Dealing directly with customers is arguably the most important role in any organisation. If your business provides good customer service, that’s a major source of differentiation and it benefits your bottom line by creating customer loyalty and advocacy. Bad service, on the other hand, alienates customers and shatters profit. It also damages reputation, because dissatisfied customers inevitably tell others about their bad experience. And with social media, they can tell a lot of people!
Frontline customer service is not only an immensely important role, it’s also extremely challenging. Let’s face it, customers can be frustrating, grumpy, impatient, arrogant, picky and long-winded. To deal with them effectively, customer services representatives need an in-depth knowledge of your product range, a thorough understanding of your policies and procedures and a broad appreciation of your business and its market. More than that, they need qualities such as tact, enthusiasm, empathy and motivation to deliver great service and create a personal connection with each customer.
So who gets appointed to undertake this enormously important and highly challenging role? Surprisingly, most businesses recruit young people with little or no previous experience. Actually, that’s not a problem if you give them great training. But most companies don’t.
Customer service training is traditionally delivered soon after someone joins the organisation. It focuses on a ‘scripted formula’ of how to approach, greet and speak to a customer and how to manage the internal support processes. The big problem here is that the training isn’t refreshed at the point of need. Also, when people try to apply the formula, it can lead to stilted customer interactions that lack real warmth or engagement. So how should you do it?
Five tips for great training
Here are five ways to improve your customer service training:
- Understand what customers want from your frontline staff. A study by Cognito shows that the top three service ‘gripes’ tend to be rude staff, a lack of timeliness and an inability to fix problems. Look at your customer research to find out what your customer bugbears are, and make sure that your training is aligned with that feedback. Try to instil the mindset that every customer matters and that each of us chooses our own attitude. Your training should encourage people to take pride in their job and feel excited about their work.
- Get the basics right. The essential topics are making a good first impression; uncovering the needs of customers; asking the right questions; listening; checking understanding and agreeing a course of action - as well as how to handle difficult customers and deal with complaints. The exact nature of these aspects will depend on whether you’re training people to deal with customers in person, on the phone, via email, in a live web chat or via social media.
- Concentrate on behaviours, not just knowledge. It’s not just ‘what’ you cover; ‘how’ you cover it is very important. Great customer service training focuses on the behaviours that are required. Your learners need to understand not just ‘what good service looks like’ but also what ‘bad service’ is - and how the nuances of their behaviour make the biggest possible difference to their performance.
- Keep it interesting. Adopting new behaviour isn’t easy, as ingrained habits need to be overcome. A proven way to achieve this (whilst maintaining interest) is to use video. Video can ‘trigger’ people into recognising that they need to change and it can show them how to do things differently. Good content works because learners become emotionally involved with the ‘story’ you tell. Creating characters that bring ‘good’ and ‘bad’ service to life in short scenarios not only demonstrates the required behaviours, it also helps people to recognise and deal with specific customer types. Humour can oil the wheels of this process - by showing the impact of good and bad behaviour in a light-hearted way - and that helps to make the learning messages stand out.
- Make it snappy and available just-in-time. An important aspect of customer service training is that people need to be able to learn without being off-the-job for too long. Bite-sized content that is digestible and engaging has proved to be a quick and effective way to inspire people to think, feel and act differently. Another advantage of bite-sized content is that it can be quickly and easily accessed on-demand via mobile devices, for refresher training at the point of need.
There’s an obvious and immediate pay-off in delivering great customer service training: get it right and you’ll achieve a competitive advantage over those who don’t.
The challenge isn’t just to help people to understand customers, meet their needs, resolve problems and provide after sales care in person, online and over the phone. It’s also to make staff excited and enthusiastic about what they can do for customers and to help them understand that their behaviour makes a huge difference.
These five tips can help you embed the mindset and behaviours that will deliver a truly differentiated customer experience.
Martin Addison is CEO of Video Arts. A preview of their videos for customer service training is available here and free infographics to help you structure a fun, engaging and effective customer service training programme are here.