If you want to understand how to provide great customer service training for your employees, then keep reading. This article is going to talk about the two key areas to focus on when teaching your employees how to deal with customers: people interaction training and product training.
We’ll also discuss how to build your business around a culture of excellent customer service standards, so your customers are interested in your business beyond just the products or services you’re selling.
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People Interaction Training: The Three Pillars
People interaction training typically includes 3 concepts about how to deal with people. I call them pillars because they set the foundation for how you and your employees treat customers who shop in your store.
- General Interaction. How to interact with customers in casual situations, verbally and nonverbally. It may sound simple, but subtle body language can make the difference between a peaceful and sour situation.
- Active Listening. In everyday life, we use shortcuts to guess what other people want. Active listening is an acquired skill that takes the opposite approach: use your full attention to understand the needs of the customer.
- Conflict Management. Though body language and listening skills help, they can’t always prevent an angry customer from entering your store. Special conflict management training is needed for these situations.
Next we’ll take an in-depth look at each of these three pillars to learn how you can provide great customer service training to your employees:
Pillar One: General Interaction Training
In my opinion, there are only two ways to truly to carry out people interaction training for your employees:
- Role playing – Acting out scripted and lightly scripted situations for learning purposes. You’ll do this in each of the three areas we’ve been discussing thus far. Further down, we’ll explain how to do role play training.
- On the job training with a coach – Learning as you go, but with a supervisor for a short time. We’ll also show you how to do on the job coaching later on.
Using a mix of both techniques has proven to work well for me in the past. It allows for you to quickly assess your employees strengths and weaknesses. Then you can provide them the right feedback on what they need to be successful when dealing with customers.
Here are the areas I recommend focusing on with your role playing and “on-the-job” customer service training efforts. They are the most common scenarios that have employees and customers interacting directly.
1. Practice Greeting
Saying hello to your customers is the most important part of the entire customer service process. It’s the first experience the customer has in your store. If you are cheery and friendly then customers will generally be happy, but if you are having a bad day customers will sense it and shy away from asking for help.
Unfriendly greetings really do keep customers from coming back to your store in the future, so keep these point in mind to train on successfully greeting customers.
- Say hello – This lets the customer know you are aware they have entered your store. You might not always get to “be right with” the next customer, but you can acknowledge them and set their expectations that you’ll be there to help them
- Make eye contact – Making direct eye contact with customers also let’s them know you are focused on them and what they need.
- Smile – nothing lowers people’s barriers more than a big, warm smile directed right at them. This alone can set the vibe for your entire store, and definitely makes customers feel more at ease when asking for assistance.
2. Practice Checking Out
Processing customers quickly and effectively at the cash register is equally as, if not more, important than the greeting your customers. Checking out is the last experience the customer has in your store, and a smooth check out can make a bad shopping experience better again. If you take a long time fumbling around with items that won’t scan or you have employees who don’t know how to use your system, then you’re in big trouble.
Be sure to have a great, cloud based point of sale and inventory management system like Lightspeed to help process your customers’ debit and credit transactions quickly and make taking their money as easy as 1-2-3.
You’ll find that the word spreads quickly about how customers can get in and out of your store with ease, saving them valuable time in the day to get more accomplished.
Helping your employees master the art of dealing with customers in these two areas, will leave your store with the reputation for taking care of your customers’ needs. Now let’s look at how you build and use role play training and “on-the-job” customer service training to teach your employees how you want them to deal with customers.
Pillar Two: Active Listening Training
Listening to what your customers have to say is the next most important customer service skill you can have in your toolbox. Being a good listener is not only going to allow you to understand your customers’ needs, but also anticipate what else the customer might need while they are shopping.
Effective listening is a hard task to master, so we’ve provided these 10 basic steps to becoming an effective listener. Be sure you take time to cover this topic with your employees as a team and as individuals.
10 Steps to Being an Effective Listener
- Face the speaker/Maintain eye contact
- Be relaxed and attentive
- Keep an open mind
- Listen to the words and try to picture what is being said
- Don’t interrupt
- Wait for the speaker to pause before asking a clarifying question
- Ask questions ONLY to CLARIFY your understanding
- Feel what the speaker is feeling
- Give the speaker feedback
- Pay attention to nonverbal clues
Read more about these 10 steps in Forbes.
