Applications of online training: customer service

customer serviceCustomer service training is in fact the blueprint for a company’s entire support process.  A solid training program ensures that a team operates to consistently deliver good service to customers, with or without a game plan. Whilst a variety of elements go into creating a successful business, customer service is center-stage and every interaction the company has with a customer can affect its bottom line. In today’s competitive marketplace, companies are perpetually searching for business practices that will set them apart and often customer service is what separates companies that thrive from those that fail. Offering customer service training to employees has been shown to drive sales and give businesses a strong competitive advantage. This is why it is imperative that businesses invest in quality programs.

Broadly defined, customer service training refers to teaching employees the knowledge, skills, and competencies required to increase customer satisfaction. Elearning provides employees with those skills and competencies without taking too large of a bite out of the company’s HR budget. As far as learners are concerned, a main advantage of elearning in customer service training is that participants can be scheduled for training in a staggered fashion, and can also work at their own pace.

Training programs yield several benefits for the organization, employees and customers:

  1. Increased employee motivation & engagement: providing training allows employees to better understand the impact their role has in the organization. Investing in employees also demonstrates that the company cares about their continual development and progress – they feel more valued and this improves motivation and engagement. Employee efficiency is thereby increased and they are better equipped to deal effectively with customers.
  2. Improved customer service skills: through customer service training, employees improve their knowledge, skills, and competencies and/or acquire new ones. Specific customer service training programs focus on improving communication (such as questioning to understand the customer’s need or problem, listening, confirming understanding, responding with value, using positive language), problem-solving and organizational skills. Training employees on the same set of competencies gives them a standard process to deal with customers – which in the end gives customers a more consistent and professional experience. Through effective training, customer service representatives increase their ability to resolve issues and decrease the number of return calls. Often, trained employees are able to address the concern at the first point of contact, which greatly increases customer satisfaction (see benefit (3) below). The increased motivation and engagement coupled with the new skills creates improved customer service in the company.
  3. Increased customer satisfaction: the improved manner in which employees interact with customers leads to consumers feeling appreciated and respected. This is critical to any company’s continued success. According to Wikipedia, employees who are properly trained and who demonstrate professional customer service skills can and do improve customer satisfaction and customer loyalty. This, in turn, helps the business retain customers and improve profits as it costs less to retain a customer than to acquire a new one.
  4. Increased profit: increased customer satisfaction means pleased customers who are more open to additional sales messages and more likely to refer others as potential customers. Basically, what quality customer service training achieves is higher customer retention, the acquisition of new customers, reduced employee turnover and increased sales. Training has a great impact on employee motivation and morale, leading to increased productivity. It’s a simple equation: improved customer service + increased customer satisfaction + increased customer loyalty = an increase in profit.

Key points in keeping customers happy with online sales

customer-service-700x290In the age of the internet, you can not overlook the opportunity presented by incorporating the internet as a sales channel to drive growth and sales for your business. However, selling online is tricky and one of the main drawbacks is there is no face-to-face contact to put your customers worries at bay. This makes it imperative that all other communications (email/phone) is kept clear and informative, to avoid any misunderstandings, which can be detrimental to the company brand and image.

Below are some key points that must be considered when selling online:

Be available - although it is hard to be available for all customers at all times, as the global reach of the internet brings the different time zones into play, it is essential that potential customers feel they can contact you when they need to. Flexible working hours from the employer help the sales rep achieve this point, but the sales rep has to make it happen whatever the time may be. Depending on the customer, a variety of communication channels can be used: telephone (including VoIP services such as Skype), email, web conferences, social media etc. Email is a great channel as points and responses are in writing for the customer to refer back to and any communication barriers are easily overcome.

All communication with the potential customer reflects the image of the company and gives insight to the customer as to the level of services they should expect if they do decide to purchase your goods/services. For this reason being punctual with responses and following up on any outstanding questions raised by the customer is of vital importance from the beginning.

Questions raised should be answered in detail but stay on topic. There’s a fine line between answering a question with as much information as possible vs. going off topic but also maintaining the interest of the customer vs. providing excess information. It is appreciated when you are told things that you may not have considered, but the sales rep must understand when additional relevant information will be appreciated by the potential client and when it will become a nuisance. Especially with internet purchases, customers really dive into the details of the goods they are about to purchase and in most cases, will raise the exact questions they want answers for. A good sales rep will understand this and provide useful additional information where required.

Keep language simple and provide examples: as potential customers are global, across different cultures and languages, keeping communication simple is key to ensuring your responses are understood. Providing examples of what is being explained, and especially in the context of the customer’s use-case, is a great way make sure your response is understood by the customer.

Put yourself in the customers shoes to understand their exact requirements and be able to advise on the best possible solution that you would also be happy with in their place. In some cases the customer may become overwhelmed and request features that they may not necessarily require. The good sales rep will read between the lines in this case, by putting themselves in the customer’s shoes and advise the customer accordingly. This is a risky approach and may backfire, but listening to the customer’s feedback and explaining the reasons why the suggestion was made will not only prevent the customer becoming defensive over their requirement, but also increase the trust the customer shows in the sales rep, cementing a good working relationship moving forward.

Respect differences in cultures and adapt communications depending on where the customer is based.

No matter how many times you have explained something, the customer is reading the sales rep’s response to their question for the first time. Keep explaining things thoroughly, however simple it may seem and even if you have explained it many times to many different customers. If the same questions are repeated over and over again, this should be included on the website as it will prevent customers from getting aggravated over not being able to find some basic information.

These are some of the main points that sales reps should make sure they follow when responding to customer inquiries online to ensure the potential customer is kept informed and happy. Remember, happy customers drive growth! :)

Author: c4mathio

Chris Mathiopoulos is an account manager for eFront and point of contact for eFront’s largest customers. You can contact Chris directly on mathiopoulos@efrontlearning.net or @c4mathio on Twitter.