By Fan Bi
Customer service training can seem like a daunting task, largely because it is such a wide-ranging field comprising many different facets. How can you prepare your team members to respond to every situation, when problems will inevitably arise that you couldn’t conceive of?
The good news is that you don’t have to account for every possibility. What’s more important is creating an effective foundation of service culture at the heart of your organization that, ideally, will inform every interaction your employees have with customers. The following customer service training ideas will help you foster an environment that supports your service goals and provide your employees with a base of knowledge and experience so they can anticipate and respond effectively.
At most jobs, the first week of work is taken up by routine tasks such as filling out paperwork, touring the facilities, and meeting representatives from various departments. These activities have their value, but they can be accomplished at any time. It’s more important that you set the right tone for your customer service expectations from the onset of employment.
If you put customer service training after various administrative tasks, you implicitly send the message that the customer’s needs can come after you finish whatever else you need to do. On the other hand, sending your new hires into a week of intensive customer-focused training activities before they perform any job functions shows you are serious about your commitment to service as a core value. Learn from the example of Zappos, which has become famous for its service culture: It offers new hires a financial buyout after their initial training week if they don’t feel like the service-focused environment is the right fit.
Sustaining great service can’t be done without empathy. It’s what allows us to internalize another person’s situation and experience emotions from their point of view. Empathetic people naturally want to help others because they understand how frustrating certain problems can be.
Exercising empathy is a vital skill for customer service employees; it allows them to view the situation from multiple angles. While some people may believe you are either born empathetic or you struggle with it, there are components of empathy that can be learned and practiced. Role-playing exercises are a great tool for this. Have your trainees practice sensitive situations from the side of the organization, as well as the customer.
Serving customers well often requires thinking quickly on your feet. While there are plenty of things you can plan for, some situations will inevitably arise that will prove you can’t anticipate everything. The best contingency is to teach your team members how to respond when they are faced with events that are outside the norm.
Customer service training games are helpful in honing this particular skill, especially improvisation games. Improvisation has long been used in acting classes and other communication-based training scenarios because it encourages participants to come up with creative solutions on the fly.
Improvisation games teach participants to use the phrase, “Yes, and,” which means that when your scene partner introduces an idea, you accept it and build on it, rather than reject it and go in a different direction. This can be extremely helpful for people who work directly with customers, because the word “no” is often thought of as anathema in situations. These exercises help your employees think of things they can do for your customers, rather than focus on restrictions.
At some point while assisting your customers, your customer service employees will have to interact with representatives from other departments in order to fulfill requests. If they spend the entirety of their tenure working in the confines of the service department, it’s unlikely they’ll have a realistic view of how these other units function. This can ultimately impede results.
Cross-training helps alleviate this issue, as it allows your front-line team members to see the inner-workings of other departments. Then, when they need requests fulfilled, they have a better understanding of how to navigate the process. Also, you want to ensure that representatives from all departments cross-train with the customer service team so they can learn about the specific process of resolving issues.
Anyone who has ever faced an upset customer can tell you that the experience can be stressful. There’s no doubt that your customer service team members are going to face situations that increase their stress levels on a frequent basis, so rely on customer service training ideas that teach them how to relieve stress.
Activities such as yoga, meditation, and even stream-of-consciousness writing can teach your employees how to manage their stress levels during trying situations. They won’t be able to stop and meditate in the middle of a conversation with a customer, of course, but the idea is to help them learn how to be more mindful of the big picture while they are in engaged in an uncomfortable situation.
Everyone, whether or not they directly deal with customer satisfaction issues, has a job that affects the customer experience in some way. If you expect your employees to follow your lead and deliver an outstanding experience to your customers, you have to walk the walk when it comes to service.
Organize customer service training opportunities for the entire staff, even the members of the senior leadership team. Also, remember that although you may not interact directly with customers on a regular basis, the way you serve your colleagues is indicative of your expectations for service throughout the organization.
It’s amazing to think about all of the institutional knowledge that was confined to physical books in university libraries until very recently. Now, the digital revolution has led to many incredible resources and courses being placed online, often available to read or view for free.
Courses, such as Culture of Services: New Perspective on Customer Relations from Kyoto University, allow you to access the knowledge of some of the finest institutions of higher education in the world. This particular course is a collaboration between edX and Kyoto University, and it includes innovative research and unique customer service training videos.
Every effective leader wants to show their team how to make customers as satisfied as possible from the beginning, but one of the most overlooked customer service training ideas is teaching employees about opportunities for service recovery. Gaps in the customer experience are a certainty in business, but it’s how you and your employees respond that will ultimately define your relationships with these customers.
In fact, there is research to suggest that customers who experience a lapse in service that is later rectified are even more satisfied with their experience than those who had their expectations met initially. Therefore, it’s absolutely necessary to train your customer service professionals to quickly recognize these potential recovery opportunities, and act on them effectively in order to re-establish a positive relationship.
That positive relationship between consumer and company is a hard-fought benefit. For that reason, your customer service agents should understand, from day one of employment, that attending to customers’ needs are the most important part of their role with your company. Encourage role play and improvisation to help them understand how to address those needs as efficiently as possible, and cross-train as much as possible. Empower them with technology to do their jobs well, and teach them how to manage stress in a healthy way. Within your company, make customer service a part of everyone’s role, and continually learn more about best practices in the industry. When you do face a service recovery situation, all your training and preparation will serve you well.
With these training ideas, you can inspire your customer service team. More than that, you’ll inject customer service into your company culture and improve the customer experience. Your customer service department, your employees, and your customers will all thank you.