To provide a world-class customer service, it is crucial that the service employees are well trained. This is widely known. Still, in practice, the true value of trainings is too often underestimated, and too much spendings on trainings are saved.
Customer service employees are the figureheads of every business. Customers positively evaluate their interactions with service employees, if they feel that their concerns are well taken care of and solved quickly. This should happen in as friendly and relaxed an atmosphere as possible, where the communication between service employees and customers occurs at eye level.
Providing comprehensive training to customer service staff is not a luxury. It is an investment that usually pays off quickly. Qualified service employees do not only effectively communicate with customers. But satisfied customers are also important multipliers who may promote a company and recruit even more customers. In addition, well-trained service employees tend to be more competent, committed, productive, job-satisfied and loyal towards a company. A low attrition rate means that fewer new hires have to be trained. This is highly relevant, since in many cases it may take at least three months for new hires to reach their full performance potentials.
Content and scope of customer service trainings
It has proven effective to train customer service employees in three major focus areas. The emphasis and scope of each area may depend on the specifics of each company and its varied objectives.
The first major focus area of training customer service employees is about knowing their own company. This may contain the following aspects:
Many companies fail to see the value of this focus area of company knowledge, and largely neglect it – especially in times of cost-savings. However, insufficient company knowledge of service employees may negatively impact customer communications. Untrained service employees may for example terminate calls without providing customer solutions, or they may have trouble in convincing customers to buy from them. In contrast, if service employees receive extensive training on their company, they are enabled, may feel appreciated and hence may also be more motivated to contribute to their company’s success.
Trainings to build company knowledge carries a special significance in the case of outsourced services. To help external service employees identify with the outsourcer, it is vitally important that they are emotionally engaged. This may be achieved by the outsourcer for instance through presentations of image films, company tours, roundtable discussions and information sessions, possibly also with the attendance of the outsourcer’s leadership.
The second major focus area of training customer service employees concerns company products and service processes. Every service employee should be able to convincingly explain product features and their competitive advantages to their customers. This is especially important in up- and cross-selling, where in addition to solving a customer issue, service employees offer a higher-valued or a complementary product to customers. Trainings on service processes should concentrate on mastering workflows. Service employees should be able to choose and implement adequate customer procedures, while bearing highest customer satisfaction as a goal in mind.
The third major focus area of training customer service employees deals with soft skills. Soft skills refer to non-technical, personal skills needed to perform certain service tasks. Service employees must be trained to communicate effectively with customers in a broad variety of situations, while always acting professionally. This is often achieved by analyzing customer dialogues and practicing in role plays. Lessons may for example include how to handle customer complaints and sales objections as well as how to close deals. It is important to note that service employees may benefit in customer interactions from being able to cope with stressful situations. Hence, it might be useful to also provide targeted modules on resilience as part of customer service trainings. Generally, trainings allow people to enhance their existing skills and also to improve their personal deficits. To enable service employees to train their soft skills independently, partnering with an e-learning provider may be worth considering.
Knowledge management and coaching
Just as learning is an ongoing process, training service employees is not a one-time event. For a world-class customer service, service employees need ongoing support from their company on top of their formal trainings through knowledge management and coaching.
To begin with, as part of knowledge management, customer service employees must be informed as early as possible about changes to products and service processes. Changes can be communicated via e-mail, a customer management tool, or via online communication channels (e.g., Teams or Slack). It is often advisable to make simultaneous use of multiple channels, including verbal announcements by the team lead, to ensure that information indeed reaches the service employees. In addition, complex and large changes to products or service processes should be addressed in classroom trainings where possible. For minor changes online trainings may be sufficient and are to be preferred for cost reasons.
Another important element of knowledge management is having an organized knowledge base. Customer service employees must be able to easily find all relevant information on products and service processes, as well as for example phone scripts for orientation. Knowledge bases should be structured by topics, enable free text searches, and ideally also interpret questions intelligently. However, since the latter technology is still in its infancy, it is highly recommended that service employees may ask specific and case-related questions directly to experts in their company. For communicating with these experts, online communication channels (e.g., Teams or Slack) are particularly well-suited. Online communication channels allow for storing information in a transparent and easy-to-retrieve way. Moreover, it is possible to tag employees in relevant comments and pin important content to the channel for increased visibility.
After their formal training, customer service employees should also be supported in consolidating their learnings and further improvements through coachings. Coachings can be conducted by peers, professional coaches or supervisors and are particularly helpful for training soft skills. A well-established format in customer service is the so-called „side-by-side“ coaching, in which somebody sits next to a person and listens in on a customer conversation. In peer coachings, usually the coachee listens to a high-performing colleague to emulate successful conversation strategies. In coachings by a professional coach or supervisor, mostly the coachee conducts calls, and then receives feedback.
Periodic knowledge checks
Training customer service employees should also involve analyzing learning progress as well as identifying further development areas. Learning progress can be assessed by key performance indicators (e.g., number of handled calls, average handling time, etc.). In addition, online tests can be conducted with multiple-choice options to obtain quantified results. These can be hosted for example on a learning platform, or Google Forms. An entertaining way of testing for example product knowledge can be an interactive online group quiz (e.g. with kahoot!). In addition, supervisors can engage in so-called „silent monitorings“, where they listen to customer calls without informing service employees beforehand. This way they can observe typical communication patterns. To track target achievements of service employees over a period of time, so-called “coaching sheets” may be helpful. Coaching sheets usually consist of checklists with a scoring system (e.g., for evaluating friendliness) as well as free-text space to record the coach’s impressions.
Customer service employees perform at their best when they receive comprehensive training, especially in the areas of 1) company knowledge, 2) products and service processes, as well as 3) soft skills. After having received formal training, service employees should be integrated in a professional knowledge management system and guided with coachings. It needs to be ensured that the knowledge and skills of service employees are periodically monitored and updated.
I wish you all the best and lots of success for building and training your world-class customer service team!
Julia Zimpel – Consultant