Customer service training: Key components for every customer service training plan
What is customer service training and what should you include in your customer service training plan?
Published March 12, 2020
Last updated June 11, 2021
Think about the last time you went shopping. What made it a good experience - or in contrast, a poor one? More than likely, your experience was shaped by the kind of customer service you got, and how easy it was to find what you wanted. In our on-demand world, customer expectations have never been higher. Consumers want service answers fast and on the channel of their choice.
A surefire way to fall short of these expectations and tank customer satisfaction? Not investing in your support team. Keep reading for a better understanding of how customer service training impacts your business, and how to get started.
What is customer service training?
Customer service training is coaching and teaching support staff what they need to know to boost customer satisfaction. It involves teaching skills, learning product details, and working with customer service software to provide the best experience possible across all channels.
Why do you need customer service training?
Your support team is made up of people with varying degrees of knowledge and experience. Someone who’s new could accidentally say the wrong thing and end up making a difficult customer even angrier. On the other hand, a veteran employee using a new software platform without training won’t offer a high-quality experience, either.
To put it simply: A lack of support staff training shows up in customer interactions.
The reason to invest in your customer service representatives is clear. Well-trained employees are better equipped to support happy customers.
1. Training increases job satisfaction, which raises customer satisfaction
Studies show that ongoing training increases employees’ satisfaction with their jobs. That’s good news for any field, but it’s critical in customer service. Why? Because research also shows that happy employees lead to happier customers.
Great companies put both time and money into their agents by offering the right tools and training. When you invest in support agents’ careers, they’re more likely to feel satisfaction in their jobs.
“I think if you skip the training component, you compromise your agent engagement because they’re going to get bored or burnt out,” says Jonathan Brummel, senior manager of premier support engineering at Zendesk.
Training not only makes for happier reps but more knowledgeable ones. Your team needs to be trained well on your products to provide a great customer experience. They won’t have time to go hunting for answers when they’re on the phone with an angry customer.
Well-trained employees are better equipped to do their jobs—and do them well. That benefit translates directly to your customers.
2. Reps need to be prepared to offer omnichannel support
As customer expectations change, your support agents need training to keep up with these shifts—especially when it comes to communication.
Most CX teams aren’t offering channels beyond phone and email. In fact, most don’t even plan to add those newer channels anytime soon. But that’s a problem because customers expect to be able to reach customer service on any channel they use to connect with friends and family. In our digital-first world, that includes live chat, texting, and social media.
The highest-performing customer service teams are more than twice as likely to take an omnichannel approach, according to our Customer Experience Trends Report. If you want to compete with those high performers, you must train your team on how to offer omnichannel support.
3. Excellent support experiences build customer loyalty
Customers who have great service experiences with a company are more likely to be repeat buyers. But if your reps aren’t trained well to provide those excellent support experiences, it’s a moot point.
Exceptional customer service drives customer loyalty. According to the Zendesk Brand Loyalty Survey, 40 percent of customers say a company can earn their loyalty when it exceeds their expectations in resolving an issue. Not only that, but 72 percent of people say they value customer service over price.
To have reps that consistently exceed your customers’ expectations, they have to be well-equipped with the tools of the trade. That means using cutting-edge software (and being trained in how to handle it effectively). It also means having deep knowledge bases of your products, which also can’t happen without training.
Great customer service is a competitive advantage. It helps your company gain more loyal customers and, as a result, boost customer retention rates.
What should be included in customer service training?
The benefits of training your support reps are clear. But how do you get started with a new customer service training program? Picking reps with strong skills is a great start. From there, you just need to make a training budget and find a way to deliver the training to your team.
1. Customer service skills
You know customer service is much more than responding to customer complaints. It takes soft customer service skills to “read” a customer’s emotional cues, manage a flood of help tickets, and keep cool when things get heated. Before you can start training reps in new skills and technologies, make sure all your team members have these three basic skillsets covered.
Key customer service skills
- Emotional intelligence
- Active listening
- Digital tone
Emotional intelligence is the ability to recognize our own emotions and those of others and to use that information to guide our behaviors. It’s a valuable skill in conflict resolution, and it’s critical to exceptional customer care. Can your reps demonstrate empathy under pressure in their customer interactions? Do they know how to use their own positive moods to diffuse customer complaints?
