As a shopper, what experiences with a company have stood out to you more — their marketing tactics, or their customer service? Most likely the latter.
Customer service is a company’s opportunity to connect with customers, solve problems, and show they care. And when customer service is executed well, it can resonate with customers for years to come.
That’s why training your customer support team is just as important (if not more) as training your marketing or sales teams. Service experiences are what stick with your customers and inspire reviews and word-of-mouth advertising.
Customer support shouldn’t be an afterthought. Happy customers come from excellent service and are your best advocates – even better than your most talented marketers.
That’s why we’ve compiled this guide. By the end, you’ll gain a complete understanding of how customer service training benefits your business, when different types of training might come in handy, and what materials you need to execute a thorough training program.
Keep reading or use the chapter links below to jump ahead.
Customer service training is the training and teaching that employees undergo to improve customer support and satisfaction. It’s an iterative process that involves teaching skills, competencies, and tools needed to better serve customers so they derive more value from products and services.
Any employee that interacts and deals with customers is eligible for customer service training. And given how your customers are your best growth opportunity, each and every employee should be working hard to keep them happy — whether from the position of marketer, receptionist, or customer service representative.
Nowadays, customer-facing teams are labeled many different things: customer support, customer success, or customer service. For the purposes of this article, I’m going to refer to customer service when discussing service and support training.
It’s not uncommon for businesses to view their customer service teams as an afterthought. Once a consumer becomes a customer and pays for your product or service, the hard work is done, right? Wrong … oh, so wrong.
Remarkable customer service is a competitive advantage, especially in a world where 89% of businesses compete through the level of customer experience they’re able to deliver.
It’s also the key player in the game of customer retention. Think about it. If a customer has a pressing question about your product and reaches out to your customer service team, what do you think would make them happy and willing to stick around? A generic email response, or a well-researched answer sent from a service representative dedicated to their success? Probably the latter.
Better yet, this customer might 1) be satisfied with their interaction with your company and customer service team and 2) go on to promote your business as one with great products and service. How great would that be?
Happy, delighted customers are your very best bet for bringing in new business, and because of this, customer service teams need to deliver beyond your customers’ already high expectations.
That’s why customer service training is so important. You’re training your employees to deal with some of the most important people in your life — your customers. (Sorry, family.)
At this point, you might be asking, Why can’t I just hire the right people from the get-go and leave it at that?
Well, you should always hire the best fit for each role, customer service included. But hiring skilled people and thinking the job is done is doing a disservice to both your team and your customers. Regardless of how talented your new employees are, you should still conduct training that aligns everyone on how to work together and best represent your company.
Take HubSpot’s content team, for example. We were hired because we know how to write, but when we started, we weren’t simply handed a laptop and told, “Now, go type a bunch of stuff.” No, we were trained on how to write per HubSpot’s style guide, how to represent the company and brand online, and how to ensure all of our pieces meet quality standards.
The same goes for your customer support and service folks. Of course, you’re going to hire highly-skilled people, but that doesn’t mean they don’t require training as a new hire and as part of a bigger team with a bigger goal — serving and delighting your customers.
Hiring for Customer Service
While training for customer service is the main topic here, I’m going to take a slight detour and discuss hiring for customer service, too. I’m doing this because hiring right is how you build a strong foundation for your customer service team — and how you ultimately ensure that your team is receptive to your training.
While some skills and strengths can be taught or fine-tuned through training, there are some that your team members must have upon hiring. No software, training exercises, or tools can compensate for gaps in this area.
Here are some skills to look for — even if just a hint — while interviewing and screening customer service candidates.
Your customer service team is going to be dealing with a variety of customer problems, and probably some that they wouldn’t quite deem problems themselves. Being able to patiently listen, decipher someone else’s problem, and empathize is at the heart of customer service. And unfortunately, this isn’t a skill that comes naturally to everyone, nor is it something everyone can master in training. Ensure your customer service candidates display signs of emotional intelligence before bringing them on board.
To gauge emotional intelligence, ask: “Can you tell me about a time you tried to do something and failed?”
If your candidates can’t clearly answer an interview answer, how do you think they’d communicate with your customers (who most likely have much higher expectations than you)? Customer service training can teach new and improved communication techniques, but new hires should be able to showcase the ability to simplify complex topics and teach others new skills.
To gauge good communication skills, ask: “How would you explain a complicated technical problem to a colleague with less technical understanding?”
