Customer service is tough.

The expectations of the role might seem clear — it's about helping and guiding customers to solve their problems and answer their questions.

But the nuts and bolts of how you actually do that can be easier said than done.

That's why education and training is so important. To retain customers and keep them happy so you can grow your business, you need to prioritize employee training so they're equipped to meet customer needs. In fact, we found that customer-centric companies are 60% more profitable than companies that don't prioritize customer service.

Your customer service training should cover three aspects of the service function: attitude, skills, and knowledge. Developing your team in each of these areas can provide them with a well-rounded skill set to tackle nearly any customer issue.

Below are some customer service training ideas you can use to build a strong educational foundation — no matter what industry you work in.

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1. Reflective Listening

Reflective listening is repeating what people say when you respond to them. This is an extremely useful customer support skill that makes sure you and your customers are on the same page. It also helps customers feel heard if they're dealing with a frustrating or time-sensitive issue.

To practice growing your reflective listening skills, break team members into pairs, and ask them to take turns responding to their partner by reflectively listening.

Here's an example:

Sarah: Hi, there was more money taken from my account than usual and I didn't authorize that. I need my money back.

Miguel: Hi Sarah, apologies that you were billed twice this month. I'll make sure to get you your money back in full. Just to confirm, you're not seeing any other unusual payments, correct?

Taking the time to repeat Sarah's issue back to her helps Miguel to quickly identify and diagnose her issue, as well as assure Sarah that help is on the way for her problem.

2. Product Demonstration

A great test that new support should reps take before getting on the phones is a product demonstration. Product demonstrations are deep-dives that make sure service reps know the product or service inside and out.

Reps should be tasked with giving a 10-15 minute product presentation and demonstration — walking a prospective "customer" through everything they need to know to successfully start using it themselves.

Managers should listen for their ability to succinctly and clearly explain complicated topics — and to make sure they know how to use and explain every facet of the product, its website or app, and its features.

3. Call Review

Feedback is the breakfast of champions — and of support, reps too.

Call reviews are a common practice among successful customer support teams. (We do it here at HubSpot.) Periodically, teams should gather to listen to a recorded call with a customer and talk about what went well, and what can be improved. Real calls can give you insight into real expectations, and input from team members can provide a unique perspective to help reps constantly improve.

4. Customer Service Training Presentations

One of the most traditional ways to train customer service teams is through a presentation. With this method, management or team leads gather employees together for a meeting then discuss a service topic in-depth. This lets the speaker touch on specific training material while giving the rest of the team a chance to provide feedback or ask questions.

There are a few types of presentations you can use to conduct training. Let's review some below.

Visuals

Visuals like PowerPoints and graphics are a great way to hook in a larger audience. These images clarify and support your speaking points, making your presentation easy to follow and more impactful on the listener.

PowerPoints are a proven format for customer service training; however, if you are going to take this route, be sure to avoid some of the common pitfalls outlined in this video.

Storytelling

If you're looking for a motivational format, you can try storytelling. With this presentation, the speaker retells experiences that are relevant to their audience. They recap what happened, why it happened, and how they overcame it. This not only provides the audience with an actionable plan but also demonstrates how someone on their team surmounted customer service roadblocks.

Instruction

Instruction should be used when presenting a new or complex topic to your audience. For example, if you're launching a new product, you may hold an instructional presentation explaining what it is, how it works, and why it was created.

In these scenarios, speakers often use metaphors and paradoxes to compare confusing points with other topics that the audience is more familiar with. This makes a complex topic much easier to understand because the speaker has connected it to a relatable concept.

Q&A

Question and answer, or Q&A, is a presentation style that's more intimate than the ones listed above. In this approach, the speaker briefly discusses a topic then opens the floor for the audience to ask questions. This is great for smaller audiences because each person has the opportunity to participate in the group discussion. Q&A's are an excellent format for keeping employees engaged, but they do require your speaker to have extensive knowledge of the presentation topic.

If these options aren't best for you, check out more presentation styles here.

5. Sensitivity Training

The beauty of hiring a diverse workforce is that your employees encounter unique perspectives they may not have experienced before. While that diversity is great for fostering new ideas, it can also lead to friction between teammates.

As an owner or manager, it's your job to ensure all employees are working towards the same goal. Sensitivity training is an exercise that helps employees understand their professional goals as well as their personal biases. By diving into these topics in-depth, employees can better understand one another and be more considerate of their differences.

No matter how well your team works together, it's important to conduct sensitivity training regularly. This will remind employees how they should treat one another and how they should voice their opinions if they need to confront an issue. By reviewing these ideas consistently, new hires will feel more comfortable when joining your team, making them more productive early on.

6. Customer Experience Simulation

Customer experience simulation is essentially the reverse of role playing. Instead of interacting with a mock customer, the service rep becomes the customer and goes through the experience of purchasing your product or service.

