with others.
Last, a good customer service training program builds confidence, consistency, and speed. According to research from Zendesk, nearly 60% of customers say long hold and wait times are among the most frustrating parts of a bad customer service experience. Confidence, consistency, and speed will help agents resolve issues more quickly, handle a higher volume of support requests, and keep customers happy.
A customer service agent needs to build three types of hard skills to succeed: product knowledge, concept knowledge, and customer service toolset knowledge.
In order to help customers with their questions about your company’s products (or services), agents need to learn those products inside and out. Here are some training ideas for developing your customer service team’s product knowledge:
1. Treat new hires like new customers
Using your customer training and educational resources is a powerful way to help customer service trainees learn your products or services. (It also helps reveal deficiencies in those customer-facing resources. If trainees don’t understand or retain the information in those resources, customers probably don’t understand or retain it either.)
Give trainees copies of your customer-facing resources, such as getting started guides, manuals, email onboarding campaigns, webinars, videos, and so on. Have trainees write down their thoughts and questions about the materials as they go through them. Review trainees’ notes and questions to make sure they’re picking up what they need to know.
2. Have trainees perform customer tasks
Reviewing customer-facing resources is important, but there’s no substitute for experience. Give trainees a safe place to practice, make mistakes, and learn how your customers interact with your products or services.
To do this, first come up with a list of common customer tasks. Have trainees perform each of these tasks and observe them as they do so. As needed, stop to review trainees’ work to discuss their questions, why they chose to do tasks a certain way, and any errors they make.
By creating a low-stakes environment where trainees can get familiar with the challenges customers face, you’ll help them learn how to solve those challenges and explain the solutions in a way customers will understand.
3. Give trainees a good example to follow
Your existing customer service reps have a lot to teach their new colleagues about how to solve customer problems. Passing along this knowledge gets trainees up to speed more quickly and contributes to creating a consistent customer experience from rep to rep. Have trainees shadow your seasoned, high-performing customer service agents as they work with customers.
Trainees should write down questions and observations as they shadow their colleagues and stop to discuss them after each interaction. Since they’ll be stopping to discuss trainees’ questions, your existing customer service reps will probably handle fewer customer issues than they normally would. Be sure to budget for that drop off by increasing your customer service coverage on days when trainees are shadowing.
Your customers don’t buy your products out of goodwill—they’re buying them in order to solve a problem. The better your agents understand the problems your customers are facing, the better equipped they’ll be to provide help that goes beyond what your customers might find in your online help resources.
In order to deliver the best service possible to customers, trainees will need to absorb key concepts related to your company’s industry. For example, customer service trainees at an email newsletter software provider might need to learn about list-building best practices, anti-spam regulations, and other email marketing concepts.
1. Take trainees to school
Identify the key issues or concepts trainees will need to grasp in order to best help customers. For each of these, develop a list of 3-5 top resources (such as articles, videos, and books), and create a schedule or curriculum for trainees to review those resources. Set aside time to discuss trainees’ questions and test their knowledge retention.
2. Tap into your existing team’s knowledge
Your experienced customer service team members know about more than just your products or services. Over time, they develop a deep understanding of key concepts related to the problems your business helps customers solve.
Have seasoned agents give talks and facilitate group discussions about key concepts. This not only educates your trainees, but since the information is coming from an existing team member, it helps create consistency in how different customer service reps think and talk about those key concepts.
Customer service tools have come a long way over the past couple of decades. They can help your team provide faster, more consistent service that keeps customers happy -- but only if your people know how to use them.
Here are some training ideas for developing your customer service team’s toolset knowledge:
1. Lean on your vendors
Most modern customer service tools come with robust training materials, including manuals, videos, knowledge bases, webinars, and more. Build a curriculum around these materials, and assign it to your trainees.
Managers or senior agents should meet regularly with trainees to test their knowledge and discuss questions.
As with product knowledge, shadowing is an effective way to help new customer service reps learn about the tools and software they will use to do their jobs. Consider implementing shadowing sessions for tools that are separate from product knowledge sections, so trainees will be able to focus on the most relevant things at different times. Make sure trainees know to pay attention to the tools your experienced team members use as they are helping customers.
3. Monitor and coach
Eventually, it will be time for trainees to start taking live customer calls, chats, and emails. As customers contact them for help, trainees will have to use a combination of tools and technologies (such as your helpdesk software) to diagnose and resolve customer issues. To help trainees develop good habits, have an appropriate team member (such as a supervisor or a senior customer service rep) observe trainees as they work.
The supervising team member should answer questions, correct errors, and provide helpful tips and tricks they’ve picked up during their time in customer service. This helps ensure trainees understand how to quickly and correctly use each of the tools provided to them, as well as how to use those tools together to resolve customer issues.
There are many soft skills that come in handy when working in customer service, but our research into customer service skills shows that the 3 biggest soft skills that impact CSAT are authenticity, a friendly tone, and empathy. Here are some exercises for bringing them out in your people.
It would be easy to define authenticity as “just being yourself.” That definition isn’t useful when trying to help your team members develop it. Instead, think of authenticity as “congruence between our deeper values and beliefs (i.e., a ‘true self’) and our actions.”
There are many ways to develop authenticity, but they tend to be solo exercises. This values exercise (and associated worksheet) is easy to adapt for training because trainees and trainers can share and discuss their perspectives.
Some people seem to naturally have a friendly tone of voice, while others may sound robot-like, intimidating, or even angry. Fortunately, there are exercises that can help your customer service trainees develop a friendly tone. Here are three you can try with your next new hire.
Vocal cord thinning. According to voice coach Maria Pellicano, a person whose tone of voice is perceived as unfriendly may be suffering from swollen or inflexible vocal cords that keep their voice in a limited, low register. She recommends a vocal cord thinning exercise to develop flexibility and make speaking in a higher, broader register more natural.
Diaphragmatic breathing. Public speaking trainer Gary Genard suggests that shallow breathing can contribute to an unfriendly-sounding tone of voice. He recommends this diaphragmatic breathing exercise as a way to create a softer, more pleasant tone of voice.
Listening to yourself. If you’ve ever heard your own voice on a video or a voicemail, you know the way we sound in our own heads isn’t the way we sound to others. Help agents develop their tone of voice by recording them as they role-play sample customer service calls (or as they take real customer calls) and review the recordings together.
Empathy, or the ability to understand and share another person’s feelings, is a critical soft skill for customer service. As with a friendly tone, it comes more naturally to some people than others, but trainees can develop it with practice. Here are two exercises that may help.
In order to understand and share someone’s feelings, you need to first hear and understand how they express those feelings. Active listening is a technique that can help your team members develop empathy and teach them to exhibit it.
This active listening exercise is a simple way for trainees to build (and get feedback on) their active listening skills.
You can also develop empathy by forcing yourself to hear not only what other people think or feel but also their reasons for thinking or feeling that way.
A “deep canvassing” exercise (such as exercise #3 on this list from TED) can train your customer service reps to better understand and appreciate why customers may feel confused, disappointed, or frustrated.
As agents go through customer service training, they absorb a lot of information about your company, your customers, and their own duties. Chances are, they’ll make their fair share of mistakes during training, but as they progress, you should see them begin to work more quickly, more accurately, and more confidently.
The impact on your business will follow. CSAT scores and other customer service metrics will increase — and more importantly, you’ll have happier, more loyal customers.
If you need help identifying areas for improvement in your training process, sign up for a demo of MaestroQA. Our tool allows quality assurance managers to find out exactly where support agents may be undertrained or lacking the resources they need to solve customer problems.