2023 customer service training guide + templates & resources
Prepare your team to deliver great customer experiences with these customer service training ideas.
By Alaina Franklin, Director, Customer Success
Last updated August 16, 2023
Customers expect fast, convenient, high-quality customer service. And if they don’t get it, they won’t hesitate to go elsewhere. After just one bad experience, 61 percent of customers will dump you for a competitor—some might even tell you (and everyone else) about their poor experience on social media, too.
The key to keeping the customers you already have—and attracting new ones—is to deliver great customer experiences. But to do so, you must provide your staff with excellent customer service training. This will not only enhance your team’s performance but also improve customer satisfaction and retention.
Follow along to learn the basics of customer service training so you can build a robust, engaging program that takes your customer service to the next level.
- What is customer service training?
- Who should be involved in customer service training programs?
- Why effective customer service training matters
- The 5 different types of customer service training
- Which customer service training skills should you cover?
- Soft skills for customer service reps
- Hard skills for customer service reps
- How to create a customer service training program (+ continually improve it)
- How to hire the right customer service representative
- Customer service training template and resources to help new reps
What is customer service training?
Customer service training is teaching support staff what they need to know to increase customer satisfaction. It involves coaching and 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.
Who should be involved in customer service training programs?
Employees in customer-facing roles—like sales, account management, and front office—should undergo comprehensive training. But it’s beneficial for everyone to have some training on your customer service philosophy.
Customer service is more than just a department. It’s an entire philosophy that each employee—from new hire to CEO—needs to buy into. Building this philosophy into your company culture and customer service training programs helps reinforce the principle that customers are the heart of your business.
Who should go through the training program?
At some point, every person at your company will have an impact on a customer. That means every employee should go through customer service training courses. Depending on their role, some may simply need a basic level of training, while others will require an extensive program.
Customer service representatives (CSRs) are usually a customer’s first point of contact with your company. Their training must be detailed and thorough so they’re equipped to meet or exceed customer expectations.
Other employees, like the warehouse team, may require less customer service training but still might have opportunities to make an impression on buyers.
Say someone in the warehouse doesn’t pack a box correctly, and the product arrives damaged. The warehouse employee still impacted the customer’s experience, even though they never interacted with the customer directly. Company-wide customer support training will reinforce the idea that everyone influences the overall customer experience.
Who should be involved in curriculum creation?
When creating the curriculum for anything related to customer service, talk to the people who know best: your team.
Get feedback from CSRs who work on the front lines, interact with customers every day, and understand pain points that you can eliminate with training.
You can even enlist an employee with a history of delivering top-notch customer service to help lead the training.
Why effective customer service training matters
According to the Zendesk Customer Experience Trends Report 2022, 68 percent of consumers say most businesses need to improve the training of their customer service agents. To make matters worse, only one in five agents are extremely happy with the training they receive.
68% of consumers say most businesses need to improve the training of their customer service agents.
Training in customer service provides agents with the knowledge and skills they need to handle a wide variety of situations, from helping a difficult customer to delighting a repeat buyer. It also empowers customer service reps to work more efficiently and confidently.
The result is motivated agents, happier customers, and a better bottom line.
Creates great customer experiences
Our CX Trends Report revealed that 54 percent of shoppers believe customer service is an afterthought for most of the businesses they buy from. They’re dealing with long wait times, needing to repeat information after being transferred between departments, and sometimes speaking with a non-empathetic agent.
It’s crucial to train employees to treat each interaction with care and to create a positive experience. Good customer service is more than just finding a fast solution to a single customer issue. It’s about seeing customer interactions as opportunities for valuable engagement and building long-term relationships through rich, personalized conversations.
Helps build customer loyalty
Customers who have great experiences with a company are more likely to be repeat buyers: In our CX Trends Report, 81 percent of consumers say high-quality 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.
In today’s competitive landscape, customer service is a key differentiator between companies. Adequately training customer service teams will give you an edge over competitors and, as a result, help you gain more loyal customers and improve customer retention.
Boosts customer retention
When agents aren’t properly trained, they can’t “wow” customers—and lackluster experiences occur more often than you’d think. Our report found that nearly 70 percent of interactions result in customers feeling like businesses need to improve the training of their customer service representatives.
Business leaders know this is an issue and understand that solid customer service training can impress buyers and keep them coming back:
- 60 percent of leaders say customer service improves customer retention.
- 83 percent agree that agents play a vital role in customer retention.
Increases job satisfaction
Studies show that there’s a link between employee satisfaction and continued learning. Training improves employees’ performance, and when they perform better, they find more value in their roles. That’s wonderful news for any industry, but it’s critical in customer service 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 higher 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, a customer experience strategist at Zendesk.
Enables omnichannel support
As customer expectations change, your support agents need the 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, according to our CX Trends Report. 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 almost seven times more likely to have implemented conversational customer service capabilities, including adding messaging channels or making it possible to switch between channels for a single ticket. If you want to compete with those high performers, you must offer omnichannel support and train your team on how to use it.
