How to train for customer service

Customer service training is the training customer service employees complete to improve the support they're able to provide and increase customer satisfaction. It's not one-off training, but an ongoing, continuous process of growth throughout an agent's time working in customer service.

Training for customer support includes:

- Teaching skills

- Testing competencies

- Identifying areas in need of improvement to continue to develop over time

By training your agents, they'll benefit by growing in their careers, while your customers will enjoy the benefits of their expanded skill set.

Customer service is an organization's chance to connect with customers by solving their problems and showing genuine concern. When customer service is good, people remember. They tell their friends, they feel loyal to your brand, and they're more likely to trust you with their money. To provide the kind of service that stands out to people, your customer service agents must be trained to be the very best.


Why is training important in customer service?

It's no longer possible to push customer service to the side and expect customers to be happy. People are more connected than ever, and that means they're constantly sharing their experiences, including particularly bad support interactions. These days it's important to focus on developing a strong customer service department with well-trained, dedicated agents who have the tools they need to do the job well. Providing top-notch support is directly related to customer retention and loyalty, as well as increasing overall customer satisfaction. Delighted customers are a great way to guarantee ongoing revenue from them, as well as for bringing in new customers.

Considering that, it’s crucial to realize another factor: customer service training is how you make it all work. Hiring the right people is excellent, but it’s not the only step. It’s the first step to a long journey of being the best. No matter how talented an individual is, there will always be more to learn and skills to develop. Training for customer support includes not only understanding the product and how to use it well, but also how to work on a team together and the best ways to work with your particular set of customers.

Hiring the right people for customer service

To get started with customer service training, first you’ll need to hire a team. Take your time and make careful choices when filling out a customer service team, as the people who make it up will be the foundation that allows for success and have a significant impact on the culture of the team itself. While some skills are well-suited to learning after hire and developing over time, there are certain experiences and traits that will set a person up for success right from the start.

As you hire for your customer service team, look for the following characteristics in each candidate:

Excellent communication skills

Communication is key. If you had to pick only one trait to consider when hiring, this is the one. Fortunately, the interview process includes a lot of opportunities to communicate with the candidate, so it’s one of the simpler traits to spot. If an applicant struggles to convey their thoughts to you, it’s probably a safe bet they’ll have trouble doing the same with customers. While customer service training can help with communication details and the nuances of language that help a support interaction go well, the most basic communication between two people is difficult to train into someone.

To assess communication skills in relation to your product or service, why not ask the candidate to explain a piece of it to you, as if you’re a potential customer starting from zero? If they can break down the subject into understandable, helpful tips for you in the moment, chances are they can do that for your customers too.

Experience in customer support

Experience in customer support of a similar product or service isn’t totally necessary, but some history of providing customer service in general is great to have. While you can train a person on the details of your particular product, it’ll be easier to do if they’re starting out with an understanding of how to deal with customers and general best practices when providing support.

As you assess a candidate’s customer support experience, ask them for an example of a time they dealt with a difficult customer or a time they advocated for a customer and how it went. If they share a story that sounds reasonable—whether a positive interaction or not—it’ll show they’ve faced difficulty in support or gone the extra mile for a customer, as well as their ability to reflect on their work.

Understanding your company’s product or service

Pay attention to whether or not a candidate appears to have customized their application materials for you in particular, or if it's so generic it feels like it could've been sent to anyone. Ideally, they should create documents specifically for you by including relevant details and connecting them to why they're a good fit for your organization.

As you consider a candidate through their submitted documents, assess whether they seem to really know what you do and how they feel about it. Does the way they speak about your product make sense? Are there any particular mentions about recent feature rollouts or content your team has created around your product? If they're passionate about your work or helping people using your product, that'll go a long way in guaranteeing a dedicated, enthusiastic customer support representative.

Strong people skills

Any member of your customer service team should also possess strong people skills. To be a successful member of the team, they’ll need to be skilled at collaborating with team members, as well as developing and maintaining positive, professional relationships with people across your organization.

