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 starting off with a strong educational and training foundation is so important. In order to retain your customers and keep them happy so you can grow your business, you need to prioritize employee training so they're equipped to do that. In fact, we found that growing companies are nearly twice as likely as stagnating companies to prioritize customer service training as "very important."
Below are some customer service training ideas you can use on your team to build a strong educational foundation -- no matter what industry you work in.
Customer Service Training Ideas
- Reflective Listening
- Product Demonstration
- Call Review
- Customer Service Training Presentations
- Sensitivity Training
- Customer Experience Simulation
- Social Media Training
- Product Breakdowns
- Corporate Culture Training
- Crisis Communication
Featured Resource: Customer Support Training Template
Onboard your new support hires with more clarity and efficiency using our Customer Support Training Template.
1. Reflective Listening
Reflective listening consists of repeating what people say to you back to them in their response. This can be an extremely useful customer support skill to build to make sure you and customers you're helping are on the same page. It also helps customers to feel heard if they're dealing with a frustrating or time-sensitive issue with your product or service.
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, I was billed twice this month, and I need my money back.
Miguel: Hi Sarah. What I'm hearing is that you were mistakenly billed twice in one month, and that you're looking for a refund. Is that 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 final test for new support reps to take before getting on the phones is a product demonstration and deep-dive to make sure they 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 a 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 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.
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 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 their confusing points with other topics that their audience is more familiar with. This makes a complex topic much easier to understand because the speaker has connected it to a relatable concept.
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 will 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 going through and why their problems are preventing them from achieving their goals.
7. Social Media Training
Social media will always be a factor that your team will have to deal with no matter which industry you're providing customer service in. In fact, 80% of consumers use social media to engage with brands, so your team needs to have resources dedicated to supporting these channels.
However, social media is still relatively new to customer service, and your more tenured reps may not be as experienced with these platforms. If so, they could use a training course dedicated to teaching them how to use social media. 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 your product is 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 a business, it's not uncommon to receive phone calls from their IT teams asking about these details 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 buy into 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, it starts with their customer service teams.
Successful companies don't wait for a problem to happen, they anticipate it and prepare their customer service 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.
Customer Service Training Exercises
- Mock Calls
- No No's Allowed
- Lunch and Learn
- Personality Tests
- Call Your Competitor
- Employee Testimonials
- Attitude Anchors
- Customer Letters
1. Mock Calls
Along the same lines as the reflective listening exercise, mock calls are a time-tested strategy for practicing the job before doing the job.
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 to still be helpful if they don't give the 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 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, team members should take turns giving presentations during a team 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 in detail to others.
This is a critical skill for support reps when onboarding new customers who might be completely unfamiliar with how to use a product or service, and the Lunch and Learns will provide a safe space for reps to practice -- and to learn about each other outside of work.
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 or outage that's completely out of your control. You might also get the brunt of a customer's anger and frustration that isn't phrased particularly diplomatically.
Whatever the case, meditation can be a helpful tool for regaining and establishing mental relaxation and calm -- 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 do it 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 some sort of personality test to learn how they work and communicate best with others.
One framework we use here at HubSpot is the DiSC profile, which evaluates people's behavioral and personality differences. Here's an example profile below.
Source: Disc Profile
Other tests include the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) and 16Personalities, and these can all give support reps helpful insights into how they best like to work, how they communicate with others, and possible sources of conflict they might encounter.
You can't control the personality of every customer you talk to -- 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 customer 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 assets. They've seen your product and company grow with its customer base and have been present for all the speedbumps and roadblocks along the way. Use their stories as testimonials for how your new reps should be treating your 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 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.
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.
Once each list is built out, 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.
Outside of team meetings, there are plenty of online resources customer support and service reps can use to hone their education and skills to always keep improving. HubSpot Academy offers free online customer service training resources and video content your team can watch and learn from at any time.
Originally published Jul 22, 2020 7:17:00 PM, updated July 28 2020