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Jul 21, 2020

15 Customer Service Training Ideas and Exercises for Retail

To help you empower your customer service team, we’ve collected customer service training ideas from retail companies that put customer happiness at the center of everything they do.

By Leigh Sevin, Co-Founder @ Endear

Now more than ever, your reputation as a retail brand relies on training your staff to deliver excellent customer service. Not only does remarkable customer service help you stand out from the competition, but it also builds a loyal customer base — and the power of customer loyalty can’t be underestimated.

Wildly successful retail brands like Zappos and Bonobos see customer loyalty and happiness as the central pillar of their growth, and it shows: 75% of Zappos’ sales are from returning customers, and 75% of Bonobo’s customers report that they’d recommend the brand to a friend.

But today’s customer expects more from retailers than simple troubleshooting, and delivering on those expectations requires a higher level of professionalism and expertise from retail workers.


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To meet those needs, your customer service training program must include more than a short orientation. The modern customer service training program is about getting new hires aligned with company values and developing “soft skills” like listening, communication, consultative selling, and relationship-building.

So how can you help your retail associates become customer service superstars?

Let’s take a look at what a great customer service training program can do for your business and what some top retail brands are doing to bring out the best in their employees.

The Importance of Good Customer Service Training

Alongside product quality and buying experience, customer service is a key component to building loyalty – some might even say the cornerstone.

A 2018 study on CX trends revealed that “the large majority of shoppers — 80% — said they ‘grew to love’ a brand over time; [from] the cumulative effect of great products, service, buying experiences, positive reviews and recommendations from others.”

Yet another study reports that 69% of shoppers will spend more money on a company with better service.

To deliver great service on the kind of consistent basis that fuels customer loyalty, you need to invest in hiring and training customer service rockstars. The goal, however, isn’t to teach people how to squeeze every dollar out of every customer encounter but to make such a positive impression that your customer is likely to stick around longer and spend more.

Before you train your staff to be customer service-focused, decide what that looks like in your company. Here’s how:

1. Talk to your customers to understand their expectations and how to exceed them.

Schedule interviews, conduct surveys and dig deep into what makes your customers fall in and out of love with your brand.

2. Communicate and act on your customer service principles.

At customer-obsessed companies like Warby Parker, customer service principles pervade every aspect of life as an employee, from working as a support team to listening and sharing feedback.

3. Establish standard operating procedures.

Customer service centered retailers use online training software like Lessonly and Mindflash to orient new hires on operations or current employees on new initiatives. Once folks are trained, keep your knowledge base in one, easy-to-access spot with knowledge management software

4. Get new hires familiar with tools they'll use.

Today’s retailer trains its associates on tools that go beyond point-of-sale (POS) or call center technology. With customer engagement apps like Endear, you can equip your in-store associates with the power to drive online sales from their smartphones, on in-store computers tablets, or through Shopify’s POS system. 

Customer Service Training Ideas

1. New Hire Boot Camp

On-the-job training has its perks, but new hires often feel shy about asking more seasoned staff to help show them the ropes.

All new hires at Zappos Las Vegas headquarters go through four weeks of initial training, regardless of their job title. Much of the focus of this month-long boot camp is on helping customers. Call center employees have an additional three weeks of training, which means they spend seven weeks immersed in training before they start working at full capacity in the call center.

Consider holding a retreat devoted solely to introducing your new employees to the culture, values, and customer service skills they’ll need to adopt to succeed with your company.  

2. Company-Wide Conference

For customer-conscious retailers, training doesn’t end once a new employee is onboarded. To stay ahead of trends, deepen product knowledge, and up professional skill sets, leading DTC companies host annual conferences just for their employees.

Before they were bought by Walmart, Bonobos offered Learn.Know.Bos: a week-long learning and development initiative where internal and external speakers run various training sessions in a TED-like, classroom-style training environment. Some of the presentations have included topics like Hiring & Emotional Intelligence, Public Speaking, Retail Math, and Fireside Chats with industry leaders. 