As you discuss your team’s culture and internal communication style, pay attention to the questions the candidate asks. Are they curious about how people work together and the tools you use? Do they have ideas for how they’d do it or examples of similar experiences in the past? Simply put, it may be worth it to ask them directly for their thoughts on how your team works together and if they can see themselves fitting into that set up too.

Onboarding process for customer service training

Once you’ve hired a new customer service agent, it’s time to start their training. Instead of creating a bunch of training materials and dumping them all on a new employee on day one, consider making a plan to stretch out training over time—and establish it as a constant—for the best results.

As you develop your training for customer support, consider including the following:

Start small and gradually increase complexity

Don’t give a new hire every piece of training they’ll need to complete to be up-to-speed all at once. Instead, start out with a few small tasks to tackle and build upon them over time. If possible, consider starting a new team member in only one support channel at a time so they can focus on really learning that tool and process. Or if your incoming support tickets are sorted by topic—such as billing, login problems, and technical issues—pick a queue to have a trainee focus on at first, then expand to the others over time.

Train directly in the support channels an agent will use

Don’t let your training be theoretical. While it’s okay to start explaining the basics in training software, text documentation, or a video example, make sure it’s not the only place your new agent learns how to work in a particular support channel. They need to know best practices for a channel, plus how to actually use the tool. Furthermore, each support channel has its own challenges and a new agent will need to be trained on the specifics for the type of support they’ll be doing. For example, if an agent handles live chat, their training should include a section on chat-specific skills, such as how to handle multiple chats and tips for pacing the conversation so that they are able to help the customer and find the information they need all at once.

Assign mentors to new hires

When an agent starts, assign them a mentor to check in and help them grow over the first several months in their new position. While they’ll certainly have their teammates to go to for assistance, setting up a mentor-mentee relationship they can count on and regularly utilize will go a long way in helping them settle in. Consider making the mentor someone on a different team to help your new employee branch out and meet other people, as well as give them a space to talk openly and honestly in a way they may hesitate to do within their own team at first.

Make sure new agents know the tools well

Throughout all of the training a new customer service agent completes, make sure not to neglect practical training on the tools they’ll use. While a person may learn the product inside and out, and train on how best to conduct conversations with customers, knowing how to use the customer support tool is essential too. Understanding best practices, knowing the most useful features and their shortcuts, and developing a high level of comfort in your support tools will result in a more confident agent who performs their best.

Ensure new agents know your product inside and out

No matter how much training an agent does on communicating with customers and using the tools, if they don’t know the product very well, they’ll struggle when it comes time to actually help customers. Give them time to try out the product and check out the knowledge base. Create a way to assess their knowledge, whether with a quiz built into training or by having a teammate quiz them on how they’d help a customer with a handful of common issues.

Establish a “learn on the go” culture

Don’t limit training to a specific tool or portal. Instead, set up a culture that includes hands-on learning too. Your agents should approach providing support as not only an opportunity to assist customers, but also to continuously learn and improve. Work on creating a team culture that feels welcoming and open to questions so that anytime an agent gets stuck while working with a customer they won’t hesitate to reach out to a peer for a second opinion on how best to handle a particular situation.

Track training progress

When creating your customer service training system, be sure to include a way to track progress and complete milestones. A seemingly never-ending batch of training materials can be demotivating and make it hard to know how it’s going. As a new employee works through the training, include pop quizzes and other quick assessments, to track progress, while also giving a sense of accomplishment and completion.

Allow for freedom but make sure to motivate

If you’ve hired someone, hopefully it’s because you trust in their ability to do the work and think they’ll be a good fit for the team. Keep that in mind as you create your customer service training. You’ll soon have to trust them to communicate directly with your customers, so start from a place of trust with training too. Give them the freedom to complete the training, be trusted to reach out when necessary, and establish the style of work you want them to develop from day one. This doesn’t mean to totally ignore them though. Track their progress, watch for signs of a problem, and be ready to offer encouragement and motivation when needed.

