This article is part of a larger series on Retail Management.
Regardless of the product or service you offer, strong customer service is key to keeping customers happy. Going the extra mile in customer service builds trust, loyalty, and customer retention. In fact, 93% of customers are likely to make repeat purchases with companies that offer excellent customer service.
Customer service training is the coaching and support a customer service representative receives to improve customer satisfaction and experience. To bring out your reps’ full potential and provide exceptional service, we’ve put together our top 20 customer service training ideas, tips, and activities.
1. Identify the Important Customer Service Skills You Need
The first step is to pinpoint the 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:
- Empathy: Reps need to see a customer’s point of view and understand their emotions—even if they’re extremely irate or frustrated.
- Active listening: 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.
- Communication skills: Agents need to properly answer customer questions and stay focused on the conversation all the time. Vague language, disengaging, or muttering is frustrating for customers. Being articulate and staying on topic will instill confidence.
- Solution-driven: Every complaint is unique. Agents need to think on their feet and provide suitable solutions for all types of problems.
- Ability to prioritize: 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.
- Well-informed: 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.
- Patience: 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.
- Honesty to admit when you don’t know the answer: 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.
- Optimistic: 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.
- Open to feedback: 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.
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.
2. Make Exceptional Customer Service a Core Part of the Job Description
Exceptional customer service should be part of your corporate philosophy, and it isn’t limited to a department. It’s a core philosophy that everyone in the organization—from the CEO to the most recently hired—should embrace. For that reason, everyone should receive customer service training the moment they’re hired.
Communicating expectations and core values from the start will keep customer service reps on track. Reps should know that their priority is always to provide a positive customer experience.
When agents know they’re being paid to provide top-quality service and their performance is measured against their ability to do so, they’ll likely go the extra mile to achieve your company vision.
The front line will receive different training than an employee in the warehouse, but everyone in your organization should know the role they’re playing to contribute to the overall customer experience.
Begin Customer Service Training Before Day One
Typically, onboarding starts on the first day. But by starting your onboarding training earlier, you’ll help agents understand your company’s core values—exceptional customer service and experience. If you show that maintaining high customer support standards is a priority from the outset, reps will be able to hit the ground running and provide top-quality service from the start.
Technically, onboarding should start during job interviews. Treat interviews like a conversation and communicate what your organization values the most. Even your job descriptions should demonstrate your company values.
3. Use a Variety of Training Methods
Everyone learns differently, and most people prefer certain 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:
- Virtual: Following interviews, provide reps with online resources outlining support workflows. Share documents outlining the kind of language and solutions they should use to solve common issues.
- Videos: Share video re-enactments of reps successfully resolving issues and ones that miss the mark. Explain why some were successful and others not.
- Recordings: Give reps access to real-life recordings of conversations between reps and customers. Ask them to think about the positives and negatives of each one.
- Group: Dynamic group sessions provide opportunities for role-playing and bouncing ideas off each other.
- 1:1: Some individuals may find group sessions to be higher pressure. Balance them out with 1:1 pairings with more experienced reps who can share their experience with new joiners.
- On-the-job: There’s no substitute for real-world experience. When agents have a foundation of knowledge, it’s time to help them learn from experience and real-life customer issues.
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.
4. Make Customer Service Training Personal & Fun
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 and even enjoy training sessions. You could reinvent popular games like “Jeopardy” by providing prizes for the best customer issue solutions.
One area in which gamifying might help is in recalling names. Calling customers by their name 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.
5. Keep It Positive
Staying upbeat even during the most challenging customer interactions will keep the conversation on track and solution-oriented. Negativity will only worry customers about the result.
What to Say Instead of “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 clients’ requests.
Instead of saying a short no, the key is to offer some solid alternatives and options that may appeal to the customer.
Helping agents practice a solution-oriented mindset will ensure conversations are positive and focused on the outcome instead of the problem.
You could do this by asking agents to list the usual requests that they say no to. Then ask them to come up with alternatives they can say instead of no.
Here are some examples:
- 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.
6. Analyze & Learn From Real-Life Situations
Nearly three out of five consumers report that good customer service helps them feel loyalty toward a brand. For that reason, reps need to be able to handle all types of customer queries and provide satisfactory solutions.
Asking agents to analyze past scenarios helps them learn what (and what not) to do when they’re handling customer issues.
Prompt each rep to think of a scenario where something went wrong—for example, a frustrated customer shouted at the rep and didn’t agree to any of the proposed solutions. Either ask the rep to write down or share with the group exactly what was said. Then ask them to explain where the communication broke down.
While looking at what the rep and customer said, ask them and other reps to think about where the communication could have been improved. Could they have listened and understood more? Could they have asked more questions? Could they have spoken more clearly and succinctly?
Analyzing these conversations will help them and other reps adjust their communication style and improve moving forward.
