Customer service training and onboarding are essential to maintain quality support across the entire team.
Your brand’s customer service team has a direct impact on the success of your business:
- 89% of consumers are more likely to make another purchase after a positive customer experience, according to a Salesforce report
- 73% of customers will leave your brand for a competitor after fewer than just three poor service experiences, according to Retail Dive
Great customer service hinges on a few things: excellent hiring, the right tools, transparent processes, and an effective customer service training program. How you prepare your support agents, from onboarding to ongoing coaching, will come to fruition in your brand’s growth (or lack thereof).
In this guide, we’ll cover all the basics of customer service training, including the types of training that directly impact revenue. We'll also give you 14 effective training activities to try, and five Gorgias customer service training courses to help you sharpen your team’s skills and multiply its impact.
What is customer service training?
Customer service training is everything you as a customer support leader do to help customer service team members be as effective as possible. This includes onboarding agents, creating training resources, providing ongoing coaching, and more.
Customer service training is one of the greatest levers you have to improve your team’s impact on the business. If customer service representatives are continuously building on their skills, they can handle customer service requests faster and more accurately, boost customer satisfaction, upsell customers and get more reviews and referrals, and find new ways to provide an excellent customer service experience.
How long should your customer service onboarding be?
Customer service training should be the most in-depth when a team member is brand new. For most brands, your customer support agents should be able to handle tickets on the frontline within their first couple of weeks and, depending on the complexity of tickets, should be fully onboarded and ramped within their first two or three months.
During these onboarding and ramp-up periods, the training should go over essential product knowledge and internal processes pertinent to succeeding in their role on the customer service team.
Once your new hire is fully onboarded, spend anywhere up to five hours a month on dedicated training time. This could include conducting post-mortems on old tickets, role-playing with a manager, taking a course to sharpen a customer service skill, or something else depending on which areas will have the biggest impact.
Key indicators your customer service team needs training
Beyond onboarding new employees, you should conduct customer service training regularly, as well as on an as-needed basis. Your ongoing training can be done as a refresher bi-annually, for example. Still, there are some instances when your customer service team (including team leaders) will need more rigorous training in specific areas.
But how will you know if your team needs training if they don't even know? There are a couple of things to look for. Keep the following red flags in mind to help you address potential customer experience issues before they get out of hand.
Your brand is getting negative customer feedback
There will always be some customer complaints, but your customer service team will want to address these complaints internally in a reasonable amount of time. This is especially true when your team hears the same negative customer feedback repeatedly.
Some leading indicators of this issue include low NPS scores, negative CSAT survey responses, and negative reviews of the company on public websites. If you notice any of these, look over your recent interactions with customers to see if you’ve been giving slow, unhelpful, or inaccurate answers. If you’re not already sending CSAT surveys, a helpdesk like Gorgias can help you automatically send them after interactions and see trends in responses over time. Additionally, EdApp's course on Customer Service: Handling Complaints can be a great resource for your customer service team, equipping them with valuable insights and techniques to effectively handle customer complaints and improve overall customer satisfaction.
Communication (email writing, responding to chats, and social media responses) is disjointed
Communicating via the written word is a large part of what customer service representatives do, so if there is a clear lack of skills when it comes to writing skills, team leads should provide additional training. And keep in mind that communication expectations vary across different formats: email versus social media, for example, should vary in message length, tone, emoji usage, etc.
If you don’t have guides for tone and voice, you may run into responses that vary in quality. For example, one agent may use a very casual tone while others use a formal tone.
You can get a sense of the unification of tone by periodically reviewing tickets in your helpdesk. Also, if you see that certain agents have very high resolution times, it could be a signal that their responses aren’t helpful and interactions go on longer than they should. With Gorgias, you can see all of your agents’ metrics — like online time, tickets closed, and open tickets — at a glance. You can use this view to see if any agents are lagging in terms of tickets closed for their number of hours worked.
Your agents are giving unhelpful or outdated information about your product and processes
The way your brand talks about products or services will inevitably change over time. But to achieve the highest customer satisfaction, your customer experience associates must provide the most updated information to customers. If they aren’t — or there is a definite gap in the information that team members provide — it's time to set up some internal training.
A common example of this is customer service agents using outdated processes to apply refund credits to customer accounts. If agents add these credits in different ways (or to different places), customers may need to reach out again because they don’t see updated credits on their end.
One leading indicator of this issue is a high repeat contact rate from customers who didn’t actually get the issue resolved.
You have violated HIPAA or other compliance regulations
A clear indicator that your team may need additional training is if you’ve been notified of a HIPAA or other compliance regulation breach. Violations are more common for healthcare and legal providers, and usually include sharing private identifying information in public channels or leaving devices and documents unattended.
