Customer service representatives do not get nearly enough credit for the intellectual dexterity and emotional intelligence that their jobs require.

Customer service skills, like most interpersonal skills, can be learned; how helpful you are to customers is about more than just having a naturally extroverted personality. It is about how well you communicate with customers and with other members of your organization, and how well you listen is at least as important as how much you say.

In other words, customer service teams that have a good working relationship with each other are the main ingredient in exceptional customer service. Here are some customer service training ideas that can help the customer service reps in your organization deal with customer complaints with finesse.

Thinking Outside the Box About Customer Service Training Ideas

A lot of people who work in customer service jobs have never received much training about how to handle difficult situations with customers. Instead, managers just hound them to upsell and to build customer loyalty.

Instead of a customer service training game, it feels like a dystopian obstacle course where employees must perform one superhuman feat after another or else get accused of providing poor customer service. Most have never participated in customer service training programs at all, and yet their employers expect them to provide great customer service.

Even people who currently work as customer service agents are probably none too enthusiastic about the prospect of sitting through a slide presentation about customer service training topics or being evaluated on the quality of their customer interactions.

The good news is that the ideal training program does not need to feel like a training program at all. Instead, customer support agents should engage in fun activities to help them improve customer communication and build a rapport with each team member in their workplace in order to provide more effective customer service.

Customer Service Training Can Be Fun

While your former classmates from the drama club might roll their eyes when you tell them that you work in customer service, being a customer service representative is a more creative job than it sounds at first.

It is possible to improve your interactions with customers if you think about the customer experience from the customer’s perspective. This is where your experiences with improvisational acting come in; after all, improvisational acting is a big part of the customer service profession.

It is more fun, though, to practice role-playing customer interactions in the form of a theater troupe exercise.

The “World’s Worst” Improv Game

The “World’s Worst” is a popular improv comedy game. You might have seen it performed live at an improv performance or on TV on Whose Line Is It Anyway? or you might have even played it before in drama class or summer camp.

In this game, the players take turns coming up with one-liners that represent the world’s worst tour guide, roommate, barber, first date, or whatever the category happens to be for this particular round of the game.

“World’s worst customer requests” would be a hilarious parlor game even if it involved zero imagination and simply consisted of each participant repeating verbatim the most excessive or outlandish customer complaints and requests they had ever received in the course of their customer service careers.

Simply doing a round-robin of “customers behaving badly” incidents is a good icebreaker. In that regard, it helps build camaraderie within the customer service department. It is like having a drink with your coworkers after work, except that, instead, you are at your workplace eating catered food and getting paid.

To make this exercise better serve the purpose of customer service training, though, you should instead introduce an element in which one participant plays the role of an unflappable employee who gracefully fields all of the complaints and provides excellent customer service.

Another possible variation would be the world’s worst customer service agent game. Likewise, one person could play a long-suffering customer who must deal with unhelpful employees. This way, the audience would see how frustrating substandard customer service is from the customer’s point of view.

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Building Customer Service Team Spirit Through the Four Rooms Game

A slightly more elaborate version of the “world’s worst” customer service improv game is one that involves slightly more preparation on the part of team members.

This game takes its inspiration from the movie Four Rooms, an anthology film released in 1995 that has since become a cult favorite. The main character of the movie is Ted, a hotel bellhop who is having a terrible night at work.

Each segment of the film is about a different nightmarish scenario that the bellhop must resolve, and each is the work of a different director. The last and most famous segment, directed by Quentin Tarantino, is based on the work of Roald Dahl, the author of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Matilda, and The Witches.

In the customer service training improv game inspired by this movie, each customer service team thinks of a difficult customer service experience scenario, preferably one that involves multiple parties. The scenario should involve your workplace, so it should only involve a hotel if you are the manager of a hotel. It can be a restaurant, an office, or any context in which your employees deal with the public.

For example, one team member can role-play a customer, and the other two can role-play employees who gave the customer contradictory answers, and now “Ted” must solve the problem. Another group might play loyal customers who have decided, through conversations in their Facebook group, that they want to cancel their subscriptions to your service, and “Ted” must convince them to stay.

Each team presents its scenario in front of the entire audience of customer service agents. It will be fun for employees to dream up nightmarishly difficult customer interactions that are even worse than what they have encountered in the course of their work and even more fun for them to cheer for “Ted” while he navigates these scenarios by providing exceptional customer service.

In another scenario, two loyal customers might have booked appointments for the same space at the same time, and “Ted” must decide how to fairly compensate them both. Of course, unlike in the original movie, a different person can play the role of “Ted” in each scene.

