The Customer Service Workout: Ten Essential Skills for Frontline Employees
This is the script for a workshop for training people on various skills necessary to deliver exceptional customer service.
We designed the program to give potential clients a flavor for our customer service training courses and to provide existing clients with some follow-up materials they could use to reinforce concepts we typically cover in class.
In addition to use by those audiences, this program is freely available to our site visitors.
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This guide and script cover ten essential people skills for frontline customer service employees. Elements from this course can be used as part of a formal training workshop or broken into segments for training on the go.
Run in its entirety, the program should last between an hour and an hour and a half. Alternatively, you can run mini sessions lasting about 15 minutes each.
The script below suggests a timeframe and language for introducing each idea. As a facilitator, you should use your good judgment to tailor the program to your style and your audience.
Several references are made to follow-up notes, so don’t forget to distribute these. Training with no follow-up effort is rarely time well spent. Also, during the program, participants will set some service goals for themselves. To get the most out of this course, you should determine how you will check in with participants several days after the session.
Finally, if you like the activities and flow of this program and would like to consider onsite customer service training, please contact us to discuss hiring Business Training Works as your training partner.
Introduce the Program
Hello and welcome. I am [YOUR NAME], and I am your facilitator for today’s session. This customer service workshop is designed to be interactive and test your creative thinking skills.
To begin, I would like us to quickly introduce ourselves. Please give your name, tell us where you work, and identify a service skill that begins with the first letter of your name. For example, “I am Ralph Smith from purchasing. My word is reliable.”
Make a list on a flip chart of the customer service words as you listen to the introductions.
Thank you, everyone. That’s a great list. Exhibiting all of those skills consistently is not always easy. That’s why today we are going to work out. If you are not an athlete, don’t panic. This workout is designed to improve our customer service skills, not our abilities to run or lift weights.
By the end of our time together, you should have identified several improvement areas. As we move through the material, please keep that in mind. This course covers ten skills. Of course, there are others needed to provide great service. However, mastering these ten will go a long way toward strengthening your ability to improve the customer experience.
1. Mind Your Manners
Sticking with the workout theme, our first routine is about manners. I would like you to turn to a partner and briefly discuss how phrases such as “please” and “thank you” set the tone for a customer interaction.
Next, practice saying something you would typically say to a customer with and without those phrases. Be prepared to demonstrate your phrase in front of the group. You will have between three and five minutes to complete this activity.
Allow between three and five minutes for participants to work together. Walk around and listen as they are speaking. When most of the group is done, bring everyone back together.
All right. Who can tell me how “please,” “thank you,” and similar phrases set the tone for interactions?
You should hear answers such as, “Good manners communicate a level of professionalism” or “Please and thank you sound positive.”
Now let’s have a few people demonstrate the phrases you came up with both using and not using these social niceties.
Depending on the size of the group, you may have enough time for all to share their examples, or you may have to choose just a few willing participants. To keep the pace moving, use no more than four or five examples.
As you just heard, phrases such as” please”, “thank you,” and “you are welcome,” can make a big difference. Do you routinely use them in your workplace? For people not using them enough, what suggestions would you have for incorporating these courtesies? Working with your partner from the previous exercise, quickly come up with a few suggestions. For example, you might suggest adding the phrase “thank you for calling” when you answer the telephone.
Allow between three and five minutes for participants to complete the activity.
Okay, let’s share our ideas. Could I get someone to act as our recorder to make notes? We will distribute these after the session.
Good work, everyone. I’d like to move on to our next routine.
You might be familiar with the lyrics of a song made famous by Louis Armstrong: “Smile and the whole world smiles with you.” By show of hands, do you agree with that statement?
Some participants may respond “no.” This is okay. The point is that most of the time, smiling is better than not.
While a smile is not the panacea for all customer woes, like good manners, a smile can set the tone. We are going to do a quick experiment. Working with a different partner, I would like you to face each other. One of you should smile at the other and observe what happens.
Allow about a minute for the participants to work together. In most cases, the partner receiving the smile should smile back.
How many of you smiled and received a smile in return from your partner? Most of us have experienced this phenomenon at some point. This is because people often subconsciously mirror body language. Given this, most of the time smiling will cause others to do the same. And most of the time, it’s a good idea. I would like you to work with your partner to make two lists. The first should be a list of all the reasons to smile while giving service. The second should be a list of times when smiling might not be appropriate. You have about three minutes to complete your list.
Allow time for the participants to work together.
Now I would like to go around the room and quickly hear your answers. If what you have listed has already been stated, there is no need to repeat the response already given.
You should expect participants to tell you that smiling makes the workplace better, smiling can improve a customer’s day, and so forth. They should also conclude that during a sad event or stressful situation, smiling may be inappropriate. Smiling should be avoided when it is incongruent with the message you want to send.
We’ve talked about smiling, which is part of body language. The next area I would like to cover is verbal language.
3. Use Service Language
Some words and phrases are meant for the service environment, and some simply are not. “No problem,” for example, is a problem. If you are in service, your words should never suggest to a customer that anything would be a problem. The phrases “my pleasure” or “I’m happy to do that” are much better ways of communicating the same information.
