Article

A guide to customer service training (+ a free template)

Serve your customers better and prepare your team for success with these customer service training ideas.

By Stella Inabo, Contributing Writer

Published March 12, 2020
Last updated March 13, 2022

In our on-demand world, customer expectations have never been higher. Consumers want accurate answers fast and on the channel of their choice. But this can only happen when companies provide high-quality customer service training.

Unfortunately, research shows that many support agents aren’t receiving adequate training, affecting their ability to meet customer demands. According to the Zendesk Customer Experience Trends Report, 68 percent of consumers say most businesses need to improve the training of their customer service agents. And only one in five agents is extremely happy with the training they receive.

68% of consumers say most businesses need to improve the training of their customer service agents.

Enable agents to provide efficient, helpful support by offering a comprehensive customer service training program. This will not only enhance your team’s performance but also improve customer satisfaction and retention.

Not sure what you should teach agents or how you should present the information? We’ve got you covered. In this article, we’ll break down the basics of customer service training to help you build a robust, engaging program that takes your customer service to the next level.

What is customer service training?

Customer service training is coaching and teaching support staff what they need to know to increase customer satisfaction. It involves informing agents about your product or service, how to communicate with customers, and how to use support software.

“Customer service training helps your support agents provide the best experience that keeps customers coming back,” says Brett Bowser, community engagement manager at Zendesk.

Why is customer service training important?

Training provides agents with the knowledge and skills they need to handle a wide variety of situations—whether that’s helping a difficult customer without making them angry or delighting a repeat buyer to strengthen their brand loyalty. It also empowers customer service reps to work more efficiently and confidently. The result is motivated agents, happier customers, and a better bottom line.

Increases job satisfaction

Studies show that ongoing training increases employees’ satisfaction with their jobs. That’s good news for any industry, but it’s critical in customer service. Why? Because happy employees lead to happier customers.

When you invest in support agents’ careers, they’re more likely to feel satisfied at work and display greater levels of engagement.

“If you skip the training component, you compromise your agent engagement because they’re going to get bored or burnt out,” says Jonathan Brummel, director of enterprise support at Zendesk.

Enables omnichannel support

As customer expectations change, your support agents need training to keep up with these shifts—especially when it comes to communication.

Most customer support teams aren’t offering channels beyond phone and email: Only one in three companies provide omnichannel support. At the same time, consumers expect to reach support teams on the channels they use to connect with friends and family. In our digital-first world, that includes live chat, texting, and social media.

The highest-performing customer service teams are 6.8 times more likely to have implemented an omnichannel approach. If you want to compete with those high performers, you must offer omnichannel support and train your team on how to use it.

Helps build customer loyalty

Customers who have great experiences with a company are more likely to be repeat buyers: 81 percent of consumers say good customer service increases the chances they’ll make another purchase. But if your reps aren’t trained to provide those excellent support experiences, it’s a moot point.

For reps to consistently exceed customer expectations, they should be able to explain your products on a deep level and know how to use cutting-edge support software. Neither can happen without proper training.

In today’s competitive landscape, customer service is a key differentiator between companies. Adequately training your support staff will give you a competitive edge and, as a result, help you gain more loyal customers and boost customer retention.

The different types of customer service training

There’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to training. Choose the model that best suits your team’s budget, timeline, and needs.

In-house employee training

Support managers or highly skilled reps usually lead the in-house customer service training for employees using company training materials.

With this type of training, you can design and build a custom curriculum that addresses your team’s weak spots. It’s never a good idea to mimic what others are doing because every business is unique.

“When it comes to a company wanting to invest in their customer service team, a lot of those resources should come from in-house,” Bowser advises. “Businesses have different nuances when working with customers, so it makes sense to have a team dedicated to building that kind of empathetic training for their customer support team.”

To identify the challenges your training should tackle, ask your team about the difficulties they face. Or, look through your customer service software for trends. Say you notice that response times are slow; you can ask a support agent with good first-reply times to share their process with others.

But remember: Just because someone is a great support rep doesn’t mean they’ll make a great trainer. And you’ll need to make sure they have the bandwidth to teach team members on top of their primary job responsibilities.

Consultant workshops

Consultant workshops enlist the knowledge of an external customer service expert. They’re typically held over several days of intensive training sessions.

The upside is that your agents are learning from an expert in the field. Oftentimes, these sessions are also highly engaging, and your team is likely to come out of them feeling inspired.

The downside is that the lessons are short-lived. It’s easy to generate excitement in a few days, but agents might not adopt the ideas they learned in the long term. The workshops aren’t cheap, either. They generally cost between $1,000 and $1,500 per participant.

To get more value out of consultant workshops, consider recording them and storing the videos in an internal knowledge base for employees. They’ll be able to reference the sessions whenever they need information from the workshop or some extra motivation.