Resourcefulness is the difference between responding to a problem with “I don’t know” and “I will find out.” Problem-solving skills, initiative, and creativity are just a few competencies that align with resourcefulness. While these skills can be cultivated through customer service training, your candidates should display some resourcefulness — or at least a willingness to figure things out.
To gauge resourcefulness, ask: “Describe a time when you faced a significant obstacle to succeeding with an important work project or activity. What did you do to solve it?”
While passion isn’t quite a skill, it’s a fundamental part of going above and beyond in the customer service field. Providing service that delights your customers and turns them into promoters involves an excitement and passion for the success of both the company and the customer. Your candidates might not have a particular passion for your company just yet, but they should display a passion for working with customers and helping others solve their problems.
To gauge passion, ask: “When have you been most satisfied in your work at your previous company?”
If hiring the right candidates is like planting seeds in the right soil, training your customer service team is like cultivating and growing your garden to its maximum potential. Let’s dive into training for customer support and service.
Customer service training can be applied to many different situations. While the idea is consistent across the board — train your team to serve and delight — specific training methods and practices will vary depending on the circumstance. Let’s break down a few instances where you might conduct customer service training and what you can expect as a hiring manager or owner. (We’ll talk more about the how in the next section.)
New Hire Customer Service Training
As with any new role, the first month or two of training can dictate an employee’s long-term success. Customer service training and onboarding for new hires isn’t any different. This specific type of training will help new employees acclimate to a new job, company, and culture and ensure they’re ready to communicate with your valuable customers.
Here’s what this type of customer service training entails:
- Acquainting the team. To best serve your customers and handle a variety of problems and conflict, your customer service team needs to work together. Establish and maintain the agility of your team by introducing and involving new hires immediately. Schedule a team lunch on their first day. Have team members give them an office tour. Make the first day or two all about getting to know each other and learning how to work together. This will make your employees much more comfortable in their new role.
- Establishing expectations. New hires should know precisely what’s expected of them during training and in their first month of work. Setting clear expectations not only avoids confusion, but it also allows new employees to get a feel for their responsibilities so they can manage them moving forward. Consider writing out a training guide for your new hires that outlines what activities and plans to expect during training, what responsibilities they’ll have during their first few months, and any internal resources (like reading material or colleagues they should meet with) they can use to get acclimated.
- Setting up tools. Could we even do our jobs without our various tools and software and digital subscriptions? Probably not, and neither can your new employees. Before moving forward with training, set up your employees with the apps, tools, and memberships they need to communicate and collaborate with the team.
- Introducing the product (or service). For your customer service team to best serve your customers, they need to know your company and product or service offering better than anyone. Set aside time for dedicated product training so that your new hires can learn your product so well they could teach others.
Quarterly or Yearly Customer Service Training
Whether your customer service team has been around for six months or six years, they should still undergo training every quarter, half-year, or year (depending on what works best for your company).
This training might look like a couple of different things:
- Skills or competence check-in. Just as you’d conduct a routine performance review, a quarterly or half-year training is good practice for your customer service team. Skill-based training is ever-evolving, and certain skills can erode if not maintained over time. Conducting routine training keeps everyone on the team aligned, fresh, and doing their best
- Team building. Working in customer service is tough, and it can take a toll on employees and their team relationships. (Stay tuned for more discussion around self-care). Routine team-building activities and training can help keep those relationships sound and ensure all distractions are resolved so that your employees can focus on their jobs.
Emergency or Time-Sensitive Customer Service Training
Sometimes, customer service training can’t be planned. Perhaps there’s a product recall, a major rebranding, or a national advertising campaign. Your customer service team would be on the front lines and would need to be prepared to take calls, answer questions, and solve conflict. Customer service training, in this case, would be all about equipping your team with everything they need to know to do their job.
Here’s what urgent customer service training might consist of:
- In times of crisis. In the event of a recall, crisis, or company emergency, your customer service team should be updated on all events and trained on how they can respond. Full transparency is encouraged here, given that your team will be dealing with the public’s response first-hand. Make these trainings a priority on everyone’s calendar and try to have your team trained all at once — this will keep everyone aligned.
- Product or company updates. This type of customer service training is less of an emergency but just as time-sensitive. Whether you release a product update, run a major marketing campaign, or alter your website, your customer service team should complete training on these updates and equipped to handle any customer questions or concerns.
