Planning a customer service training brings up a lot of questions. Who should take part? What should the training cover? Should we hire a training organization or do it in-house? Where can we find training materials?
It’s all a bit overwhelming. But if you don’t get your customer service training right, you’re going to lose sales to the companies who do. Customer service is the key competitive differentiator in the digital age. If you fall behind, it’s hard to get back on top.
We’ve created this guide to customer service training to help you nail your customer service education. It will walk you from the basics of customer service training through sources of course materials and beyond. By the end, you’ll be prepared to find (or deliver) the best customer service training for your employees.
Let’s get started.
1. What Is Customer Service Training?
Customer service training is the process of teaching your employees to better serve customers. This training is often given to customer service and support personnel, but everyone in your company can benefit from learning to better serve your customers. Customer service is everyone’s job.
The idea that customer service training is only for customer service reps or support techs is a common misconception. Anyone who deals with customers in any capacity can benefit from customer service training. Executives, sales reps, account managers, and many other employees not only can, but should, take part.
It might seem strange to have employees who don’t typically work with customers in these trainings. But they’re not just about answering phones and placating irate clients. It’s about learning to be compassionate and understanding. It’s about solving problems and providing better service in all sorts of ways. Customer service is, in fact, your company’s business.
In short, customer service training helps employees create a better customer experience, whether they’re behind the customer service desk or not.
2. Why Is Customer Service Training Important?
Because great customer service is important. Don’t believe it? Check out some of these findings from a 2017 American Express survey:
- 7 in 10 U.S. consumers say they’ve spent more money to do business with a company that delivers great service.
- US consumers say they’re willing to spend 17 percent more to do business with companies that deliver excellent service.
- Millennials are willing to spend 21% more for great care (they also tell an average of 17 people when they get great customer service, as opposed to 15 when they get bad service).
Numerous other studies have found that good customer service pays off. And there are lots of examples of companies who have risen above their competition to build a reputation for great service: Zappos, Trader Joe’s, Ritz-Carlton, and Disney are great examples.
You can try to hire people who are naturally great at providing customer service. But those people are few, far between, and in very high demand. So your best bet is to provide training that turns your current customer service reps into phenomenal service providers that benefit your brand.
It’s possible to do that without formal training. Mentorship, for example, can make a big difference in customer service quality. And peer-to-peer learning is a great supplement to other types of training. But formal training, delivered well, will help you get faster and more consistent results.
Customer service is hard, and many companies don’t care about it. High-quality customer service training means you’ll be able to differentiate yourself from those companies.
3. What Is Customer Service Training Like?
There’s a lot of variety in customer service training.
Some trainings are highly interactive and involve partner activities, group work, and roleplaying. Others are more lecture-based—like those that focus on product training, for example. Some are all in-person, while others take place wholly or partially online. Some are very formal, while others are relaxed and fun.
Much of the variation comes down the organization or person in charge of the training.
If you’re planning on running a customer service training for your company, you may have input into what the training is like. If you do, it’s best to tailor it to your reps. Some groups love team building and roleplaying, while others prefer to save their social energy for their work. If you’re not sure what will work best for your group, just ask them!
4. What’s Included in a Good Customer Service Training?
What does customer service training actually involve? There’s a huge list of possible answers, but here are some of the most common things you’ll see in a training:
Delivering outstanding customer service requires that reps have the right mindset. It’s hard to remember, for example, that customers are real people who are frustrated because something isn’t working how they expected it to.
We’ve all been in that situation, but at the end of a long day when you’ve been dealing with angry customers, you can slip up. These exercises help customer service reps develop a mindset of service. The kind that builds loyalty and value.
Many customer service frameworks talk about empathy. These are the exercises that help develop it.
Customer service training can involve a lot of skills practice. Most of them fall under the umbrella of communication skills. Here are some examples:
- Active listening
- Positive language
- Basic behavioral psychology
Different trainings emphasize different skills, but they usually come down to good communication skills. Because of the wide variety of skills that trainers focus on, there’s also a lot of variety in the methods that they use to teach these skills.
In many cases, you’ll find a combination of lecture, partner activities, group activities, and roleplaying (we’ll talk a bit more about roleplaying in a moment).
This is a big part of customer service training. Customer service reps need to know a lot about the products you’re selling, both from a sales and a support perspective. If a customer would be better served by a different product, your reps need to be able to pitch it to them. If a customer calls with a problem, reps need to be able to troubleshoot it.
The level of product training may depend on the experience of your customer service reps. For example, customer service training for new reps might include an overview of your product lines. An intermediate training might go deeper into troubleshooting your most popular products.
This is probably what most people imagine when they think of customer service training. An instructor (or another trainee) pretends to be a customer on the phone and a rep has to deal with a service situation. These often include tough problems like angry customers, irrational demands, and requests for discounts.
