Customer Service Training: How to Do It Right

Who to train, what to teach, and how to get an effective customer service training program off the ground.

 
March 2022 | 12 minutes

What exactly is customer service training — and why do you need to do it? Effective customer service training teaches support agents how to create great customer experiences.

Delivering positive experiences matters — for every business. In fact, 80% of customers say the experience a company provides is as important as its products or services, according to Salesforce’s “State of the Connected Customer” report. Quality training improves both agent and customer satisfaction, and helps your company build a strong foundation for long-term success.

 

80% of customers say the experience a company provides is as important as its products or services

"State of the Connected Customer," Salesforce, 2020

Answer top questions about customer service training, including:

Why is customer service training important?

Customer expectations are always evolving. In fact, 62% of customers say their experiences with one industry influence their expectations of others. The prize is real for companies that deliver excellent service: 91% of customers agree that a positive customer service experience makes them more likely to make another purchase.

Poor customer service experiences cost companies big time. Some unhappy customers contact the company, share their disappointment on social media, or leave negative reviews. After a bad service experience, some people never return.

That’s why customer service skills training helps your whole team. For some, it might be a refresher or a way to align with your business culture. For others, quality training could become the foundation for a successful customer support career.

 
 

63%

of agents say it’s difficult to balance speed and quality

 

55%

of service agents believe they need better training in order to do their jobs well

 

78%

of service decision makers say they’ve invested in new technology

Who needs training in customer service?

If an employee has a role that includes helping customers solve their problems, that employee needs training in customer service. The title at your company may be customer success specialist, support engineer, or customer service agent. Or a specialized industry term like patient advocate, customer guru, support ninja, or cast member.

No matter what they are called, these important team members interact with customers. Therefore it’s wise to have a shared set of guidelines for how to most effectively, graciously serve customers.

What should you include in customer service training?

For the best customer experience, focus your customer service training for employees on both hard and soft skills. Hard skills include product knowledge, technology, and tools. Soft skills include interpersonal abilities, such as emotional intelligence, and work habits.

Here are seven valuable subjects to include in your customer support training:

  1. Product and Service Knowledge
  2. Knowledge-Centered Service (KCS)
  3. Tools, Technologies, and Artificial Intelligence (AI)
  4. Communication Skills
  5. Patience
  6. Effectiveness
  7. Attention to Detail
 

1. Product and Service Knowledge

It’s frustrating for customers when service agents aren’t able to answer questions about your products or services. A well-informed team is the foundation for an excellent customer service experience.

But how do you best teach your service team members? Many people find learning about a new product or service to be a boring and time-consuming task. On top of that, team members may have different work backgrounds and learning styles. So work hard to make learning more engaging for everyone.

 

Try this:

Quiz employees on new offerings, as well as basic products and services. Provide study materials and offer incentives to promote product knowledge throughout the company.

Get creative. Make learning a game, or a fun team competition, to motivate your team to share knowledge and create accountability. Invent awards, or even a rotating trophy, to reward those who demonstrate the greatest product knowledge.
 

2. Knowledge-Centered Service (KCS)

Knowledge-centered service (KCS) is a method to improve customer experience, and reduce agent training time and attrition. This approach centralizes support around the evolving information agents access and collect. As patterns emerge, service managers surface the knowledge to relevant departments for action.

To learn more about KCS and its potential, try Trailhead, our free online learning platform. The KCS module uses the story of a service case involving a leaky roof after a solar water heater installation. During the call, the agent creates an article on how to resolve the issue and attaches it to the case.

Over time, managers notice that many customers contact support about the same issue. When management pulls case history data, it shows that a certain type of heater, roof, and long installation screw are always involved. They recommend that installers switch to a shorter screw, and the leak problems stop.

This example demonstrates the power of creating knowledge articles and attaching them to a case. Because the first agent captured the information, others then used that information to fix the next issue. Because management looked at data, the organization fixed potential issues before they occurred.

It’s one thing to create an article to help solve cases. It’s next-level service to catch issues before they happen. Use KCS to improve customer experience and the business at the same time.

 
 

Learn more about KCS in this Trailhead module.

 

3. Tools, Technologies, and Artificial Intelligence (AI)

Nowadays, every service organization uses technology to get the job done. Some use artificial intelligence (AI) to create even better customer and agent experiences.

Some agents will pick up these new tools, while others will need more skills training. Help your team learn by giving them hands-on access to explore and ask questions in real time

 

76% of customers prefer different channels depending on context.

"State of the Connected Customer," Salesforce, 2020
 

4. Communication Skills

The ability to communicate is important for any customer service team member. As mentioned, customer service agents need to know the product — and just as critical is the ability to explain it clearly and well. Customer service communication training should be a key part of your program.

If agents bluff or seem in over their heads, this creates distrust in customers, which leads to eroded trust in your company. Trust is something that many companies are struggling to gain. In fact, 99% of customers believe companies need to improve their trustworthiness.

In customer support, great communication means breaking complex concepts down into easy-to-understand parts. Training employees to be able to do this takes patience.

Helping a customer solve a problem is, in some ways, similar to programming a simple robot. You can’t tell the robot, “Go to the door and open it.”

Instead, you must tell it exactly how far to go, when to stop, and what to do next. Extend right arm, open hand, rotate 45 degrees, push down on handle lever, and so on. The same goes for service: You need to explain each step to your customers.

 

Try this:

Use the robot example as an exercise during a meeting or training session. In two-person teams, one agent pretends to be the robot, while one is the programmer. Keep it lighthearted and be supportive if anyone gets flustered. The idea is to create an “aha” moment and flex a new muscle.

 
 

For more tips, check out the trail “Communication Skills for Customer Service Agents.”

 

5. Patience

Emotional intelligence includes the ability to regulate emotions and put yourself in another’s shoes. For a support representative, patience goes a long way. As part of your training, be sure to encourage customer support teams to empathize with confused or frustrated customers.
In order to train customer service employees to be patient, you also need to help them learn to effectively prioritize. After all, it can be quite difficult to be patient when you are helping someone with an issue. Especially when you feel the pressure to keep the conversation very short. Instead of rushing, agents must patiently listen and ask the right questions to find a helpful solution.
 

Try this:

Use the robot example as an exercise during a meeting or training session. In two-person teams, one agent pretends to be the robot, while one is the programmer. Keep it lighthearted and be supportive if anyone gets flustered. The idea is to create an “aha” moment and flex a new muscle.

To increase your chance of long-term success, be sure to align your metrics and goals. Are your KPIs around average handle time and first call resolution in sync? It’s hard to be patient and provide the best experience for the customer when clocks drive interactions.
 

66% of customers expect companies to understand their unique needs and expectations, but only 34% say companies generally treat customers as unique individuals

"State of the Connected Customer," Salesforce, 2020
 

6. Effectiveness

It’s a cliche, but time really is money. So decrease hassles for your customers by getting rid of poor website navigation, uninformative help articles, and clunky chat experiences. These customer support obstacles often leave people feeling frustrated and unsatisfied.

We’ve all had experiences of trying to get help from a company, only to be placed on hold. Or wait days for an email reply. From the customer service organization perspective, think about how much time agents spend filing many support tickets for the same issue. Compare that experience to a single, effective call to resolve the problem.

Be careful however, not to sacrifice effectiveness to beat the clock. Consider these ways to be more effective:

  • Train service agents to value the customer’s time.
  • Give agents authority in your technology systems to resolve issues.
  • On top of product knowledge, teach agents to expect issues, and to prepare solutions — even when they don’t have all the facts. (A knowledge-centered service approach helps.)
  • Make sure processes and technology are up to date.
  • Rethink customer service workflows to gain efficiency

Customers expect your support team to know who they are, and to quickly solve their issue.

 
 

76%

of customers expect consistent interactions across departments

 

54%

of customers say it generally feels like sales, service, and marketing don’t share information

 

71%

of customers have made purchase decisions based on the quality of customer service

 

7. Attention to Detail

Each customer has unique needs, and many customers experience problems that have no obvious solutions. A true problem solver is able to identify solutions amid seemingly unimportant details.

Attention to detail in customer service involves carefully tracking the details of the conversation, because they are clues that point to the appropriate solution. Make sure your training program includes ways to develop a detail-oriented mindset.

One way to help agents become more detail-oriented is to review cases with missed details, and encourage agents to find them. Another way to support detail-orientation is by creating automated processes that ensure agents follow all the required steps. For example, is your system allowing forms to go through without a zip code? Case management flows and automated forms guide agents to collect every necessary detail.

Interested in learning more? Check out a comprehensive list of customer service skills in this article.

