The customer service training manual is the cornerstone of customer service training. It contains all of the information that your employees need to create phenomenal customer experiences. When combined with a great attitude and a customer-focused mindset, it sets the stage for business success.
But writing this manual isn’t so easy, especially when you’re starting from scratch.
So we’ve created a customer service training manual template that you can download and use as a framework for creating your own manual.
Before you get started, though, we have some advice on how to write an effective customer service manual that will help you train great representatives.
Start With the Customer
Most business training focuses on the trainee. You look at the skills and experience they’re bringing to the table, set a goal for the skills they’ll have at the end, and create a training program that fills in the gaps.
That’s how retail sales training works, and training in most other areas is similar.
But customer service training has to start with the customer. Business success requires that your customers have positive interactions with your customer service representatives (CSRs), that their problems get solved, and that they’re satisfied at the end of the interaction.
One of the things that makes customer service difficult is that each customer has different needs. They come to your CSRs with different issues, and they’ll need unique treatment to solve those issues.
Because of that, there’s a single attribute that stands out above the rest: empathy.
The Importance of Empathy
Empathy isn’t a word that you’ll hear in many discussions about business. But it’s crucial in customer service. Empathy is the ability to understand another person’s feelings and desires, and the best customer service agents have a great sense of it.
Possibly the most important facet of empathy in customer service is learning understanding what success and happiness mean to your customer. Sometimes they’ll both derive from something simple: unlocking their account after they enter their password incorrectly too many times, for example.
But it might be significantly more complex. It could involve reconfiguring a service to better serve a customer’s needs. Or getting in touch with the development team with a suggestion that will improve the customer experience.
So how do CSRs develop empathy? By learning to listen. Listening skills are the bedrock of customer service skills. The Apple Store is known for its great customer service, which is built on the acronym APPLE:
- Approach customers with a personalized, warm welcome
- Probe politely to understand the customer’s needs
- Present a solution for the customer to take home today
- Listen for and resolve issues or concerns
- End with a fond farewell and an invitation to return
Both the “probe politely” and “listen for and resolve issues” steps are focused on empathy.
Even if it’s difficult listening skills in your customer service training manual, you can emphasize the importance of empathy and point your employees to useful resources that will help.
Remember throughout the entire training process that the focus should be on your customer, not your employee.
Define the Scope of Customer Service
Your customer service training manual will cover a set of topics that are relevant to customer service . . . but what does that include? You might be creating a training manual for customer service agents, but you might also be creating a document that will help your sales and marketing teams use customer service principles in their jobs as well.
Companies that provide legendary customer service place a strong emphasis on serving customers that starts at the top. CEOs need to be on board, and employees need to see that. The dedication to customer service should span every department and every rank, from the highest executives to the front-line representatives.
The scope of your document has to match the scope of what you consider “customer service” in your company, and you’ll want to define that early on in your training manual.
Modern customer service has started to take the scope beyond that of simply solving problems and troubleshooting and expanding it to include making sure the customer is satisfied throughout the sales, implementation, and use phases of the customer lifecycle.
This idea ties back into empathy—everyone in your company should be focused on helping customers achieve their goals. This is something that you should address early and with some emphasis in your training manual.
Shep Hyken points out that the employees who have the greatest effect on your customers might not be in the customer service department. It’s important to acknowledge that in your training.
A fully comprehensive customer service training manual might have a great deal of information not only about specific customer service policies, but about how people in all roles can foster a customer-service mindset. Make your training manual interesting and useful for everyone who’s thinking about customer service (which should be, at the very least, nearly everyone).
General Customer Service Practices
Before getting into specific customer service policies, it’s a good idea to list some general practices. These are the ideas that rise above all the others when it comes to customer service.
Take Disney, for example. The company’s parks are known for their legendary customer experiences—and those experiences are built on customer service. There are many different practices that create a cohesive experience, but there are four main points that employees are taught to focus on:
Each of these has sub-points and intricacies, but as long as employees can remember these four simple words, they’ll be headed down the path for phenomenal customer service.
Apple’s acronym serves a similar purpose.
Your company doesn’t need an acronym or another mnemonic device to share its general customer service goals, but it’s helpful to put a general statement early in the training manual that you can come back to throughout the rest of the document.
Find a simple sentence or phrase that sums up your customer service philosophy, and prominently display it in this section. It could be the WECARE acronym:
- Address customer needs
- Review and resolve
- End on a positive note
Or it could be something as simple as “Go above and beyond for one person every day.”
Whatever you decide to use, make sure that it represents your overall customer service goals, and reference it throughout the training manual.
Outline Specific Customer Service Policies
This section will contain the majority of the customer service training manual. It contains, in essence, everything you want your CSRs (and anyone else reading the manual) to know.
Because every company has different needs, you may find that the points we suggest below don’t fit, or that you need to add more detail to any specific point.
Use these points as a guideline, and think about how you’ll need to adapt, add to, or remove them to best fit your company.
