When building a training process for customer service agents, it’s possible to adopt a “throw ’em into the deep end and hope they swim” approach, but is that really the best way to train your customer-service teams? Can your business take the risk of poorly trained agents handling your most valuable relationships—the ones with your customers?
Take a moment to look at the facts. Correctly investing in customer service training for your agents not only ensures that customers receive the best possible service, but agent turnover is reduced, minimizing associated costs of hiring and onboarding new agents. And because properly trained agents are more likely to stay with the organization, those veterans can serve as mentors to new employees, passing along valuable wisdom and building team camaraderie.
Here are five keys to ensure that your customer service training process gets the job done:
1. Take the pulse of your customer service training process
One of first steps you can take is to get detailed feedback from your team—trainers and agents—about what works and what doesn’t in your customer service. You will want to get feedback from veteran employees as well as new hires about what they know and what they’d like to learn, enabling you to measure knowledge gaps that can reduce through targeted learning.
Be sure to investigate how other companies have achieved success in onboarding new customer service employees. For example, Zendesk trainees are asked to complete surveys to provide feedback about what they liked and disliked in the sessions, what could be improved, says Ryan Panzer, a Zendesk trainer. And as trainers conduct live sessions, they need to be prepared to update materials as trainees ask unanticipated questions.
“What’ll happen is that new information will come up through the week, or people will ask questions, and we give ourselves the flexibility to revise the content in the middle of the week,” Panzer says. “At the end of the week, we send out a FAQ document that addresses any of those gray areas that come up.”
2. Prepare your trainers well and make mentorship a key component
Your customer service training program will be successful only if the trainers themselves are educated about how to create engaging content and deliver effective presentations. That means being able to identify the best means of communicating that information as well as understanding that learning styles vary depending on context (a common misconception is that individuals have a particular way of learning that works best for them, when in fact it largely relies on what is being learned).
“Any time you have a change to process or workflow, that often works well in a live training setting because you’re going to get questions, and you’re going to need time to walk through examples—particularly ambiguous examples,” Panzer says. “A lot of [Zendesk’s] live training workshops focus on identifying the gray areas within a new workflow and talking through them through group discussions and simulations. However, things like product updates can easily be addressed through e-learning. [At Zendesk], every two weeks or so we come out with a 10- or 15-minute product e-learning. That way if a customer calls us or sends us a ticket about the new feature, our support teams are fully equipped to address those questions.”
Panzer recommends pairing up new employees with a mentor—for example, at Zendesk, new team members in customer service work closely with a veteran employee for about two months. As those trainees work through tickets, they’ll run their responses by their mentors before communicating with customers—generally for the first week—before gaining some autonomy to work unsupervised. However, the new employee and mentor begin to meet on a regular basis—say, once or twice a week—to address any questions, provide feedback, and go through a checklist of items that tracks and guides employee learning.
3. Invest in professional development and building employees’ soft skills
Professional development plays an important role in maintaining agent morale by showing that your company values its employees—that conference or college class can prove to be a valuable way to save money long term (due to less turnover) while also enriching the organization as employees bring back new skills for customer service. But training your agents to understand the importance of soft skills can also pay huge dividends.
“When it comes to onboarding, we talk about soft skills from day one,” Panzer says. “[New agents] have a two-hour training where we distill our soft-skill principles. We value empathy, showing the customer that their success is our success. But then we give them some test tickets—earlier in the day, they respond to those test emails without much guidance. Then they go back later in the day and we say, ‘Here are our values when it comes to soft skills—change your response in a way that shows the customer that they’re valued.”
4. Build a culture of communication and collaboration between departments
Make sure your customer service trainers have great relationships with other departments, and encourage a culture of collaboration and learning. That comes into play when your customer-service training team needs to create material and distribute it before a new product release—keep those channels open so you don’t experience gaps that could result in poor customer service down the road.
That also means getting buy-in from leadership, which filters down throughout the organization. “All the technology in the world won’t mean anything if your company’s leadership isn’t willing to allocate employee time to learning and development, Panzer says. “Business leaders need to be thinking about how they will create space and time for employees to learn—not just during onboarding, but throughout their career.”
5. Build a scrappy, agile training team that responds quickly to change—and get the resources that best fit your organization
While it’s possible to build a training program on a shoestring budget—often the only choice for small, up-and-coming companies—that presents some problems when it comes to distribution and tracking engagement, Panzer says. That’s when a dedicated learning management system can help.
“An LMS is imperative to the success of a support organization,” Panzer says. “There are free, open-source learning management systems like Moodle, so a small, scrappy organization could build one from the ground up without a terrible amount of difficulty. You could also spend hundreds of thousands of dollars per year on an LMS depending on how many seats and licenses you need.”
Whichever LMS you choose, be sure to have an authoring tool at hand so agents can create “snackable” content that addresses on-the-job lessons learned from helping customers, and don’t forget that you will need clear strategies in place for e-learning and live sessions. As Panzer points out, a maximizing customer service training requires a reporting mechanism in place so you can determine what works—and what’s not.
“I am a big advocate of Kirkpatrick’s 4-Levels,” Panzer says. “Will you use surveys? If so, what tool will you use, and what questions will you ask? Be consistent, and remember to also think beyond the survey, about how you will measure how training is to be reflected in your business’ performance.”
Finally, larger companies can take one important thing from organizations with minuscule budgets: be fast on your feet. “Things change so quickly—if you have a project process in place where it takes months and months to get to a training deliverable, you’ve missed a lot of opportunity there,” Panzer says.