7. Listen to Your Customers
Customers are the ones interacting with reps on a daily basis. For that reason, their feedback is vital for improving customer service.
Everyone’s definition of top-quality customer service will be different, so it makes sense to ask customers what excellent customer service means to them.
Conduct a focus group with customers who’ve recently contacted your customer service team. Try to gather a collection of both satisfied and frustrated customers, so you can hear contrasting perspectives and build an accurate picture of how customers see your support team.
Prepare some questions beforehand and leave some space for customers to share their honest opinions with you.
Some example questions might include:
- Were you satisfied with the solutions offered by your rep? Why?
- How long were you waiting to speak to a rep?
- Would you be happy to call our customer service team again?
Use these questions as a launchpad to dive into customers’ opinions about your service. Make sure to record these focus sessions either with audio or video recordings.
Make it a habit to conduct regular customer satisfaction surveys. Send out questionnaires at regular intervals throughout the year to existing customers to identify how they feel about your customer service.
Any time a customer interacts with a rep, follow up with a quick NPS (net promoter score) survey to measure their overall satisfaction with the service. It’s a good idea to send out a longer, more detailed questionnaire asking more specific questions about their satisfaction with things like wait time, the overall solution, and the helpfulness of the rep.
Once you have some honest customer feedback, create an action plan that directly addresses customer concerns.
8. Set Up Your Small Business Technology
Take advantage of a full tech ecosystem to make learning more efficient and optimize your response times too.
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.
Import all your company policy documents, YouTube training videos, and relevant WordPress files. You could also connect it to your other tools like Zoom, Slack, and GoToMeeting.
Nearly 60% of customers feel that long holds and wait times are the most frustrating parts of a service experience. Responding to customers in a timely manner with accurate information is vital for a successful customer service team.
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. On its own, CRM software is an excellent customer service tool—even more so when integrated with the support process.
Look for CRMs that automatically pull relevant customer data like contact details and date of contact from calendars and emails and any other channels. Help desk software will allow you to preload and customize FAQs as well as display customer data to help your team respond to both specific and general inquiries. We put together a guide of the best small business CRM platforms to help you get started.
Related: How to Train Your Team on Your CRM
9. Get Management Involved
One of the best ways to make sure your training has an impact is to request that decision-makers and team managers are included.
They could actively attend all or some of the sessions or attend the final session and distribute the completion certificates. The key is that they validate the training their employees or team has participated in.
Good Coaching Skills Help Motivate Team Members
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.
10. 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.
Improve Customer Service Scenarios
Every customer call is unique and requires a unique approach. Regularly improvising different customer service scenarios will encourage agents to think on their feet, which is exactly what they’ll need to do in real-world situations.
Choose different customer scenarios so your agents get up to speed on all the different types of issues they may need to handle.
For example, you could try improvising these scenarios:
- An irate customer who has already called three times and hasn’t been offered an appealing solution
- A customer complaint about a lost delivery
- A customer whose phone line connection keeps dropping
- A customer who doesn’t understand the company’s returns policy
- A customer who’s lost their account password and can’t figure out how to retrieve it
Practicing what to say and which solutions to offer will help agents feel confident that they can handle any scenario when they’re in touch with a customer.
Hold Mock Phone Calls to Improve Telephone Skills
A phone call may be a customer’s first interaction with your business, so make sure you go the extra mile to create a good impression.
Newer reps may get flustered on phone calls or not know the right way to clearly communicate over the phone. Mock phone calls will help your employees feel confident in real-life phone conversations with customers.
Prior to scheduling mock phone calls give your reps some communication tips and guidelines to help them communicate effectively. These might include:
- Speak with an upbeat tone.
- Use clear and simple language to avoid misunderstandings.
- Give customers space to speak and avoid talking over them.
- Use positive and reassuring language.
Teach Your Team to Master Live Chat
Live chat is a popular first point of contact for customer service. The key is to equip team members with the right information about each contact so they can respond efficiently.
This is where your CRM and help desk software come into play. Make sure reps can easily access all relevant customer data to help them offer the best service possible.
Provide training around accepted company language and how reps should address customers. You should also provide guidance on knowing the right time to take the customer service off the live chat platform and onto email or a phone call so they can provide the right amount of detail.
11. Gather Insights From Other Companies With Exceptional Customer Service
Identify businesses known for providing exceptional customer service and see if you can arrange for your reps to visit and learn about their customer service techniques.
Ask your reps to go there with a list of questions and return with a 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 every now and then to ensure you’re not guilty of any of the same mistakes.
12. Teach the Technical Know-Hows of Your Product
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.
13. Train Your Team to Use Your Brand Voice
These days, most business conversations happen on 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.
14. Reward Your Staff
It’s important to show your appreciation for your team with employee rewards. Doing so will keep them motivated to continue to provide high-quality customer service on behalf of your business.