Roleplaying is a method of contextual learning and helps solidify the concepts that trainees have learned in previous lessons. Keeping the right mindset, explaining products, and using communication skills are key for getting the most out of roleplaying.
Interestingly, some trainers are moving away from roleplaying because it can be a stressful experience that makes it hard to learn. Other systems like Kolb’s experiential learning are becoming more popular.
Like any other part of a business, your customer service team has to know how to use the tools of the trade. Customer service software has become complex and powerful, letting reps access a lot of information and resolve problems quickly. But only if they know how to use it.
Training on customer service tools ensures that reps can take full advantage of the resources they have at their disposal.
While roleplaying will likely include dealing with complaints and conflicts, there are other factors that reps need to be trained on. Here’s a small sample of questions that roleplaying may not answer:
- If a customer asks to speak to a manager, who should the rep go to?
- How much authority does the rep have to solve a customer’s problems?
- Is the rep authorized to offer discounts or gift cards as a means of apology?
- Are there standard procedures for dealing with particular complaints or conflicts?
Reps need to know these things to handle their day-to-day responsibilities.
While these are common inclusions in customer service training, no two trainings are alike. Your training might include all of these things, a selection, or none of them. There may be company-specific topics, team-building exercises, and all manner of other things covered in the training.
5. Where Can I Get Customer Service Training?
There are two main approaches to getting customer service training: you can hire someone to run the training or you can do it yourself.
Hiring someone else to run your trainings takes most of the work out of your hands. All you have to do is make sure your employees show up (okay, you may have to do a little more work than that, but you get the point).
You have two options for hiring someone else to run your customer service training:
Hire a customer service trainer for in-person training
When you hire someone for an in-person training, they’ll come to your place of work and run a training or a series of trainings for your employees. This might be a single seminar on a particular issue or it could be an all-encompassing training that takes days. You can book a chunk of subsequent days or have the trainer come on a certain schedule. Having professionally delivered trainings on your schedule is very convenient.
Of course, that convenience comes with a drawback: cost. Hiring a consultant or training firm to come to your workplace and train your employees can cost tens of thousands of dollars. Many companies are happy to pay this cost if it improves performance and doesn’t require them to hire an entire department of trainers and coordinators.
Finding a trainer in your area is as simple as running a search online: just type in “customer service training [your city or state],” hit enter, and start comparing options. Look at reviews, what’s included in the training, and any frameworks or philosophies that are included in the training.
If everything sounds good, request a quote! The trainer will provide you with instructions on continuing from there.
Pay for online customer service training
There’s also a more economical option: online customer service training. Employees can take the courses on their own schedule, you’ll pay less money, and you have a wide variety of options for the topics of the trainings.
There’s a huge number of options out there, from certifying courses that last several weeks to free trainings that last 30 minutes. Choosing the right training for your employees requires knowing what you want them to achieve.
For example, if you want them to learn the basics of customer service, you might choose a longer course that starts from the very beginning. If you want them to learn about a particular style of customer service or a specific tool, you can find a training that fits your needs.
Because of the abundance of online options, it can be difficult to know where to start. To help you out, here are some great online customer service trainings:
Here are some well-reviewed options to consider for your online training:
- Outstanding Customer Service – Your Ultimate Guide from Alison (2–3 hours, free, certificate)
- Support Professional Training from Service Strategies (2 days, $1195, pre-certification)
- The Customer Focus from The Customer Focus (four self-paced courses, $199, certificate)
- Customer Service Mastery: Delight Every Customer from Chris Croft via Udemy (2 hours, $110, certificate)
- Customer Service 101 from Universal Class (15 hours, $50–$75, possible CEU certificate)
- The 5 Steps to Customer Satisfaction from Customer Care Institute (1 hour, $295, no certificate)
- Service Excellence Certificate from eCornell (five two-week courses, $3,600, certificate)
Run customer service training in house
You might think that you can’t do your own customer service training unless you’re a multinational corporation with an entire training department, but you certainly can. With modern training tools and materials, you can run your own customer service training without spending a fortune.
We’ll talk about this option in detail next.
7. Can I Run Customer Service Training Myself?
Absolutely! It takes some planning, but any organization can run its own customer service training program. Let’s break down what you require in detail. Here are the things you’ll need to successfully run a customer service training:
- An instructor or facilitator
- Course materials
- Tools for distributing, testing, and reporting
You might find other things in professional training packages. These are the bare minimum for success. Let’s break them down and see how you can use them to run a customer service training yourself:
An instructor or facilitator
Someone needs to run this training. Whether that person is a qualified trainer or just a facilitator is up to you. If you want someone to create custom training materials, an instructor with a lot of training experience is invaluable. If you plan on buying the course materials (which we’ll talk about shortly), you mainly need someone to organize events, troubleshoot, and keep your systems up to date.