I’d like you now to think about service language and what bothers you. What phrases do you find troubling when you are the customer? Working in groups of four people, I would like you to make a list on a piece of paper of three phrases that are not service centric. When the lists are complete, we will pass them clockwise to another group. That group’s job is to put your phrases through their service filters and rewrite them to sound positive and professional. You will have about four minutes to come up with your list. When you’ve finished, let me know.
When the lists are complete, instruct the group to rotate them to the left. When the groups have finished rewriting the phrases, bring them back together.
Okay, let’s see how you did. I’d like a spokesperson from each group to stand up and tell me the original phrase and how you rewrote it.
If any of the revisions could be improved, say so. If not, move on.
Thank you, everyone. Those were great examples of the idea that it’s not what you say as much as it is how you say it. Sticking with that idea, I’d like to discuss the importance of focusing on actions.
4. Focus on What You Can Do
“We don’t do that.” “You can’t have that.” “We’re closed.” All of those statements may be true, but there is a better way to communicate the same information. It’s time for a little exercise, and I promise this is as strenuous as it’s going to get. I’m going to read a phrase that could be stated a better way. Once you’ve identified what could be improved and can restate the phrase, please stand up.
Demonstrate how this works if needed. Take a phrase such as “We’re closed.” Read it, and then ask those who can rephrase what you’ve said to stand up. Once two or three people are standing, ask them to share their answers.
Here is a list of possible phrases: “We don’t do that.” “You can’t have that.” “We’re closed.” “No food in the waiting room.” “I have to put you on hold.” “That’s out of stock.” For best results from this exercise, tailor these examples to your group.
Good work, everyone. With practice, stating things in a positive light will become second nature to you if it is not already. If thinking quickly when you are on the spot is not one of your talents, I suggest making a list of positive phrases and keeping it by your desk. The more you use them, the easier this will be.
Look down at your notes for 60 to 90 seconds. Don’t move, and don’t say a word. Awkward silence should fall on the room. If it doesn’t, stay quiet until it does. Once you are certain you have the group’s attention, break your silence, and introduce the slide.
So that was awkward. How many of you were starting to get a little concerned? If I had simply provided you with some comments (for example, a statement telling you I was looking for something in my notes), the silence would not have been as deadly.
People, especially customers, like to know what is going on. Providing a little narration helps. Think about people who are really good at this when you are a customer. It may be the team that changes your car’s oil. It could be your dental hygienist who explains what she is doing as she is poking sharp objects in your mouth. How would you feel if there were no explanation, especially if the experience were new to you?
In what areas do you think we could do a better job of providing explanations to our customers? Working in groups of three or four, discuss your thoughts for a few minutes. We will then come together and debrief.
Allow four or five minutes for small group discussion.
Let’s go through your answers. I would like our note-taker to record your suggestions. Again, we will distribute the notes after the session.
6. Seek Out Information
The phrase “I don’t know” may have come up earlier in the session. If it did, acknowledge that fact.
As our slide states, “I don’t know” is simply not acceptable if “I will find out” or some other solution does not soon follow. If you don’t have information, you owe it to your customers to do a little homework. Likewise, if you don’t offer a service but are asked about it frequently, it is helpful to refer those inquiring to people who may be better able to help. With a little forethought and creativity, you can be of some assistance in almost any situation.
For the next exercise, make a list of four or five requests customers might make of those in the group. Post those phrases on individual flip charts on the wall. Next, divide the group into even subgroups and send each to answer one of the questions. You will need as many subgroups as you have questions on the wall. By having people stand up in mid-program, you are providing a structured stretch break. Varying activities and groups is important. It keeps your program from becoming too predictable or worse still, downright boring.
Here are some examples of phrases to inspire you to create your own. (1) Do you know where I could find the same service you offer for less? (2) Do you know where I can find a company that does what you do overseas?
As you can see, there are five phrases posted around the room. Your group’s job is to come up with responses to the questions shown. For example, if your question is, “Who is in charge of your sales department?,” you might write, “I don’t know. Let me pull up the directory and take a look for you.” Try to come up with as many answers as you can. You will have one minute. Then your group will rotate clockwise to the next question and generate responses for that one.
Once the groups have had a chance to answer all the questions, have the participants sit down. Next, quickly review the responses.
Thank you, everyone, for your answers. What this exercise demonstrates is there is rarely a reason to say “I don’t know” and nothing else. As smart, creative people, we owe it to our customers to seek out information.
7. Be Present
Our next routine focuses on listening skills. Without a strong ability in this area, it is difficult to provide great service. Listening is always important. However, it is particularly important when a customer is upset, angry, or under stress. I am going to make a statement. Working with a partner, I would like you to generate several responses to show that you are listening to what I have said.
I think I need a new job.
Allow three minutes for discussion.
You are thinking of moving on? What type of position are you looking for? So you are through with your current position? Any of these types of responses would be expected. Some of the responses may focus on feelings. Some of the responses may focus on facts. Some of the responses may clarify what is said. Review the responses and then make another statement.
