This article is part of a larger series on Hiring.
Customer service training is the coaching and support a customer service representative receives to improve their handling of customer issues and create excellent customer satisfaction and experiences. Regardless of the product or service you offer, going the extra mile in customer service builds trust, loyalty, and customer retention.
To bring out your reps’ full potential and provide exceptional customer service, we’ve put together our top customer service training topics and ideas.
Customer Service Training Topics
1. Core Competency Skills
The first step is to pinpoint and train on the core skills your customer service representatives need. To start, reflect on your personal experiences with customer service teams. Think back to both positive and negative experiences. Ask yourself what made a rep great to deal with or—if things didn’t go according to plan—why it transpired that way.
Some of these key customer support skills may include:
Reps need to see a customer’s point of view and understand their emotions—even if they’re extremely irate or frustrated. Have your reps practice empathy by staying focused on the customer, listening for key facts and feelings, taking notes, and confirming what they heard.
Striking the right balance between asking questions and listening can be challenging. It can be tempting to jump to a solution without fully understanding the depth of the problem. Train agents to know when to let customers take the lead in the conversation and when to pipe up with their insight. Reps can practice active listening by repeating what the customer says and paraphrasing it so the customer knows they understand.
Agents need to properly answer customer questions and stay focused on the conversation all the time; using vague language, disengaging, or muttering can be frustrating for customers. Meanwhile, being articulate and staying on topic will instill confidence.
Have your reps act as “customers” during training sessions. This will give them a chance to better understand what it’s like on the other side and how they should address common issues in a professional manner.
Every complaint is unique. Agents need to think on their feet and provide suitable solutions for all types of problems. Provide your agents with basic problem-solving techniques and explain how they can be used in real-world scenarios. Trainees should understand why it is useful for them to approach customer issues with an open mind, identify root causes of problems, utilize available resources and technologies, and consider multiple solutions before making a final decision.
It’s not possible to respond to all customers at the same time. Agents need to identify the most pressing customer issues and act accordingly in an acceptable time frame. Ignoring a customer complaint for too long may push them to take their valuable business elsewhere.
Role-playing activities allow participants to practice handling different types of customers in real-life situations. Additionally, mock scenarios provide an opportunity for participants to practice their prioritization skills with realistic examples that resemble actual problems they may encounter on the job.
To answer customer questions effectively, reps need to be up-to-date on new products, company policies, and how the purchasing process works from the customers’ point of view. Companies should establish clear guidelines and expectations for staying informed. They should set specific deadlines for employees to follow when it comes to learning and sharing new information with customers. Additionally, they should ensure that their employees have access to reliable sources of information, such as industry news outlets or company intranet sites.
Dealing with angry customers is a hard reality of customer service. Keeping a cool head and understanding the person’s anger isn’t a personal attack is vital.
Trainers can give examples of situations where a lack of patience could negatively impact customer relations and explain how having more patience could help to solve or de-escalate those situations. This will give trainees an understanding of why it’s important for them to remain patient when communicating with customers.
No one can know the answer to every possible customer issue—and faking it could fire up a customer even more. Instead, agents should admit when they don’t know the answer and offer to get back to the customer.
One way to teach honesty in customer service training is through role-playing activities, which we will cover in more detail below. These activities create situations where employees must practice responding honestly while also navigating tricky customer inquiries or requests. Employees can get feedback from their peers and managers on how they handled the situation, allowing them to refine their responses so they can make sure they are being honest but also providing quality customer service.
When customers contact a rep, it’s because there’s a problem. Staying positive and focusing on the solution will reassure customers that their issue is being addressed. Organizations should provide instruction on how employees can frame conversations in a way that reflects an optimistic outlook without appearing insincere or patronizing.
Perfection doesn’t exist, and being on the front lines of customer service is challenging. Reps who are open to further training and constructive feedback will help maintain high standards. One of the most effective methods involves role-playing scenarios that simulate real-life situations. In these simulations, trainees may be asked to provide constructive criticism and suggestions on ways that they could have improved their response or better handled the situation at hand. This allows them to practice responding effectively in difficult moments, while also learning from mistakes made by others throughout the simulation.
Developing these key skills will equip your customer service team for a range of challenging customer issues and ensure they’re on top of their game.
Communicating expectations and core values during the onboarding process will keep customer service reps on track from day one. This can even start from the job interviews—treat these like conversations and communicate what your organization values the most from the get-go. Even your job descriptions should demonstrate your company values in order to make it clear across the board.
2. The Art of Saying No
No one enjoys hearing the word no––least of all your customers who want a solution to their issue. It’s only normal for anyone to feel disappointed when they’re told there’s something they can’t have. But of course, you’ll have to decline some of your client’s requests.
