You’ve hired an amazing team of customer service representatives to serve your customers. But how will you train them?
A recent Forrester survey found that when making a purchase, 83% of customers cited good customer service as their most important criterion for deciding what to buy. It also found that businesses underestimate how often customers have poor experiences by an average of 38%.
What does this mean? It means you need to have well-trained customer service team members.
Well-trained customer service team members can diplomatically handle a wide array of situations, quickly turning every interaction into a positive for your business.
Not sure how to get started with training? You’ve come to the right place. Let’s deep dive into customer service training together.
In this guide, we cover:
- What is Customer Service Training?
- Why Customer Service Training is SO Important
- How to Train Customer Support Representatives
- 11 Ways to Train Customer Service Representatives
- Customer Service Training Resources: Courses, books, and videos
What is Customer Service Training?
Customer service training is the training and teaching of customer service employees so that they can serve customers in the best way possible.
It is not a one-and-done exercise. Instead, customer service training should be an ongoing, ever-evolving process designed to educate and upskill your team.
Focusing on the knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques needed to improve the support each employee can provide plays a major role in the success of both the customer service team and the company as a whole.
Any team member that interacts with customers should get customer service training. While the most common use case is getting new customer service reps up to speed, there are plenty of other people in your organization who would benefit from training.
Remember: training is most impactful when it continues throughout a team member’s career.
Why Customer Service Training is SO Important
Customer service training plays a major role in the success of both the customer service team and the organization at large.
Here are a few of the reasons you need to move customer service training to the top of your priority list:
It helps your team improve
Let’s start with the most obvious benefit of customer service training: customer service employees that are better at their jobs.
Customer service excellence is not something that comes naturally, even to those with years of experience. Regular customer service training will improve the productivity and effectiveness of your reps, allowing them to get more done and yield better results from each customer interaction.
It decreases employee turnover
Studies show that job satisfaction is higher at organizations with ongoing job training. To put it simply, employees who are good at their jobs are happier doing them. Plus, when employees see that their company is willing to invest in job training, they feel valued and appreciated and are therefore less likely to change employers.
These changes lead to a big reduction in employee turnover, which saves organizations money and time while allowing them to retain top talent.
It upgrades the customer experience
Inconsistent interactions confuse and frustrate customers—damaging your brand’s reputation and causing potential sales to fall through the cracks. So, delivering a consistent customer experience is crucial.
The best way to get all your reps on the same page is by training them on an identical set of competencies and giving them standardized processes to follow. A comprehensive customer service training program helps ensure a consistent, agreeable experience across all customer touch points.
It increases customer lifetime value
Better customer service leads to happier customers. Well-trained customer service employees can resolve more issues—faster, and with an overall better demeanor—which leads to an increase in customer satisfaction.
These improved levels of customer satisfaction will then allow you to reduce churn, boost customer loyalty, and improve the lifetime value of each customer.
It improves revenue
With more efficient customer service reps, increased customer lifetime value, reduced employee turnover, and boosted sales—you’ll see results where it matters most: your bottom line. At the end of the day, customer service training pays off, literally, with increased profits.
How to Train Customer Support Representatives
Now that you’re sold on the importance of customer service training you’re probably asking, “Well, how do I implement an effective customer service training program?” We’re so glad you asked.
Define what excellent customer service looks like
Whether you’re looking to introduce a brand new customer service training program or hoping to improve a program that’s already in place, you’ll want to start by defining what good customer service means to you.
Before you can train your employees on good customer service, you need to know what that is. It’s not enough to say, “We want our customers to be satisfied.” You need to dig deeper. Does good customer service equal fast response times? Is it good customer service when one agent handles multiple tickets at once? Should your reps be aiming to help the customer or to upsell the customer?
Think through the business problem(s) you need to solve. Good customer service is customer service that assists your organization in reaching those larger objectives.
Uncover the areas that need improvement
Once you’ve determined what good customer service means to you and your organization, you’ll want to identify and prioritize areas that need improvement. Doing so will help you figure out the best way to train your customer service representatives.
You’ll likely train new customer service reps to get them up to speed, but you’ll also want to consistently educate new reps as you learn how to best serve your customers.