Depending on the type of regulation, there are specific training courses to take as refreshers. For example, if your company must meet HIPAA guidelines, then HIPAA compliance officer training may be beneficial for your customer service team leaders. From there, they can monitor the agents on the team and provide feedback and additional training as needed.
You want a consistent tone for your company voice
When your company is still in its startup phase, you may still be modifying your brand voice. Having training to cover the company's tone will be beneficial to get all customer support staff on the same page.
Clear quality guidelines that explain what makes a ticket “good” or “bad” will help create standardized expectations and make ticket quality more consistent across your team. We’ll discuss these guidelines more below.
You’ve recently upgraded your customer service tools
If you’ve recently added a tool to your customer service team’s tech stack, like a helpdesk, it's important to get your agents up to speed as fast and efficiently as possible. This will help limit the number of mistakes made and improve the speed at which your agents can use the tool, which will help limit the number of frustrated customers.
Your agents are slow and often confused
If you have a single agent with particularly long response and resolution times, you may need to pull them aside for some one-on-one coaching. But if your entire team runs into a lot of issues in their day-to-day ticket handling, you probably need to bolster your training program and create an internal knowledge base with helpful resources about your product and policy.
Additionally, using g can help speed up agents and reduce confusion by giving them a clear start for common issues. A Macro that explains what to do if a discount code didn’t work, for example, could reduce inaccurate answers and time spent on these tickets:
What to cover in your customer service training
Regardless of what skill(s) your customer service team requires training on, there are some aspects that you should include no matter what. These sections can also help you create a template of modules to apply to any training your employees require — even outside of customer service.
Let's dive into big-ticket training items in order from most important to least important.
Product and service knowledge
Everyone on your customer support team should be an expert regarding your products and service offerings. If there is a clear lack of knowledge in one particular area within product knowledge, focus on that. Otherwise, you can open up a discussion to evaluate where the team is as a whole in terms of their product and service knowledge, then offer suggestions or additional points they can weave into their go-to highlights.
A common example is to make sure everyone knows how your referral program or exchange process works. All agents should be able to explain exactly what a customer needs to do for either of those programs — down to which buttons to click. If that’s a problem for your agents, it will trickle down and become a problem for your customers.
Policy and process knowledge (like shipping, returns, and exchanges)
Policy knowledge is the next area to consider in all customer service training. Again, you can customize which type of policy knowledge training to include based on what the training is about.
For example, suppose you’re involved in customer service training to address poor feedback from customers about your brand’s exchange policy. In that case, you may want to ensure all customer service team members know the policy inside and out — and how to talk about it with customers. This could also be an opportunity to address cracks or flaws in already-established policies and potentially update them to be more customer-friendly.
Customer service tools (like your helpdesk and any automation you use)
You’ll want to include any effective customer service tools currently used by the customer service team in training sessions. This could include a helpdesk, Help Center, or other automation tools you use.
With customer service, you may hire agents without previous experience using a helpdesk. It’s more important to hire someone with great soft skills and dedication to customer success than someone with helpdesk experience. So, be sure to cover the basics in your onboarding training, including where to find open tickets, how ticket assignment works, how to use templates, etc.
If you’re still shopping for a customer support platform, consider seeking one with built-in agent training. This will help you train agents on your new system (and onboard new agents) much faster than creating your own training. At Gorgias, we offer a series of courses and certifications called Gorgias Academy to help agents of all levels get more comfortable with the tool:
Solid technical and problem-solving skills are extremely important for members of your customer service team — these skills will help make the entire customer service department run more smoothly and help support a great customer experience.
Things like knowledge of the hardware your company uses as well as processes within the company can ensure customer issues are addressed quickly and correctly the first time. The most common example is following an internal escalation process to talk to the right person, be it the engineering team or the product developers This will help solve client issues quicker, which keeps customers happy.
The difference between a good and bad ticket
Another area to include in customer service onboarding and training should be good and bad ticket examples. Everyone in your organization — regardless of team affiliation — should know what a good ticket looks like and what a bad ticket looks like.
Often, the difference between a good and a bad ticket is obvious, like whether a ticket correctly explains what the customer should do next. Another consideration is whether the ticket reflects your brand values: Your customers should get a solid feel for your organization's values through how customer service reps respond to their inquiries.
To incorporate good and bad tickets into your training, you should develop a detailed guide for ticket quality — some brands even set up the document like a scorecard that all other tickets could be measured against. The document should explain every aspect of a “good” ticket, from voice and tone to correctness. Consider including the response and resolution times of the ticket. (This is important because 90% of customers rate an “immediate” response as important or very important when they have a customer service question.)