The 5 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.
1. New hire customer service 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.
Ask questions during the training process to see how new hires are feeling. Here are a few questions to help gauge the status of their journey:
- Are they understanding all the training material?
- Do they have questions you can answer?
- How can you improve the process to make learning easier?
Regularly checking in ensures recent hires are on track, and getting feedback helps you better understand how to enhance the training for the next cohort.
2. 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. Because each business is unique, creating a program that aligns with your processes and culture is much more effective than trying to mimic what others are doing.
“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.
3. 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: Your agents learn from an expert in the field. Oftentimes, these sessions are also highly engaging, so your team is likely to come out of them feeling inspired.
The downside: 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.
4. Customer service refresher training
Even for experienced reps, ongoing training should be an expected part of their job. 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. Just make sure they have the bandwidth to teach team members on top of their primary job responsibilities.
5. Special circumstance customer service training
Special circumstance training is typically a one-off based on a unique event or issue. Think of new product releases, new internal software adoption, or a global crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic. These sessions must be held as soon as possible after 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.
Which customer service training skills should you cover?
Training programs should cover both hard and soft skills in addition to the company’s specific philosophies and communication styles. Excellent customer service is much more than answering customers’ questions. It requires 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
- Conflict resolution
- Product and internal process knowledge
- Customer advocacy
- Customer service philosophy
Soft skills for customer service reps
Soft skills are character traits that help you interact with other people effectively. Here are some soft skills that your teams can focus on to build relationships with customers.
Active listening is a crucial skill for agents. Customers reach out to support teams because they’re facing an issue they can’t solve on their own, so 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 problems, and then ask clarifying questions or recommend a solution.
Example training exercise: Pair trainees together and have Trainee A introduce themselves to Trainee B for one minute. Then have them switch roles. Finally, ask the pair to introduce each other to the rest of the group.
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.
Example training exercise: Ask trainees to write down a few negative customer service responses. Take the responses and ask the group how to rephrase them as positive statements.
When consumers come to you for help, they want to interact with a kind, 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.
Example training exercise: Tell your class to think about a bad customer service experience they’ve had in the past. Ask them to share their stories and discuss how they felt.
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,” Bowser explains.
Encourage reps to rework common phrases to sound more confident. For example, tell them to swap out “I’m not sure how to fix your issue” for “How about I connect you with one of the engineers who can help you?”
To reinforce confidence, set up training exercises where agents practice staying in control and sounding assertive.
Example training exercise: Try a role-play exercise where one trainee pretends to be an unhappy customer and another trainee practices using phrases that establish confidence and steer the conversation toward a solution.
Foster creativity in your agents by encouraging experimentation. 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 a client 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.
Example training exercise: Set up a training scenario where agents need to find an unlikely solution to a recurring customer issue. Establish a time limit to help them push their boundaries.
Conflict resolution skills
Customers often contact a company when they’re experiencing an issue and can’t figure out how to fix it, so they can feel pretty frustrated by the time they reach out. It’s essential to train your customer service reps on how to handle disgruntled customers and de-escalate a situation.
Some examples of conflict resolution skills are:
- Showing empathy
- Communicating clearly
- Staying calm
- Remaining professional
Example training exercise: Try an exercise where one trainee acts as an angry customer. Ask the other trainee to practice using conflict resolution skills to defuse the situation.
Communication could be the most vital skill to have as a customer service representative. Clear, concise communication can significantly improve the customer experience.
When a customer has questions or issues, they expect the customer service agent to be professional, confident, and easy to understand. Consider investing in a conversational CRM that consolidates interactions from across channels into one place for seamless communication with customers. This tool results in better customer conversations, which can ultimately lead to customer loyalty.
Example training exercise: Give your trainees a complicated product and ask them to describe what it does in simple terms, in only a few sentences.
Hard skills for customer service reps
Hard skills are abilities that you can measure. Here are a few examples of hard skills that help customer service teams thrive.
Product and internal process knowledge
Agents need to provide accurate answers fast, so they must know the product like the backs of their hands. Aside from enabling speedy responses, strong product knowledge also inspires trust in your customers.
Ideally, product knowledge should be readily accessible. Invest in customer service software and other support tools so agents can find customer information in seconds, solve issues quicker, and easily collaborate with others.
Agents must also know and understand internal processes to better serve customers. Not knowing processes can leave agents scrambling for answers.
Specify your customer support processes in your internal knowledge base so agents can learn how things work. They’ll be able to consult these resources on their own when they need a refresher in the future. Just be sure to regularly update the documents as your organization grows and processes change.
Example training exercise: Assign a mentor to each trainee and schedule job shadowing sessions. A trainee can sit with their mentor, who can explain the details of the products and processes and how they handle real-life situations.
Customer service representatives should act as advocates for their customers. If clients have feedback or suggestions for the company, get that valuable information into the hands of the people who can implement changes.
