Before you get started, though, we have some advice on how to write an effective customer service manual that will help you train great representatives.
How to create a customer service training manual
Employee competence and readiness to manage any circumstance that may arise are developed by a good customer service training manual, which boosts general productivity and satisfaction.
To achieve the best results for both your customers and your customer support employees, use these 8 best practices for creating your customer service training manual:
- Start with the customer
- Be empathetic
- Define the scope of customer service
- List out customer service general practices
- Outline specific customer service policies
- Provide the right tools and resources
- Format training content correctly
- Remember to update
Let's dive into each best practice for creating customer service training manuals effectively.
1. Start with the customer
Most business training focuses on the trainee. You look at the skills and experience they’re bringing to the table, set a goal for the skills they’ll have at the end, and create a training program that fills in the gaps.
That’s how retail sales training works, and training in most other areas is similar.
But customer service training has to start with the customer. Business success requires that your customers have positive interactions with your customer service representatives (CSRs), that their problems get solved, and that they’re satisfied at the end of the interaction.
One of the things that makes customer service difficult is that each customer has different needs. They come to your CSRs with different issues, and they’ll need unique treatment to solve those issues.
Because of that, there’s a single attribute that stands out above the rest: empathy.
2. Be empathetic
Empathy isn’t a word that you’ll hear in many discussions about business. But it’s crucial in customer service. Empathy is the ability to understand another person’s feelings and desires, and the best customer service agents have a great sense of it.
Possibly the most important facet of empathy in customer service is learning and understanding what success and happiness mean to your customer. Sometimes they’ll both derive from something simple: unlocking their account after they enter their password incorrectly too many times, for example.
But it might be significantly more complex. It could involve reconfiguring a service to better serve a customer’s needs. Or get in touch with the development team with a suggestion that will improve the customer experience.
So how do CSRs develop empathy? By practicing active listening. Listening skills are the bedrock of customer service skills. The Apple Store is known for its great customer service, which is built on the acronym APPLE:
- Approach customers with a personalized, warm welcome
- Probe politely to understand the customer’s needs
- Present a solution for the customer to take home today
- Listen for and resolve issues or concerns
- End with a fond farewell and an invitation to return
Both the “probe politely” and “listen for and resolve issues” steps are focused on empathy.
Even if it’s difficult listening skills in your customer service training manual, you can emphasize the importance of empathy and point your employees to useful resources that will help.
Remember throughout the entire training process that the focus should be on your customer, not your employee.
3. Define the scope of customer service
Your customer service training manual will cover a set of topics that are relevant to customer service . . . but what does that include? You might be creating a training manual for customer service agents, but you might also be creating a document that will help your sales and marketing teams use customer service principles in their jobs as well.
Companies that provide legendary customer service place a strong emphasis on serving customers that starts at the top. CEOs need to be on board, and employees need to see that. The dedication to customer service should span every department and every rank, from the highest executives to the front-line representatives.
The scope of your document has to match the scope of what you consider “customer service” in your company, and you’ll want to define that early on in your training manual.
Modern customer service has started to take the scope beyond that of simply solving problems and troubleshooting and expanding it to include making sure the customer is satisfied throughout the sales, implementation, and use phases of the customer lifecycle.
This idea ties back into empathy—everyone in your company should be focused on helping customers achieve their goals. This is something that you should address early and with some emphasis in your training manual.
Shep Hyken points out that the employees who have the greatest effect on your customers might not be in the customer service department. It’s important to acknowledge that in your training.
A fully comprehensive customer service training manual might have a great deal of information not only about specific customer service policies but about how people in all roles can foster a customer-service mindset. Make your training manual interesting and useful for everyone who’s thinking about customer service (which should be, at the very least, nearly everyone).
4. List out customer service general practices
Before getting into specific customer service policies, it’s a good idea to list some general practices. These are the ideas that rise above all the others when it comes to customer service.
Take Disney, for example. The company’s parks are known for their legendary customer experiences—and those experiences are built on customer service. There are many different practices that create a cohesive experience, but there are four main points that employees are taught to focus on:
Each of these has sub-points and intricacies, but as long as employees can remember these four simple words, they’ll be headed down the path to phenomenal customer service.
Apple’s acronym serves a similar purpose.
Your company doesn’t need an acronym or another mnemonic device to share its general customer service goals, but it’s helpful to put a general statement early in the training manual that you can come back to throughout the rest of the document.
Find a simple sentence or phrase that sums up your customer service philosophy, and prominently display it in this section. It could be the WECARE acronym:
- Address customer needs
- Review and resolve
- End on a positive note
Or it could be something as simple as “Go above and beyond for one person every day.”
Whatever you decide to use, make sure that it represents your overall customer service goals, and reference it throughout the training manual.
5. Outline specific customer service policies
This section will contain the majority of the customer service training manual. It contains, in essence, everything you want your CSRs (and anyone else reading the manual) to know.
Because every company has different needs, you may find that the points we suggest below don’t fit, or that you need to add more detail to any specific point.
