4 Steps to Hire and Train a Winning Customer Service Team

A business is only as good as the people who keep it going. Most of us have likely heard—and even repeated—this phrase countless times before. But, how many leaders truly take this to heart when they're building their organization's customer service team?

Because customer service is a company's foremost opportunity to connect with customers, it's important for leaders to give their current hiring and training strategies a hard look. By hiring the best agents for the job and training them to be even better, teams will deliver superior customer service that can resonate with customers for years to come. Here are four steps to take your customer service agents from good to the best of the best.

1. Refine your hiring process.

Customer service has a reputation for being a difficult industry in which to work. Many companies experience high agent attrition, which puts pressure on leaders to quickly fill vacant roles. But instead of rushing through the hiring process just to hire a new agent, the best teams have honed their recruiting playbooks to attract someone who's right for the job.

Before extending an offer, consider screening seemingly great candidates with a customer service skills test. This exercise could feature two or three assignments that evaluate the applicant's skill set. If they'll be handling chat and email interactions, include realistic scenarios that shed light on their written communication skills. Or, if they'll be working in a resolution-type environment, ask the candidate how they'd respond to a frustrated customer. These answers will be a great tool to see if applicants embody the skills needed to be a superior agent.

2. Develop an effective onboarding program.

Oftentimes, agents don't receive the training they need right from the start, leading to low engagement and poor performance. Start agents off the right way by providing them with the knowledge they need to be high-performing team members. Agents need an onboarding program that equips them with the critical knowledge and skills; helps them become familiar with the company's values; and cultivates relationships with their teammates.

When it comes to onboarding, it's easy for leaders to have new hires sit in a classroom for countless hours and listen to presentation after presentation. Try taking a more modern approach to onboarding that is interactive and self-guided. A 70/20/10 model is a phenomenal way to deliver onboarding. It comprises the following:

  • 70 percent of onboarding training is self-guided and allows agents to learn on their own.
  • 20 percent of their training involves some sort of practice. This gives new agents a safe-space to try things like ticket handling and chat interaction while honing the skills they just learned.
  • 10 percent of training reinforces broader topics of onboarding through classroom-style training.

This training model gives new agents a healthy mix of learning styles, offering all the tools they need to get started as a customer service agent.

3. Cultivate a learning culture.

When leaders invest deeply in the development of their agents, they'll deliver amazing results. Instead of providing one-and-done onboarding, encourage a culture that promotes ongoing learning and development. Just as today's customers want a personalized and unique experience to them, agents want customized and individualized training opportunities. They're no longer pleased with one-size-fits-all learning opportunities.

Personalized training, based on skill level and competence, is a great way to address the specific needs of each agent. While there are some components of training that every employee should receive, such as new product or process training, each employee also deserves training that is based on their current skill levels. For example, while one agent might be good at handling high-stress interactions, another agent might need additional training and practice to feel confident in that type of conversation. By developing custom learning paths for each agent, leaders will maximize training time and put every agent on the most efficient path to productivity.

4. Plan for long-term growth.

While customer service teams always need entry-level agents, it's important to create training programs that provide an opportunity for growth. Great customer service leaders develop a personalized roadmap that includes a series of steps, like certifications and compensation programs, toward career advancement and promotion opportunities. Agents want to be assured that if they work hard, there will be room for professional growth. These milestones are a great way to encourage personal growth and motivate employees to stay longer and work harder.

Staffing and training the best customer service agents is critical to building a winning customer service team. Leaders who execute these recruiting and development ideas will find their employees and customers happier and more engaged than ever.

Rachel Saltsgaver is content manager at Lessonly, a provider of team training software for customer service teams.