Active listening is another crucial skill. When customers open a support ticket, it’s because they’re facing an issue they can’t solve on their own. Above all else, what they want is to be heard. To meet this expectation, reps must practice active listening—the skill of listening carefully to what a customer is saying, then responding in a way that makes it clear you understand and respect their point. It’s essential for making customers feel recognized and de-escalating stressful situations.
It’s hard to convey tone in text, by email, and on social media—especially since responses are often quick, which can come across as terse. But friendly online communication is a critical skill in our increasingly digital world. Your reps should be able to convey a casual, positive tone, regardless of the channel. It can take practice to get this right, but patience is a critical communication skill when it comes to customer support.
If your team is coming up short on any of these core competencies, they should be addressed before you move forward with your training program. Consider holding a department-wide skills seminar or assigning struggling employees peer mentors to work on these skillsets. Once your reps are confidently and constantly practicing these skills, you’re ready for a larger-scale training initiative.
Before you can implement a new training program, you need to determine what it’s going to cost. Forming a realistic budget will ensure the program has long-term viability for your company.
Think of your budget in two terms: how long it will take and what it will cost.
The length of your training program will depend largely on what the program is being used for and what goals it includes. Let’s look at three different kinds of training programs and reasonable timelines for each.
New rep onboarding training: This training for new customer service hires should focus on getting the employee up to speed as quickly as possible. Onboarding typically covers company culture, software, and product knowledge. Aim for these programs to be between four and six weeks in length.
Continued training: Even for seasoned reps, training should be a regular and expected part of their job duties. Aim to hold refresher training sessions quarterly with your experienced team members. You can also recruit tenured staff to help with training to reduce your budget and help seasoned employees reinforce all they’ve learned.
Special circumstance training: This type of training is usually a one-off, based on a unique event or issue. Think new product releases, new internal software adoption, or a global crisis like the pandemic. These sessions need to be held as soon as possible from the event. Aim for a one-day workshop format or an online format that employees complete independently to get your team updated fast.
The cost of your training program will vary greatly depending on its length, how you deliver it, and the number of employees participating. But your budget shouldn’t be a barrier to creating quality training with all of the accessible, affordable training creation tools out there.
3. The right training type
Customer service training isn't a one-size-fits-all. Your training plan should reflect the right training style that fits the needs of your business.
Types of training
- In-house employee training
- Consultant workshops
- Online training platforms
If cost is your team’s greatest concern, a DIY in-house training program might be the way to go. This model uses your own training materials, with the trainer likely being a support manager or a highly experienced and skilled rep. You can design and build a curriculum that’s custom-fit for your team’s struggles and weaknesses. Keep in mind, though, that just just because someone is a great support rep doesn’t mean they’ll make a great trainer. And if they're teaching on top of other responsibilities, you need to make sure they have bandwidth.
Consultant workshops are often considered the gold standard of training programs. These programs enlist the knowledge of an outside expert and are often held over several days of in-person intensive training sessions.
The upside is that your team is learning from an expert in the field. These sessions are often engaging and interesting, and your team is likely to come out of them inspired.
The downside, other than the fact that many workshops cost $1000–$1500 per participant, is that they’re short-lived. It’s easy to generate excitement in a few days, but companies often struggle with long-term adoption.
Online training platforms where employees log in and complete video modules, can be a happy medium between doing everything yourself and outsourcing training to a pro. While online training programs have a cost, the major benefit is flexibility. Reps can work on the self-guided modules in their free time and at their own pace. Online training is also a great option for remote workforces.
The downside to online training is also one of the pluses: the flexibility. Because the programs are self-guided, it can be easy for your team to put them on the back burner, and it’s tough to guarantee their engagement when they’re just clicking through an online portal.
There’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to training. Choose the model that best fits your team’s budget, timeline, and needs.
Investing in your support reps is investing in your customers
Setting up your customer service team for success is imperative for customer satisfaction. Well-trained reps are more likely to be confident, knowledgeable, and happy in their work, which directly benefits your buyers.
To really make sure you’re giving your team every tool to succeed, consider a top-of-the-line CRM. The best support CRMs let you capture real-time customer feedback and rep performance so you can easily gauge your team’s growth and your customers’ happiness.