3. Weekly Innovation Ideas

Your associates work at the front lines of customer relationships and hear first-hand the challenges your customers face — and their expectations for how your company can overcome them. Customer-centered retailers treat customer conversations as an opportunity to encourage empathy and listening and to learn and innovate.  

At Warby Parker, each employee submits a weekly “Innovation Idea” centered around making the customer experience better. Team-inspired ideas can be as wacky as a parody site for April Fool’s Day selling glasses to dogs or they can be smart marketing concepts like giveaway contests where customers can win glasses for life.

4. Customer Service Rep for a Day

More retailers are seeing the importance of customer interactions to training not only sales and service reps but also back office staff, engineers, designers, and executive leadership.

That’s why during busy times like Cyber Monday, brands like Bombas have an “all hands on deck” policy where every employee from accounting to C-level works the phones, email inboxes, and messaging apps to handle customer service issues.

“We want to make sure everyone at Bombas feels involved in all parts of the business, and it’s also important that everyone has that direct touch point with customers,” says Bombas’ Head of Happiness, Drew Stadler.

5. “Above and Beyond” Peer-to-Peer Bonus

Set up programs where peers can recognize one another for providing great customer service. It not only builds engagement but reaffirms your focus on delivering customer satisfaction.

“One of the most popular peer-to-peer programs at Zappos is the co-worker bonus,” says Christa Foley, Culture Adviser and Director of Insights at Zappos. “Each month, every employee is able to give a coworker $50. The criteria? Simply that your coworker went above and beyond for you.”

6. Prepare Playbooks

Anticipate your most common customer issue types and build playbooks around them for your team and customers. Playbooks can include training, help articles, and, in some cases, proactive outreach. The intent is to help drive up efficiency and speed up service by anticipating the most common issues.

MeUndies created a playbook to help customers in their membership program.

“When our members open and click on their subscription notification email each month, a proactive chat appears on their MeUndies account page,” says TJ Stein, Director of Customer Experience at MeUndies. “A Customer Experience team member then offers assistance to help the customer find the best product available. It’s a concierge-like membership experience that helps us boost retention rates as well.”

7. Learn from Stand-out Customer Service Training Programs

Some companies have become so recognized as customer service leaders that they’ve made their training materials publicly available for others to use:

  • Zappos Insights is a team within Zappos who love teaching other companies about how to improve their culture, attract and keep great people, deliver exceptional customer service and grow their business. You can hire the Zappos Insights team for (live and virtual) customer service training workshops and keynote presentations or browse their library of online resources.
  • For more than three decades, Disney Institute has been helping to advise and train a variety of organizations worldwide based on the business insights and best practices of Walt Disney Parks & Resorts. In one of their online training courses, “Disney’s Approach to Quality Service,” their team demonstrates how excellent service is the result of truly understanding your customer expectations and how to put the right service standards in place to exceed them.

Customer Service Training Exercises

Here are some fun customer service training games and activities to help your staff get energized and engaged. 

Listening and Communication Games

Excellent customer service involves deeply listening to a customer’s needs, understanding their expectations, and finding ways to meet or exceed those expectations. Customers often need clear instructions from retail staff on anything from finding products to dealing with returns and exchanges. 

Here are some customer service training activities to help your team improve their listening and communication skills:

Emotional Intelligence Activities

Emotional intelligence is essential to having meaningful conversations with customers that lead to deeper relationships. Not only does it help your associates better understand their customers’ points of view, it also helps them regulate their own emotions. 

Here are some customer service training activities to help your team improve their emotional intelligence:

Roleplaying Activities

One of the smartest ways to overcome common challenges when dealing with customers is to simulate customer service scenarios and discuss the best ways to handle them.

Use your own experience and the data you’ve collected on customer service outcomes to create several role play scripts that can be referred to as the “right” answers.

Need some ideas? Here’s a wealth of customer service role playing scenarios – along with guidelines for overcoming them.

Conclusion

Customer service training is an essential and invaluable part of your success as a retail brand. When you empower your team with the tools, knowledge, and skills to deliver above and beyond on customer expectations, your business will thrive. 

Check out Endear to equip your team with the tools they need to provide customers with a delightful experience that drives more loyalty and sales.