Active listening can go against our problem solving instincts. When speaking with friends, family or co-workers, it may be appropriate to butt-in as soon as a thought comes to mind. With customers, however, you need to wait for an appropriate pause, and only offer a solution when enough information has been gathered.
Here is my favorite way to teach the importance of using these skills to provide excellent customer service:
Active Listening Technique – The “Tell me what I said game”
Next time you have your team meeting, start it out by stating something outlandish like this:
“Yesterday, I was walking with my wife down the street to the doctor’s office, just past the shoe store on 2nd street. We counted 12 blackbirds, 5 doves, 8 mailboxes, and 188 children crossing the road, and all of them were tugging a giant red wagon behind them.”
Then immediately have everyone write down what they just heard you say. You’ll get all sorts of responses funny responses that are nothing close to what you said. Then do the same thing again, but this time tell your employees to “listen closely.” I promise you one or two people will get every word you stated this time around.
Use this game to illustrate how one should be listening to customers from the first words spoken, so they great a sense of understanding and make customers feel valued.
Pillar Three: Conflict Management Customer Service Training
Sometimes customers walk right in with trouble on their minds, and you can tell it from a mile away. Just like when you’re having a bad day, a customer’s voice tone and body language speaks a thousand words about their mood and attitude. Thus, the first part of conflict management training is spot a potentially volatile situation in advance:
- Listen for rigidness in voice tones
- Watch for sarcastic or expressive facial expressions
Most retail outlets have their customer service areas in very visible parts of the store, so it’s important to keep everyone calm. One angry customer can upset others and that is never a good thing for your business or others in your store.
As for how to approach and speak with a difficult customer, here’s 3 points to follow:
- Listen to what the customer has to say – This is the most important step. Let the customer speak freely without interruption until they are finished. In most cases, customers just want to express their frustrations with one of your products. In my experience, once they’ve said their peace, 95 % of customers will move right on to getting things resolved.
- Empathize with the customer – Relate to the customer and let them know that you understand what they are telling you. Most likely you or someone close to you has had a similar experience, so share a quick story to lighten the mood and build a little trust.
- Offer a solution – By this point you’ve done all you can to diffuse any uneasiness or hostility. It’s time to let the customer know what you can do for them to solve their problem. In most cases you’re going to give that refund or new product and take any associated loss. Make sure employees know the resolutions they can provide the customers and the ones you need to be involved in.
I sound like a broken record by now, but they only way to get good at doing this, like it’s second nature, is to practice every day. Your first unhappy customer can be frightening, but if you are focused on their needs, stay relaxed and keep a calm head, I have no doubts you’ll come out the winner and the customer will leave happy!
How to Do Role Play Training
The key to teaching any habit is repetition, and there is no better way to get those repetitions than by practicing. Take time to role play typical customer service scenarios that happen in your store with your employees. This allows you to directly set expectations related to how you want your employees treating your customers.
In order for role play customer service training to be the most effective, you need to have a plan. Try following these steps to build a great role play training plan:
Step 1 – Write out scripts in advance
Role playing scripts for training should be written from a happy ending standpoint, and we’ll talk about why in our next step. Take time to think about what specific behavior or behaviors you are training your employees to carry out.
Be sure to include a setting and a brief description of the situation you will be playing out and write out each person’s part. This typically includes lines for the people assuming the roles of employee and customer.
Step 2 – Role play the scripts
When acting out these customer service training scripts, it’s important to keep the environment relaxed but with a professional tone. It’s easy to laugh too much at yourself during these exercises and lose the meaning and purpose of the training.
When you begin the training session, play out the “perfect world” scenario first, with the trainer acting as the customer. This automatically reinforces from the beginning what “Good” looks like and breaks the ice.
Step 3 – Go off script
Run through the scenario a second time, but now throw an unexpected twist, not scripted in the scenario. This allows your employee to handle the situation to your liking, or reveal their customer interaction weaknesses in the situations you are playing out.
As the “Coach” in these exercises you must take good mental notes and provide feedback after each repetition. As you continue running through the scripts, you should see improvements in their performance. Don’t worry if it takes a while – just be patient keep practicing with them.