The benefit of this exercise is that reps can see the roadblocks they troubleshoot from the perspective of the user. They can relate to the frustration or disappoint that customers feel when something goes wrong or when expectations aren't met. That way, when they're working with real customers, they have a better understanding of what people are going through and how to resolve their issues.

7. Social Media Training

Social media is a key component of a robust omnichannel support solution. In fact, customers expect great customer service from brands on social media channels. About 49% of consumers say they'll unfollow a business on social media due to poor customer service, so your team needs to have resources dedicated to supporting these channels.

However, social media is still relatively new to customer service, and not all of your reps may be as experienced with using these platforms for professional needs as opposed to personal updates. A training course dedicated to teaching them how to use social media might be helpful. That way, communication will be smoother on social channels and will create more delightful customer experiences.

8. Product Breakdowns

If your company sells a physical product instead of software or services, it can be helpful for employees to see how the product works, inside and out. Take your product apart in front of your employees and show them step-by-step how it's put together. Educate them about where your product's resources come from and how the manufacturing process is carried out daily. This can really benefit employees who don't work closely with your products.

If your product is software, obviously, it can be tricky to take apart. So, instead, talk to your employees about where your servers are located and how your software is powered. Discuss contingency plans for potential shutdowns and what employees can share with customers if they ask about sensitive information. When you're supplying software to businesses, it's not uncommon to receive phone calls from their IT teams and it can really make your support team stand out if they can relay this information offhand.

9. Corporate Culture Training

Corporate culture is extremely important for customer service employees. That's because they're working on the front lines with customers, acting as the face of your business. If they don't believe in your company's culture, your customers certainly won't either.

Corporate culture training doesn't have to be extensive, but it should be consistent. Every day employees should be reminded in some way about your company's core values and how they contribute to that culture.

One way to do this is with a culture code. This resource lists all of the company's values and what it expects from its employees. This will help you hold employees accountable and show customers that you're committed to creating a positive experience.

10. Crisis Communication

Every company makes mistakes, but the best companies know how to clean up their messes. And, they know it starts with their customer service teams.

Successful companies don't wait for a problem to happen, they anticipate it and prepare their teams accordingly. They create crisis communication plans and educate every rep on how to respond to common questions that customers will have for the business. This preparation can be the difference between your team saving loyal customers or losing them to churn.

Customer service teams are often very busy, and you may not have time to host a formal training. However, this doesn't exclude your team from performing activities that can help them sharpen their skills.

If this is the case for your business, you should try the exercises below for improving customer service skills.

1. Mock Calls

Along the same lines as the reflective listening exercise, mock calls are a time-tested strategy for practicing a job before actually doing it.

Team members should be paired up and given real scenarios that customer support reps have to tackle every day — easy ones, and difficult ones, too. Have support reps take turns serving as the customer and the support rep so they can get an idea of how to handle common issues — and how to adapt during stress-inducing calls.

Team members playing the role of the customer should feel free to be creative — all customers are different, and support reps should be prepared to adapt to different situations and personalities before they get on the phones with real customers.

2. No 'No's Allowed

This exercise will teach support reps how they can still be helpful if they don't give a customer the answer they want to hear.

There's only one rule: No saying 'no.' (This includes all 'no'-oriented words and phrases, like "I don't know" and "We don't do that.")

This exercise will challenge support reps to reframe the conversation with a customer when, in fact, the answer truly is 'no.' But when customers are upset or frustrated, answering their requests with a flat-out 'no' might serve to aggravate them and won't move the conversation forward.

Team members should be put into pairs and take turns role-playing the customer and the support reps. "Customers" should make big, bold requests that support reps can't say 'no' to — but instead, have to figure out a solution-oriented response.

For example, if the customer asked for a discount that the support rep wasn't authorized to offer, instead of saying 'no,' the rep could say, "If you're looking to reduce the cost of your CRM subscription, I could help you consolidate your database to under 1,000 contacts. Would you like help setting that up?"

The support rep is essentially telling the customer that no, they can't offer them a discount. But, by offering alternative options, the customer might feel like the support rep is on their side, and won't get frustrated by what they perceive as stubbornness or inflexibility.

3. Role Playing

Improving your customer service skills is like improving your golf swing. You need to keep practicing it, over and over again, until it's perfect — or in my case, until I can find the ball after I hit it.

Role playing is an effective exercise for sharpening customer service skills. One employee pretends to be a customer, then presents a service case for another to troubleshoot. Once the case is solved, reps switch places and repeat the scenario.

Role playing lets reps work on both communication skills and their troubleshooting process. Since it's not a real customer, reps have a safety net that lets them practice new techniques they may not have tried before. If your team works with customers face-to-face, this exercise gives them a live environment to perfect their skills without risking customer churn.

