Learning is one of the most important things we do as humans. Our capacity to take on new skills and develop ourselves to our full potential is what makes us so unique as a species.
When it comes to business, a culture of learning ensures maximum efficiency and productivity, and ultimately, the best possible performance for companies. A formal training program helps teams better understand and shape what needs to be learned, ensuring employees gain the skills and knowledge they need to do their jobs well.
According to the Association for Talent Development (ATD), companies that offer comprehensive training programs have 218% higher income per employee than companies without formalized training.
Here’s what you can do to build an effective customer service training program that will encourage employees to do their best:
1. Do the prep work
“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail” - Benjamin Franklin.
And you definitely don’t want your customer service training program to fail. It’s simply too important for the future of your business.
The first thing is to understand exactly what’s required. Adopting a structured approach is therefore essential. Here are two things you can do:
(A) Carry out a training needs analysis (TNA).
TNA (also sometimes called ‘skills gap analysis’) helps address gaps between current skill levels and where they need to be, and is also designed to identify the most appropriate training to bridge them.
TNA operates on three levels:
Understand how the training fits into organizational systems and strategy by considering:
- Do managers support customer service training?
- What internal training resources are already available?
- What weaknesses exist within the organization?
Study job descriptions to determine the work tasks of the customer service team and the knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSA) necessary to complete those tasks.
- What tasks are performed on the job?
- Which KSA are most difficult to learn/prone to errors?
- How might KSA requirements evolve?
Identify who needs training and how open they are to receiving new knowledge.
- What are the employee’s characteristics?
- Are they motivated to learn?
- Do any particular learning styles work best for them?
By the end of this exercise, you will have a good understanding of what your training needs are, the resources you currently have available to meet those needs, and any obstacles you'll need to overcome.
In the case of customer support staff, you may be hiring people who have no experience in the field, so your training needs are easier to determine. Or, you may be running training courses for more experienced support staff, who you want to take to the next level. Identifying gaps in this case may require more thought and discussions with the employees themselves.
(B) Set learning objectives
What do you want to get out of customer service training? What is the purpose of the program?
Learning objectives should specify “what learners must be able to do or perform when they demonstrate mastery of an objective.” For example, for customer support staff, this may mean “deal with a customer complaint through to resolution as smoothly as possible.”
Top-tip: Be as specific as you can with learning objectives to make them easier to assess.
2. Create relevant customer service training content
The actual content of customer service training should always match your analysis. Otherwise, even if it’s the most fantastic training program, it won’t be relevant to your employees and the skills they need to do the job.
Need some ideas? Here are some common customer service skills trainings that you might slot into your program:
(A) Focus on customer interaction
Whatever the specifics, customer support is always based on dealing with customers. And that means dealing with other people. Ensure that course content reflects this by including people skills such as attitude towards a client, conflict resolution, and stress management. You should also create content that encourages qualities such as empathy, gratitude, and positivity.
(B) Familiarize with communication tools
Your staff need to use a number of methods to support customers. This could involve live chat, cobrowsing, or navigating a centralized interface of historical customer interactions. Proficiency in these tools is an absolute must for your customer support staff to operate effectively and ensure communication with customers is smooth. So, make sure you incorporate relevant tech into customer service training.
(C) Know the product inside out
If your customer service team is going to deal effectively with a wide range of queries, in depth product knowledge is essential. Make sure you set aside time for dedicated product training. When your new hires know your product so well they can teach others, you know you’re in a good place.
Great product knowledge helps staff:
- Understand how best to upsell
- Know when an issue must be escalated
- Communicate in an easy-to-understand way
Top tip: Distribute training course material beforehand so attendees have a chance to familiarize themselves with it.
3. Use multiple training methods to keep employees engaged
Those of us who’ve been through corporate training courses might associate them with images of endless hot and stuffy afternoons spent leaning on a desk, chin resting in the palm of your hand with boredom. But it doesn’t have to be like that.