Types of customer service training

 

1. Electronic Performance Support Systems (EPSS)

Electronic Performance Support Systems (EPSS) are technology systems integrated with websites and online applications that allow users to guide themselves through processes. These systems are often used for technical training. They may offer pop-ups and icons that help agents learn and explore the material being covered.

EPSS technology puts users in the driver seat by empowering them to perform tasks, find information in databases, or present information. The information the EPSS serves up may appear in a variety of formats, such as videos, text, images, or data.

 

2. E-learning

E-learning is on-demand and accessible anywhere with an internet connection, and can include learning management systems and digital training manuals. Beware of passive or read-only programs without opportunities for interaction, though. Generally, users don’t recall information as well as when they actively participate.

One interactive e-learning tool to consider for your customer support team is Trailhead, Salesforce’s free online learning platform, which provides a gamified experience. With Trailhead, a manager can recommend specific trails and modules relevant to the support team. Trainees can also expand their knowledge by exploring other modules of interest. Interactive quizzes and challenges incentivize progress through points, badges, and ranks.

 

3. Instructor-Led Seminar or Workshop

Instructor-led training depends on the skill of the instructor. The best workshops allow for conversation, problem solving, and knowledge sharing. On the other hand, lectures with little audience participation may create a poor learning experience for some team members. Of course the challenges of instructor-led seminars include time, cost, and travel or audience size limitations.
 

4. Webinars or Online Teacher-Led Training

A form of e-learning, webinars involve sharing knowledge through either a live broadcast or recorded video. Instructors may be on or off camera, and share presentations that include demonstrations or slides.

Whether live and interactive or on-demand, most webinars offer an opportunity for questions and discussion. Webinars are one technique for helping different employees learn the same material in a consistent way over time.

 

5. In-Person Team or Peer Training

Teams or peer training may include mentor and buddy programs, lunch and learns, or role-playing and small group coaching. In-person team or peer training is an effective way to support upskilling and cross-skilling for agents.

How to develop a customer service training program

Organize assets and pull data

To get started building out your training program, you might form a small committee that includes stakeholders from various levels and departments. Determine what assets you already have on hand.

Do you have a learning management system (LMS) in place? Is it current, and mobile-friendly?

How about a knowledge management solution? Is your system internal, customer-facing, or both?

Do you have documentation of customer service processes, such as standard operating procedures and best practices?

How do you currently measure success and coach your team? What does everyone like about the current system, metrics, and goals, and what do they not like? What are the pros and cons of the status quo?

Finally, consider creating a survey to determine what your team currently knows and where there are gaps. Ask support agents what they wish they knew, or what they want to learn. Be sure to also include questions about previous training experience, and tenure in the customer service field as well as with your company.

Separate the survey responses of veteran employees from those in their first year. As you execute your new training programs, survey agents again to compare the data to your baseline.

Collaborate, experiment, and listen

As you build out your training, be sure to use all your resources — including your people. Different agents have diverse strengths. One agent may be amazing at calming frustrated callers. Another may be incredible at handling lots of cases at once. Another may be a social channel expert. All can help each other learn, and collaboration and co-teaching strengthens camaraderie among your teams.

Peer training also provides an excellent growth opportunity for both trainees and mentors. It gives mentors a chance to develop management skills and learn from others.

Experiment with pairings. Even new employees with previous customer service experience may benefit, as these more tenured folks may have habits from their old companies to unlearn. Everyone has room to improve to best represent your company.

As you roll out peer training, survey anyone involved in new programs like mentoring. What’s working? What’s not? Listen and adjust as necessary. Those surveys just might yield new or nontraditional customer service training ideas -- be open to them!

Access free customer service training materials

Customer service training continues to be a popular topic and so there are many resources available. Encourage your team members to share interesting articles or podcasts with the group.

Don’t forget about Trailhead. It’s free, and teaches soft skills as well as product knowledge and certification prep. It’s also growing all the time, so users can constantly find new ways to keep upleveling their skills.

 
Check out this curated Trailmix: “Lead as a Service Manager from Anywhere.” Here’s one to share with agents: “Succeed as a Service Agent from Anywhere.”

Customer service training is foundational to success.

Remember, customer service training programs must evolve, just as customers do. Consider training to always be a work in progress.

As you build your customer service training program, remember that it benefits everyone. When you invest in your team, you improve the employee experience. When employee satisfaction goes up, so does customer satisfaction. To truly stand out as a company, make the customer experience the best it can be.

 

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