For example, in the months leading up to HubSpot’s annual INBOUND event, our customer service teams are sent new training materials. These resources give employees the most up-to-date information on any new products that’ll be announced at INBOUND — which can be upwards of four or five major product releases! Your customer service teams should be looped in on any company updates or changes.
We’ve discussed the different circumstances in which you might conduct customer service training. Now, let’s talk about some customer service training ideas, activities, and exercises for your team.
Being a customer service representative is tough work. The end goal — serving and delighting the customer — is clear, but the roadmap of how to get there isn’t straightforward. Skills can be tested, products can change, customers can be extra unpleasant, and camaraderie can be jeopardized.
Thankfully, there are plenty of training exercises and activities that combat these customer service challenges. I’ve listed them by what they specifically train for.
On Soft Skills
Like I said above, customer service training on skills isn’t as much about teaching them as it is fine-tuning and refining skills that employees already have. Here are a few tips and tricks for your team to improve their customer service skills.
Positivity isn’t only about keeping a smile on your face … though that can help your voice sound cheerful. It’s also about keeping your language and responses upbeat and promising so customers also remain positive. Whether your team is serving customers via social media, email, chat, or the phone, train them to replace negative words with positive ones.
For example, instead of saying “I’m afraid that…,” encourage your customer service team to start sentences with an “I’d love to help…” This keeps the response in a positive light while remaining honest with customers.
Training exercise idea: Jot down five to 10 negative customer service responses and ask your team to rewrite them as positive statements.
Empathy is crucial to not only serving customers but genuinely wanting them to be happy and successful. Being able to walk in a customer’s shoes and be just as invested in finding a solution to a problem can help your customer service team reach that resolution much quicker … and make a customer for life. But empathy doesn’t come easily to everyone, especially more technical, logical people.
To develop empathy in your customer service team, encourage them to spend time with people who are different than them. Whether with someone at a community event, an Uber driver, or a stranger at a conference, a conversation outside their comfort zones can help diversify the way they think.
Training exercise idea: Tell your team to think about a time they were a customer and might’ve had a frustrating transaction or unsatisfactory experience. Have them share their story and recall how they felt and were treated.
Clarity in communication can improve customer service interactions tenfold — it’s the difference between sending 10 emails or one when explaining a product. Clarity is easy to decipher during interviews and onboarding, but it’s still a skill that customer service representatives should hone throughout their career, especially as new products or updates are introduced.
A great example of clarity in action is Reddit’s Explain Like I’m Five. On this thread, people take pretty complex topics, from biology to engineering to technology, and explain concepts as if they were teaching a child. Now, “dumbing” answers down to this extent isn’t necessary for your very adult audience, but it’s a good example of explaining something in a clear and concise way.
Training exercise idea: Have your team present product demonstrations to you as if you were a brand new customer. Challenge them to explain the product (or a portion of your product) in five minutes.
On Product and Technical Skills
Companies are always changing. From product updates to new branding, education on your company should be a continuous process, especially for your customer service team. Considering that you’re essentially teaching them to teach, they should know your product inside and out.
Here are a few ideas for training on your product and company:
- Assign a mentor. Organize for your employees to have a mentor, especially your new hires. The mentor should be someone in another department; this gives the employee exposure to different segments of business and allows them to stay up-to-date on company-wide happenings.
- Coordinate job shadowing. This exercise is highly encouraged for new hires but can also benefit customer service veterans. Shadowing introduces your team to new approaches, responses, and applications of customer service and your product that they’d otherwise not be exposed to.
- Hold demonstration sessions. This is similar to the training idea mentioned above, but it involves having your team present to their own teammates. This will challenge them on their communication skills and general understanding of the product. Encourage attendees to provide constructive feedback.
- Create a knowledge base. They say teaching others is the best way to learn, and the same rings true for customer service. Have your team create a knowledge base of your product or service offering, in the form of a guide or directory. This will not only challenge your team on their knowledge and clarity but ultimately, help customers by creating a lasting company resource.
On Crisis Management (or Handling Angry Customers)
According to a recent study, 70% of unhappy customers whose problems are resolved are willing to shop with a business again. Just because a customer comes to you unhappy, angry, or rude doesn’t mean they have to walk away with the same sentiment. Appropriately managing each customer’s crisis and actively working to change their attitude is how you both serve and retain customers in the long run.