Because so many training materials are available, you might be able to get someone from your human resources department to facilitate the training program. With modern tools, it’s not a huge task. Even a few hours a week could be enough.
Once you have an instructor or facilitator, you’ll need material for them to teach. Fortunately, there are plenty of courses that you can buy online and use to structure your training.
You could use the courses listed above for your material and have a facilitator run activities that help learners internalize the material. For example, TrainingCourseMaterial.com has a two-day training on handling angry callers. TrainerBubble offers a customer care course for purchase. If you buy the training materials, your instructor can customize and deliver them.
Or you can combine a variety of free resources, from YouTube videos to worksheets to online courses, to create your program.
Once you have an idea of the information you’ll share, it’s time to figure out how you’re going to share it.
Tools for distributing, testing, and reporting
When you run your own customer service training, you have the advantage of being able to offer flexible formats. That’s where using a learning management system (LMS) comes in handy. A good LMS lets you offer mobile learning, self-paced courses, exams, and a whole lot more.
And it gives you the reports you need to understand how well your team is learning. There’s a huge amount of value in a modern LMS. It goes far beyond your customer service training and will help you build a strong corporate culture, share information with your team, and provide continuous learning opportunities.
You could run your in-house training without an LMS. But you’d be going backwards a decade or so. No one wants to take time out of their workday to attend a lecture. Give your employees the flexibility and power they deserve with a great tool.
(Oh, and don’t worry about finding a SCORM-compliant LMS. You don’t need one.)
Achieving training self-sufficiency
Once you’ve effectively set up your LMS, your training process could be largely self-sufficient. If you’ve chosen the right system and course format, you won’t need much (if anything) from your instructor or facilitator.
6. Is Customer Service Training a Worthwhile Investment?
All of this talk about the cost of customer service training might have you wondering: does it pay off?
Let’s get this out of the way: measuring the ROI of customer service training is hard. We wrote an entire guide to calculating the ROI of your training initiatives, and that’s a good place to get an idea of what the process entails. We won’t sugarcoat it: it’s tough. But it can be done.
And while companies don’t usually share the ROI of their customer service training programs, the statistics we saw earlier point to the fact that companies with good customer service do very well in their fields. Companies that have built a reputation on great service stand out and surveys continue to stress the fact that customers will pay more for good service.
How much that will affect your company in particular is difficult to predict. If you sell very low-cost items, spending thousands or tens of thousands to improve your customer service might not make a whole lot of sense. But if you’re selling a big-ticket SaaS solution, where customer lifetime value is a big deal, improving your customer service could make a big difference over time.
Think about it this way: if you could increase your conversion rate and customer lifetime value by a small percentage, how much of a difference would it make? If it has the potential to make a big impact, customer service training is absolutely worth the investment. If a small improvement wouldn’t change much, the training might not pay off in the same way.
But then again, if you’re providing bad customer service, you’re in trouble anyway. So you might as well get training.
8. Where Can I Find Customer Service Training Ideas and Materials?
If you want to run a training yourself, you’re going to need a lot of information. And while you can get that information from buying a course, you can also piece it together from various free resources that you can get online.
Here are a few good ones to get you started:
- Five Free Customer Service Training Games
- 20 Customer Service Training Ideas and Activities for Busy Teams
- The Top 3 Customer Service Training Games
- 6 Fun and Powerful Training Games for Customer Service Teams
- 8 Effective Training Ideas and Exercises for Your Customer Support or Service Team
- 11 Customer Service Scenarios and How to Use Them
- How to Handle 8 Challenging Customer Service Scenarios
Plans and templates
9. Can I Use Digital Customer Service Training to Get More Efficient Results?
You might think of customer service training as a huge group of people in a room roleplaying different scenarios. And some trainings are definitely like that. But modern training tools mean customer service education can move out of the classroom and into the digital realm.
Modern learning management systems give you a lot of power for letting your employees learn how and when they want. You can upload video and audio files, run webinars, and distribute all kinds of content to everyone who needs it.
It may seem weird at first to have your employees running their own training. But you might be surprised at how many people are motivated to learn. LinkedIn found that 94% of employees would stay at a company longer if it helped them learn.
By providing access to high-tech, mobile-friendly, self-directed educational content, you can give your employees what they want. Not only will they learn more effectively with these options, but they’ll be happier with their employment, too.
It’s a win for everyone.
If you’re still not convinced, check out “In-Person vs. Online Training: What Does the Research Say?“
Customer Service Training Can Change Your Company
A customer service mindset is more than just knowing how to deal with an angry customer or talk someone through troubleshooting an app. It’s about better understanding and serving the people that your company helps.
When your employees share this mindset, you’re in a powerful position. You’ve built a company around a culture of service, and that’s going to set you apart from your competitors.
Getting your program off the ground can take a while. But with the information in this article, you know what to aim for and where to start.