Customer Support Training Is Way Too Passive


It’s unfortunate to see just how much customer support learning depends on one-off inductions. There’s a lot to learn after orientation. As anyone who ever sat through a college lecture knows, the real learning starts when the lesson ends. Instead, try customer service training activities.

There are quite a few things that limit the value of lesson-based training sessions: it’s a form of passive learning; it’s usually tailored to a group rather than an individual; and it doesn’t happen regularly.

There’s no way that alone can prepare a support rep to perform at their best. Support reps need a systematic way to put theory to practice.

So give them what they really want: immediate and actionable feedback.

Turn every activity into teachable moments

Even after plenty of training, many support reps still feel grossly underprepared to go out and handle customers. Why? Training alone doesn’t instil the methods and techniques that reps need to master real-life scenarios.

Mastery comes from practice, repetition and from having more experienced folks point out important things to them.

Really confident, well-equipped reps are like your company’s negotiators. They weave through difficult demands, craft solutions to individual cases, and convince “danger users” (customers that are about to cancel) back into the fold. The value of that, compounded across an entire team, brings immense value to a company.

With this at stake, it’s hard to justify letting weak customer interactions continue to slip through.

Support is an active player’s sport. Let’s talk about how to bring some action (and interaction) back into the game.

Bring active learning into your day

Tim Dobson, Community Manager at Bytemark, remembers his most difficult moments in support were from teachable moments that came too late. “There are some great stories of where I messed up because I got something wrong, because something hadn’t been explained clearly to me first,” he says.

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The problem isn’t the training though — and the solution isn’t more training either. Every support rep I spoke to told me that their work improved when they actively learned.

These customer service training activities are methods worth highlighting:

1. Hold team workshops and role playing sessions

Nothing prepares you better for a scenario than the scenario itself.

At Kayako, we have fishbowl sessions where we throw out a scenario (usually one that didn’t go so well in real life). We start off by bringing up the reps who originally worked on that particular case, and members of the audience jump in when they want and carry on the scenario.

“This keeps everyone actively thinking about what they would do and why,” says Kayako’s Director of Success Navsher Puar. “It also introduces challenging new scenarios to newer team members, so they’re more likely to be prepared handle the same kind of case when they face it in the future.”

Work through situations together. It’s like training, but with everyone fully awake and active.

2. Give timely feedback rather than save it for 1-to-1s

Timely feedback works much better than saving feedback for a 1-to-1 or performance review. It’s coaching that sticks while things are still fresh in your mind.

Joshua Dunbar, Lead Customer Support Engineer at WiTopia, says that whenever he has given feedback, it’s best to be both timely and specific.

Positive feedback can be immediate — it’s always awesome to be told you did something well after the fact.

Negative feedback should be handled more sensitively.

Joshua says: “You want them to be receptive to it as much as possible not distracted, so making sure you position that with something like, ‘Hey is there a time that you would be available I would love to talk about something with you.’”

3. Consistently highlight both positive and negative feedback

Many support reps I’ve talked to tell me that coaching isn’t usually something they look forward to, mostly because they get it only when they’re “in trouble.”

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“Coaching was again something that usually meant you had something worthy of demerits. That is, I’ve been told to change a behavior and it hadn’t happened after multiple feedback sessions,” said one rep.

“I guess I was coached, though I felt it often was about pointing out where I’d messed up,” adds Tim.

Coaching shouldn’t be about getting in trouble. Positive feedback is important too! It lets support reps know what they’re doing really well too.

This has to be specific too. “Don’t just say GOOD JOB!,” says Joshua. “Say ‘Hey, you talking to that customer and taking the time to explain backup solutions with them really panned out well and you should reinforce that in all interactions!”

But just as importantly, communicate a job well done – and be sure to highlight exactly what it was so they can repeat and develop that action.

The final word

The idea is to support your team members and help them grow professionally. If you see them struggling, help them – don’t just wait until their next training session.

Coaching on the job is part of developing a person’s skills and helps you to build deeper relationships with your team members.

Customer service training activities should be part of your team culture. This will help empower your support reps and give them the courage to try new things, learn and grow, and find greater satisfaction in their jobs.

How to do you develop your team? Do you run training sessions or do you prefer hands-on coaching? I’d love to hear what works and what doesn’t!


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