How do you want your employees to interact with customers? Do you want to encourage a specific type of greeting or a particular manner of walking through customer service issues? Is there something you’d like your CSRs to say when they’re ending an interaction?
All of these things should be covered here. In some businesses, you’ll want to be very specific—you can even provide a script or a few examples of how to deal with common issues or complaints.
This section should contain all of the advice and instructions you have to offer on how your employees interact with customers. If you’re a retail business, that might mean face-to-face interactions, including sales. It could also include phone-based support. If you have employees emailing customers to solve customer service issues, that should be addressed here.
You might provide specific advice on non-verbal things, too. Maintaining a friendly tone of voice, consistent eye contact, an open facial expression, and positive body language (such as pointing one’s feet toward the customer) all contribute to a good customer interaction.
(It might seem like you’re nitpicking at this point, but trust me; the more information you can provide, the better. This is a living document, so you can update it with non-verbal and other small details later—just make sure to do it at some point, preferably sooner rather than later.)
You can also discuss things like acceptable wait times, words or phrases to avoid, and difficulties that have come up in the past. The entire customer service training manual should be updated on a regular basis, but this section is likely the one you’ll update the most often.
As your employees come across new situations, add them to this section. Maybe one received a question that they’d never had before, or you add a new product or service that needs specific treatment. Make the document easy to access and amend so you can keep everyone updated.
It’s also a good idea to specifically address what your customer service agents should do when they’re dealing with unhappy customers. That’s always a difficult situation, and the stress of it can make people forget what they’re supposed to do.
This section should contain everything that your customer service agents need to know about interacting with customers. That’s going to be a lot, and it’s going to be specific to your company. It’ll take a while to put this section together, but it will be a very valuable resource.
How much power do your customer service agents have to make decisions? Can they issue refunds? Offer special discounts? Honor warranties?
These are often the things that make or break customer relationships, so it’s important to give them some thought.
While some companies let their customer service reps make many decisions, others prefer that decisions be made by managers. No matter which you decide, make it very clear here. If your CSR makes a promise and the manager says the company can’t deliver on that promise, you’re going to have a very negative customer experience on your hands.
If you prefer that your customer service reps escalate specific issues to their superiors, there are several pieces of information you should include:
- Exactly which issues to escalate
- The chain of command for escalation
- How customer service agents should get in contact with superiors
- What CSRs should tell customers during this process
Having all of this information documented ensures that the process is efficient, that the customer knows what’s going on, and that the right people are making decisions.
Disney makes a point to address this in their own customer service program; not only do they give adventure guides the knowledge and authority to make decisions on the fly, but they give them the training they need to be confident in those decisions. And if they’re confronted with something they aren’t prepared to handle, Disney makes it easy to escalate the issue.
It’s a model all companies should try to emulate. (And if you take Disney’s Approach to Quality of Service course, you can learn exactly how.)
Return / Refund Policies
Because returns and refunds are common issues, it pays to document them specifically here. Businesses that sell products should have a clear refund policy that customer service agents can easily assess and execute.
It may be more nuanced with service providers or large B2B vendors, where refunds could be thousands of dollars or more. In these cases, you may ask your customer service agents to escalate the issue—but again, make sure to document that process.
If you offer exchanges, company credit, or any other method of return or refund, note it here. If there are specific conditions, make sure they’re clear. This is an area where customers can easily become frustrated, and having solid documentation can solve the issue before it becomes problematic.
Tools and Resources
In general, you want your employees to be as self-sufficient as possible. And that usually means giving them the tools and resources they need to get information, make decisions, and interact with customers as successfully and independently as possible.
This section should contain a list of as many tools and resources as you can think of. It might be links to product specifications or information published by manufacturers. A database of company services or sales and marketing information might make sense for your company.
We also strongly recommend making it easy for employees to access ongoing training, and this might be a place to reference it.
This is a good place to reiterate the chain of command for various issues and provide contact information for the people who can make higher-level decisions, as well.
A Note on Format
The days of long, dry, text-based training manuals is gone. With modern learning and development platforms, you can distribute information like this in a much more engaging manner.
Videos, slideshows, webinars, audio files, and even games are being used to train customer service agents today. All of these media keep learners engaged. You might also consider running much of your customer service training via microlearning to prevent boredom.
Modern learning platforms give you the ability to share your trainings in all sorts of engaging ways. Take advantage of them to boost engagement and retention.
Create a Living Document
Like most other documents that you’ll use regularly in your business, your customer service training manual should receive updates on a regular basis. You’ll come across new situations, add new products and services, decide on different procedures, and so on. All of that should be documented.
Keeping your customer service training manual in a central location where everyone has easy access to it is another good habit—this way there’s only a single copy, and there will never be conflicting versions. (Using a learning management system is a great way to store and maintain documents like this.)
The days of static, boring training manuals is over. Today’s manuals should let employees comment, share, make suggestions, watch multimedia presentations, and interact with each other. Your customer service documentation is a core component of your overall customer service strategy—do it justice with a great manual!
Ready to start on your own customer service training manual?