This blog post originally appeared on the Zendesk blog. View the post here.
For support team leaders wrestling with how to help customer service teams perform at the highest level, it can be helpful to keep a simple concept in mind: always assume positive intent, that agents will act in the best interest of others (namely, your customers). It’s a baseline belief in your team members’ desire to show up every day wanting to help each other, serve the business, assist customers, and get better at their craft.
Support leaders know that they need to help those agents hone their skills and realize their potential. However, it’s hard to prioritize that—after all, leaders also have to manage the day-to-day aspects of the business. So, how can managers help their teams consistently improve instead of putting the training process on the back burner? Here are some ideas that will enable leaders to create an agent training process that is simple, repeatable, and scalable.
The straightforward development cycle
An ongoing cycle of feedback between a manager and an agent is critical to performance improvement, and a simple three-step process can make that a reality. First, teach your agents how to do something. Then give them a safe place to practice that task or skill. Finally, finish the process with regular and specific feedback. Here are some simple tips to consider for each step of the agent training journey.
Step 1: Understand what your team needs to know, then teach them.
First, identify the knowledge that needs to be shared with your agents. It’s important to remember that this should be a combination of hard knowledge, like how to navigate the ticketing system, and soft skills that will help agents relate and connect to customers.
Consider starting this step by shadowing some of your best agents. Use this time to take note of everything they do and keep an eye out for successful tactics that you want the rest of the team to learn. From following company policies to skillfully managing a difficult conversation with an upset customer, you’ll likely identify important best practices that everyone should follow.
Be intentional about showing agents what “great” looks like with a specific situation or scenario—that will help agents fully understand the concept and expectations. Videos, recordings of calls, or witnessing live interactions work well.
Also, consider using a blended approach of online and in-person teaching. E-learning is better for hard knowledge or when you want your agents to set their own pace for learning, and it is a fantastic supplement before or after an in-person session. However, in-person training sessions are best for soft-skill discussions and more interactive content.
Step 2: Reinforce skills with realistic practice scenarios.
If practice makes perfect, why don’t we do it regularly in a professional setting? It’s an overlooked aspect of training and improvement, but it has plenty of benefits. Teams that practice new skills before they’re “on the field” perform better. Practice repetitions create the muscle memory needed for knowledge and skill retention.
So, how can customer support teams do this? One method is for agents to participate in in-person role-play situations with their team; another is to use an online tool, such as Lessonly, that has practice scenarios ready for them to tackle. Let’s take a closer look at a few common practice examples where using an online tool could be applicable:
1. A customer calls the agent and states that they were incorrectly charged on their last monthly bill. Using what that agent recently learned regarding how to handle that situation, they can use an audio recording to record their initial response to the customer.
2. A customer emails the support team requesting a return for a different size. Agents can take their newly learned skills and practice crafting the perfect email response back to the customer.
3. An agent is new to using ticketing software, and they just learned how to escalate tickets. They can pair a screen recording and voice over to show their manager how they determine if the ticket needs to be escalated.
Step 3: Real development occurs when agents receive personalized feedback.
Feedback and coaching are crucial to improvement, but it usually isn’t done consistently. The key here is maintaining a regular cadence and employing consistent criteria. Managers need to let agents know when to expect feedback and also hold themselves accountable for adhering to that schedule. Consistency drives more than incremental growth that comes with coaching—it also inspires employee trust and satisfaction. Ensure feedback prompts clearly specify what knowledge and actions will be evaluated. Tools like MaestroQA can cleanly identify the criteria and set expectations with your team, which drives employee engagement.
Remember, it’s a cycle!
In addition to committing to these three steps, keep in mind that this is a continuous process. Once you get through all three steps, it’s important to go back to the first step and recognize new opportunities for improvement. After you recognize the areas of focus for agents, it takes intention and planning to show them how to really improve and practice their skills. Committing to this cycle can help agents become the best versions of themselves—and lead your team to world-class support status.