Arrange annual or twice-yearly events as a way of thanking team members for all their hard work. You could organize company retreats, wellness afternoons, or meals out.
Make sure the events are paid and something team members will enjoy. You could organize a company-wide vote so people have a say in what they do.
Note that events may be trickier to handle in COVID-19 times. In that case, you can look for ways to host virtual events—and keep any in-person ideas in your back pocket for when gatherings are safe.
Incentives help maintain long-term performance and encourage people to hit targets. With customer service representatives, you want to show that a positive customer experience also benefits them.
You could set up a system that rewards those reps with the most positive customer feedback. For example, someone who consistently receives five-star reviews from customers could be given a gift card.
15. Effective Two-Way Communication Is Always Important
Effective communication is equal parts speaking, listening, and understanding, along with asking relevant questions.
When customers come to a business either angry or with a problem, they want to feel reassured and understood.
Reps need to master the art of balancing how much they talk, listen, and ask questions.
Focus on Greetings & First Impressions
First impressions matter. Reps have a short time to win customers’ trust, which is vital for a positive experience and finding a successful solution.
Emphasize to your reps that greetings should be upbeat, polite, and personalized to the customer (if you have their name on record, use it).
Here are some ideas for different greetings and opening lines:
- “Hi, it’s Ben here from [name of business]. How can I help you today?”
- “Hi there, I hope your day is going well. I’ve checked our records, and it looks like you’ve made a call to us about this issue before. Can you tell me a bit more about what solutions you’ve tried before?”
- “Hi, it’s Casey from [name of business] customer service team. Thank you for your patience while waiting to be put through.”
Making a good first impression will put customers at ease and help agents build a rapport from the outset.
16. Be Authentic
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.
Some people are instantly likable, and developing good relationships seems to come easily to them. The good news is that the ability to build relationships can be trained.
Authentic business relationships are crucial for your organization’s sustainability and growth. Clients who feel a deep connection with your company will not shift to your competitor 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 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 you know, 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.
17. Make a Plan to Handle Customer Complaints Effectively
After more than one bad experience, around 80% of consumers say they would rather do business with a competitor. Customer complaints are the most challenging element of customer service, so spend lots of time helping reps learn to deal with them.
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.
Arming reps with the right tools to handle customer complaints will boost their confidence and ensure they don’t panic when an angry customer calls.
Adopt a Situational Approach to Problems
Every customer service scenario is different. For that reason, sticking to a script will only take reps so far. Instead, train your agents to think on their feet and adapt to every scenario as it plays out.
Think about common customer complaint scenarios and how reps can approach them with an open mind and flexibility.
Here are some situations that might catch your reps off guard and how they can take on a well-considered approach:
- A customer wants to bend company policies: Some customers might not know or may blatantly disregard business policies. For example, if your company simply doesn’t provide a refund but offers store credit instead, customers may continually try to push for the refund. In these cases, it’s important agents stick to company policy and provide a solution that the business can offer.
- The rep needs to transfer the customer to another colleague: No one likes to be transferred. It’s annoying and makes the customer feel that they’re in for a long wait. Customers may get frustrated at the thought of being transferred, so reps need to clearly explain the reason and thank them for their patience.
- A product isn’t available: Customers will feel disappointed that they can’t get the item they specifically wanted right now. Make sure to use positive language and reassure customers that you’ll let them know as soon as it’s available or simply preorder the item for them.
By seeing every customer complaint as unique, you’ll encourage reps to respond in a natural and situational way every time. That way, customers won’t become frustrated by a repetitive and meaningless script.
18. Document Everything
Reps have a lot to remember and consider while they’re handling customer issues. For that reason, it’s a good idea to create company documents on everything customer service-related and store them in a central online location, so they’re easy to access at any time.
Documenting everything keeps everyone on the same page and prevents misinterpretation.
Create Protocols & Processes
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: Build guidelines around how reps are expected to communicate with customers.
- Company refund and return policy: Explain how front liners are expected to deal with refund and return requests.
- Training sessions: Define different types of training and when reps must attend or complete them.
- Resources: Show where reps can find customer service resources like situation examples and recordings.
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.
19. Get the Whole Team Involved
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.
20. Never Stop Training
Learning never really stops—continual training and development is key for maintaining success across your customer service department.
Encourage reps to strive to be their best selves by taking initiatives 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.
Taking the time to consider and implement some interesting customer service training ideas will help your reps reach their full potential. And when it comes to exceptional customer service, everyone’s a winner, including your customers and employees.
When customers enjoy a great customer experience, they’ll be more likely to remain loyal to your brand instead of choosing a competitor. Experiment with these training ideas and see which resonate the most with your agents. Remember to keep things interesting, and don’t be afraid to mix it up with new ideas.