Instead of saying a short no, the key is to offer some solid alternatives and options that may appeal to the customer.
Instead of: “No, I can’t send you a replacement blue jacket because it’s out of stock.”
Try: “Could I interest you in one of our jackets in black? I know you love blue but there may be a delay of several weeks until we’re restocked.”
Instead of: “No, it’s against company policy to provide you with a refund for delayed delivery.”
Try: “I apologize for the delivery delay. Would you accept some credit toward your next order?”
When customers have options instead of a hard no, they’re less likely to become irate and will usually accept one of your solutions.
3. Your Product Portfolio
The more your staff understands and knows about your products, the more they can help the customer. Instead of bluffing their way through possible solutions or referring to colleagues, reps should have the confidence to provide technical solutions themselves.
Provide regular product training sessions where you share new additions or business changes. That way, when a customer complains about a product-related technical issue, your agent can be sure they know the answer and can provide a solution.
It’s good to provide them with a constantly updated document on topic details and frequently asked questions. These critical-thinking skills will also come in handy when dealing with customer issues on the spot.
4. Company Branding Alignment
These days, most business conversations happen via email, chat, and over calls instead of in person. For that reason, the choice of words, language, punctuation, and emojis is incredibly important.
It’s a good idea to draft a company document that outlines your brand voice. Categorize it into sections that include how reps should interact with customers across different communication channels. Depending on how you offer customer service, you should provide brand voice guidelines for phone calls, emails, and live chat. Prepare canned or templated customer service responses to commonly asked questions.
Here are some examples of what to include:
- Tone of voice: Do you want reps to sound upbeat, formal, or informal?
- Language: Can reps speak colloquially, or do you want them to use formal language only? Should they write in British or American English?
- Emojis: Do you prefer written communication to be with or without emojis?
- Punctuation: How correct should punctuation be in written communication?
Maintaining a brand voice will ensure reps provide a consistent customer experience.
Building authentic relationships with customers starts by treating them with kindness and respect. If reps show that they genuinely care about customers and their experience, customers will feel comfortable doing business with you and are more likely to remain loyal.
It’s important to train your customer service reps or anyone else who talks to your clients to build meaningful business relationships.
Here are a few ways to do this:
- Understand that customers are individuals: It’s easy to think of customers as just data on a screen, but you need to remind reps that they’re individual people with worries, questions, stress, and hopes. Reps need to remember to listen to customers as people and treat them with respect.
- Be yourself: Customers can sense inauthenticity from a mile away, and it’s not a good look for reps or businesses. So be yourself, be honest, and admit when there’s not an immediate solution.
- Use some small talk: During calls, it can be easy to jump right into the issue instead of asking how a person is or how their day is going. Engaging in some small talk, especially if you have a smaller base of customers, will help build rapport. Be careful, though, as some customers may be less willing to engage in small talk than others.
- Say thank you: People are busy and like to feel that their time is valued. Saying thank you to someone for their patience or help in solving an issue is a great way to show your appreciation.
- Don’t go through the motions: It’s easy to go into autopilot mode and just say everything on repeat. But no one likes to feel that they’re talking to a robot or a broken record. Take the time to properly engage with what the customer is saying and react accordingly.
6. Customer Complaint Management
Being on the front line means being on the receiving end of an irate customer’s frustrations. Without some customer complaint training, the situation can catch any well-meaning customer service representative off guard. It’s easy for reps to panic, get flustered, and lose sight of how they need to respond.
It’s crucial to provide training on how to handle customer complaints calmly and professionally. If done effectively, you can turn negative experiences into opportunities to gain loyal customers.
Here’s how to best handle customer complaints:
- Keep your cool: Sometimes customers need to vent, and reps need to be adept at being neutral and letting customers share their frustrations––even if they’re shouting. Simply acknowledge the customers’ feelings by saying things like “I understand.” Soon the customer will see that the person on the other end of the line is calm and professional. This will encourage them to approach things with a calm mindset too.
- Get a complete picture: Before jumping to a solution, make sure reps have a complete understanding of the issue and all the facts surrounding it. This is the right moment to ask relevant questions to understand what the customer needs.
- Accept there’s a problem: Defensive reps who pin the problem on the customer will only irritate them further. Instead, reps should acknowledge the problem and reassure customers that they understand the issue.
- Don’t be afraid to apologize: Mistakes happen to all businesses, and if your business has made a mistake, own up and apologize. Customers appreciate honesty and will have more respect for the business in the long run if it can accept fault.
- Provide a solution: Once reps understand the full extent of the issue, they should offer solutions to the customer. They need to understand what’s an appropriate solution within company guidelines––offering something the business can’t commit to will generate further problems later on.