4. Lunch and Learn

On a regular basis, support teams should take turns giving presentations during a group lunch. The topic doesn't matter — it can be work-related, or it can be a presentation about their recent vacation photos, or an organization they volunteer with. Whatever the topic, lunch and learns will keep support reps in the habit of being able to present and explain new topics to others.

This is a critical skill for support reps, especially when onboarding new customers who might be completely unfamiliar with how to use a product or service. Additionally, the lunch and learns will provide a safe space for reps to practice — and to learn about each other outside of work.

5. Meditation

Sometimes, working on the front lines of customer support can be really stressful.

No matter how hard you try, sometimes you might get the blame for a problem that's completely out of your control. You might also receive the brunt of a customer's frustration and be presented with feedback that isn't particularly diplomatic.

Whatever the case, meditation can be a helpful tool for regaining and establishing mental relaxation — even in the middle of a busy workday.

Dedicating time to meditation, mindfulness, and relaxation — and encouraging employees to use it for that purpose — will help train them to de-stress and stay positive during those tough moments with customers. Apps like Headspace or YouTube videos can help if you want to practice as a team, too.

6. Personality Tests

This isn't specific to customer support, but it's a good idea for new reps to take a personality test to learn how they work and communicate best with others.

One framework you can use is the DiSC profile, which evaluates people's behavioral and personality differences. Here's an example profile below.

DiSC Assessment chart

Source

Other tests include the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) and the Predictive Index Assessment (PI). All of these can give support reps helpful insights into how they work best, how they communicate with others, and possible sources of conflict they might encounter.

You can't control the customer's personality — but you can control your own reactions and responses. Learning the 'why' behind your actions is a good first step.

7. Call Your Competitor

Your service reps are responsible for keeping customers from running to your competitors. This makes it only fair that your team should know what they're up against.

Have your team call your competitor's customer service line, and if possible, purchase one of its products or free trials. Ask routine questions and pay attention to different details during the call, like the rep's tone, the cadence of their voice, how quickly they were able to provide an answer, what type of follow up options they offered, etc. These interactions will set the standard that your team will have to surpass.

8. Employee Testimonials

Your most experienced reps are some of your team's most valuable resources. They've seen your product and company grow with its customer base and have been present for all the speed bumps and roadblocks along the way. Use their stories as testimonials for how your new reps should be treating customers.

For example, if a rep had a really positive interaction with a customer, have that employee talk about that call and what they did to create such a delightful experience. Or, if the interaction is significantly negative, discuss the missteps that were taken and what could be done next time to avoid a similar outcome. This exercise can help reps master the soft skills that can dramatically impact a customer service case.

9. Attitude Anchors

Attitude anchors is an activity that helps reps manage their emotions. Split your team into groups and have each one brainstorm two different types of anchors: maintenance anchors and repair anchors.

Maintenance anchors are actions that can be taken to maintain a positive attitude. These are things that reps use during a call to keep them motivated and optimistic. Here's a few examples of maintenance anchors:

  • Manage work-life balance by spending time with friends and family after work.
  • Bring your best self to work by getting enough sleep each night.
  • Reduce stress by reminding yourself of three things or people you're grateful for each day.

Repair anchors are things that can be done to fix negative attitudes. These are activities that are performed after a call so reps can quickly bounce back and work with another customer. Every rep is going to have a bad call, and it's important to not carry their negative emotions into the next one. Repair anchors might look something like this:

  • After a difficult call with a customer, take a walk around the block.
  • When you're not able to solve a problem for your customer, give yourself positive affirmations like “I did my best and I'm proud of that.”
  • If you're feeling less motivated than usual, have a conversation with a coworker or family member you admire to lift your spirits.

Once each list is built, hang them up where reps can easily see them. That way, they can use each exercise when it becomes applicable during their workday.

10. Customer Letters

If reps are feeling undervalued by your customers — or even upper management — have them write customer letters. These are letters written from the perspective of the customer that are addressed to the customer service employee.

This exercise lets reps reflect on all of the good things they've done for your customers. And, that's important too, because it can often be hard to measure the value that customer service reps bring to a business. But, when they can think about it on a customer-to-customer scale, it becomes much easier to see how important your team is to your organization as a whole.

1. Shadow support calls.

Whether you're training a new rep or a more experienced one, shadowing support calls is a hands on way for them to understand a few things about the way your company handles service interactions.

First, they'll get a sense of the types of calls that come in. After enough calls, they'll start to predict some of the most common issues.

Next, it'll become clear to your reps which types of solutions work best for specific situations. For example, while there's probably an extremely helpful knowledge base article written on troubleshooting common product failures, the better solution in the moment may be to walk the customer through the fix rather than sharing a step-by-step document.

Finally, new and experienced reps will catch on to the cadence of the conversation the rep has with various customers. Some may want to get straight to the point without much small talk while other customers will appreciate the representative building rapport with them.

