Ten Basic—but Often Overlooked—Keys to Training Reps

The training process is the beginning of a relationship between management and its customer care representatives. Management must understand the power of quality training. New customer care representatives base their first impressions of their jobs, and decide whether they can succeed, on the basis of expectations set within new-hire training. Long-term representatives predicate their continued success and future prospects primarily on the residual training provided. Training is the support to a quality customer care department.

What starts as management training given to representatives generally becomes management training received by representatives. In other words, managers typically designs training based on what they want to accomplish and when they want to deliver information to their representatives. Management often fails to recognize that training is all about the representatives and what they see and hear and perceive throughout the training. In short, trainers must view their training from their students’ perspective rather than from their own perspective.

The training of new employees is the most important training program, because representatives who don’t understand the product, the corporate objectives, or the key aspects of communicating to customers will fail to do their jobs well. This is where management has the opportunity to gain their representatives’ trust. It’s also where they risk losing that trust.

Residual training is a downplayed aspect of customer care training. Many supervisors believe that once they have trained representatives, those employees can sink or swim on their own. They forget that residual training sharpens skills. Small one-on-one sessions, group workshops, and e-learning seminars should be mixed together to foster a clear training methodology.

The following are 10 critical but often overlooked elements critical when training customer care representatives:

1) Don’t assume your representatives understand what you understand.
Don’t assume your representatives understand the relationship between telephone, product, customer, and company. These four segments bring success or failure to customer care organizations. The telephone is a channel of communication between the company and the caller. The product is the area around which telephone conversation revolves. The customer is the central point–customers initiate calls and require assistance. The company is the backbone that provides the representatives with credibility. You know this. Your representatives may or may not know this. Explain it to them.

2) Ensure that representatives understand they represent your brand.
Who has more interaction with customers: the CEO or the plethora of customer care representatives who receive e-mails and telephone calls from customers on a daily basis? Customer care representatives present the corporate brand to an audience of customers, and this is the audience that matters most. Training must impart to representatives what the corporate brand is, how it was developed, why it exists, and where the company is going because of it. Most important, the corporate brand must express to customers why it benefits them most. When customer care representatives can’t articulate their corporate brand, the corporate brand becomes meaningless.

3) Instill a sense of company culture into training.
If customer care representatives successfully believe in the corporate brand, then they also need to believe in the company’s corporate culture. Culture provides the motivation and desire. Representatives will work an extra hour, stay on the telephone an extra minute, and help their peers complete projects all because the corporate culture encourages them to do so. When reps believe in the company culture they express that belief to customers. They do just a little more because leadership has trained them to do so. It makes all the difference.

4) Involve representatives in all facets of the company.
Because customer care representatives embody a critical channel between company and customer, it is important that they understand the full breadth of the corporation. Many times reps feel they have a sense of the company, but they don’t understand the sales, marketing, business development, and internal departments that form the backbone of the business. Make no mistake about it: Only customer care representatives who understand the company as a whole can help set the expectations of their customers. The actions of sales and marketing oftentimes form customer perceptions, and it is the job of customer care reps to handle these customer perceptions. In a vacuum, representatives may find this challenging. Yet when they understand what each level of the company does, they not only will find their jobs challenging but also will achieve greater success. 5) Be certain to teach representatives how to use technology.
In the old days, training customer care representatives involved training them with regard to the product. Within the past 15 years, technology has become an equally prevalent training challenge. Technology has become the “hidden dragon” for customer care reps. They are often so afraid of computers, dialing systems, and technology in general that they spend all their time avoiding it or worrying about it too much. You will make a gigantic blunder if you fail to provide a thorough training program to your reps.

6) Train representatives on what and how they will be judged.
Management is so focused on getting the job done well that they sometimes forget to tell their reps exactly what they will be judged on. Reps emerge from training with general ideas on what their objectives are but with less of an idea of what will earn them praise, awards, raises, and a promotion. Management also often forgets to show the reps exactly how judging occurs. In the customer care venue, monitoring of phone calls or auditing of records may involve the use of forms. What are those forms? What requirements are listed on those forms? When do those forms get issued to the representative?

7) Implement residual training after new-hire training.
A common perception is that training begins and ends once the new-hire training period is completed. This is where management loses their representatives. By not receiving consistent and detailed residual training sessions, reps gain neither the skill sets nor the confidence to improve at any level other than the practical day-to-day level. Institute classroom training followed by on-the-floor training, followed by residual classroom and residual on-the-floor training, for an endless period of time for each employee regardless of experience. It is important to recognize that training does not stop after the new hire leaves the classroom. That is when training begins.

8) Don’t train representatives on everything in the beginning.
Quality training begins with the understanding that too much information clutters; the valuable information fails to take precedence. Therefore, you should train your reps on the most important 10%-30% of the information first. Focus on training representatives on everything they need to know to get the job done, not everything they might want to know. The “want” can be presented later during critical residual training sessions. Perhaps you can divide initial customer care training between the most important and less important topics regarding product knowledge, customer communications, and product information. After the reps have gone through this initial training and worked as part of the customer care team, they can receive less important yet nonetheless valuable training on product knowledge, customer communications, and product information. What you’ll find is that after giving representatives the most important 10%-30%, they will work on their own through their daily applications to discover much of the remaining 70%-90%.

9) Teach representatives how to communicate with customers.
Customer care representatives are the first and most powerful communications channel with customers. Therefore, be careful to design a training program that introduces the basic and advanced elements of telephone and customer communications. Many times management designs a training platform that presents the facts, questions, and answers without introducing the communications training necessary to teach representatives how to articulate these facts, questions, and answers to the customer. Failure to train representatives on the “how” leaves a big gap in training.

10) Dedicate a training person to lead the process.
Would you be stunned to learn that many customer care departments don’t have one dedicated trainer that conducts or oversees training? Instead, they delegate training to a supervisor who has other duties, a manager who may not be prepared to conduct training and therefore delivers a poor class, or a part-time trainer who also serves as a customer care representative or team lead. An organization that takes pride in its customer care must ensure it has the budget for a training organization. The key mistake many organizations make is treating training as the least important part of the organization. This is because management doesn’t see immediate revenue payoff from the training department.

The irony is that training is predominately responsible for facilitating the success of customer care representatives. The organization’s success is based on the strengths of customer care. How representatives view their company, their brand, their corporate goals, and the value they place in their customers defines the success and failure of a company. Training must be a key priority for the company to achieve success in the long run.

Dan Coen is president of Tarzana, CA-based consultancy CallCenterToday.com