To pinpoint the areas where your customer service is lacking, we recommend:
- Looking at customer feedback: Go straight to the source. If available, review your organization’s customer satisfaction surveys, CES (customer effort scores), and CSAT (Customer Satisfaction Score). Let them tell you their experiences, in their own words. This will show you what your customers’ expectations are and how well you are meeting them. Identify and note recurring feedback themes such as speed, tone, and product knowledge.
If you haven’t yet implemented customer surveys at your organization, we highly recommend it. Creating and executing customer satisfaction surveys helps you pivot your business to meet changing needs.
- Reviewing help desk reports: Check out your help desk reports to quickly understand your team’s workload, identify frequent issues, and gain an understanding of customer sentiment. This will be your best source for accurate, easily digestible insights.
- Talking to your team: Talk to both leaders and individual contributors. They will be able to identify the challenges they face, the questions that are being asked repetitively, and the topics that are causing frustration.
Organize areas for improvement into defined categories
Once you’ve identified your customer service needs, it’s time to organize and prioritize. First, organize your list by grouping related issues together.
Your groupings could look something like this:
- Product knowledge: Ensure your employees have a thorough understanding of the product or service that they are selling. Provide them with in-depth knowledge that allows them to be clear, concise, and helpful.
- Technical skills: Train your customer service reps on how to use every tool in their arsenal. Whether it’s how to put a customer on hold without hanging up on them or how to pull customer activity details from Salesforce to your help desk—teach your team to do it all.
- Time management: Teach your team the time management skills needed to make quick response and resolution times a priority. Train your team to disengage when appropriate and escalate when needed.
- Company Vision: Ensure that your customer service reps are clear on how your organization wishes to present itself. Create more consistency in using your company voice and tone across the team.
- Interpersonal skills: Teach your team how to foster positive and trustworthy relationships with customers, without losing decorum. Train your customer service reps to let their humanity shine through, adding authenticity to each interaction, without compromising the brand image.
- Crisis and Customer Management: Train your team to appropriately manage each customer they encounter—whether the customer is confused, frustrated, or downright combative. Teach them the conflict resolution and crisis management skills needed to serve and retain even the angriest of customers.
- Social media: Teach your team exactly how to approach customer service issues that play out in public to ensure each public interaction is on par with how your organization wishes to present itself.
Prioritize your list based on cost, relevance, implementation, and impact
Lastly, you’ll need to prioritize your list. You can prioritize by:
- Cost: Start by addressing the customer service issues that are costing your organization the most amount of money.
- Relevance: Address the issues that are affecting the largest amount of customers and/or reps first.
- Ease of implementation: Start with the issues that you already know how to fix, or where strong external resources are readily available.
- Impact: Prioritize the customer service issues where training would have the biggest effect.
Now that you’ve got your well-organized and prioritized list of trouble areas, the next step in implementing an effective customer service training program is to design your customer service training program.
11 Ways to Train Customer Service Representatives
Customer service training programs vary greatly from one company to the next. While the general idea is consistent across the board—”We want to improve customer service”—the training methods will differ based on your specific business objectives and training needs.
We’re going to break down some of the most popular, and most effective, customer service training methods to help you build a program that is right for your organization.
- Customer service training games
Use to improve: empathy, adaptability, listening, ability to ask good questions, capacity to think on their feet
The premise is simple: Put your customer service reps in training situations that are completely unplanned and unscripted to improve their interpersonal skills.
These exercises greatly improve each participant’s communication skills—a highly valued customer service skill. It also breaks down their barriers, making it easier for reps to think on their feet and adapt quickly to any situation thrown at them.
Improv games, specifically, are a popular customer service training method because they are fun, and effective. Want to try the improv training method with your team? We recommend starting with these games:
- Yes, and…
- Customer Role Play
- Name Games
- Psych Me Up
- Demonstration sessions
Use to improve: brand knowledge, product knowledge, retention skills
For your customer service reps to best serve your customers, they need to know just as much about your product or service as anyone else. Set aside time for dedicated product demonstration and training sessions. These sessions should give your customer service reps ample time to learn your product or service so that they could teach others, namely the customers that contact customer service.
