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Customer Service Training Exercises To Turn Your Team Into Support All-Stars

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The best customer support teams are the ones that are always working to get better.

We hear a lot from companies who want to get better at customer service.

And while using the right help desk software and implementing the right processes are steps in the right direction, ultimately, your customer service is only as good as the people who deliver it.

That’s where customer service training comes in.

Training is not just for new hires; it’s actually one of the most effective ways to make your entire teams—seasoned veterans and newbies alike—get better at support every single week.

Training doesn’t have to mean going to conferences or spending entire days taking workshops to learn new skills.

In fact, there are customer service training exercises that take 10-20 minutes (and in some cases, even less) that will help you make big improvements in all five of the essential customer service skills.

The 5 Essential Customer Service Skills
The 5 Essential Customer Service Skills

Try these five exercises below. While the first exercise requires a team, the rest can all be done individually if you’d rather work alone.

1) Show-and-tell

You have interests and hobbies outside of work, right?

So do the people you work with.

There’s a good chance that whatever your particular hobby is, you know a lot more about it than the people around you. They might even find it confusing or intimidating.

One of the most critical parts of being able to communicate clearly in support is the ability to distill complicated topics into simple, easy-to-understand terms.

Hosting a weekly show-and-tell at your office (or, if you’re a remote team like us, over Skype or a Google Hangout), is a great way for your team to get better at conveying complex ideas—whether they’re about crossword puzzles, travel hacking, knitting, Dungeons & Dragons or whatever else they enjoy doing—to those who might not be familiar with them.

It’s also fantastic for getting to know your co-workers better, and building stronger relationships throughout your entire team.

The exercise: Hold a weekly show-and-tell session.

Each week, a member of the team is assigned to share a 5-10 minute presentation sharing an interest or hobby with the rest of the team.

Skills Developed: Clarity in Communication, Empathy (for those listening)

2) Do the Stranger Challenge

One of the hardest things about doing support is customers being angry or upset with you.

And while the specific techniques for dealing with those situations are easy to learn and use (if you haven’t tried it yet, I highly recommend the HEARD technique used by Disney), the more challenging part of that is simply the fact that’s a highly uncomfortable situation.

Most people aren’t very good at being uncomfortable.

It’s hard to be at our best when we’re not comfortable, but those uncomfortable situations, for support pros, are where we need to be at our best.

So what do we do?

We work on getting comfortable with discomfort.

AppSumo runs a challenge on their site that they call the Stranger Challenge. It involves getting over your fear of failure and discomfort by asking a complete stranger to take a photo with you.

Yes, it seems a bit weird and uncomfortable.

And that’s exactly the point.

Completing the challenge will help you get better at being comfortable with discomfort.

The exercise: Do the Stranger Challenge

Head over to AppSumo’s Stranger Challenge and sign up. Then, print out one of their signs and ask a stranger to take a photo with you.

Skills Developed: Empathy, Positivity, Patience, Continuous Improvement

3) Become More Mindful

If you’ve never tried mindfulness meditation before, it’s important to establish a couple of things:

Firstly, mindfulness meditation has nothing to do with religion or spirituality (unless you want it to). Absolutely nothing. This is probably the one misconception that I had that kept me from trying it for a long time, but I promise: nothing.

Secondly, the benefits are massive, and they’re backed by science. Mindfulness meditation has been shown to do everything from lower stress to making you a more compassionate and empathetic person (both benefits that anyone doing support could get a lot from).

Mindfulness meditation is a great way to get better at reacting to stress and not being overwhelmed by the seemingly never-ending flow of support emails.

Personally, I love Headspace, a simple app that teaches you meditation in 10 minutes a day, and I think it’s a great place to start for just about anyone.

The exercise: Take 10

Sign up for a free Headspace account, and complete the Take 10 program: 10 days of guided meditation, in only 10 minutes each day.

Skills Developed: Empathy, Positivity, Patience

4) Give Genuine Appreciation

Dale Carnegie, in How to Win Friends and Influence People, praised appreciation as food for the soul.

In our interpersonal relations we should never forget that all our associates are human beings and hunger for appreciation. It is the legal tender that all souls enjoy.

Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People

It’s a haunting phrase that’s stuck with me since the first time I read it.

But the power of a real thank you goes way beyond making someone else feel good.

That power was tested in a 2010 study by researchers from the Universities of Pennsylvania and North Carolina, when behavioral scientists Francesca Gino and Adam Grant set out to see what the impact of receiving gratitude can be on someone’s behavior.

In the study, participants were asked to give feedback on a fictional student’s (“Eric”) cover letter.

After the feedback was received, the participants got a reply asking for feedback on a second cover letter.

This is where things get interesting.

Half of the participants got a straight, to-the-point email with the second request, and the other half got an email expressing gratitude for completing the first review.

Here are the actual emails that were used:

The results?

32% of the “No Gratitude” group provided feedback on the second cover letter, while 66% of the “Gratitude” group—more than double—sent more feedback.

That’s not a small difference.

But the researchers took it a step further.

The day after completing the study (or so they thought), participants got yet another request for help. This time, from a different fictional student (“Steven”).

What happened was fascinating: 25% of the original “No Gratitude” group offered to help Steven, while 55%—again, more than double—of the original “Gratitude” group offered to help.

Remember, they had never heard of Steven before: the effects of receiving gratitude carried over and still made them more likely to help the following day.

Receiving gratitude doesn’t just change the way we think and feel; it changes the way we behave for the better.

In business, appreciation can help you build deeper relationships with your customers, and make them more likely to do what you ask of them, whether that means staying with you, buying more or referring others.

Appreciation is a powerful tool in any interaction, as long as it’s genuine.

The exercise: Say Thank You

Pick 10 customers at random and send them a sincere, personal thank you that shows them why you’re grateful for their business.

Repeat once a week, forever.

Skills Developed: Empathy, Positivity

5) Take an Acting Class

If it seems like a lot of these exercises focus on empathy, that’s because it’s perhaps the single most important skill you can develop no matter what your job is.

Empathy is about standing in someone else's shoes, feeling with his or her heart, seeing with his or her eyes. Not only is empathy hard to outsource and automate, but it makes the world a better place.

Daniel Pink

But if there’s any job where empathy is 100% mission critical, it’s customer support.

There’s nothing in the world that calls on you to step into someone else’s shoes more than acting. And the good news is that even if you don’t have aspirations to be the next Leonardo DiCaprio or Meryl Streep, you can still take classes to help you achieve their empathetic superpowers.

The exercise: Take an acting class

Search for acting classes in your area. Or, sign up for an online acting class (here’s one taught by Dustin Hoffman that includes practice with fellow students and getting feedback).

Skills Developed: Empathy

Getting Better Takes Forever

No matter how good you are at anything, you can always get better.

That’s why the final essential customer service skill is continuous improvement: the best people in any field are always working to get better, even with skills that they’re already good at.

Improvement is an ongoing pursuit, and one of the most effective ways to ensure that you keep making progress is by making exercises like the ones above a regular part of your schedule.

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About the Author

Len Markidan heads up marketing at Groove. He’s focused on helping startups and small businesses build better relationships with their customers.

Read his latest posts or follow him on Twitter

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