The lack of proper customer service training plan can lead to a bunch of support problems.
If you don’t train agents properly, you can’t expect good customer service results.
Agents that are not trained will often feel that their skills are not that valuable, leading to higher turnover rates.
High turnover rates mean that you need to train more and more people each month.
And the more people you need to train, the less time you have for each agent, leading to poor training and a feedback loop.
Instead of throwing more untrained agents at customer problems and hoping for the best, businesses should spend more time on proper training that will prepare agents for customer service work.
What really is customer service training
Customer service training is what turns random people servicing customers into customer service pros.
Without proper customer service foundations, the customer experience of your customers takes a hit. Thankfully, a bit of training can help you fix that. Let’s talk about what goes into this training.
First off, who needs customer service training? The most obvious answer is: support staff. It’s their bread and butter. However, they are not the only group that can benefit from customer service training.
To some extent, anyone who works directly with customers could provide a better service after undergoing customer service training. For example, a member of the sales team will use the same set of skills a support agent uses to determine the needs of the customer and to make a good offer. Customer service training gives marketers a chance to see first hand the use cases they should talk about when advertising a product or a service.
This may seem a bit excessive, but any contact made with your company will affect the way your brand is seen – no matter if it’s a support call or a chat with a sales representative.
Customer service training methods
Knowing who should undergo customer service training is one thing, but how do you organize it?
There are three main ways of organizing customer service training:
- class-based training,
- field training,
- a mix between the two methods.
Class-based training is probably close to what you remember from school, college or university. Lots of customer service theory explained over the course of several classes.
This method allows businesses to train large numbers of agents without spending a lot of time or resources. It’s also very standardized, which means that all agents learn using the same examples and the same techniques. As a result, they will be able to provide a consistent level of customer service.
The downside of this method is the lack of work experience. All the theory in the world will be useless if you don’t know how to apply it in real customer service situations.
Another method – field training – skips the classroom and moves straight to practice. New agents get to help customers immediately under the guidance of a more experienced teammate. The volume of cases the new agent has to deal with is usually toned down so that they can focus on learning instead of juggling several cases at a time.
This method is great because it also provides real life experience. Agents get to see that not everything always goes according to plan and learn how to improvise.
Since field training requires another, more experienced agent to watch over the new hire, it can put a bit of a strain on a customer service department. You won’t be able to train a large number of agents like this.
Finally, there’s also the classroom-field-training hybrid. It usually involves a short course on the basics, which are later expanded on when working with customers.
This is probably the most effective form of training since it gives the agents the necessary knowledge and experience before starting the full-time work.
Customer service training benefits
No matter which method you pick, there are considerable benefits you can get from introducing customer service training in your business.
Better training leads to higher customer satisfaction. The happier your customer are, the more loyal they will be and the more revenue they will bring.
Investing time and resources into customer service training brings a big return over time. Trained and experienced agents will be able to deal with a higher number of cases, lowering the per-case cost of support.
Finally, agents that receive extensive training will see their contribution as more valuable. What's more, they will appreciate the development opportunities, resulting in lower turnover rates.
Example customer service training plan
To give you a better understanding how you can organize customer service training, I will go over the methods we use to train LiveChat support Heroes. We came up with and refined the whole process over several years of training new agents for our customer service.
Here’s what worked for us and can also work for you.
1. Starting off with a big list of tasks
Everything starts with hiring a new agent. Once we hire someone, we send them this extensive to-do list that they have to complete within two months.
The to-do list includes stuff like:
- setting up all communication channels and accounts (Gmail, Slack, LiveChat etc.),
- reading up on our product and the resources we have available on our website (knowledge base, ebooks),
- learning from past conversations to get a good feeling for the flow of support chats.
2. Straight to chat
We mostly go with the field training method, new agents start chatting right away. Since we usually don’t hire more than one person at a time for a support position (because we got pretty good at anticipating our support needs) it tends to produce really good results because the new hire gets all the attention.
The bigger your support is, the less viable this method will be so it’s best for small and medium businesses.
3. But only one at a time
New LiveChat support agents start chatting right off the bat. In the beginning, this will be only one chat at a time so they don’t have to stress out over unanswered questions and have plenty of time to find answers.