On The Job Coaching: How It Works
Coaching can be one of the most frustrating yet rewarding parts of training. It’s the part of training that’s hands-on with your employees. In most cases, you or one of you’re more experienced employees is right there, side by side with your trainee for few days. You are showing them how to greet customers, how to run the cash register, deal with returns, and much more.
Here are a few points to keep in mind when building your plan, so you’re not training in high customer traffic areas of your store during peak times of the day. If you do, it will cause customers to avoid asking questions when they see you instructing employees. You could even lose a sale if you are not focused on customers due to training:
- Make a training calendar – Make a training calendar in conjunction with your employees’ shifts. Schedule days for team customer service training and days for individual customer service training.
- Schedule cash register training during slow sales periods – You will have to figure out your peak register sales times and plan around them. Typically spend 2 to 3 days training with employees on the cash register before you leave them on their own. The check out is the last place you want bad customer experiences to happen, especially when lines are long!
- Training Time is Training Time – Unless your are just slammed with business, stick to your training schedule. Employees are happier when they know how to perform their job, and can’t do that if you don’t commit to teaching them.
Remember, like with anything in life, patience is a must with training by coaching. People don’t get everything we teach them on the first try, and sometimes it takes more than few times for them to get it right. Stick with your employees and encourage them. You’ll find that keeping a positive and encouraging outlook strengthens the working relationships between you and your employees, which translates into a happy store environment for your customers.
We’ve just outlined the 3 pillars of effective people interaction training. Now we’ll dive into the second key area of customer service: Product training.
The business showing the most knowledge about the products they sell wins customers back every time. Have you ever walked an electronics store and asked for help programming your new phone? If the employees were attentive AND provided expert help, you’ll probably keep going back to that store with any other gadgets you need help with.
Here are three ways you can provide the product training your employees. These three things will help employees get the information needed to provide excellent customer service.
- Weekly training time
- Vendor training
- Promote items internally
Let’s take a closer look at each to understand what these areas entails:
1. Weekly Training Time
Be sure to let your employees spend time reading and understanding basic facts about all the products and services you sell. Include the time on their daily task list, so they know it’s important to complete. This includes:
- Where is the item located in the store
- What are the main features or uses for the product
- How to use the product
Misinformation is one of the main reasons that customers become irate and difficult to handle. They will often return products, or quit using services based on bad product information, so make time and let your employees study up!
2. Vendor Product Training: Who knows better
Who knows better about the taste, look, or use of a product than the person who makes it? Vendors are a great resource for employee product training, because they already have the information and materials need to train quickly and effectively. This helps keep you from burning up your training budget on things you’d otherwise have to research about the product.
Just ask any of the vendors who service your store to schedule some time to speak in one of your staff meetings. You can also schedule these as one off meetings so employees feel like you’re not cramming you staff meetings full training. Vendors jump at the opportunity to leave information and swag about their products, so you won’t have an issue getting a few to sign up to give a training class or two.
3. Internal Item Promotion Contests
This is my favorite way to train employees on product information because it involves a bit of competition. Each month you and your employees will each pick an individual item to promote in your store. The items with the highest amount of sales dollars wins some predetermined prize. I like taking the winner to lunch or giving them some sort of gift card as prize.
Here are the rules to the contest:
- Items must be under performing items in your store, with low sales volume. No selling 6 packs of Coke or other national products that don’t have volume problems. Use the items that are high margin, low cost, overlooked, and often needed. Some example items might be:
- Velcro strips
- Clothes hangers
- New items not quite up and running sales wise yet
- Track item sales every week by using item and sales reports from your point of sale system. You’ll post the sales totals for each employee weekly, so everyone can who’s winning
- Let employees pick feature spots in the store to promote their item for the month. To learn more on how to place products in your store read our article on product placement in your store.
- Add together sales at the end of each month and announce the winner.
Using this technique to train on product details not only spurs competitiveness and camaraderie among your employees, it also portrays a business that is built serving customers to the best means possible. You can find more contest ideas on our guide 5 Great Sales Contest Ideas To Motivate Your Team.
Creating a Customer Service Culture: The 4 steps that all start with you
Now that you know how to perform great customer service, how do you get others who work in your store to perform great customer service too? Let’s answer that question by exploring how you create an environment in your business that puts great customer service first, second and third on everyone’s priority list.
