At Lessonly, we’ve helped hundreds of teams across the globe learn, practice, and Do Better Work. We discovered that the best teams examine their training efforts through six key phases: Assess, Plan, Build, Learn, Practice, and Perform. That’s why we decided to create Lessonly’s Better Work Guide to Customer Service Training.
To learn how large teams deliver great customer service training, we talked with Lisa Diehl who is the Manager of Consumer Advocacy at Blue Diamond Growers. With a team spread out across four different locations, she knows how important training is in delivering high-quality and consistent customer service. See what skills she looks for when hiring new agents and her thoughts on the future of customer service.
Kyle: So, let’s think about the leaders who are onboarding and training a customer service team. What are the top considerations that you should take into account when you’re thinking about training? What are the important aspects of a good training program?
Lisa: When I look at agents, I’m looking for agents that already have some sort of customer service skill. You can teach them the basics of any brand or product, but you can’t always teach them how to be nice to a consumer. So, make sure all of those soft skills are there. Once you know you have that piece, the other pieces come along very easily. You also need to make sure the information that’s being trained is accurate and detailed enough for the agents to easily understand. If you’re training something that the agent doesn’t understand, they’re not going to be able to relay it over to a consumer. For example, here at Blue Diamond, we have several brands and there’s a lot of knowledge and regulations in the consumer packaged industry. So, having all of that information sent to the agent and in some type of library, or another place where they can easily access it, is very important. Especially when agents don’t know what their next call is going to be and what the consumer is going to throw at them.
Kyle: Perfect. You kind of mentioned this already, but what are some of the skills that are most important to being a successful rep and how do you work that into your training?
Lisa: Those soft skills are so important because like I said, you can train anything. But, if it’s not ingrained in you, then it’s going to be a lot more difficult. I look for listening skills as they’re key in de-escalating a lot of conversions. It’s important to listen to the consumer whether it’s a question or inquiry, whatever the case may be. Additionally, if something has happened, then agents also need to be empathetic and put themselves in the consumer’s shoes. So, if an agent has the ability to listen and to empathize, they can have an intelligent conversation with a customer to try to find the right solution. It’s all about meeting in the middle to satisfy the consumer and protect the brand. That’s really the job of the customer service agent.
Kyle: Love it. So that a lot of that has to do with the hiring process, right?
Lisa: It sure does.
Kyle: Are you directly involved with hiring the reps at Blue Diamond?
Lisa: Yes, I’m a hiring manager. So for my in-house team here, the interviewing is very critical and I look for a lot of different things. I have questions that will tailor to get to those things I’m looking for. Are they actually listening to what I’m saying? What’s their tone and voice like? Sure, people may be nervous during an interview, but you could also be nervous when you’re on the phone. If you have that confidence to be able to talk about yourself or to talk about a situation, it’s going to make it easier when you’re actually on the phone with a consumer. One of the things that I learned early on in my career was to put a little mirror above my computer. Every once in a while, I smile into that mirror because when you smile on the phone, it absolutely comes through on a call. Those are things that I look for when I’m interviewing an agent because like I said, if you have those soft skills, the rest of it comes very easily.
Customer service is multi-faceted so there are a number of qualities every top-notch agent should embody. Lessonly’s Better Work Guide to Customer Service Training covers 10 skills today’s leaders look for with their teammates.
Kyle: This is a bit of curveball question. What are the differences that you found between a consumer and B2B industries?
Lisa: It’s actually pretty funny because when I first interviewed here at Blue Diamond I was coming from the travel industry. There are actually so many similarities between the food and travel industries, more than you would think. But being in consumer advocacy or customer relations, once you know how to handle a customer, it doesn’t matter what industry you’re in. Like I said, you can learn the industry. I learned almonds very quickly, but knowing how to handle a consumer is important. Once you get the technique and that background it kind of becomes a three-part magic potion. Once you have that mastered, your job is easy.
Kyle: Let’s talk more about the future of the customer support team. A lot of people are talking about chat, AI, machine learning, and all of that stuff. What are you thinking about for the next three to five years?
Lisa: You know what? It’s really interesting because there’s so much talk about digital self-service. I mean, I just put a chatbot on our website for that very reason. So, how do I get to service more of the millennials and Gen Zs who are coming up? What I’ve found is that the phone is still my largest vehicle for consumers to reach us. It still outweighs chat, email, and self-service. People want to interact with a human being. They feel that they get the type of service that they’re looking for and like they can get a result a lot quicker than if you’re going back and forth in emails. That’s where your agents really have to be prepared to be able to have those conversations, but I think even with millennials and Gen Z that there is going to be the desire for more texting capabilities. But, I still think that is still a way down the road. We’ve been looking at AI and digital self-service for quite a few years, and we’re still not there. Even looking at social media, only 10% of my entire volume is coming from social.
Kyle: What are some of the biggest challenges in your role now?
Lisa: For me, because I have four locations, I need to make sure that the material that we use for training is consistent. If one of my centers is saying one thing that the other doesn’t know about, it’s not consistent. I need to make sure that the materials are accurate and some people here on my team are the lead points for different agents and outsourced vendors. So if somebody is handling my center down in Bogota and somebody is handling one up in Canada, we need to make sure that the information is being passed consistently between the two centers. That relies directly on my team here in Sacramento. The info needs to be consistent and shared in our brand voice no matter if our agent is sitting in Bogota or Canada. They’re still representing Blue Diamond so all of the information is relayed exactly the same way. We work hard to do that, but it can be a struggle.
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