Customer service: How well does your business rank?

Customer Service Skills: A Key Employee Training Priority

Leadership Employee Management

Every employee in your business should have superior customer service skills. Here’s what you need to know to develop a training program that works.

Gaining and retaining customers is a key priority for all businesses, but if your employees don’t have customer service skills, neither of these things will be easy to achieve. That’s why equipping employees with superior customer service skills should be a top priority for every business.

Some businesses mistakenly focus their customer service skills training on only a handful of employees, especially front of the house workers. But back of the house workers, as well as newly hired employees, can also benefit from customer service training, bolstering a company-wide commitment to excellent customer care.

Here are some tips to incorporate into your training program to get employees up to speed on working with customers.

Focus on Customer Needs and Expectations

How can employees serve customers if they don’t understand what customers expect from your business? If you haven’t already done so, conduct an intensive survey focusing on your customers’ experience through a ratings/feedback section on your website or a formal satisfaction survey led by an experienced firm. The results will directly influence the scope of your training program.

Determine Your Ultimate Objective

“Customer service” means different things to different businesses. The focus may be on product or service quality, or it may be on how well employees engage with customers directly. Knowing what you want to achieve will shape how you train employees. Whether you’re training your employees on workplace safety or industry specific regulations or on customer service skills, all training programs need an objective.

Educate Employees on Your Business

It’s not enough for employees to be knowledgeable in their one specific area of operations. Everyone should be equipped with a comprehensive understanding of your product or service and prepared to answer customer questions and/or provide advice as needed. According to new product development expert Scott Moyer, with this type of training, employees are “able to see the entire process from beginning to end,” and “customers who call customer service will always speak to someone with informed answers.”

Choose a Training Method That Fits Your Business

Some training programs focus on assessing individual employees’ skill sets, while others have supervisors or veteran employees “shadow” new and/or back of the house staff to assess on-the-job customer interactions. Others businesses compile a basic performance guide for all departments, covering topics and FAQs with answers that illustrate how best to solve a customer’s problem. Whatever choice you make, be sure to include any industry jargon or buzzwords your customers are likely to use.

Train Staff in Real-life Situations

For many people, “real life” training is the most effective. Compile a list of common customer-service scenarios (good, bad and ugly) and incorporate those into your training program. You should also look closely at your most demanding customers. As Linda Pophal notes, the customers “who complain the loudest or who are hardest to please can be a rich source of information” in training. Invite your customer service superstars to guide this role-playing activity, so all employees have some grounding in how to interact with customers before those situations actually take place.

Teach Active Listening Skills

Even the toughest customers feel better knowing that someone in your company has listened to them. Emphasize active listening skills, encourage employees to listen first and then offer solutions to customer issues, rather than interrupting customers or second-guessing what customers really want. This type of interaction helps build trust, which may be the most important factor in improving customer relations.

Emphasize Positive Language

Knowing when to use positive language is another valuable skill to impart in training. For example, if a customer expresses interest in a product that isn’t on hand, the natural response may be to tell the customer that the product is sold out. Instead, employees should be trained to offer a positive reply, such as “The product will become available in two weeks. Let me place the order today, so it’s sure to be delivered when it arrives our warehouse.” Training employees to consistently maintain a positive attitude and use positive language will help them develop this customer-pleasing habit.

Offer Flexibility, When Possible

In what’s known as “Nordstrom’s example,” employees are given considerable leeway in independently resolving a customer complaint. As part of your customer service training, you should clearly delineate the degree of flexibility employees have in addressing issues on the spot, rather than having to ask supervisors for help.

Set a Good Example

All employees ā€” whether new or seasoned or in the front or back of the house ā€” should observe how the business’ owners and managers practice customer service. How you interact with customers sets the example, so be sure to model your preferred behavior at all times.

It may take some intensive coaching, but you’ll know you’ve succeeded when every employee in your company understands that they have both a direct and indirect effect on how customers perceive your business.

Lee Polevoi
Lee Polevoi

Lee Polevoi is an award-winning business writer who specializes in the challenges and opportunities facing small businesses in the U.S.A former senior writer at Vistage International (a global membership organization of CEOs), Lee regularly contributes articles, white papers and blog posts to a variety of small business websites, including Paychex, Intuit Small Business, ADP, Hewlett Packard'sā„¢ The Pulse of IT, Catapult Groups, Avalara TrustFile and many others.