It’s called creating a culture, and I want to emphasize that creating one built on excellent customer service starts and finishes with you and you alone. If you don’t live these next five steps daily, then your employees and your customers won’t buy into your business or anything you ask of them.
Step 1: Set Expectations
As the leader of your business, it’s your responsibility to set expectations for your employees. If you want them to wait 20 seconds before greeting customers or say a catch phrase every time a customer walks in the door, then tell them.
In my time leading people, I’ve found that employees perform to their maximum potential when they have clearly defined expectations for the role they are playing.
After you’ve set expectations, document them and display them where everyone can easily see them. It will serve as a constant reminder of how you want them to interact with your customers. Remember, as a leader, you are never beyond meeting the expectations you set for others to meet.
Step 2: Lead by Example
You are a leader, and effective leaders never ask their employees to perform in a manner that you would not perform in yourself. It’s just as important that you are seen following the rules that you have set for others to follow.
When you perform a task on the sales floor or handle a customer service situation in a certain way, your employees are watching. They will emulate your exact actions and responses when put in the same situations. If you take 6 days to follow up with a customer when you told the customer you would contact them in 3 days, you’re setting a bad example! Your employees will soon learn that it’s acceptable behavior for them to do it also.
See how this can spiral into a customer service nightmare? It will leave you and your store looking like you never keep your word or follow through on anything for your customers. You might not see the results right away, but over time you’ll notice fewer shoppers and phone calls.
Step 3: Give Feedback and be a Coach
Once you train people, you need to grade people on how well they do. This should include both informal feedback and a formal performance management process.
These conversations can be difficult to have. But, when carried out correctly, these they will allow your employees to absorb the improvements you’re asking them to make. In turn, they will spin the feedback into the good habits you want to cultivate.
Keep these points in mind when giving employee performance feedback. You want your employees to leave these conversations feeling positive about what you’ve just asked them to do and eager to get started putting their tasks to action.
- Discuss Employee Strengths First – It’s always positive to lead with all the things you like about an employee. It sends the message that you are aware of that individual and how they are helping your business succeed. It also helps soften the blow about to be delivered in the next point.
- Discuss Needed Improvements – Be direct and sincere in your criticisms, and give solutions to help solve the problems and help the employee improve. No one likes hearing about problems they were unaware of, without hearing some solutions to help solve them.
- Discuss the Future – Now that everything is on the table, make sure your employees know that even though you feel they need to improve in certain areas, they are valuable to your business, and when appropriate let them know how you are planning for their future growth.
- Coach in Real Time – When you are on the sales floor and witness an employee making a mistake, that’s the best time to teach them how to fix it. However, never address issues like this with an employee in front of a customer. It’s embarrassing for all parties involved, and it breaks the trust created by good leadership.
- Give specific examples – Use examples like, “By doing X, it caused the customer do Y, which is not a good thing.” Then follow it up with phrasing like” Next time if you do X this way, then the customer will do Y, and that’s what we want to see.”
Step 4 – Admit Mistakes
This is often the hardest and last thing anyone ever wants to do as an owner. We pride ourselves on getting things right every time, right? While this is probably true, if you’re like me then you’ve also made more than your fair share of mistakes.
When it happens, admit you’re wrong to your customers and make sure your employees know to do the same thing. Rectify the situation for them.
It sends a strong message to your customers that you are a fair person and you don’t put pride first. If you’re late on something for a customer or you gave them bad information, tell them you’re sorry, fix it, and then exceed their expectations by giving them something better than what they had in the first place.
Letting customers and employees see this side of you helps build trust, and keeps customers coming back to your store.
Remember, being a leader is hard work, but if you want all the training we’ve just discussed to stick and take root with our employees, then you have be the example! Live the above steps everyday until they are second nature to you.Your employees and other around you will follow suit!
The Bottom Line
Excellent customer service is a commitment and a hard task to master. Each customer that walks into your store brings with them their own unique set of wants, needs, and shopping habits for you to decipher
Remember it all starts with you. Lead by example when it comes to training excellent customer service, and you’re halfway home. The other half you can get from this guide to finish polishing off the soft skills each of your employees need.