Create a rewards and recognition system

Many people are motivated by rewards, and most are happy to have their high-quality work recognized. Create a training program that includes ways to acknowledge a solid performance, as well as reward top performers. If you’re training a batch of people, look for ways to introduce peer recognition of fellow trainees. If you’d like to offer a reward, have the trainees decide who deserves it. Or when you’ve got a single trainee, encourage them to compete against themself by setting goals to improve personal scores over time, or give them a way to compare themselves to previous trainees as a simple way to assess where they’re at and reach for specific benchmarks.

Make motivating and encouraging part of the plan

While rewards and recognition can be a great motivator, make sure a new employee who’s not doing so well isn’t left to struggle and end up feeling discouraged. Instead of criticizing, look for ways to encourage and assist. Chances are they’re struggling with a specific area, not everything, so work to identify which is which and tailor training to those specifics for a better fit. A mentor, as described above, can come in handy in this situation too.

Recognizing the performance of your customer service trainees

Recognition of high-quality work and dedication goes a long way in making a customer service trainee feel seen and appreciated. While every person won’t be great at every piece of training you assign them, it’s probably a safe bet that everyone will be good at some specific area, even when they struggle with something else. The point of training is finding those areas a trainee needs more help with and providing that, while also recognizing when they perform well to both motivate and identify how they can assist their fellow trainees in a specific area.

As you establish ways of recognizing customer trainee performance, consider including the following methods:

Find out what works and what doesn’t

Your trainees are the perfect source for finding out what’s working and what isn’t in your training program. Ask them! You may even want to include quick, simple assessments on the training materials throughout, and finish up with a space for open-ended feedback. Keep in mind that people learn differently, so some training will work better for some people than others. As you develop it, why not try to include various methods—including text, video, hands-on, discussion, role-playing, and more—to better provide training that works for everyone.

Document the process to better prepare for the future

As you request feedback from trainees and check up on the training materials yourself, document your findings. While every bit of feedback may not result in an update to the training, keeping track of what people say about it will help guide you as you make changes in the future and in how you support future trainees. By keeping track of what works and what doesn’t—plus the how you handle it when someone has trouble with a specific section—will inform how you handle a similar situation in the future.

Set up a job shadowing exchange

One great way for customer service agents to continue learning throughout their career in support is by observing others doing the same job. Have your team pair up and watch each other work for learning new things, as well as providing feedback to their teammate based on what they see. These one-on-one exercises are particularly good at helping teams spot best practices amongst themselves, as well as great team building exercises.

Share feedback with the team that creates training

Once you’ve collected feedback on your training from new hires and documented the details, make sure the right people have access to the data. If your HR or a training-specific team manages your training program, share the information with them to inform future updates. Make sure anyone involved in the process has a clear understanding of the existing training materials, as well as the information you’ve collected along the way.

Create quarterly or yearly trainings

Once an agent is established on a team, training shouldn’t stop there. Why not create new materials to expand on the training done at the time of hire for a whole team to complete at the same time? You could even set it up to be a team exercise to make it a chance for a team to take a pause from support interactions and work together, free of customer concerns, for a day.

Have your team train each other

Your team is most certainly full of people with varying strengths and interests. Why not use that to your advantage? Keep track of how your team members perform in various areas and ask anyone particularly strong in one to train others on it. For example, if you’ve got someone who consistently ranks at the top in providing social media support, set up a lunch-and-learn session or have them record a screen share of them working to share with everyone else.

Assess skills and product knowledge

Chances are, your product will change over time, so your agents will need to update their understanding of it too. Rather than leaving them to wing it and risk frustrating customers, create specific training for product updates and allow your team time to complete it. Also, consider assessing the basic skills of your agents to identify areas that need improvement to help pinpoint future training materials to create.

Resources for customer service training