Customer Service Training: Create a Culture of Excellence
What defines your business? Is it your product, your marketing, your mission statement? When customers think about your company, there’s one element that will likely shape their perception: the way employees treat them.
Customer service is a crucial part of any organization’s strategy because it represents the direct point of connection between the business and its audience. While some companies have more consumer-facing roles than others, nearly every organization has at least some need for excellent customer service skills.
The abilities that enable an employee to provide peerless customer service are so-called soft skills. These include communication, empathy and emotional intelligence. Rather than simply running down a list of scripted solutions, great customer service professionals react to changing circumstances and find resolutions to novel problems.
Some training programs may not heavily feature soft skills, assuming some people are simply born empathetic and others are not. This lack of communication skills training is a strategic mistake, because customer service excellence can be taught, and is a vital part of running an industry-leading organization.
By looking deeper into the objectives behind customer service training and the associated best practices, you can design a program that meets your company’s needs and prepares your employees to excel in all their customer interactions.
The Customer Experience: Essential for Brand Reputation
Creating a great experience for your customers can have a long-lasting positive impact, one that goes beyond individual interactions. This is because people remember how brand representatives have treated them, letting those feelings impact whether they recommend a company to friends and family.
In the age of ubiquitous social media, that question — would a customer recommend your business? — is more important than ever. An experience with your business can become a public post. If it’s positive, you can share the post to build a positive reputation. If not, the complaint may take on a life of its own and dissuade potential customers.
The purpose of great customer service is twofold. First, the customer service representative is there to resolve a question or concern in the present moment. Then, going forward, the customer satisfaction that comes from the interaction impacts retention and reputation.
Ask yourself: When you’re deciding whether to do business with a company, what do you check? Online feedback, both formal reviews and tossed-off comments on social media, likely impact your feelings and decision. After all, if you’ve just read a business creates an unhelpful, inhospitable atmosphere, are you likely to engage with that company?
Giving your business a good name through customer interactions is a way to influence consumers’ most trusted source of information about brands: their fellow consumers.
To Build a Good Reputation, Be Ready to Listen
Using exceptional customer service as a tool to create a positive brand reputation requires a few components. One of these is very straightforward: Your employees must be ready to meet your audience’s needs and resolve their problems. Then, there is the issue of availability: Your brand should foreground its customer service offerings rather than hide them away.
The Forbes Agency Council’s Lisa Kent explained that many companies are moving away from using live customer care representatives wherever possible. While there are ample reasons to use digital, automated service tools — affordability, efficiency dealing with easy queries and more — customers may become frustrated if there’s no easy way to speak directly to a human rep.
Kent recommended companies always offer a phone number for direct contact with the customer service department. Having well-trained employees ready to listen to customers’ concerns or questions right away is a great first step in the service journey. If the journey to reach a representative is too long, the caller may enter the interaction already angry and ready to dislike your brand.
Why and How to Train Employees in Customer Service
Committing to making your employees more easily available to customers is a good idea, but it relies on those workers being adept in the art of customer service and care. This is where training comes in, providing the key soft skills necessary to create positive experiences during both everyday interactions and problem-solving scenarios.
Your employees are the face of your business, and their demeanor creates customers’ perceptions of the company. Meeting and exceeding customer expectations should be part of the mission for each public-facing employee, even if they only deal with consumers infrequently.
Customer Service Training Creates Cultural Excellence and Alignment
While all organizations have plenty to gain from training their employees in customer service skills and proficiency, businesses that have customer care as one of their core values must put special priority on this process. It’s one thing to be a company with a positive service experience and another to be a truly customer-focused business with service as a core value.
The Society for Human Resource Management noted organizations can and should conduct cultural assessments to see if they are living up to their stated values. SHRM used the example of businesses that describe themselves as focused on customer service. These companies should assess their employees’ customer interactions and determine how much service training they receive.
While some organizations will pass self-assessments on the first try, many will likely find room for improvement in the ways they train their employees to deal with customers’ wants and needs. In these cases, it’s time for a renewed focus on training, to make sure workers can live up to the business’s mission statement.
Customer service training designed to align with the company’s overall mission statement and cultural identity can not only empower employees to make a good impression on customers, but can also ensure they make the same impression. Indeed explained how training ensures workers adhere to the same sets of standards and widely accepted best practices.