But even those with the thickest of skin can get worn down and discouraged after dealing with so many angry customers. Here are a couple training exercises to teach your customer service team how to deal with — and delight — difficult customers.
- Conduct role-playing. This training exercise is highly recommended for all customer service representatives and can be especially helpful for pacifying angry customers. Conducting mock calls that resemble a real customer service issue (and involve a seemingly angry caller) can help acclimate your team to the realities of upset customers. Have your team work together and encourage veterans on your team to use real situations they’ve dealt with in the past.
- Teach the LAST method. Despite intensive training on skills like empathy and patience, some difficult customers will simply be impossible to relate to. That’s where methods like reflective listening and LAST come into play. LAST stands for Listen, Acknowledge, Solve, and Thank. Teach your team to pause, listen to, and acknowledge upset customers — these steps can make the difference between solving an angry customer’s problem and turning an angry customer into a satisfied one.
On Camaraderie and Self-Care
Camaraderie and community among professional teams in any industry can help with overall performance, but it’s especially important in customer service. I included this section in my list of customer service training ideas because that’s essentially what is it: Training your team to take care of themselves so they can take care of your customers.
Here are a few ways to train your team to cultivate community and take care of themselves:
- Encourage meditation. Dealing with customers all day, every day can be incredibly draining and stressful. Meditation can be a helpful tool to regain mental balance and relaxation in the midst of customer service chaos. Dedicate time to learning meditation and relaxation methods so your team feels comfortable taking a break. Apps like Headspace and Calm can help your team, especially if they meditate together.
- Inspire healthy competition. Customer service training isn’t just about teaching your team how to do their job; it’s also about encouraging them to reach their full potential. Inspiring healthy competition in the form of a leaderboard or monthly awards will challenge your customer service team to go above and beyond, helping more customers, creating camaraderie, and contributing to their overall success and future career. Fun fact: HubSpot’s own customer support teams use a leaderboard and have found it motivates and inspires performance.
- Take team outings. Traditional product and skill training can bring your team together at work, but out-of-office activities can also inspire community and friendship that further encourage camaraderie in the office. Treat your team to an event or activity unrelated to work, such as a baseball game, museum trip, or barbeque. Not only are these activities fun and casual, but they also create lasting connections that can mitigate otherwise tough days at work.
On Service to Success
This section takes customer service training one step further. To create an atmosphere of customer advocacy and success, your training has to go above and beyond teaching soft and technical skills.
I’m talking about turning support into customer championing. Turning satisfaction into retention. Turning happy customers into customers who actively promote your company. These customers don’t simply exist once they make a purchase from you; they’re created when your customer service team treats them well and fights to solve their problems.
Here are a few training ideas to build a culture of world-class customer service:
- Teach new language. I referenced positive language in a previous section, but this is a little different. The key to customer advocacy is aligning your goals and needs with the customer and essentially “joining their team” as you work towards a solution. This can be done with a simple switch in verbiage.
- Encourage exceeding expectations. Let’s say your team is required to solve a minimum of 10 tickets per day. You could train your employees enough to get that done and leave them alone. I mean, they are doing their work, right? Sure, but this hardly creates an environment of going above and beyond for the customer (not to mention each employee’s potential). Instead of settling with “good enough,” challenge your team to do the best they can do, every day. This motivation will not only change how much work is done but will also influence how they work with and satisfy customers.
- Collect (and use) feedback. Feedback is the lifeblood of any team or company that truly wants to improve. Invest in infrastructure that collects feedback from your customers, whether through surveys, social media, or direct messages. Use that feedback to measure the success of the team. Not only will this help each individual employee improve their skills, but it’ll also show your customers that you’re listening and care about what they have to say.
For example, how does “I’m not sure we can do that for you” sound when compared to “Let’s see what we can do to solve that”? How about “Let’s get you set up with the right person to help” versus “I can’t help with that”? Changing responses to align with a customers' frustrations and needs tells a customer, “We’re on your side, too.”
There’s a lot that goes into customer service training, and it can be a daunting process to manage alone. Thankfully, there are plenty of customer service training materials available online. We’ve gathered some of our favorites below.
Customer Service Training Courses
Online training courses that teach vital customer service skills can be a great addition to your training program. As self-led seminars, employees take ownership of their training and are exposed to skills and competencies outside the organization.
Below is a short list of some free customer service training courses for your team.
