Team leadership: Teaching customer service skills

June 26, 2017

For some people, the skillset of a good salesperson come naturally.

These skills—approaching anyone, making a connection, chatting them up, and directing the conversation in a natural way—often appear to be personality traits rather than learned abilities. The ability to provide good customer service, however, is a skill that can be taught. Not only that, but it is the responsibility of a small business to provide the training and team development to make sure that all employees are comfortable and empowered on the floor.

So how do you teach top-notch customer service skills to someone who might need a little help learning the ins and outs of salesmanship? Below, we’ve outlined several tips sales managers can employ to create a frustration-free customer service training environment for the next generation of great salespersons.

Teach active listening.

For someone to learn to become a great salesperson, they’ve first got to learn how to be a great listener. This may be the most fundamental aspect of customer service, since every customer generally just wants their needs to be heard and understood.

To teach your staff to become great, active listeners, present a variety of scenarios that include typical coded language customers might use to address sensitive situations, i.e. needs they might not be comfortable discussing with a stranger.

For example, those of atypical body shape sometimes have a hard time communicating clearly what they’re looking for in terms of clothing. The same goes for someone buying a gift out of obligation rather than genuine sentiment, or someone who’s unfamiliar with technology making an expensive investment in a new device.

In training your staff for these scenarios, ask them first look for non-verbal cues that might flag the customer as feeling insecure about their selections or requests. Part of being a great listener is watching the speaker and seeing the things their faces, perhaps their hands, are communicating in addition to their words.

It’s also important to teach your staff to listen for vocal inflections, pauses, or emphasis on certain words. It can be useful to reflect back to the customer what you’re hearing to make sure you understand them correctly. When customers feel understood, they are much more likely to trust guidance from a salesperson.

Focus less on words or scripts, and more on energy and tone.

For many companies, reliance on a script seems to make sense. By outlining for employees exactly what they should say, they hope to minimize variance in the customer-service experience.

The problem with scripts is that, sure, a salesperson can say all the right words, but if their energy isn’t in the right place, it won’t read as sincere or helpful. If the interaction seems insincere or canned, it immediately squashes any hopes for the building of rapport.

Instead, describe the desired energy levels of staffers and how that supports the brand identity of the merchant. It might help to describe the vibe a salesperson should be expressing to others through both verbal and non-verbal communication.

When teaching your staff to navigate both positive and negative interactions with customers, you can reference specific vocabulary a salesperson might use and ask the staffer if they feel like those words reflect the desired energy.

This way your staff gets an understanding for the type of energy they should be displaying, but at the same time allows for flexibility and individuality in the way they interact with customers, creating individual sales approaches that may differ, but are still consistent with your brand.

Provide ample opportunity for practice.

There are a million and one platitudes about practice, but the reason so much has been said about practice is because it works.

Start with role-playing. It can feel hokey, but it also can be hugely helpful in developing comfort with new situations. In fact, it’s crucial when cultivating instincts in customer service. Have staffers role-play with each other representing actual customers, and challenges that were met (either successfully or unsuccessfully) so you can observe and reinforce excellent service.

Especially important to practice are those sensitive topic customers discussed above. Write customer roles that are about specific situations a customer might be reluctant to discuss so your staff can have practice in recognizing subtext and responding accordingly.

As a next step, have a less-experienced salesperson shadow someone more experienced. Provide time for them to discuss specifics of the interactions in a “post-game analysis.”

Finally, trainers should shadow trainees occasionally for a few weeks to ensure lessons are sticking and to provide trainees opportunity to ask questions about specific situations they’ve experienced.

Sales greatness starts from the top

It’s important to remember that a team can have all the training in the world, but they take their cues from leadership. If the tone and energy exuded by management is anything less than what is expected of salespersons, they will pick up on that and customer service will suffer.

It’s management’s duty to serve as role models, providing excellent communication internally as well as to customers.

If you treat everyone you interact with with the same energy and genuine interest you expect of your team, you’re already well on your way to developing a top-notch customer service team.

[Image: Retail Store Clothing by Bell Ella Boutique on flickr]

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