Your customer service representatives are the face and voice of your organization. If a first-time customer calls in with an issue and is met with a disinterested, disengaged representative, they are likely to take their business to a competitor in the future. That’s why investing in customer service training is critical to fostering positive first impressions and building the beginning of a long relationship between you and your customers.

“We have to go beyond customer satisfaction,” says Jeroen van der Schenk, experience engineer and head of the Global Performance Academy at Performance Solutions. “A satisfied customer is a customer with no reason to complain. Nothing more, nothing less.” Customer service teams often miss the mark by setting out simply to appease an unhappy customer and apply a quick fix. Sure, this approach leaves the customer with no reason to complain, but the interaction doesn’t set your organization apart from the rest.

Customer service representatives, writes Sasha Ilic, a member of Zappos’ Customer Loyalty Team, “are here to provide a service and WOW our customers … Our priority is to create deep and emotional connections with [them].” Customer service reps should meet every caller with empathy, excitement and a genuine desire to help in order to make an impactful impression on the customer and keep them coming back.

Let’s explore a few customer needs your service representatives should meet in order to make meaningful and lasting first impressions and how training can enable your reps to provide stellar customer experiences.

Customer Need #1: Trust

Customers need to trust your representatives. “What makes and breaks a long-lasting customer relationship is the interaction between the individual customer and the individual customer service rep,” says Caroline Murphy, president of Acclivus R3 Solutions. Customers want to trust that your reps are there to take care of them.

Van der Schenk advocates for the use of “reverse thinking” when developing a customer service training program. This approach begins with the company purpose and intended experience in mind to facilitate positive customer experiences. “When you take the desired experience as a starting point, you can then bring it back to desired behavior,” says van der Schenk. Teach your customer service reps the behaviors and skills they need to foster trust; your customers will value your company’s authentic desire to build lasting relationships with them.

Customer Need #2: Empathy

In June of 2019, a New York Times headline asked the question, “Is customer service the new therapy?” According to this article, companies and customer service teams are noticing a trend of customers who turn customer service calls into “impromptu [therapy] sessions.” While customer service is, of course, no replacement for actual therapy, everyone appreciates talking to a good listener. While you don’t need to hire counselors as customer service reps, it is important to train them to empathize with the person on the other end of the line.

The customer service representative’s objective is to “work with the customer to acknowledge the importance of their feelings but also walk them through to new feelings while troubleshooting the issue,” according to Murphy. In your next customer service training program, emphasize the importance of intentionally listening to the concerns and fears of the customer on the line.

Despite the cost and time required for in-person training, this approach is especially effective for cultivating empathy among your customer service team. “When it comes to learning skills and models for communicating with another human being,” says Murphy, “I think a really important quality of the training is that there’s another human being in the room.” Don’t underestimate the value of face-to-face human interaction in building an empathetic customer service team.

Customer Need #3: Stress-free Problem Solving

It’s important that your customer service reps go beyond simply solving the issue at hand. Murphy says, “Service reps are naturally, usually, problem-solvers. They’re so focused and driven to solve the problem, with or without the customer, that they often overlook that customer’s very real and profound personal need to feel heard, to feel understood, to feel important and to feel validated.”

Give your customer service reps the power to provide solutions without fear of breaking protocol or upsetting executives. For instance, by giving your representatives “management level decision-making power,” you provide them with the flexibility and authority they need to meet customers’ needs, writes Roxanne Warren, member of the Zappos Customer Loyalty team. This approach opens doors to creative, thoughtful problem-solving that will make your organization stand out. Great customer service isn’t achieved by following a formula, sticking to a procedure or reading from a script.

Customer Need #4: Open Communication

Communication can be tricky. Every individual communicates differently, and communication preferences are influenced by a variety of factors. For example, Zappos company core values reflect the belief that communication is integral to building meaningful relationships in all aspects of life, both professional and personal: “Open, honest communication is the best foundation for any relationship, but remember that at the end of the day it’s not what you say or what you do, but how you make people feel that matters the most.”

An effective customer service training program provides your reps with actionable tips for modifying their communication styles to meet their customers where they are. Here again, in-person training where participants can practice with roleplay activities can be an effective way to improve reps’ communication with customers.

Customer service reps are often misguided in thinking that no news is good news for the customer. This assumption may leave the customer feeling excluded and uninformed. Murphy says it’s important to “[keep] the customer updated along the way so that they understand the progress that’s happening or not happening.” Help your reps get in the habit of updating their customers, whether that means coming off hold or sending an update email, even when there’s no news.

Customer Need #5: WOW Support

Customer service reps should strive to create not only a helpful experience for the customer but also a memorable one. Memorable customer service experiences are created when your reps’ efforts culminate to meet all of the aforementioned customer needs. The most effective customer service occurs when the rep makes your organization stand out from the competition. “People will not choose your business if you don’t provide them great service,” says Rob Siefker, senior director of customer loyalty at Zappos.

Memorable WOW support and customer service may be as simple as chatting about family and friends or, in Zappos’ case, sending a free pair of sensible shoes to a nurse who’d dedicated over 20 years to serving others (and cookies to her patients). In order to foster these connections and provide these WOW moments, your customer service training initiatives must enable and empower your customer service reps to make appropriate management-level decisions and make the customer feel valued.

Moving Forward

If you want customers who continue coming back to your organization, it’s important to equip your customer service reps with the skills they need to:

  • Foster trusting relationships with every caller.
  • Empathize and connect with the customer.
  • Provide thoughtful solutions that address all of the customer’s need and worries.
  • Communicate transparently and authentically.
  • Provide WOW customer support.

“We believe that customer service shouldn’t be a department; it should be the entire company,” says Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos. Train customer service representatives who make your customers feel heard, understood and validated. With the right methodology, leadership and company culture, your organization can build a customer service team that keeps customers coming back. For in-person customer service training opportunities, visit Zappos Insights.