Make sure to mix things up to keep participants on their toes. Nothing is worse than offering only one approach and stubbornly sticking to that approach even when participants have lost interest.
There are lots of methodologies available each with different pros and cons:
- Classroom/instructor led training - good for large groups and cost effective. Consider, though, that this method doesn’t allow for tailored learning needs, and simply discussing ideas lacks the practical impact to pick up skills.
- E-learning - cost effective and flexible, but it can lack social interaction and doesn’t suit all training needs.
- On the job - extremely practical and doesn’t require extra resources, but can be risky in a customer service environment if mistakes are made.
- Simulation/role playing - helpful to practice in life-like situations without the associated risk and promotes relevant skills acquisition.
- Virtual reality - Even more realistic than simulation but potentially limited by resources.
Add in mini quizzes and knowledge checks to motivate participants by creating a sense of accomplishment and achievement. For example, when participants have completed a module regarding conflict handling, pop in a short test, like a mock customer-facing scenario. Try to be creative with assessments using a wide range of different questions and methods.
There are also a host of tools available to help make training engaging and accessible.
- Learning management systems - platforms for organizing content into a smooth learning path such as Moodle
- Learning experience platforms - personalized interactive learning hubs like Coursera for Business
- Video training tools - video conferencing such as Zoom
- Microlearning platforms - little bites of information for when employees need them most for example Talent Cards
- Mobile tools - content accessible on the go such as with SAP Litmos
- Project management and planning tools - keep track of learning with tools such as Basecamp
- Content creation tools - use to develop effective training material for example G Suite
- Content management tools - somewhere to store training materials such as Dropbox
- Communication tools - aid communication between those involved using tools like Slack
Top-tip: Make training as interactive as possible. One-way communication is much less effective for learning than interacting.
4. Ensure training has the desired effect
Evaluating training is essential to understand whether your program has met its stated objectives.
Asking participants to fill out evaluation forms immediately after completing training helps you understand how they found their experience. Learn and improve from feedback to make sure participants get even more out of it next time round.
When it comes to customer service training, there are a whole range of benefits you might see on the back of it. These will be measurable in you core KPIs such as:
- First contact resolution
- Abandon rate of chats and calls
- Average resolution time
- Customer callbacks
Even better, you can calculate the ROI of the customer service training program. Here’s how:
Imagine you’ve spent $20,000 on a training program designed to improve live chat skills.
Let’s say your team could handle 20 chats per hour before training, and 25 after. Assuming a cost of $1 to handle a chat, then your 25 percent productivity improvement is worth $5 per hour, or $40 per employee across an eight-hour shift.
With twenty customer service staff, you can see that call handling training gives a total net benefit of $800 per day, $80,000 over a hundred days.
To calculate the ROI, you’d use the following formula:
ROI% = $80,000 - $20,000/20,000 X 100 = 300%.
It’s crucial training actually gets put to good use in the workplace. It’s surprising how rarely this happens, in fact, a 24X7 Learning survey revealed that only 12% of learners say they apply the skills from the training they receive to their job. So, if your employees actually use what they’ve learned, you can turn that into a competitive advantage.
Here are some of the factors that affect training effectiveness:
- Trainees characteristics - that includes cognitive ability, motivation
- How the training is designed - the content and methodology used
- Work environment - organizational involvement, opportunity to perform, support network
And here’s how to measure transfer of training:
- Record relevant behaviors and skills
- Use feedback from customers with relevant metrics
- Check performance appraisals
Top-tip: Make sure metrics and measurements attached to assessments are linked to what is covered in course.
Learning never stops
Equipping your customer support staff with a raft of skills and extensive knowledge is great, but the process shouldn’t finish when the course does.
Materials used from formally organized customer service training can be referred to by support teams during the course of their work. Internal knowledge bases are an excellent tool for providing access to these materials.
And, as an ongoing challenge: create a culture of knowledge sharing where staff support each other's learning, exchanging ideas and experiences to make everyone feel part of the process. Each and every member of staff has something valuable to contribute that others can learn from.