How To Prepare Your Team For Customer Service Training

So, you're ready to send your team to customer service training. The big question is whether or not your team is ready.

Chance are, they aren't.

A 2010 McKinsey & Company survey revealed that approximately 75 percent of training programs failed to measurably improve business performance. A lack of preparation is one of the biggest culprits.

This post will get to the heart of the problem and explain what you can do about it.

A group of smiling employees are attending a training class and raising their hands to participate.

Why employees are unprepared for training

I frequently volunteer to facilitate an open-enrollment customer service class for nonprofit organizations. Anyone can sign-up and I never know who will be there until the day of the class. As participants arrive, I like to ask them why they signed up for the training. 

Here are the top three reasons:

  1. They were told to be there.

  2. The class looked interesting.

  3. The class gave them credit towards a certificate program.

That's a pretty uninspiring list of reasons to sign up for a class. Unfortunately, most of the employees who come to customer service training aren't really sure why they're there. 

My experience in the corporate world suggests this is pretty much the norm.

Very rarely does someone attend because they're trying to solve a specific problem. It's unusual for someone to read the course description and work out exactly what they hope to learn.

That’s a big miss, because learning is fundamentally about solving problems.

The fault rests not on the employees, but on their manager. Here are some common mistakes managers make when they assign people to take training:

  • The problem is not clearly defined.

  • The training does not clearly address the problem.

  • Employees don’t know what they’re expected to do with the training.

  • Employees aren’t explicitly told what they need to do differently as a result of the training.

  • There are no plans to discuss the training before or after it occurs.

It’s no wonder so many employees are confused when they attend training! Some think of it as an interruption to their “real” work. Others feel they’re being punished for doing something wrong. Still others look at training as fun “recognition” without considering how they should implement what they learn.

If you want employees to do a better job learning, you need an action plan.

 

How to create an action plan for training

A simple action plan can help you maximize learning by ensuring that nothing slips through the cracks. My go-to planning tool is the one-page Workshop Planner.

Here's a short video that explains how to use this worksheet. I've also provided more detailed instructions below. The planning process should take no more than one hour.

Step 1: Identify Your Purpose

It's important for employees to know why they're attending training. That's pretty hard to explain if you can't clearly articulate this yourself. So, start by answering these three questions:

  1. What are the Expected Outcomes?

  2. What is the Existing Performance?

  3. What are the Cause(s) for the Gap?

Enter the answers in the boxes at the top of the worksheet:

Use this grid to identify your objectives for a training program.

Now, it's gut check time. Do you really need customer service training? 

Training is typically responsible for just 1 percent of performance. I can think of at least six ways to improve customer service without training. You should only schedule training if you really need it.

Still aren’t sure? This video tutorial can help you decide. The video includes a hands-on exercise with a live training class. You can download this worksheet to follow along.

Let’s say you do the analysis and you definitely need training.

Setting clear and measurable objectives is crucial. Don’t skip this step or do it half-way. A goal such as “improve customer service” is generic and confusing. There’s no way to tell if you’ve accomplished it.

You can use this primer to create solid learning objectives.

 

Step 2: Identify Pre-Training Actions

The bottom two-thirds of the worksheet is laid out in a grid.

You’ll notice there are percentages listed at the top of each column. These were offered by Jack Zenger, Joe Folkman, and Robert Sherman in a 2005 article in TD magazine called “The Promise of Phase 3.” The figures are rough estimates of the learning impact of each phase. While there’s no hard data to support their claim, it anecdotally I’ve seen the results.

Use the grid to create a list of action items for participants, their supervisor(s), and the trainer. Start by thinking about what participants need to do to prepare for the training. 

Workshop planning worksheet. The Before Training column is highlighted.

At a minimum, participants should be able to answer three questions:

  1. What's the training about?

  2. How will this class help me do my job?

  3. How can I apply what I've learned back on the job?

Next, determine what the participants' supervisor(s) needs to do to make sure that happens. Typical actions include announcing the training to employees and coaching them to ensure they can answer the three questions.

Finally, determine what the trainer needs to do to help the supervisor(s) prepare prepare. For example, my clients typically ask me to provide them with a class description and possibly some pre-work they can share.

 

Step 3: Identify Training Actions

Now it's time to set a few expectations for employees while attending the training event. These are typically very few. Examples include:

  • Being fully present

  • Engaging with the content

Workshop planner worksheet. The during training column is highlighted.

Next, move down the column to decide what the employees' supervisor(s) need to do to ensure that happens. For example, supervisors often need to make scheduling adjustments to maintain operational coverage while employees participate in training.

Finally, decide what the trainer needs to do to support this. My clients typically ask me to make the training engaging and ensure it supports the learning objectives we agreed upon.

 

Step 4: Identify Follow-up Actions

Don't wait until the training is over to decide how employees should implement what they've learned. Create a plan now to make sure it happens.

Workshop planning worksheet. The “After Training” column is highlighted.

Start by deciding what participants should specifically do to implement their new skills. Then, decide what the supervisor(s) should do to ensure it happens. Here are a few examples from recent training classes:

  • Call a team meeting to ask employees how they applied what they learned.

  • Coach employees one-on-one to see if they're using their new skills.

  • Survey employees to identify which skills they've tried.

Finally, determine what support the participants' supervisor(s) need from the trainer. With my clients, I typically hold a follow-up meeting 30 days after the training to check-in with leaders and see what help they need to sustain their progress.

Learn More

You can see an example of a workshop planner being completed here.


Move the start and finish line for customer service training

I've spoken to countless managers who have described a similar experience after sending their employees to customer service training. They observe a temporary bump in motivation and performance followed by a gradual settling down back to pre-training service levels. When this happens, the training might make everyone feel good in the short-term, but over the long-run it proves to be a waste of time and money if it doesn't help the team measurably improve their performance.

If you've experienced this challenge, a simple fix might be moving the training program's start and finish line to their proper place.

The Start Line
It's hard to find something if you don't know what you are looking for, or even why you are looking for it. However, this is what happens when employees attend a customer service training class without having done any pre-work or preparation. In the worst scenarios, employees may even regard the training as unnecessary or even a punishment if they don't have an understanding of what new skills they are supposed to learn or how it will help them provide better service.

The solution is to move the start line back a bit to include adequate time for preparation. Employees should be able to answer three basic questions by the time they arrive for the class:

  1. What is the training about?
  2. How will this class help me do my job?
  3. How can I apply what I learn back on the job?

You can read more about the three questions here.

The Finish Line
Learning new skills shouldn't be the end-game for customer service training. The real goal should be learning new skills that can be applied on the job to achieve better results. Unfortunately, too many customer service training initiatives end at the same time the class does. No support, no follow-up, and perhaps no further mention. When this happens, it's no wonder that employee performance quickly returns to pre-training levels.

The real finish line should be when the training program's goals have been achieved. This means building in post-training support and follow-up to help participants master the skills they learned in class and make adjustments as they continue their development. (It also means setting goals - learn more here.)

Workshop Planner
I often use a simple workshop planning tool to make sure the start and finish lines are in their proper place. I meet with project stakeholders and complete the worksheet before starting any training program and use it to help them prepare their employees for a successful class and create an action plan to reinforce learning once the workshop is complete.

 Download the workshop planner

 Download a sample workshop plan

You can also watch this short how-to video: