When we think about customer support and service teams, we think of reps as the point of contact for that brand -- someone who's always there to communicate with you and help you with your challenges. And, because of the importance of addressing and resolving customer issues, it's clear why this team is such a crucial part of any organization.
Customer support representatives have a strong relationship with the customer -- often times, it's even stronger than their relationship with their sales rep. They have front row seats to customers' ongoing needs, goals, and success. They're perfectly positioned to cross-sell, upsell, and resell to maximize customer lifetime value.
To build and maintain a customer support and service team, you need to properly train them. If you need a starting point to build a training program for your team, you can refer to this post as an extensive starting resource for some of the most valuable free customer service training materials available.
How to Teach Customer Service
Start with teaching the product.
Educate reps about your company's industry.
Review customer service basics.
Introduce reps to resources and tools.
Simulate customer situations.
Walk through an ideal daily workflow.
Talk about conflict management.
Discuss escalation protocol.
Provide work-life balance tips.
Monitor short- and long-term progress.
Depending upon the extensiveness of the training and vastness of your industry, this training can last anywhere between two and six weeks. There's no benchmark for the duration, so you'll need to try and see what gives you the best results.
1. Start with teaching the product.
Most organizations have their own product training resources and documentation. It typically comes in the form of blogs, videos, podcasts, in-person trainings, and new hire orientation, which they share with their customer service trainees when they start at the company.
2. Educate reps about your company's industry.
This training will be specific to your brand and to your industry as well. Industry knowledge isn't something that trainees can master in just a few weeks -- it's something they'll have to stay updated about consistently throughout their career. Getting into a practice of reading expert industry blogs and other resources on a regular basis is a must.
Another thing that's important to keep a tab on over the course of industry training is competitor analysis. Understanding the value propositions of switching to a competitor will help customer service professionals better handle objections and provide them with extensive documentation before losing a customer to churn.
3. Review customer service basics.
Training your team's customer service skills is the most common training for any organization. Even if you have a good product and industry knowledge, agents can not excel at their work without being trained for the right set of skills.
Below are just a few essential skills are expected of a customer support or service rep:
For many customer service reps, this may be their first time working in a customer service or support role. Therefore, they might not have experience working with call center software or a ticketing system.
Before they start interacting with customers, your new agents should familiarize themselves with the tools they’ll be using in their day-to-day workflow. Have them practice creating tickets, responding to messages, looking up customer data, or any other common task that they’ll need to do when working with a customer.
5. Simulate customer situations.
Situational training mocks a real customer interaction that employees experience on the job. For example, the HubSpot Support Team performs mock calls during training sessions. An experienced agent will pretend to be a customer and call in with a common question or roadblock. The trainee then attempts to resolve the issue as if it were a normal call.
After the call is complete, the agent pretending to be a customer will review the call. They'll discuss the trainee's strengths and address skills that can be improved. This process not only exposes trainees to typical customer problems but also provides them with immediate feedback on their tendencies and approach to customer service.
6. Walk through an ideal daily workflow.
One aspect of customer that's often overlooked during training is daily workflow. Customer service roles are fast-paced and involve handling multiple tasks at once. Some reps may possess product knowledge as well as communication skills but will struggle to keep pace with customer demand. It's important to teach trainees to optimize their workflow so that they can consistently perform to the best of their abilities.
7. Talk about conflict management.
In some situations, your rep’s communication skills are more important than their technical ones. For example, your agent might have a solution for a customer but that customer isn’t sure if the answer fits their needs. Instead of agreeing with the rep, they’re pushing back creating friction within the customer experience.
The best customer service reps can make this customer feel right even when they’re wrong. They know how to propose solutions in a way that doesn’t belittle the customer, but, instead, empowers them. They make the customer feel like they worked together to come to a solution, creating a more delightful experience. Mastering these conflict management skills is the key to avoiding escalations and preventing potential customer churn.
8. Discuss escalation protocol.
No matter how skilled a trainee is, every customer service rep will experience confrontation. Some trainees may be uncomfortable with the idea of confronting a frustrated or angry customer. However, it's important to know how to de-escalate a tense situation. Not only will this training help reduce churn, but it will also give your reps more confidence to approach difficult or stressful conversations.
9. Provide work-life balance tips.
In many ways, customer service is a mindset, not a function. Your reps need to be constantly thinking about what they can do to enhance the customer’s experience with your brand. If they’re doing it right, that takes a lot of time, effort, and dedication. And, eventually, that above-and-beyond work ethic wears down your reps and causes burnout.
To avoid this crash, it’s important to pay attention to agent fatigue and educate reps on what they can do to prevent it. Whether it’s going for a walk after a tough call, providing flexibility for using breaks, or even taking a day off, reps need to stay fresh so they can exceed the standard of service that your customers are expecting.