New rep onboarding training

Onboarding training focuses on getting new customer service reps up to speed as quickly as possible. It normally covers company culture, software, and product knowledge. Ideally, the program should be between four and six weeks in length.

Ensure recent hires are on track by regularly checking in with them. Are they reading or watching the training material? Do they understand it? Do they have questions you can answer?

Continued training

Even for seasoned reps, ongoing training should be an expected part of their job. After all, some customer service skills can get rusty with time, so it’s a good idea to have a routine performance check. If reps are lacking, they would need to take a refresher course.

Recruit tenured staff to help with training to reduce your budget and help seasoned employees reinforce all they’ve learned.

Special circumstance training

Special circumstance training is typically a one-off, based on a unique event or issue. Think new product releases, new internal software adoption, or a global crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic. These sessions need to be held as soon as possible from the event.

Use a training format that can be created quickly—like a video recording—so you can swiftly inform your support reps. You’ll also accelerate learning if agents can independently complete the training and have a clear deadline for finishing it.

How to structure your customer service department

Learn more about the key steps for structuring your customer service team with this free guide.

4 online customer service training courses to consider

When it comes to customer service training ideas, online training platforms can be a great compromise between doing everything yourself and outsourcing the training.

While online training programs have a cost, the major benefit is flexibility. Reps can work on the self-guided modules in their free time and at their own pace. Online training is also a great option for remote workforces.

The downside to online training is also one of the upsides: flexibility. Because the programs are self-guided, it can be easy for your team to put them on the back burner. It’s also tough to guarantee their engagement when they’re just clicking through an online portal.

One way to encourage engagement is to put their new skills to the test. Say a support rep took an online class on communication; ask them to walk you through your product as though you are a new customer.

Another challenge is picking the right customer service training course. While there are a lot of options available, not all online training platforms offer high-quality lessons. To save you the time of searching through thousands, we’ve picked out several top-notch training courses.

Customer Service Foundations | LinkedIn Learning

The video course Customer Service Foundations teaches the basics of exceptional customer service—including building rapport with customers, identifying customer needs, and resolving problems.

Customer Service Mastery: Delight Every Customer | Udemy

New agents usually find it hard to know what delights customers. The Customer Service Mastery: Delight Every Customer course shows participants how to surpass expectations and how to increase loyalty through customer service.

Customer Service Fundamentals | Coursera

Customer Service Fundamentals explains the foundations of effective customer care. New agents can learn about SLAs, service standards, ticketing systems, and more. The course also teaches problem-solving, communication, and time-management skills.

Customer Service Masterclass: Turn Buyers Into Raving Fans | Skillshare

Customer Service Masterclass: Turn Buyers Into Raving Fans doesn’t just cover customer support and communication basics. It also instructs agents on how to provide proactive and reactive customer service, how to handle challenging situations, and how to meet customers’ needs without sacrificing their own.

What should be included in customer service training programs?

Excellent customer service is much more than answering customers’ questions. It requires soft skills to “read” a customer’s emotional cues, manage an influx of support tickets, adequately resolve issues, and keep cool when things get heated.

A great training program equips agents with the following skills so they can provide superior customer service:

Active listening

customer service training

Active listening is a crucial skill for agents. When customers reach out to the support team, it’s because they’re facing an issue they can’t solve on their own. Above all else, they want to be heard and validated.

To meet this expectation, reps must practice active listening. This entails listening carefully to what a customer is saying, then responding in a way that makes it clear you understand and respect their point. It’s essential for making customers feel recognized and de-escalating stressful situations.

One way to develop this skill is to avoid interrupting customers while they’re speaking. Allow customers to explain their problem, and then ask clarifying questions or recommend a solution.

Positivity

It’s hard to convey tone in text, by email, and on social media—especially because quick responses can come across as terse. But friendly online communication is an important skill in our increasingly digital world. Reps should be able to convey a casual, positive tone on every channel.

Agents can avoid communication mistakes by reading out a response before hitting “send.” They’ll be able to detect a melancholy, mechanical tone and make adjustments, such as adding an emoji to sound friendlier.

Empathy

customer service training

When consumers come to you for help, they want to interact with a friendly, compassionate human being. Communicating with empathy ensures customers feel heard and assures them that you’re going to do everything you can to help them.

“Empathy lets the customer know you are on their side,” explains Bowser.

Build customer empathy into your training program so agents can learn how to put themselves in buyers’ shoes. You might ask them to review feedback from customers to better understand their perspective on support interactions, for instance.

Alternatively, agents can role-play as customers. For example, support agents for an ecommerce store could go through the process of buying clothing to see the steps customers take while making purchases.

Product knowledge

Agents need to provide accurate answers fast, so they must know the product like the back of their hands. Aside from enabling speedy responses, solid product knowledge also inspires trust in your customers.

Ideally, product knowledge should be readily accessible in your tech stack. Invest in customer service software and other support tools so agents can find customer information in minutes, solve issues quicker, and easily collaborate with others.

