Think back over your own experiences as a consumer: which ones really stand out in your mind? The chances are that your most memorable customer service experiences are both the very best and the very worst. Those which fall somewhere in the middle tend not to stick in mind so much.
The point here is that it’s customer service that really makes the difference, for good or ill, to a brand’s reputation. It’s not a company’s promotional material or its trendy decor that remains in the memory, but the service’s standard (and, where applicable, the products you purchased) that stays with you for the long term.
So, with that in mind, it’s clear that customer service skills are massively important. Any company that prides itself on providing customers with exceptional customer care has to prioritise developing its staff’s service skills. Of course, culture matters almost as much when it comes to ensuring excellent customer service standards.
It’s all about inculcating an exceptional ethos, one of dedication to customer needs and satisfaction. There’ll always be difficult customers – sometimes with justification, sometimes less so – and it’s the responsibility of employers to prepare staff for these situations.
It’s also important to remember that customer expectations are changing all the time. The rise of the internet and the huge number of options available to consumers today mean that people expect far higher standards than they once did. They expect their favourite brands to understand their needs and preferences intimately and be attentive to them.
Those businesses – whichever sector they’re in, whether it be retail, health and social care, or events and hospitality – which fail to take account of this, risk putting themselves at a major competitive disadvantage. Their more nimble and responsive rivals will outstrip them in all areas. Even when working from home in the COVID-19 era, customer service matters a great deal.
So, considering all that, it’s no surprise that more and more businesses are instructing their staff to take online courses in customer service training. These customer service courses provide staff with a range of insights in everything from communication skills to handling customer complaints – covering all the most important customer service bases.
In this guide, we’ll take a closer look at online customer service courses, including some free courses, their potential benefits, the different types of training available, and the kind of skills needed for outstanding customer service.
What is Online Learning?
In recent years, there’s been a proliferation of free online courses across a huge range of different areas – from academic disciplines to customer service training. Higher education institutions are increasingly offering online courses to acquire new skills and boost their job prospects in the employment market. This year, too, many A-levels got completed remotely.
The principle isn’t much different when it comes to taking a customer service course online than if you’re studying data science or digital marketing. A distance learning course like this allows people to learn new skills at their own pace, and at a time that works for them.
Online Learning and Customer Service
High-quality customer service, as we’ve discussed, is hugely important to the customer experience. A customer who feels they’ve received great service is much more likely to return, whereas the opposite is true for consumers who’ve had a bad experience. Both, too, may share their experience on social media.
Customer service training, then, involves teaching staff the kinds of skills (including personal skills) and competencies which are likely to serve them well in their work. You might think that it’s all pretty self-explanatory and that there’s no real need for training – after all, it’s not computer science, don’t you have to be polite? – but there really is much more to good customer service than that.
The reality is that working in customer service can be a very complex business. Anyone who has years of experience working in a shop, as a receptionist, or providing table service (to give a few examples) will tell you that no two days are the same. The job is diverse because customers themselves are diverse. Some people are happy with the most basic service because they prefer to be left more or less to their own devices, whereas others like to have service staff cater to their every whim.
A customer service training course – even a short course – can help prepare staff for this kind of thing, and give them a better idea of what to expect on the job. Even experienced staff can benefit from taking a customer service course online – it’s sure to provide them with new insights and tips which they can then put to good use.
Benefits of Customer Service Training
The benefits of customer service training are manifold. Firstly, it’s an essential way of showing recruits the ropes via an accessible learning environment. As we’ve just alluded to, few people who come into customer service with no previous experience in the profession – and it is important to remember that it’s a profession, and requires real skill – have any real idea of what they can expect from it.
Customer service training guides how to deal with customer needs, including customer complaints, and sharpen those interpersonal skills that make such a big difference. That’s not only in the short term but also to the participant’s overall professional development.
A workforce that understands customer service principles and has a good idea of what they can expect when working in the field is worth its weight in gold. The most important point to consider here is customer retention.
In whatever industry, any experienced businessperson recognises that it’s regular customers and clients who form the bedrock of a successful business. In today’s business environment, companies are increasingly doing battle with one another on the terrain of customer and user experience. It’s all about who can keep consumers happy and willing to stick around.
Who Can Benefit from Customer Service Training?
Customer service training allows staff to develop and freshen their skills. For example, it can guide them through a series of common (and not-so-common) scenarios that they’d be likely to encounter when working in customer service. That’s among many other relevant subject areas.
This will leave them in a far stronger position to deal with the various challenges they experience. It is not just in ensuring that customer needs and demands are met, but also in handling those sticky situations where the customer isn’t happy with either the standard of service they’ve received or the quality of the product they’ve bought. These situations are the making of some people and, frankly, the breaking of others.
However, there is often a tendency to look at customer service skills as something of a lesser priority. Some employers don’t necessarily appreciate their importance and treat them as a bit of an afterthought. However, it’s essential to emphasise that the customer service experience can make all the difference. It’s what could mean winning a loyal customer who sticks with your business for years or creating one who has a lousy time and comes away nursing a grudge against it (they may leave a stinking customer review online, and these can do real damage).
So, the point here is that it’s not just staff who benefit from good customer service training – it’s their employers as well, especially if you find the right course for your staff.
An attentive, diligent, and conscientious team is one that’s far better equipped to ensure customers have a great experience. This is why every member of staff should go through at least one customer service course. Indeed, given how dramatically customer expectations have changed over the last couple of decades, it’s a good idea to keep sending staff on online courses to help them continually hone and sharpen those customer service skills.
Skills Needed for Customer Service
If you’re an employer or work in human resources, there are certain key skills you should be looking for when hiring staff. If you really pride yourself on excellent customer service, then you should take great care and consideration during the hiring process.
You must start with a clear idea of what you’re looking for and the kind of skills that will stand recruits in good stead. Obviously, new hires don’t have to be the complete package right away – don’t expect them to be experts in project management or other high-end competencies. You can develop and sharpen skills through customer service training.
Here’s a list of several of the most important skills needed for excellent customer service.
- Communication skills: One thing is for sure if your staff can’t communicate with customers and one another in a clear, calm, and effective manner, they’re probably going to have a hard time working in customer service. Communication skills are hugely important, not just to ensure that customers get what they want, but also that every team member knows what their responsibilities are.
- People skills: As we’ve noted in the previous point, the team members need to be able to communicate clearly and politely both with one another and with customers. This is a prerequisite for working in a customer-facing role. But there’s more to this than just simple communication; they also need to have good people skills in general (admittedly a more nebulous term). Are they likely to be able to forge strong working relationships with their colleagues? Are they a team player?
- Resourcefulness: Working in customer service requires you to have the ability to think on your feet. Don’t forget what we said earlier about customers – they’re a diverse bunch, and they have all sorts of (often quite peculiar) needs. Your customer-facing employees will therefore need to have excellent problem-solving skills so that they can deal with any unorthodox or unusual queries that might come their way. Take the recent Coronavirus outbreak, for instance. It will have seen brand-new queries on a whole different range of subjects come to prominence.
- Passion: Not a skill as such, but passion can go a very long way in customer service. A team member who feels genuinely passionate about what they do (and about what you do as a business) is hugely valuable. Those who buy into your ethos as a business and pride themselves on providing the best customer service are sure to be real assets to your business.
Originally published Aug 24, 2020, updated Jan 17, 2023