People like helping people. The work of customer service—brightening someone’s day, solving a problem they’re facing, connecting them with the information they need—can be its own reward. It just feels good.
The challenges of the last 18 months haven’t altered that fundamental truth, but they have complicated the customer service equation:
• 24/7 omnichannel customer experience is the norm. Customers now expect personalized, convenient omnichannel experiences. They want 24/7 help and answers via phone, online chat, email or however else they choose to contact your organization.
• People overwhelmingly want to support businesses that share their values. According to a recent report by Salesforce, 59% of consumers and 71% of business buyers have switched to companies whose values align with theirs during the COVID-19 pandemic. And a company’s treatment of its employees and customers is the greatest factor influencing buying decisions.
• Customers are looking to businesses for clarity and comfort. If your average handle time has increased and your customer conversations have been, shall we say, charged lately, you’re not alone. Many people are struggling financially, physically and mentally. Consider the fact that the number of adults reporting symptoms of anxiety and/or depressive disorders quadrupled from 2019 to 2021. Suffice to say customer service professionals need to offer extra care and sensitivity right now.
And then there’s the labor shortage exacerbating these factors. Customer-facing positions are among the hardest to fill and keep filled, resulting in a vicious cycle: customers don’t get the help they need, so they put pressure on employees, leading to more burnout and turnover.
What does this mean for your company? It means it’s more important than ever to develop customer service training programs that center people.
This includes not only training to meet customers’ evolving needs, but also empowering customer service team members to truly own their performance and results. Effective training allows employees to delight customers by being their best selves. It’s a sure way to increase customer satisfaction while engaging your key employees.
Here are a few tips for designing people-centric customer service training:
1. Start by asking the right questions.
Your customer service training program rests on your overall customer strategy. At a basic level, your team members need to understand the tools, technology and procedures for connecting with the people your company serves. Think about your customers’ behaviors, preferences and journeys, along with best practices for your industry and your business’s operational realities.
Consider questions such as the following:
• How do your customers want to reach you—online, over the phone, in person? How many channels do they use, and how do those channels interact with each other?
• What’s the role of self-service in your customer strategy? Do you offer frequently asked questions (FAQs), a knowledge center, an automated help desk,or other tools for people who would like to help themselves before contacting you? What kinds of concerns can your self-service system address, and what needs are better left to human agents?
• What can you do to comfort customers? Are there certain approaches, processes or even stock phrases your employees can use to de-escalate conflicts and charm customers? For instance, at Ruby, we train our virtual receptionists to say things like “Let me find out for you” or “I’d be happy to look into that” rather than “I don’t know.”
2. Break it up and break it down.
People learn differently. Some employees need more time than others to absorb information. Some learn visually, while others are more receptive to audio. Others prefer to learn by having conversations or through interactive exercises. By incorporating different media and learning opportunities in your training courses, you’ll boost engagement with and retention of the material.
Similarly, keep learners’ attention spans in mind. Many people start to tune out after about 10 minutes. Consider breaking traditional, lecture-style training into bite-sized chunks of five minutes or less.
This approach has added benefits beyond capturing a learner’s attention. It makes it possible to offer self-paced modules people can take on their own time and in the order they prefer. We’ve seen additional success by accompanying these smaller modules with follow-up questions learners receive days after they’ve completed their training, reinforcing the material over time.
3. Make it personal—and make it matter.
The best educators know how to guide a group while offering individualized help when necessary. This can be easier in in-person settings versus virtual environments, but there are still plenty of opportunities to give learners the personal attention they need remotely. Examples include virtual breakout rooms, one-on-one chats and online forums.
Whether in a group or individual setting, remember to take time to relate the material to learners’ real-world experiences. Show them why their roles matter—how what they do improves customers’ lives and impacts your company’s goals. Just like your customers, your employees want to work with a business whose purpose they believe in. The better you can connect training to your company’s top-level values, mission and vision, the more the material will resonate and stick.
4. Measure learners’ knowledge and confidence.
Most training programs incorporate quizzes and tests to evaluate learners’ knowledge. Go a step further and assess learners’ confidence levels. This gives insight into people’s assumptions and attitudes, so you can curb potential problems and areas of misalignment.
If someone frequently rates their confidence as high, but answers incorrectly, that’s a problem that can’t necessarily be solved through more education alone. On the flip side, if someone answers questions correctly but frequently says they’re not sure, it’s a sign they don’t feel confident or adequately prepared for their role.
5. Empower people to do what they do best.
Training isn’t only about teaching someone how you expect them to handle a situation. It’s about encouraging them to think critically about the situation and approach it as their kindest, most authentic self. Remember: you hired your customer service team members for their traits, skills and experience. Use training to build on (rather than extinguish) what they bring to the job.
The most effective way to empower employees is to cultivate psychological safety throughout your organization. Communicate early and often, set high standards for honesty and humanity, and take time to listen—really listen—to the members of your team.
Ultimately, great training is designed not for organizations, but for people. It’s built top to bottom for learners’ personalities, backgrounds, perspectives and needs. Serve them first, and you’ll make it easy for them to help the people your company serves.