Use product demos, knowledge base resources, and experienced team members to teach new agents how to use these tools. Share materials that shed light on the technical aspects of your product and its compatibility with other products, too. If your company sells software, it’s a good idea to ask someone from the engineering or product team to explain how it works.

The FAQ section of your knowledge base can also be your agents’ best friend when it comes to understanding the product. They can learn how it works and also find answers to common customer problems.

Internal process knowledge

customer service training

Every company takes unique actions to promote customer satisfaction. Agents must know and understand these internal processes to better serve customers.

What are the next steps when an SLA isn’t met? Which tickets take priority when there’s a mounting backlog? What do agents do when customers ask to speak to the manager? Not knowing these processes would leave agents scrambling for answers.

Specify your customer support processes in your internal knowledge base so agents can learn how things work. They’ll also be able to consult these resources on their own when they need a refresher in the future. Just make sure to regularly update the documents as your organization grows and processes change.

Confidence

Once support agents build their company and product knowledge, they should feel confident in their ability to help customers. But occasionally, agents will still feel somewhat insecure, which can lead to a negative service experience—customers want effective solutions, not wishy-washy answers.

“Being confident in the information you’re sharing with the user is important because you’re kind of a teacher when it comes to using your product,” explains Bowser.

Encourage reps to swap out phrases like “I think” or “I’m not sure.” Instead of saying, “I’m not sure how to fix your issue,” they can say, “How about I connect you with one of the engineers who can help you out?”

To reinforce confidence, set up training exercises where agents practice staying in control and sounding assertive.

Creativity

customer service training

The right solution may not always be apparent, so thinking outside the box is a critical skill for support agents.

Say you’re an agent for an ecommerce platform, and the owner of an online store is looking for a way to send welcome messages to new customers. Your platform doesn’t have that capability, but you could suggest an alternative option, like using an email marketing integration that sends messages automatically.

Foster creativity in your agents by encouraging experimentation. For example, you can set up a training scenario where agents have to find an unlikely solution to a recurring customer issue. Establish a time limit to help them push their boundaries.

Customer service philosophy

To consistently provide quality support, your team needs principles that guide their interactions with customers. This is where a customer service philosophy comes in.

But customer service philosophies are only effective when they’re actionable. Your training should cover not only what your customer service values are but also what those values look like in action.

At Zendesk, for example, we encourage agents to be “humblident” (that is, humble and confident). When things go wrong, the support team has honest conversations about our mistakes and what we can learn from them.

How to improve customer service training

Creating a training program is just the first step. From there, you and your team should regularly evaluate whether the training aligns with agent needs and evolving customer expectations. If it doesn’t, make the necessary adjustments.

Maintain and update resources

To keep training up-to-date, establish guidelines for regularly reviewing it. “Because customer service processes are constantly changing, you need to have a process to keep the process updated,” Bowser says.

First, create a dedicated team that will be in charge of storing and reviewing the content. If you have a small team, you can appoint a rep to handle training materials.

The next step is to set a time frame for reviewing resources. For example, your team can audit onboarding articles and videos every six months.

Keep in mind, you may need to adjust your schedule for new product releases or updates. If your company launches a new version of its flagship product, you’ll want to create a knowledge base article or video about it right away.

Listen to feedback

No training program is perfect, so be prepared to accept feedback from agents and make improvements.

“Be ready to change those resources or use some external resources instead, to make sure that you’re providing the materials that best serve your customer service team,” says Bowser.

The changes might not be what you expect, so it’s important to keep an open mind.

Measure training program success

Gauge the effectiveness of your customer service training program by measuring the performance of your individual agents and the team as a whole.

Say you recently launched a training program. Are customers receiving faster resolutions? Are customers getting accurate answers? You might send out a customer survey to see whether service quality is improving. Or, you can use your customer service software to track key metrics—including first-response time and customer satisfaction score—and ensure they’re moving in the right direction.

If you don’t see any changes after the training program ends, that’s a sign to adjust your methods or overhaul the program.

Customer service metrics can also signal the need for new programs. For example, low resolution rates might indicate that agents require more training to bolster their product knowledge.

Use a customer service training template to help new reps

A customer service training template can bring new hires up to speed quickly.

Download the free template

Investing in your support agents is investing in your customers

Setting up your customer service team for success is imperative for customer satisfaction. Well-trained reps are more likely to be confident, knowledgeable, and happy in their work—all of which directly benefits your buyers.

To ensure you’re giving your team every tool to succeed, consider a top-of-the-line customer service software solution. This tool enables you to capture real-time customer feedback and rep performance so you can easily gauge your team’s growth and your customers’ happiness.

How to structure your customer service department

Learn more about the key steps for structuring your customer service team with this free guide.

How to structure your customer service department

Learn more about the key steps for structuring your customer service team with this free guide.

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