Professional Maturity Training

Making Customer Service Training Stick

 Why is training for customer service excellence such a challenge?

Partly it is because the soft skills required for great customer experiences seem hard to define and measure, but there is more to it.

Sure, training on the basics of customer service is relatively easy.  We teach employees ways to greet customers promptly and do their job efficiently, as well as ways to:

  • Be respectful
  • Dress professionally
  • Offer our products/services
  • Remember to smile!

Yet for so many employees, it just doesn’t stick.  They’ve been told or trained on what to do, but they don’t exhibit the level of customer service desired.   We get frustrated, thinking much of it is an attitude of apathy, or maybe it’s partly generational differences in communication style and work ethic, and a few other areas that feel tricky to deal with.  However, we can’t just give up! 

We must explore options to connect more deeply with employees and inspire them to get excited about learning the skills needed for quality customer service.  It helps them to be aware these skills will also be useful for any job and many personal situations for the rest of their life.  

I think we can agree the reason we love being trainers is the impact we can make on others, and when we get to see them light up and grow as human beings is incredibly rewarding!

So how can we bring this joyful passion to customer service training in a way that sticks

I asked myself this same question in preparation for a recent webinar for On Course: Acing Your Job As a Customer Service Expert

In addition to the basics that every new customer service employee needs to know, I included some insights from personally suffering chronic frustration from my first 5 years on the front lines in customer service, and what I learned that transformed me into someone who actually had fun at work every day. 

I also included some extras from my 15 years of coaching leaders in business, specifically two of the BEST communication techniques that work for all types of tricky conversations and sticky business situations, and some enlightening concepts from Emotional Intelligence training regarding our normal primal fear response and how we can naturally be more compassionate.

Here are a few highlights that you might sprinkle into your next customer service training and/or your own daily work to have more fun (or access the full training here)

Genuinely Connect With Your Customer

Greet them and treat them like your best friend’s mom or the child of someone dear to you. Whether you met them already before, you have a natural interest in them!  You have something in common, you want the best for them, and you can find it easier to assume their good intent.  It helps to intentionally give ourselves “permission” to override our brain’s survival instincts and societal conditioning, so we can be more open, friendly and positive (rather than default to a more negative bias when dealing with the public). 

  • Consider someone you recently met that pleasantly surprised you, and you found how much you appreciated seeing their “humanity.”
Navigate By Curiosity

Asking questions from a place of natural human curiosity makes working with people a lot more fun!  Be interested in what others have going on, and don’t be afraid to connect more deeply with your customers.  After all, we are social animals and enjoy interaction. 

Keep it light and positive.  Avoid politics and religion and turn it to something else as needed.  I have found a skill worth learning is the ability to kindly, but firmly interrupt people to keep things on track.  Also, keep working; don’t let chatting distract you from continuing to do your job effectively.

  • Make a short list of questions you can ask your customers, some more general (other than weather or sports) and others more specific (What is your favorite vacation spot? When was the last time you _____?), and some for opportunity-spotting (Have you tried our (product/service) yet? What do you like most about our _____?)

You can also navigate by curiosity in your training room.  Ask attendees to share specific phrases they use, and collaboratively brainstorm questions they would like to ask their customers.

Avoid Red Flags

Remember that the customer’s perception IS reality.  To avoid causing dissatisfaction, or making it worse unintentionally, it helps to have a list of DO NOTs for customer service employees.  We cannot assume they already know these things, and expectations need to be clear if they are to be met.

This includes things like chewing gum, chatting with other employees in front of customers, texting or “playing” on mobile phone, being too loud, etc.…

  • Try having employees describe situations where THEY received poor service, and things they don’t want to experience themselves. Also be willing to openly discuss in the group to explore why some things bother others even if they don’t bother everyone.  Seeing from other perspectives strengthens emotional intelligence and ability to provide service with genuine connection.
Take Inspiration From Everywhere!

Be on the lookout for other good customer service examples.  Consider what you could try that is similar and alter it to be your own version (don’t be a copycat). This can be a lot of fun!  

  • Look at the email subscriptions you receive and notice questions, phrases, and ideas for engaging customers that you can translate to your own company. 
  • Watch how your favorite server handles things as you’re out to dinner, or how Trader Joe’s manages it when they’re out of something customers really want. 
  • List 3 places you’ve been where the customer service was great, and what made it great.
Bonus Tip: You Get What You Expect

As a rule: communicate clear expectations frequently and expect the best from others.  Get better at telling them that you believe in them, and in my experience, they will generally rise to the occasion!  Create the habit of looking for what’s going well, as well as acknowledging those things often.  You will get more of what you’re focusing on… 

If you’ve fallen into the trap of expecting crappy customer service, believing it’s the norm and thinking it’s too hard to change, then that is exactly what you’ll experience.

Heather Legge

Heather Legge, Senior Training Specialist, is passionate about sharing priceless skills that every trainer and presenter needs to cut through unnecessary distractions and fully capture and inspire audiences!