Use these points as a guideline, and think about how you’ll need to adapt, add to, or remove them to best fit your company.
How do you want your employees to interact with customers? Do you want to encourage a specific type of greeting or a particular manner of walking through customer service issues? Is there something you’d like your CSRs to say when they’re ending an interaction?
All of these things should be covered here. In some businesses, you’ll want to be very specific—you can even provide a script or a few examples of how to deal with common issues or complaints.
This section should contain all of the advice and instructions you have to offer on how your employees interact with customers. If you’re a retail business, that might mean face-to-face interactions, including sales. It could also include phone-based support. If you have employees emailing customers to solve customer service issues, that should be addressed here.
How much power do your customer service agents have to make decisions? Can they issue refunds? Offer special discounts? Honor warranties?
These are often the things that make or break customer relationships, so it’s important to give them some thought.
While some companies let their customer service reps make many decisions, others prefer that decisions be made by managers. No matter which you decide, make it very clear here. If your CSR makes a promise and the manager says the company can’t deliver on that promise, you’re going to have a very negative customer experience on your hands.
If you prefer that your customer service reps escalate specific issues to their superiors, there are several pieces of information you should include:
- Exactly which issues to escalate
- The chain of command for escalation
- How customer service agents should get in contact with superiors
- What CSRs should tell customers during this process
Having all of this information documented ensures that the process is efficient, that the customer knows what’s going on, and that the right people are making decisions.
Return / Refund Policies
Because returns and refunds are common issues, it pays to document them specifically here. Businesses that sell products should have a clear refund policy that customer service agents can easily assess and execute.
It may be more nuanced with service providers or large B2B vendors, where refunds could be thousands of dollars or more. In these cases, you may ask your customer service agents to escalate the issue—but again, make sure to document that process.
If you offer exchanges, company credit, or any other method of return or refund, note it here. If there are specific conditions, make sure they’re clear. This is an area where customers can easily become frustrated, and having solid documentation can solve the issue before it becomes problematic.
6. Provide the right tools and resources
In general, you want your employees to be as self-sufficient as possible. And that usually means giving them the tools and resources they need to get information, make decisions, and interact with customers as successfully and independently as possible.
This section should contain a list of as many tools and resources as you can think of. It might be linked to product specifications or information published by manufacturers. A database of company services or sales and marketing information might make sense for your company.
We also strongly recommend making it easy for employees to access ongoing training, and this might be a place to reference it.
This is a good place to reiterate the chain of command for various issues and provide contact information for the people who can make higher-level decisions, as well.
7. Format training content correctly
The days of long, dry, text-based training manuals are gone. With modern learning and development platforms, you can distribute information like this in a much more engaging manner.
Videos, slideshows, webinars, audio files, and even games are being used to train customer service agents today. All of these media keep learners engaged. You might also consider running much of your customer service training via microlearning to prevent boredom.
Modern learning platforms give you the ability to share your training in all sorts of engaging ways. Take advantage of them to boost engagement and retention.
8. Remember to update
Like most other documents that you’ll use regularly in your business, your customer service training manual should receive updates on a regular basis. You’ll come across new situations, add new products and services, decide on different procedures, and so on. All of that should be documented.
Keeping your customer service training manual in a central location where everyone has easy access to it is another good habit—this way there’s only a single copy, and there will never be conflicting versions.
The days of static, boring training manuals are over. Today’s manuals should let employees comment, share, make suggestions, watch multimedia presentations, and interact with each other. Your customer service documentation is a core component of your overall customer service strategy—do it justice with a great manual!
Benefits of a customer service training manual
If you don’t have an official customer service training manual, you may wonder if you really need this document. And if you have one, what value can it really offer? Here are some reasons why customer service manuals add value.
1. Gives context to the job
Every employee has daily tasks, but sometimes they don’t understand how their role truly impacts the company's bottom line. By creating a customer service training manual, you can show your employees how a job well done helps keep and get more customers to buy. This in return motivates and engages customer service reps to connect better with customers.
2. Teaches soft skills
Most employees are hired based on their skill set to get the job done successfully. However, much of a customer service job is based on soft skills. These involve things like listening, communicating, understanding the customer's issue, and critical thinking. Many soft skills need to be taught once on the job to give them better context. Adding in scenarios and offering solutions within your customer service training manual is a great way to teach these.
3. Improves customer satisfaction
As we’ve mentioned before, happy customers are more willing to be repeat buyers. In addition, they are more willing to tell their friends and family about the great customer service they received from a company. So, if you can increase your overall customer satisfaction, you will increase your profit margin.
Training via your customer service manual can teach how to resolve common customer complaints and decrease the number of callbacks from a single customer. This also saves time and energy so that customer service reps can interact with more customers.
4. Retains top talent
Your recruiting or HR department spent time and money to find qualified customer service reps. The last thing you want is your top-performing team members to leave for competitors. Training is key to keeping these employees happy. The more skills and customer scenarios you can equip them with the better prepared they will be to do their job. And the more prepared they are, the more successful and happy they will be in their current role.