A consistent approach to customer service and care can put a company’s audience at ease. No matter which individual employee they’re dealing with, a person can expect the same level of professionalism and responsiveness.
In addition to pleasing customers, a consistent company culture of service can improve employees’ own happiness and engagement. Indeed noted when a strong training program imparts a shared set of values on workers, they’re likely to be more loyal, engaged and eager to engage in future training sessions.
Don’t Let Training Be a One-Off Event
The idea of keeping workers’ attention through multiple training sessions is worth focusing on because it’s tied to another best practice. Employees should not just receive a single customer service training session at the beginning of their tenure. Instead, businesses should keep training and retraining their teams to make sure skills stay fresh.
As Forbes contributor, Micah Solomon suggested, repeated and varied customer service training is a good way to counteract “the vagaries of inertia and entropy.” Training is at its most effective when lessons are frequently refreshed. Not every instance of employee education has to be a full-scale training session. Short reminders between more substantial lessons can keep abilities sharp.
There are a wide variety of customer service aspects to cover in training, from using technology effectively to actively listening to customers’ concerns and beyond. That means it’s possible to parcel out new lessons for months or years. Workers can get a basic overview when they join the company, followed by new sessions at any cadence leaders feel is best.
Considering today’s easy training content delivery methods, it’s simpler than ever to roll out new lessons. In the era when in-person, instructor-led sessions were the dominant method of employee learning, it could have been logistically challenging or cost-prohibitive to keep training employees. Today, however, this process is affordable and efficient, powered by digital technology.
Customer service training can also become an optional form of employee education. A business can offer a list of user-directed training content on a digital platform. Workers hoping to spend some of their time on personal development can take these courses, strengthening their own credentials and boosting their value to their teams.
Best Approaches to Customer Service Training
The ideal customer service training is the culmination of multiple courses, covering a wide variety of subject matter. By taking in these varied lessons, workers gain a thorough knowledge of, and appreciation for, the art of customer care and the company’s values.
Hubspot noted how the investment in customer service training is a vital ingredient in a culture of service because it is the employees who create that culture every day. Workers should be deeply immersed in the values and skills their employers want them to display. This means training, covering a comprehensive cross-section of soft skills, as well as knowledge about the business’s products and services.
The following are a few of the specific areas of service covered in customer service training materials. When it’s time to design your customer service training strategy, you can mix modules on these subjects and more to create an overall culture aligned with your brand’s values and mission:
- Putting customers’ problems first: Because a single negative experience can drive a customer away from a business, employees can’t take any problem for granted. A customer service course on this subject can give learners strategies to use when addressing difficult customer questions or concerns, helping them make every interaction a positive one.
- Influencing the customer experience: One of the most direct ways to remind employees of the importance of customer care is to succinctly explain how word-of-mouth marketing works. A customer service course that reminds employees why it’s important to make each interaction a positive one can be a valuable part of a training program.
- Understanding the business: While a third-party training module can’t contain specific details about a company, it can describe the importance of learning more about the company and industry. These courses focus on the value that comes from workers being knowledgeable about the latest developments in their fields, as well as any updates to their own companies’ products.
- Managing difficult customers: Some clients are harder to deal with than others, and employees need to know what to do when one of these difficult customers contacts the business. Turning a negative experience into a good one requires emotional intelligence and effort, but this is an especially rewarding form of customer service.
- Asking effective questions: Customer service is built around conversations, and one of the most important skills for these situations is the ability to ask effective questions. When company representatives know how to get information out of their customers, all without causing extra stress or inconvenience, they’re well-equipped to solve problems.
Building a comprehensive customer service training program means understanding what your specific group of employees needs to know most. This may mean phone skills or in-person conversation skills, product knowledge or emotional intelligence. It’s likely your ideal solution will involve a varied mix of soft skills, covering the many facets of modern business.
Modern Training Methods for Your Customer Service Team
Working with digital, video-based training content is a way to bring your whole team up to speed on everything they need to know about customer support and service. Since these courses are affordable and flexible compared to in-person sessions, it’s easy to train team members across offices, or even fully remote teams, without bringing employees to a single location.
Digital training is also ideal for offering self-guided optional training programs, and for offering consistent lessons to every new employee as part of onboarding. The functional ease enabled by online training platforms lets you worry less about course delivery and focus on what really matters: Teaching your employees to provide a consistent, top-quality customer experience.