- Sell me this product
Use to improve: brand knowledge, product knowledge, retention skills, ability to personalize information to the customer’s needs, presentation skills
A specialized form of role play: this is similar to the training idea mentioned above, but it takes it a step further by having your customer service reps actually present the product or service themselves. As they say, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” This exercise will challenge your reps’ product knowledge to ensure they have a clear, comprehensive understanding.
- Buddy system
Use to improve: onboarding, skill distribution, quality, team cohesion
While this training method is particularly valuable for new hires, even experienced customer service reps can learn from seeing someone else work. With the buddy system, or job shadowing, your reps will discover new ways to perform their duties. They’ll often find shortcuts and superior alternatives to the way they had been working—making each rep faster, better, and more collaborative.
The buddy system method complements the other forms of training and development listed here by improving team communication and breaking down internal silos.
- Example conversations
Use to improve: writing, handling conflict, technical knowledge, company vision
Save and annotate example conversations to turn them into learning opportunities for your team. Whenever you come across a particularly well-handled conversation with an angry customer, a rep response that doesn’t use your company’s voice and tone, or a great example of customer data being pulled in to enhance a customer interaction—bookmark it.
Then, set aside a designated time to go over these examples with your team. Somewhere down the line, your other reps will be faced with similar situations. And, when that day comes, they’ll know exactly how to handle themselves.
- Lunch and learn
Use to improve: support skills, skill distribution, quality, team cohesion, technical skills, time management, social media, crisis management, customer management, product knowledge
A lunch and learn brings together people from across your organization to share skills, techniques, and ideas. Team members might share a piece of job-specific knowledge, a self-care technique, a book recommendation—anything that contributes to informing and enhancing the team. Lunch and learn sessions can even include speakers from outside the organization to bring in new expertise, skills, or perspective.
The collaborative atmosphere drives growth and increases employee engagement. Just don’t forget to provide food!
- Secret shopper
Use to improve: consistency, quality, product knowledge, competitor knowledge
While this training method is particularly valuable for eCommerce customer service training, all customer service teams can benefit from this method. Secret shoppers, or mystery shoppers, allow you to test and accurately assess the state of your customer service. Secret shopper reports identify your customer service strong points, as well as which areas of your organization’s customer service need improvement. You can then address and correct any weaknesses they uncover.
You may also want to consider secret shopping your competitors to objectively gather information on their customer service teams. Secret shopping your competitors helps you gain a new perspective on your market and the needs of your customers. It also shows you exactly how your customer service stacks up.
- 5 whys
Use to improve: support skills, skill distribution, quality, team cohesion, technical skills, time management, social media, crisis management, customer management, product knowledge
The 5 whys is an iterative interrogative technique used to explore the cause-and-effect relationships underlying a particular problem.
First, you’ll prepare a problem statement about an issue that is affecting your customer service team. EX: “The finance team thinks we are refunding too many customers.” or “Customers are complaining about long wait times.” Then, share your problem statement with your team and ask, “Why did this happen?” Brainstorm answers together as a team. Next, select one of those answers to dive into as your next problem statement. Repeat this process until you’ve asked “Why?” a total of five times.
The 5 whys training technique allows you to move beyond surface-level symptoms and dig into the root of the problem as a team.
- In their shoes
Use to improve: positivity, empathy, support skills, skill distribution, quality, team cohesion
In their shoes consists of two simple exercises that can be repeated (with different scenarios) on a regular basis to keep your team at the top of their interpersonal skills game.
The positivity exercise: When it comes to customer service, positivity means keeping your language and responses upbeat and promising. Train your customer service team to replace negative words with positive ones.
Jot down five to 10 negative customer service responses and ask your team to rewrite them as positive statements. For example, instead of saying, “Unfortunately, I don’t…”, encourage your customer service team to start sentences with, “I’d love to help…”.
Speaking of language and responses…as a bonus exercise, discuss these 10 customer service phrases to use and not use during service interactions with your support team.
The empathy exercise: Tell your team to think about a time when they were a customer and they experienced a frustrating, unsatisfactory customer service interaction. Take turns letting each team member share their story and how they were treated and how it made them feel. Then, discuss how the customer service rep should have behaved in each story.