2. Review customer service standards.

As your team becomes acclimated to the processes and procedures for serving customers, they'll need to maintain your company's service standards. Sometimes, standards can fall by the wayside when meeting a quota is the immediate goal for the team each week. Having casual conversations about your company's customer service standards absolutely counts as training and it's a simple way to keep this critical goal at the core of your processes and daily activities.

A slack message, email, or quick statement in a stand up meeting are all ways to keep customer service standards at the forefront of everyone's minds.

3. Cover specific trainings quickly.

Microlearning breaks down employee training into manageable chunks which helps reps learn faster and quickly apply each teaching. By using short training sessions, ideally under 30 minutes, service reps will be more inclined to participate and will retain more information afterward.

Microlearning can be used to cover specific training areas much faster than you could with an hour long training covering several different topics. Microlearning training sessions can cover topics such as the most common customer complaint or a documentation process.

4. Practice being a good customer

One of the best ways to build empathy is by taking on the perspective of the customer. What better way to do this than by recognizing good customer service in your everyday life?

There's an interesting case to be made that being a good customer begets great customer service. Making eye contact, smiling, and being amicable can go a long way to get the best service from a customer representative.

Once you do receive this world-class service, study the reps techniques. How do they answer your questions? Do they confirm your issue so they can offer the best solution? All of these factors and more can be uncovered just by being a customer yourself. The best part is, you can immediately apply what you've learned from those interactions with your own customers during your next calls.

5. Conduct rapid fire product Q&A.

Any great customer service rep knows their products like the back of their hand. Testing this knowledge can be a fun and competitive way to get the team on board for customer service training.

6. Host scenario discussions.

As a manager, you can review your knowledge base or product playbooks to create trivia-style questions that reps can answer individually or on teams. The friendly competition and gamification of the training session can help reps confirm what they already know and retain what they don't so that after the game is over, they can apply their product knowledge when offering solutions to customer issues.

Scenario discussions make for an interactive ice breaker, especially if you're training a large group. You'll begin by creating a handful of scenarios with each one involving a different customer issue. There's no solution included in the scenario.

Next, break the group into smaller teams to discuss the scenario. Then, each group will decide on a course of action to help the customer in the given situation. After all the solutions have been decided among the groups, bring everyone together, and have one representative from each team read their scenario aloud and explain how they'd solve it. This training idea can be done virtually or in person with large or small groups.

7. Show rather than tell.

Panopto discovered in a 2019 study that employees are 75% more likely to watch a video than read text. Couple this finding with the microlearning statistics we mentioned earlier and you've got a powerful training tool that your team will be inclined to use.

Showing your team how to follow a process using a short video clip can be much more effective than sending them a step-by-step email (although that extra resource couldn't hurt!). Showing the problem and the solution in the same video can make the context of the training more clear, especially if you add a voiceover to the video. Tools like Loom and Zoom can make video training quick and easy.

8. Review knowledge base materials.

Most customers look to your self-service options to solve their issues with your products before they pick up the phone or type an email to your customer service team.

This training tip covers two goals in one. First, your reps can review the materials in your knowledge base to better solve customer problems. After all, if you're sending your customers to the knowledge base, it should be up to date and helpful, right?

In the case that it needs some work, the second goal can be accomplished. Your reps will notice outdated or inaccurate information that can be updated to provide a better self-service experience for the customer.

9. Start a mentorship program.

As a manager, you can't be everywhere at once no matter how hard you try. Training should be an ongoing priority on your team whether you oversee all aspects of it or if you delegate parts to team members that are best suited to carry them out. One way to do this is by starting a mentorship program on your customer service team. Whether it's formal pairing or a more casual connection, you can rely on more experienced reps to help train those just starting out.

Many of the tips, topics, and ideas we've mentioned thus far can help your team provide exceptional customer service from the customer's perspective. But what about training to help the team work better together?

10. Request feedback.

After each training session, you'll want to request feedback from the team to assess whether the method, content, or delivery were helpful or harmful to their learning. This data can be collected quantitatively through a rating system or qualitatively in an open-ended survey. No matter the format, receiving feedback on your training program is a primary way to make it better so your reps can do the work they do best.

Customer Service Training Your Team Will Love

Outside of team meetings, there are plenty of online resources customer support and service reps can use to always keep improving. Whether your customer service team is short on time, or completely remote, these topics, tips, and ideas are sure to get your reps excited and motivated to deliver the best service to your customers. A mix of interactive, team-oriented, and roleplay activities will keep training interesting for you reps so they understand and remember the information.

If you're ready to plan your next customer service training session, use the template below to get started.

Editor's note: This post was originally published in July 2020 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.

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 Customer Support Training Template

Originally published Mar 23, 2021 1:30:00 PM, updated March 23 2021

Topics:

Customer Service & Support Training