10. Monitor short- and long-term progress.
Customer service training shouldn’t end after basic training is complete. You should be continuously monitoring your agents to ensure they’ve mastered the skills they need to be successful in their careers.
In fact, at HubSpot, customer support reps are closely monitored for a few months after initial training. This onboarding period gives management an opportunity to assess an employee’s strengths and weaknesses and come up with additional training programs that suit their needs. That way, reps are constantly learning new skills that progress their customer service careers.
Now that you're familiar with different training components, let's break down how to create a training manual for your customer service team.
How to Write a Customer Service Training Manual
As your business grows and develops, you'll need more service reps to meet customer demand. However, hiring more employees means you'll have to train them to the same quality as your existing team. This is where a manual creates consistency in your training program and ensures every rep is trained in the same set of skills and product knowledge.
If your team doesn't have a document like this, below are steps you can take to create a customer service training manual for your business.
1. Consider the customer's journey.
Customer service training should start with the customer. After all, this role is all about delighting people and creating a personalized customer experience.
Start with considering the customer's journey. Think about where customers will be when they reach out to your service team. Focus on their needs and goals and how you'll relay this information to your trainees. By looking at areas where customers face the most roadblocks, you'll be able to create training that addresses customer needs.
2. Identify your team's main objectives.
Once you've thought about the customer experience, the next step is to identify your team's main objectives. These are three to five fundamental goals that your customer service reps will focus on at all times. For example, one objective could be to answer all support calls swiftly and efficiently.
Now that we've made our goal clear, we have to understand the knowledge or skill that's needed to achieve it. In this case, to answer calls faster we need to teach reps how to be organized and ready on the phone as much as possible. This means we need to focus on workflow training and create exercises that improve a rep's ability to multi-task. By breaking training down into goals, you'll provide effective courses that are relevant to your team's workflow.
3. Develop or adopt training courses.
At this point, you should have a good feel for the type of training your team will need. Moving forward, you have two options to choose from when selecting training courses. You can either create custom training for your team or you can adopt a course from an external source. The benefit of designing your own is that it can be personalized for your business. However, the tradeoff is that it can take time to create and will constantly need to be tweaked to remain accurate.
Adopting a training course is more time-efficient and can be easier to integrate with an existing customer service team. While it won't be customized for your business's needs, it can be a cost-effective solution for teams looking for fundamental training. At the end of this post, we'll discuss some online training options you can adopt for your company.
4. Create practice exercises.
Learning from training courses is a great first step, but to truly master customer service your trainees need to practice what they've learned. You can use practice exercises to mimic common problems and put their newfound skills to the test. Just like our HubSpot example above, these exercises will expose agents to real-life situations and prepare them for customer interactions.
5. Break down the importance of daily metrics.
Before new reps complete training, they should understand daily metrics and why they're being measured. For starters, this lets reps know what's expected of them and what they should be working towards each day. But, more importantly, explaining why you've chosen these metrics helps trainees understand their value to the organization. If they can see how their performance contributes to the company's success, they'll be more motivated to reach their daily goals.
These steps should help you put together a comprehensive training manual for your customer service team. However, as we mentioned above, it may be easier to adopt existing courses rather than creating your own. In the next section, we cut out the middle man and gathered some courses and exercises your team can use to build out its training manual.
12 Free Customer Service Training Materials to Share with Your Team
There are tons of free training materials that can teach skills to your customer service team. There are blogs, videos, exercises, online courses and much more that you can leverage for your business. If you're not sure where to start, use the list below as baseline content for your training manual.
Mock calls are an excellent way to practice doing the job before actually starting the job. Mock calls involve a new rep and an experienced rep taking turns pretending to be the rep and the customer to run through common scenarios and situations reps might encounter when they're on the job.
Personality testing can be an effective way to identify new employees' communication, leadership, and conflict management styles to try to get ahead of and manage conflict with customers before it happens.
3.No ‘No's Allowed
This is another mutual training exercise where team members role-play being the customer and the customer service rep, and they have to practice addressing issues without being allowed to say no. So, for example, if the issue to role play was a request not allowed by a rep's software, the new employee would have to practice addressing complaints in a way that didn't shut down the conversation with a ‘no.'
4. Employee Shadowing
There are organizations that focuses more on team collaboration and thus presses on the approach of shadowing other team members and pitch practice for training their team member. As Eric Vandenberg from G2 Crowd explains, "What I find most valuable about trainings is listening to how my peers handle objections and navigate conversations." By having new reps shadow more experienced ones, they'll pick up advanced insights that may not be covered during training sessions.
While these resources can be grouped together to form an effective training manual, there are plenty of free online courses that can do this as well. These programs feature lessons and exercises that teach trainees about one or a few components of good customer service. Using one or a combination of the online options listed below can save you time from having to manually design your training program.
Online Customer Service Training
These customer service training videos and courses can teach new hires how to provide exceptional customer service.