Responding to customers in a timely manner with accurate information is vital for a successful customer service team. However, it is reported that only 20% of businesses feel their speed at resolving customer engagements is extremely strong. This means that 80% of businesses see room for improvement.
Customer Service Training Ideas
7. Use a Variety of Training & Development Methods
Everyone learns differently, and most people prefer certain training and development methods over others. Plus, providing information in multiple formats helps learners retain it more successfully. As such, you’ll want to appeal to all learning styles.
Here are a few ideas for making your training methods accessible to different learner types:
Using all or a mix of these methods will appeal to different learning styles. Over time, see how your reps react to each training method—you’ll probably notice some work best for certain individuals.
8. Gamify the Training Process
Customer service training might induce some anxiety in your reps. Gamifying your training to make it a little less serious will help them look forward to training sessions.
One area in which gamifying might help is in recalling names. Calling customers by their names builds rapport and personalizes the experience. But when dealing with complaints and trying to find solutions, it can be easy for reps to get flustered and quickly forget a customer’s name or, worse, get it wrong or mispronounce it. A quick five-minute group game to boost reps’ ability to remember names correctly could be a fun warmup to the day.
By gamifying training, reps will be more engaged and thus more likely to remember key best practices and solutions to customer problems. You’ll avoid the danger of boring or overloading reps with the same information and training techniques.
Take a look at our top customer service software for small businesses.
9. Integrate Customer Feedback Into Customer Service Training
Customers are the ones interacting with reps on a daily basis. For that reason, their feedback is vital for improving customer service. There are a couple of ways to get the needed feedback from your customers—hold a focus group and conduct surveys.
Once you have some honest customer feedback, create an action plan that directly addresses customer concerns.
10. Involve Management & Other Departments
Exceptional customer service starts at the top and trickles down through all team members. To help create the most effective customer service agents, look to your supervisors and managers. Their position of authority has the potential to inspire, motivate, and engage your reps so they provide the best customer experience possible.
Make hiring and training skilled leaders a priority in your business. Strong leaders know how to create a performance-driven customer experience culture and will help mentor and coach other team members.
Customer service isn’t just limited to a single department. Your whole organization needs to understand that customer experience is a priority. For that reason, it’s a good idea to do cross-departmental training and hold regular knowledge-sharing sessions.
For example, your reps could share feedback with the product team that they’re receiving lots of complaints about products being out of stock. The product team could then research product alternatives that ship more easily so that customers who want quick delivery have another option.
Documenting everything keeps everyone on the same page and prevents misinterpretation and protocols and processes ensure reps always know what the appropriate next step is. To start with, create protocols and processes on the following:
- Brand voice
- Company refund and return policy
- Training sessions
By creating documentation on key protocols and processes, reps will always know the appropriate next step. This boosts morale and confidence in your team too.
11. Put Yourself in Your Customer’s Shoes Through Role-playing
Listening to feedback from real customers will help your business identify recurring issues that require fixing. You can help employees develop empathy and understand the customer’s viewpoint through different role-playing situations. When team members understand issues from the customers’ perspective, they’ll be more likely to proactively find a suitable solution.
Make it easier for your team members to reply to customers efficiently by equipping them with customer relationship management (CRM) software that includes or integrates with help desk software. We put together a guide to the best small business CRM platforms to help you get started. Plus, learn how to train your team on your CRM.
12. Learn From Companies With Exceptional Customer Service
Identify businesses known for providing exceptional customer service and see if you can arrange for your reps to learn about their customer service techniques. Ask your reps to create a list of questions for the company and report on their findings. They can then share with the rest of the group their learnings and reflections on what worked well and what could be improved.
Learning from industry leaders encourages reps to reflect on their own techniques and how they could develop them. It’s also worth checking out some of the worst customer service examples to ensure you’re not guilty of any of the same mistakes.
13. Never Stop Training
Continual training and development is key to maintaining success across your customer service department. Encourage reps to strive to be their best selves by taking initiative in their own growth and development.
Provide resources and organize regular training for customer service teams so they’re at the forefront of providing the best possible customer experience. You do this by holding and attending:
- Expert interviews
- Whole-team training days
Talk about how continual learning and development are key for successful growth and sustainable success in customer service.
A learning management system (LMS) is a platform that makes it easier to streamline and organize a business’s training content. Instead of having to assign each individual separate content and platform logins, you can assign training material from one central platform. Once you’re logged in to an LMS, you can upload educational content, monitor assessments, and track individual progress.
A 2022 customer service trends report shows that 90% of consumers will spend more with companies that personalize the customer service they offer them. Taking the time to consider and implement customer service training ideas will help your reps create this type of environment and reach their full potential. Experiment with the customer service training ideas and topics we’ve covered above and see which resonate the most with your agents. Remember to keep things interesting and don’t be afraid to introduce new ideas to the mix.