The common mantra that ‘Customer Experience is not a department, it is an attitude‘ only succeeds when agents are set up successfully to provide the experience you desire.
Soft skills are an essential part of this success and yet, are incredibly hard to teach. CX skills involve empathy, language, creative and critical thinking, vast experiences, and skills not directly taught in school.
Learning these skills is not conducive to a classroom environment in most cases. It’s best to practice them, run mock customer interactions, and constantly share examples of them in use.
It’s the leadership’s role to provide the tools, guidance, and boundaries for the agents and it is the agents’ role to run with that information to meet or exceed expectations every time. So, whether you are just starting your customer experience journey or you are looking to boost your team’s capabilities, here are five customer experience concepts your agents need to know and some ideas on how to train them.
We use assumptions every day. We assume everyone understands a certain acronym, is aligned on which department owns a process, or has all the same information we do. But depending on the nature of your support, assumptions can easily deteriorate trust and build customer frustration. Customers are likely to have varying degrees of technical knowledge, be located in a different timezone, have different use cases, and various levels of exposure to your products or industry. All of these are areas where assumptions can confuse.
For example, assuming they know how to clear browser cache, or even what that means, and instructing them to do so with no clarity or details might mean they make an error or need to ask for more help. This experience results in more effort, more time, and more frustration. Teaching your agents to recognize their assumptions and offering some simple tips to avoid them is a valuable way to overcome this issue. An excellent way to illustrate assumptions and how their impact is the Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich exercise. In this exercise, the leader will follow the instructions from the trainees precisely as they say them. If they assume the jelly jar is stored lid side up, and it isn’t, the results of the instruction “open the jelly jar” could get rather messy, just as assumptions can get messy when dealing with customers. It’s an exaggerated scenario that causes a lot of laughs and offers a clear analogy to how assumptions are so easy to make.
Keep in mind that even this exercise has assumptions in it. I once had a person on my team who grew up where peanut butter and jelly sandwiches were not common. That cultural difference meant they couldn’t participate effectively in the exercise. More proof that assumptions are everywhere!
Piece Together a Story
One of the most critical skills in support is hearing someone explain something in their own words and translating that into what you need to know to help solve the issue. SaaS and screen sharing tools have made this a lot easier, as most of the time an agent can quite literally see what the customer is doing. However, there are still cases when putting pieces of a story together without having access to the complete picture is critical.
This skill can also help when discussing issues with other departments. For example, a sales person explains a situation from their perspective, and your agents will need to translate that into the actions they need to take in order to help the prospect and ensure the sale goes through.
One of my all-time favorite team activities that helps illustrate how we communicate when we lack visibility to the broader picture is the Story Card Game. It uses a series of picture cards that together tell a story. Every participant receives one or two cards, a portion of the entire story, and then the team has a time limit to put all the cards in order without ever showing each other what is on them. Language and critical thinking are keys to success at this exercise.
How will they organize? What questions will they ask? Will two people looking at the same object describe it differently, and who will realize they actually see the same thing? It’s a fantastic analogy to how a customer describes a problem, and akin to an optical illusion where the same picture can be perceived differently by different viewers.
A good Customer Experience requires constant alignment of expectations between all stakeholders. The expectation might be as simple as “I will respond to you by the end of the day” or as complex as a long term road map on how to resolve the customer’s concern. Either way, expectations are vital to set and agree on early in the process. A great way to illustrate that is the Read and Follow test. There are many versions, but the basic premise is that expectations aren’t super clear. The trainee is asked to exactly follow each instruction, which seems like a clear expectation, but often skips step 1 “Read everything before doing anything.” When they realize their mistake, you can discuss if that expectation was actually clear.
This illustrates how people need clarity in expectations and how easily, when under pressure, they can be misunderstood. Another version of this exercise looks like a simple math test with a blank line after each question for the answer. Give your trainees the instruction “Fill in all blanks.” Watch how many people just put X’s or scribbles instead of the correct answer in each blank space and ask yourself, did they properly follow expectations, or were the expectations unclear?
Satisfy without Solution
In support, we will not always have the solution the customer wants, at least not immediately. That’s why it’s essential to learn how to satisfy a customer regardless of whether you can fully resolve their issue. Tone, empathy, and action create a great customer experience even if the solution falls short or never materializes. Thomas Roosevelt is credited with saying, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” This sentiment is what it means to satisfy customers without a solution. Your ability to care is more impactful in many cases than your ability to know everything.
The Bartender exercise illustrates the point by putting different people into the same situation, with the only difference being how they are treated. As you do the exercise, you will see that the CX improves when the bartender shows they care. It’s usually acceptable to not know the answer or to need more time to find it, but it is not OK to treat the customer poorly, leave them waiting for a response, or just flat out guessing.
Customers are more likely to have a positive experience if they understand what they are doing and why. Asking questions out of context or giving the customer multiple tests to try can make it seem like the agent doesn’t know what to do or is guessing at solutions. It can be frustrating for a customer who has to spend time and effort taking an action that does not have a clear outcome.
One way to reduce the frustration is to share an attack plan for solving the customer’s issue. These plans will clearly outline what you need, why you need it and help guide the customer through the steps and thought process. A fun exercise to illustrate how this frustration can build is called the “What are you doing?” game. There is a lot of flexibility to completely stupefy your volunteer as you do more and more bizarre things, but the point is clear: Without an explanation, even the most obvious steps might seem silly.
How you support your customers is well known to your team, but it may not be well known to the customer. Clearly explaining the processes and expectations will save your customers effort and frustration and improve your customer experience.
Teaching Customer Experience Skills
Your team and your company benefit from top-notch customer experience. But, like any other skill, customer experience skills are constantly in need of practice and training. The exercises in this article are creative ways to start shifting the mindset of your team toward how they can improve their customer service. Each exercise uses a slightly exaggerated scenario to clearly emphasize speaking and acting with customers in a way that reduces their effort and frustrations. They are short, fun, and can make an engaging addition to your next team event. In addition, many of these games can be done remotely with some creativity.
Teaching customer experience skills is not a classroom activity and not a one-off exercise. The lessons your team takes away from these games constantly need to be reinforced through ticket QA, sharing examples in team meetings, recognition of outstanding effort, and most of all, direct ties to the success of your team and business.