You can share this document during onboarding and use it for ongoing ticket reviews from peers and managers. For example, you can discuss a couple of tickets during team meetings. Read the interaction from beginning to end, then have customer service team members vote on which ticket is the “good” example and which is the “bad” example, followed by a group discussion.
Branding considerations, including voice and tone
As mentioned, your brand’s values should be reflected in how customer service reps respond to customers. What kind of tone do you want to portray to customers? Professional and friendly? Helpful and casual? Whatever supports your brand, be sure customer reps know how to translate it into writing.
In order to scale these efforts, create voice and tone guidelines that explain your brand’s level of formality, certain phrases you like to use (and avoid), and anything else you’d like to standardize across the team. If you use Gorgias, make sure your templated Macros are updated with these voice and tone expectations.
Patience and other soft skills
Patience is one soft skill that is vital in a customer service role because, without it, you’ll most likely run into frustration when interacting with difficult customers. Other soft skills training that can be helpful to incorporate during customer service training include communication skills, comfortability with ambiguity, active listening, emotional intelligence, empathy, understanding, time management, and body language (if applicable). These soft skills are a great fit for role-playing exercises, which we’ll discuss later on.
Key customer services phrases and terms
In customer service, there are many words and phrases only other customer service reps can understand. These words and phrases can make working together as a team more seamless and lead to a greater understanding among team members. Read up on our list of essential customer service phrases to use (and avoid) to help keep communication strong with your customers.
The importance of ongoing customer service training
Addressing ongoing training needs within your customer service department helps your team keep up with customer expectations, especially as your brand and tech stack evolve.
Whether or not you are introducing a new system or technology, it's essential to remind team members of your brand's voice and tone. They should also have an opportunity to reflect on it, ask questions, and have their work reviewed on a regular basis. You may even consider lining up ongoing training sessions with quarterly reviews, which can be a good way to make use of time already dedicated to reflecting on performance.
15 customer service training activities for your team to try
Once you have the outline of your customer service training, you’ll want to plan certain activities to support each module. Here are some customer service training ideas to try that will boost quality customer service and serve as team building.
Training activities to boost product knowledge
Your product is the most important aspect of your business because without it, there would be no customers. Because of this, support associates must be experts on the products customers are buying, and be up to date on all of the latest updates and product additions. Ensure your customer service reps are product experts using these training exercises.
1) Review customer interactions
Reviewing customer interactions can be nerve-wracking for some team members. That said, they should serve as a learning experience — not as a time to call anyone out on skills that may be lacking. If you can, anonymize the customer interactions you share in the training.
Also, use the guidelines on good vs. bad tickets described above to make sure these are standardized critiques and everyone is working toward the same goal.
2) Analyze product demos from the sales team
If you’re a brand with a product that shares demos with potential customers, conduct a deep dive into those product demos. This can ensure your customer service team is well acquainted with what customers are experiencing on the sales side of the process and may help anticipate customer questions about the product.
3) Dedicate time to reading about your product
An ongoing practice customer service reps can participate in is setting aside time each week to stay current on the company’s product. This could mean reading updated website information, briefs from other departments, and even blogs published on your brand’s website.
If you don’t already have a help center or knowledge base, consider creating one — both for customers to help themselves, as well as for agents to brush up on product and process knowledge without having to bug their manager.
4) Test out your company’s product or service
If you’re a software company or provide a digital service, testing your product is the simplest way to put yourself in your customer's shoes. Run through typical use cases for your product from your customer's perspective and assess how it stacks up to common pain points.
5) Create a Loom to share every new product update
Each time you launch a new product, your agents are on the hook for understanding it and communicating clearly with new customers and repeat buyers. As a way to provide real-time training for any updates, create a Loom (a screen recording) that walks customer service agents through everything they need to know to meet customer needs. Depending on the product, this could be information about the product’s sizing, materials, pricing, or compatibility with other products.
To solidify the new knowledge, you can test agents with a quiz after watching the video. And while we framed this section around new product releases, you could implement the same strategy to teach agents about a new process agents should follow, or a new ticket management system you just introduced.
Training activities to increase process knowledge
Processes can make or break a team — especially in customer experience — and are only as good as those executing them. Therefore, boosting process knowledge is key when it comes to ongoing training methods.
6) Try to stump your agents
Give your customer service agents a challenging situation relating to shipping, returns, or exchanges (like an order from someone out of the country, for example) to see whether they know how the business’s policy applies.
7) “Explain it like I’m five”
Good customer service is clear and jargon-free so all customers can understand. Ask your agents to explain aspects of complicated company processes in the simplest way possible — like you're a five-year-old. While your ecommerce store should clearly state the policies, agents should be able to articulate the need-to-know information in a way that almost anyone could understand.