Encourage new hires and employees to focus on exceeding customer expectations. This goes without saying, but the customer expects you to deliver excellent service. When a customer service rep does only what’s required, that isn’t championing or wowing the customer.
Example training exercise: List verbiage and phrases that make customers feel like they’re on your team. Instead of telling them, “I’m not sure if we can do that” say, “Let’s see how we can solve that.”
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.
Example training exercise: Ask your customer service employees to shadow members of other departments to gain a different perspective. Many teams aren’t aware of problems that other departments need to address. Spending a day in another person’s seat helps agents better understand the company dynamic and build empathy for teams across the organization.
How to create a customer service training program (+ continually improve it)
Develop a training program that begins with basic skills and covers company processes and product knowledge. As agents learn more, the courses should steadily become more advanced.
But creating a training program is only 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.
Map the end-to-end training process
Before you start brainstorming topics, it’s a good idea to plan the customer service training process from end to end. The training materials should:
- Welcome the new hires
- Introduce them to the company and culture
- Walk them through their roles at a steady pace
Break down the training into daily, weekly, and monthly tasks, and list goals and milestones you expect the new hires to reach.
By mapping out the process, you’ll be able to align your customer service training with your company’s values and organizational goals.
Decide how to host your course
While fleshing out your customer service training program, determine how you want to host the course. Here are a few options.
- Live classroom teaching: This classic method is useful for interactive and team-building exercises. It requires a live instructor in a classroom setting.
- Online training modules: Online customer service training modules make it easy to onboard larger classes of new hires. Plus, they’re easily adaptable and accessible from mobile devices.
- Video training: You can create training videos for a variety of topics. After the initial production, they’re highly valuable because you can use them again and again.
- Job shadowing: Watching an employee work and interact with real customers allows the new hire to get a better grasp of the role.
- Mentoring: Assign a personal mentor for one-on-one learning and friendly guidance. This is a great option for new hires who may have questions but aren’t comfortable asking them in a larger classroom setting.
It’s important to keep your team engaged through the training process with fun exercises, quizzes, interactive videos, group projects, and more.
Also keep in mind that your new hire training will differ from refresher courses for established employees.
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. You can appoint a rep to handle training materials if you have a small team.
Next, set a time frame for reviewing resources. For example, your team can audit onboarding articles and videos every six months.
Remember, 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.
Tie in company culture
Company culture should be incorporated into virtually every lesson you teach to new hires and established team members. Your employees represent your company, and any interaction is a reflection of your brand.
Each training is a valuable opportunity for all team members to learn more about your company’s vision, goals, and values. In addition, the team can better understand how their roles help propel the company’s mission.
Your new hires may already be familiar with your brand, but integrating your company culture into their training from the beginning can help them become brand champions more easily.
Listen to internal and external 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 support training program by measuring the performance of each agent 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 a customer survey to see whether service quality is improving. You can also 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.
How to hire the right customer service representative
Hiring the right people will help you build a solid foundation for your team. Identify candidates who have the ideal combination of customer service traits and skills.
Although candidates can learn many skills on the job, those who already possess them are likely going to be great customer service representatives who can put your team ahead of the curve.
Here are some characteristics to consider when assessing candidates.
The ability to learn quickly and the desire to keep learning each day are critical in customer service. Agents must be able to listen and understand the customer to quickly diagnose a problem and see a path to resolution.
Gauge this by asking their previous employers or references nuanced questions about how they handled certain situations or how fast they learned the intricacies of their prior role.
Interviews are high-stress situations—much like phone calls from angry customers—so you should be able to get a sense of a candidate’s communication skills during the interview process. How they communicate with you is indicative of how they’ll converse with customers.
Gauge this by by their interview answers and overall demeanor. If the candidate communicates naturally and easily, they might be a good pick.
Experience in customer service
A candidate’s resume should tell you much of what you need to know about their experience. Review their work experience and see what aligns with the customer service industry. Awards and accolades can also provide insight, but note that not every business offers them.
Gauge this by by paying close attention to how long they stayed with each company and asking about hard metrics that prove they were valuable to their prior companies (like customer satisfaction score, average resolution times, etc).
Do they love helping people? Being passionate about customer service is a quality that translates well and suggests the candidate will thrive in their role. Customers appreciate it when agents are enthusiastic and willing to resolve their issues. They will remember the positive customer experience and won’t hesitate to buy from your company again.
Gauge this by by listening to how they speak about the role. They might express genuine excitement about helping people or describe a time they went above and beyond for a customer.
Customer service representatives tackle a variety of issues every day. When an agent can think critically and find creative ways to solve a problem, they can be an asset to your team. Taking this type of initiative shows drive and leadership, which can go a long way in customer service.
Gauge this by by asking the candidate to describe a time when they needed to assess a situation and solve a problem quickly.
Customer service training template and resources to help new reps
As you start building your program, take advantage of resources that allow you to maximize your customer service training.
Our customer service training template can help you bring new hires up to speed quickly.
Happy teams equal happy 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 benefit your buyers.
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