4. Help always at hand
There’s always someone more experienced nearby to provide some vital tips and help with the more difficult questions.
5. Shorter workday in the beginning
Since there’s a lot to learn in the first couple of days, we don’t force agents to work the full 9-5 shift. Usually, we limit the training to 4-5 hours since there’s a limit to how much knowledge a person can absorb in one sitting.
6. When to move to more advanced stuff
After the first 2-3 weeks, we move on to more technical matters and level two support. There’s a technical training session, followed by a technical task and another round of technical training.
7. Giving new agents a taste of different shifts
When it comes to the hours when new agents work, we try to give them the full experience. This means that we want them to work on each shift at least once, including the graveyard shift.
8. Remote work test
There’s also at least one day of remote work too. We strongly believe in working from the same location, but there are times when remote work can be useful (we run 24/7/365 customer service so we need to cover holidays somehow). This single day allows us to make sure that the new agent knows how to coordinate with other members of the team over tools like Slack.
9. When the training ends
The training comes to an end when the new hire starts catching up with the rest of the team in terms of various customer service KPIs. For example, if the average customer satisfaction of our chats is 90% and the new agent is consistently getting around 85–88% average satisfaction rate, we clear them for full-time work. This takes around 2 months and usually coincides with the completion of the to-do list.
After the training is finished, the training wheels are off and the one-chat limit is removed.
Customer service training tips
Here’s a few additional tips that helped us prepare, implement and flesh out our customer service training program:
1. Make sure your agents know how to find answers
One of the first tasks new agents should complete is figuring out where they can get an answer or who can help them out when dealing with specific cases.
It’s even more important than learning the answers themselves. Since it’s impossible to learn everything by heart before talking with customers, it would be more useful if they simply knew where to look. This takes less time and gives pretty much the same results.
For example, all our agents learn what kind of articles we have available in our knowledge base or what kind of chat window customizations we have stored in our internal CSS library.
2. Using tools and resources
You can use tools like Wunderlist to keep a shared to-do list that will help you better coordinate different tasks. We found out that a simple shared Google Docs document works out too and can help you plan the work of new agents.
To facilitate faster team communication, you can set up a Slack account for the support team. Apart from improving their communication, new agents will be able to immediately get help when a tougher case comes up.
We’ve also set up a shared Amazon account where we have a bunch of books on customer service and ecommerce available. We also offer some additional training opportunities, e.g. a programming course.
3. Place more importance on common cases
You should spend more time on explaining the problems that come up often. Since it will make the bulk of an agent’s work, it makes sense to spend some extra time on these cases to make sure they know how to solve them each and every time they come up.
For example, if you tend to get a lot of questions about applying a discount code to an order, make sure the new hires know how to do that.
4. Customer service training is not only for support
Every person in your company can benefit from customer service training. By dealing directly with your customers, they can get first-hand knowledge about customer problems and use cases.
Later on, this will turn into delivering a better product and services.
The training doesn’t have to be as extensive as in the case of a support agent. It’s also more important to focus on getting the customer’s perspective instead of the methods that are used to solve specific problems.
For example, in LiveChat we have a 2-week mandatory customer service training for anyone starting work in marketing. This has been introduced to make sure that new marketers know about the needs of our customers so that they can discuss how LiveChat answers those needs when creating campaigns.
5. Make sure the new agents don’t work alone
Keep checking up on new agents. If you leave them alone for too long and they are not able to get help, they will get stuck.
You can shadow their interactions with customers to provide pointers and useful tips on what they can improve. You can also check their conversation history for cases with a bad rating to find the things they still need to work on.
6. Hand out homework assignments
The training doesn’t have to end when the new hire leaves your office. Since you should limit the amount of in-the-office work to a couple of hours in the beginning, this gives agents a bit of time they could spend on learning some additional skills.
For example, when new LiveChat agents go home after a few hours of chats, we encourage them to check out a few tutorials on HTML so that they can employ this knowledge the next time they come to the office.
Customer service training in your company
What is your approach to customer service training? Do you prefer the classroom approach or do you like to throw your agents in at the deep end?
Feel free to share your agent training experience in the comments section!
Photos courtesy of Stabler Department of Nursing York College of PA and DVIDSHUB via Creative Commons.