Training exercises to enhance communication skills
Communication is at the core of a great customer experience. Use these exercises to enhance your customer service reps’ communication prowess.
8) Study standout tickets where agents navigated tricky questions or provided helpful answers
Similar to reviewing good and bad tickets, you can share and analyze support tickets that were particularly tricky with your entire customer service team. If you review and discuss difficult or complex situations, your service reps will have a reference point when they encounter tickets with similar complexity. It also may be helpful for newer customer service associates to hear from more experienced associates about how they approach difficult customer questions.
In addition to regular reviews as a group, encourage agents to poke through your helpdesk and see how other agents handle interactions with customers:
9) Take an online Udemy or Coursera course
Building online training courses into your customer service training can be a helpful way for customer service reps to work on skills in between formal training sessions. Udemy and Coursera offer hundreds of courses, many of which are free, covering communication and soft skills in customer service. Here are two excellent Udemy courses to encourage your team to take before the next structured training:
- Improve Communication: Speak Smoothly, Clearly & Confidently
- Communication Fundamentals: How To Communicate Better
10) Role-play as customers
Role-play is a tried and true exercise that can be extremely helpful in customer service training. You could lead many types of role-playing in a customer service interaction like a simulated call center to practice phone calls — or even a simulated digital customer service interaction on social media, live chat, or SMS.
Customer service training activities for better listening skills
Part of communication is listening, and active listening is an imperative skill as a customer service team member. Use these activities with your team to improve your active listening.
11) Do the “draw that” activity
To help hone listening skills, play a game where one person has a photo of a design and describes to another person how to draw the design on a whiteboard without looking at it. The game requires both parties to be engaged and overly communicative to get the desired end result.
12) Play a game of Hot or Cold?
Even as an adult, a game of hot or cold can be a simple way to exercise communication and listening skills. One person closes their eyes (or is blindfolded), while the rest of the team directs them to an object — but the catch is they can only say “hot” or “cold.” All players need to be alert and engaged with each other to keep the game going and ultimately help the blindfolded player find the object.
13) Take an online Udemy or Coursera course
Listening and communication go hand in hand, and just like communication. Consider a great online course to help foster better active listening. Check out these two from Udemy:
Customer service training to boost technical skills
In-depth knowledge of the product and the ability to quickly manage technical troubleshooting will elevate a good customer experience to a great customer experience. This can also help develop good customer relationships — and customer loyalty. Here are some ways to help customer service staff boost their technical skills.
14) Have a TypeRacer challenge for your team
The faster someone can type without mistakes, the faster they can answer customer inquiries. To boost your team’s typing speed (and encourage some healthy competition), run a TypeRacer challenge to see who can get the best score. You can even offer a small prize or incentive for the winner.
15) Attend a seminar on your product/service
Attending a seminar about your product is another technique to put yourself in your customer's shoes. If another department is hosting an online or in-person seminar, encourage the team to attend to gain insights they may not get elsewhere (Note: You may need to put your team members on a rotating schedule so everyone can attend).
5 Gorgias customer service training courses to upgrade your training
Online training options and webinars can be great for remote teams and teams who may need more flexibility when completing certain training. If you’ve recently started using Gorgias within your customer service team or are thinking of adopting the platform, here are five courses to include in your training materials to help your team get up to speed.
Basic Agent Training
This training is a perfect place to start for support agents who are new to Gorgias. After the training, your support team will be able to easily navigate Gorgias and be ready to answer support tickets.
Lead Agent Training
If your company uses Shopify and Gorgias, this training is for your customer support agents who are already familiar with the platform but want to take their customer service skills to the next level to lead customer service teams.
Working with Rules
Setting up and working with rules in Gorgias is a major aspect of the platform, so this training is ideal for customer service reps who want to learn more about rules on an intermediate level. This course will help agents create new rules, manage rules in your brand’s account, and troubleshoot basic issues.
Admin Power User Course
For administrative customer support staff who want to take their Gorgias use to the next level, this course will walk them through how to answer questions to be awarded a “power user” certificate. The course also offers productivity tips and advanced insight into Gorgias’ customizations.
Support Agent Power User Course
Similar to the admin power user course, this course will super-charge customer support agents with the knowledge to pass the power user certification and teach tips and hidden gems to make their work as support agents even more impactful.
Set your customer service team up for success with Gorgias
Setting your company up for success requires multiple moving parts — one of the largest being a smart and efficient customer care team that provides high-quality customer service.
Providing solid onboarding and ongoing training will help, but if you’re looking for more, you don’t need to look any further than Gorgias. Our platform can help you streamline all customer service efforts and boost customer retention. Get started today with training ready-made ready for you to pass along to your agents!