Customer Service Training by Alison
Alison is a digital education hub that offers free courses and paid certifications on a variety of skills. Its Customer Service Training course is geared towards beginners in the field so it’s a perfect place to start.
This course will give your employees an understanding of essential customer service factors and help them understand how to deliver a customer-friendly approach that’s best for your business needs. They’ll also learn the benefits of providing excellent service and cover a few do’s and don’ts when dealing with customers.
Culture of Services: New Perspective on Customer Relations by edX
Like Alison, edX is another digital learning platform offering free courses. They partner with universities around the world, such as Berkeley, Harvard, and University of Kyoto –– the school by which the Culture of Services: New Perspective on Customer Relations course is presented.
This course focuses on the social and cultural aspects of customer service and takes nine to 11 weeks to complete. Throughout the course, your employees will be exposed to a wide variety of services — such as sushi bars, restaurants, hotels, and apparel. They’ll study the “nuanced and paradoxical nature” of customer service and learn how to approach it from a cultural and social perspective.
Innovative Customer Service Techniques by Lynda.com
Lynda.com is an award-winning online education platform run by LinkedIn. It primarily teaches digital and business-related skills.
The Innovative Customer Service Techniques course is created and presented by customer service expert Jeff Toister and is comprised of a short 45-minute video. Your employees can access the course through a seven-day free trial or join Lynda’s paid membership.
Bonus: Business Courses by Treehouse
Treehouse is another online course library, but the program requires a paid membership. HubSpot uses Treehouse for our own customer support and service training. Treehouse offers courses on soft skills and others that may contribute to overall customer service education.
Customer Service Training Games
Using games and activities can make customer training much more fun. Whether they require materials like a whiteboard or simply involve your team, games are a way to teach valuable skills while encouraging teamwork and collaboration between your employees.
Check out these curated lists of free quick and easy games to play during customer support and service training:
- 10 Free, Quick and Easy Customer Service Training Games with Ready Debriefs by LiveChat100
- 6 Fun and Powerful Training Games for Customer Service Teams by UserLike
- 5 Free Customer Service Training Games by BusinessTrainingWorks
Customer Service Training Videos
Sometimes it’s valuable to incorporate outside insight or perspective during customer service training, and videos from thought leaders and industry experts do just that. Finding well-made, valuable videos that accurately illustrate customer service can be tough, so we’ve curated a list of some of our favorites.
How to Provide Extraordinary Customer Service: The Fred Factor
Using the example of his mailman, Fred, Mark Sanborn explains what makes up extraordinary customer service. Fred’s effort to create real connections with his customers — and solve problems that weren’t quite his fault — grabbed Sanborn’s attention and inspired him to treat his customers in the same way.
This video uses real-life examples to illustrate how your customer service team can go above and beyond.
The 7 Essentials to Customer Service
In this 12-minute video, business coach and consultant David Brownlee explains the essentials of customer service in a friendly, easy-to-understand way. With over 4,000 likes, the value of this video speaks for itself.
Brownlee is an expert in the customer service field and advocates for creating relationships of trust and loyalty with customers, promoting customer care versus simple service.
The 6 Simple Steps in a Tech Support Session: Customer Service 101
IT customer service expert Don Crawley walks through the ins and outs of customer service as it applies to a tech support call. From initial greeting to confirmation, he thoroughly explains how to execute each step. He also provides an example of a well-handled call and explains which factors and skills contributed to its overall success.
This video is particularly valuable to customer service teams that provide support for software and tech companies.
Amazing Customer Service in a Taxi Cab
Shep Hyken’s video is over 10 years’ old, but its sentiments still ring true for teaching valuable customer service skills. Similar to Sanborn’s story, Hyken illustrates a customer service experience that stuck with him — his time in a taxi cab. The driver went above and beyond expectations and provided a customer experience so great that Hyken felt like he was in a limousine, not a cab.
In this video, Hyken explains the power of building rapport and the value it can provide over time, ultimately contributing to long-term success and retention.
Over to You
Over 75% of all consumers view customer service as the test of how much a company truly values them. That means roughly three out of every four customers view their interactions with customer service as more important than marketing or sales — that’s why customer service is such an important engine for growth.
With your customer service team on the front lines of customer service and retention, they need to be properly trained and equipped to handle any challenge that comes their way. Execute these customer service and support training ideas, and you’ll find your customers and employees more satisfied overall.
Originally published Jul 12, 2018 7:00:00 AM, updated November 13 2018