I believe we could improve our bottom line if we had better follow up.
Again, allow time for discussion, and review the responses.
Some of your responses reflected feelings, some sought to clarify what was said, and some stated facts. Which type of response you would choose would depend on the situation. The point, however, is listening is work. To be a good listener, you need to be fully engaged and in the moment. This takes practice. Mastery will allow you to better handle any customer interaction.
Let’s take a look at handling difficult situations and how listening can help.
8. Keep Your Cool
How many of you have lost it when you’ve been a customer? Most of us have at some point. How that representative handled your blowup probably had a lot to do with how you viewed the service you received. I would like someone to volunteer an example of when anger was dealt with well and someone else to volunteer an example of anger dealt with poorly.
If no one volunteers, have examples of your own you can offer. Then try again for a response from the group.
Thank you for those stories. Now it is time for a little roleplay. I would like someone to play the role of customer and someone else to play the role of representative. Thank you.
Now, it’s our turn to come up with the scenario. Why is our customer angry? Let’s provide our actors with a few choices. Excellent. Thank you for those ideas.
Angry customer, you are on stage.
Allow the roleplay to unfold. You are looking for a few behaviors from the representative: responsive body language, avoidance of phrases such as “you should have” or “it’s not our fault,” good listening skills, and solution-oriented language. Stop the roleplay if it goes off track, and bring in another representative to give the exercise a go. Depending on your time, the level of engagement, and the level of learning, run up to four rounds. Replace the actors at least every round.
Good work, everyone. As I’ve said several times today, practice makes perfect. The more you practice, the easier this gets. If thinking on your feet was harder than you thought it would be, consider practicing each day with a different situation.
I would like to move on now and talk about homework.
9. Do Your Homework
When we know what we are talking about, the better able we are to help our customers. I am going to give you a quick quiz about our organization. There is a point to this exercise, so please play along. You will not have to share your answers with others.
What year was our organization founded?
Who is the CEO?
Who is the CFO?
Who are our competitors?
How many employees do we have?
Who are our biggest customers?
Adjust the questions shown as needed. Read the questions. Then, reveal the answers. If the entire group answers all of the questions correctly, congratulate everyone. Most of the time, this will not happen.
Raise your hand if you got them all right. Raise your hand if you missed only one. Well done. We work here every day. The fact is, we should know the answers to these questions. Even if you don’t necessarily need to know everything about our organization to do your job, the more you know, the better you will be able to see connections, answer questions, and so forth. The point of this exercise is information is powerful.
Working in groups of four, I would like you to answer a few more questions. If you don’t have a response to the first one, that is okay.
What questions are you often asked that you cannot answer?
How do you share information with each other?
How could we do a better job of sharing with each other?
Allow five to ten minutes for this exercise. Then review the answers. Provide suggestions for any responses to the first question. If possible, incorporate any practical suggestions into your work process that come from the answers to the remaining questions.
Thank you, everyone, for your answers and suggestions. Doing your homework and sharing information are important. I would like you to think about the action steps you can take to stay up to date.
10. Stay Flexible
We’re almost done with the workout, and we’ve covered a lot of material in our time together. Something we haven’t talked about yet, however, is keeping our work in perspective.
Face it: some days are better than others. Around the room, I have posted five suggestions for staying flexible. I would like you to get out of your seats and stand next to the one you think works best for managing stress and staying positive. If you choose “other,” be prepared to tell us what you do.
Words posted around the room may include positive self-talk, deep breathing, exercise, listening to music, and other options.
Once everyone is in place, ask those who choose “other” to share. Then move to the next question.
Thank you for your answers. Now I would like you to choose a second method for managing stress if your first choice didn’t exist.
Once everyone is in place, once again ask those who choose “other” to share.
Thank you, everyone. Let’s go ahead and sit down. Staying positive is a big part of being effective at delivering great customer service. As we just saw, the same solution does not work for everyone. Furthermore, if what you are doing stops working, try something else.
We’ve reached the end. In workout terms, we’re in the cool-down period. Now I would like you to take a minute to review the questions shown on the slide. Answer them honestly. Next, choose two or three areas to focus on over the next two weeks.
For the best results, pass out the questions on a separate piece of paper. Allow about three minutes for participants to record their responses.
Do you use “please,” “thank you,” and other courteous phrases as often as you should?
Are you using your facial muscles (smiling) to your best advantage?
Does your service language need an update? (Do you say “my pleasure,” in place of, “no problem”?)
Do you focus on the positive and let customers know what you can do?
Are your public relations skills up to snuff, and do you keep your customers informed?
Do you go the extra mile to get answers to your customers’ questions?
Do you listen as well as you should?
Are you able to deal effectively with angry customers?
What actions do you take to stay up to date?
What do you do to keep your work in perspective and your attitude positive?
Thank you, everyone. In closing, I would like to go around the room quickly and ask you to tell us what you are going to work on during the coming weeks.
Finally, pass out your training evaluations.
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