- Create a knowledge base
Use to improve: support skills, product knowledge, quality, team cohesion
This training method differs from the others as it emphasizes a slightly different style of learning. Instead of following a discussion-based format, your team will write the information down.
Having your team create a knowledge base for your product or service not only challenges your customer service reps on their knowledge and clarity but also produces a lasting company resource. Creating a knowledge base may seem overwhelming, but there are plenty of knowledge base templates to help you get started.
Use to improve: interpersonal skills, product knowledge, company vision, support skills, quality, team cohesion, crisis management, customer management
Role-playing is a very popular customer service training exercise—and for good reason. It covers a wide range of customer service skills including interpersonal skills, product knowledge, company vision, etc. It can be especially helpful in preparing your service reps to manage and pacify angry customers. By emulating real-life situations, you help your reps acclimate to the realities of customer service.
BONUS: Customer Service Training Resources
Ready to get started? As you begin to create a customer service training program for your company, keep in mind that there’s no need to reinvent the wheel. There’s an abundance of customer service training materials available to you.
We’ve gathered some of our favorites customer service training resources to help you reduce your upfront effort:
Customer service training courses
Customer Service Training by Alison
This free online course, offered by one of the world’s largest free learning platforms, teaches participants how to build top-notch customer service skills. Geared towards beginners in the field, this course is perfect for new hires and anyone that needs to revisit the fundamentals of customer service.
Customer Service Excellence On-Demand Training
This training, offered by Cornell University, offers eight online lessons that explore the foundations of service delivery. The lessons are complemented by a Workshop Guide to facilitate your on-site discussion. The training is applicable to anyone at your organization who works directly with customers.
Culture of Services: New Perspective on Customer Relations
In this free business and management course, you will learn how to analyze and understand the difficult dynamics of customer service. Focusing on the social and cultural aspects of customer service, this course uses video data taken from real-life service interactions to explore the nuanced and paradoxical nature of customer relations.
Innovative Customer Service Techniques
This course, offered by LinkedIn’s award-winning online education platform, helps customer service teams unlock hidden potential. It outlines the two basic needs every customer has in common and offers insight into how elite customer service professionals conduct themselves.
Customer service training books
Jeff Toister’s Customer Service Books
Jeff Toister, a nationally recognized customer service expert, has written several training-centric books and guides. Whether you’re hoping to improve your team’s customer service skills or looking for top customer service tips, you’re sure to find something that piques your interest.
The Best Service is No Service: How to Liberate Your Customers from Customer Service, Keep Them Happy, and Control Costs
Bill Price, former Global VP of Customer Service for Amazon, partners with consultant David Jaffe to offer a game-changing approach to customer service. The Best Service Is No Service outlines seven principles that lead to a reduction in “bad contact” with customers.
Exceptional Service, Exceptional Profit: The Secrets of Building a Five-Star Customer Service Organization
Leonardo Inghilleri and Micah Solomon reveal the secrets of providing customer service that is so superior it nearly guarantees loyalty. Learn the anticipatory customer service approach that was first developed at The Ritz-Carlton, and has since proven itself in countless companies around the globe.
Be Our Guest: Perfecting the Art of Customer Service
This customer service book, written by the Disney Institute, outlines the key processes and best practices that have made Disney a trusted and revered brand around the world. It reveals the business practices behind the magic.
Strategic Customer Service: Managing the Customer Experience to Increase Positive Word of Mouth, Build Loyalty, and Maximize Profits
Customer care and measurement consultant John Goodman shows companies how to turn their customers into word-of-mouth machines. Discover how to leverage the power of customer service to build long-term loyalty and success.
Customer service training videos
I Was Seduced By Exceptional Customer Service
In this TEDx talk, John Boccuzzi Jr. discusses why customer service, as opposed to traditional marketing strategies, has the potential to be the greatest form of marketing for a brand.
Customer Service Vs. Customer Experience
This unique training video emulates the “5 whys” exercise we touched on earlier. It invites you to participate in the eye-opening exercise to help you understand the difference between customer service and customer experience.
10 ways to have a better conversation
In this TED Talk, experienced radio show host Celeste Headlee outlines the ingredients of a great conversation. Discover how to capture customer attention and improve customer conversations.