Yes, Playing Telephone Makes You a Better Customer Service Agent

Not only is customer service training important, but it can also be fun. It is possible to illustrate the importance of collaboration with coworkers for good customer service by doing something much simpler than the aforementioned improvisational acting exercises. In fact, you need look no further than the game of Telephone, the world’s least expensive summer camp days, played on days when it is too rainy for outdoor activities.

The game now known as Telephone is much older than the telephone itself. It actually originated centuries before Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone, was even born. The oldest references to it come from 15th-century Italy, where it was called “the game of the ear.”

The game is now played all around the world, and it is known by many different names, many of which include references to foreign languages, with the idea being that the message changes so much throughout the game that it turns into a different language.

How to Play Telephone for Customer Service Training

To play Telephone, the first person whispers a brief message in the ear of the second person, who whispers it in the ear of the third person, and so on, until all of the players have heard the message. At the end, the last person who has received the message says it out loud in front of the whole group.

Inevitably, the message that the last player says out loud will be very different from the original message. For example, if the original message was, “customer service training topics,” it might turn into something like “Christmas ermine in the tropics” or something similarly nonsensical.

Playing Telephone with customer service representatives is one of the simplest customer service training ideas, but it can drive home an important point about communication skills.

When customers call a call center, they often get transferred to multiple employees, and one party has to explain the situation to another based on what he or she has heard from someone else. In other words, messages travel through a call center in a circuitous route, and there are ample opportunities for misunderstandings.

Great customer service requires you to make sure that you get the whole story from all relevant parties before you offer solutions. It also sends the message that customer service teams should keep detailed written records and that each coworker should review the notes about the case before getting involved. “Too many cooks spoil the broth” applies to customer service skills as much as it does to cooking.

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De-Escalation Training for Customer Service Employees

Ultimately, not all of the customer service training ideas you implement can be about fun and games. To achieve the company’s customer retention goals, you will need to ensure that your customer service team is adept at de-escalation.

Customer support reps whose entire job consists of fielding complaints from customers by phone know that it is not always possible to meet customer expectations because sometimes customers have unreasonable expectations. This is why the phone support team is one of the most difficult customer service roles.

Even though they are not as much fun as improv comedy and parlor games, role-playing scenarios about de-escalating a confrontational customer experience can be an important part of your training session.

How to Role Play the HEARD Method

The HEARD method is a reliable and versatile de-escalation technique. When you use it, you can improve customer satisfaction, but well-trained agents who take phone calls about customer concerns are not the only ones who would do well to become proficient in the HEARD method.

Salespeople taking customer queries can benefit from using the HEARD method, and so can social workers, teachers, or almost anyone else who is trying to resolve a complaint from an angry or stressed person.

What Does HEARD Stand For?

HEARD is an acronym for hear, empathize, acknowledge, resolve, and diagnose, among several other variations. In other words, you start by ascertaining the customer’s issues through active listening. Only after you have built a rapport with the upset customer can you move to the support processes where you resolve the problem.

The HEARD method is both simple and surprisingly time-consuming. It is 80 percent customer relations and 20 percent transactional interaction. It requires employees to use multiple soft skills, and using all of these skills at the same time or in succession requires practice and no small measure of patience and perseverance.

To the extent that employees have had any customer service training, it has most likely been instructor-led training on de-escalation techniques such as the components of the HEARD method. The company might even require employees to participate in ongoing training where they interact with employees from other departments and discuss common customer problems and the company’s core values.

Most of the time, employees only participate in the training process because it is a job requirement. In fact, a company culture that requires lots of boring and ineffective employee training is not good for employee morale, and therefore it is not good for customer service.

Role Playing the Individual Steps of the HEARD Method

Customer service training ideas related to the HEARD method do not have to be boring. Instead, you can focus individually on each of the good communication skills that employees must implement in order to practice the method successfully. Some exercises that target HEARD market skills resemble parlor games and improvisational acting exercises.

Customer Service Training Ideas That Target Listening Skills

The H in HEARD stands for “hear.” When a customer interacts with an employee to discuss a problem, they cannot make any progress toward solving the problem until the employee accurately understands the nature of the customer complaint.

This is an important, but often overlooked, step in meeting customer expectations. In a real-life enactment of the HEARD method, the customer explains the problem in detail, with as many digressions and as much emotion as the customer sees fit. Meanwhile, the employee simply listens and does not interrupt. Then the employee, while keeping a positive attitude, simply repeats back the customer’s interpretation of the problem in the employee’s own words.

A popular game that practices the “hear” phase of the customer experience is a favorite game for passing the time on road trips. It is a game where you must memorize an increasingly long list of irrelevant details. On a road trip, it starts with the first player saying, “I’m going on a road trip, and I’m bringing a toothbrush.” The second person says, “I’m going on a road trip and bringing a toothbrush and a phone charger.” Each player, in succession, repeats the existing list and adds one item to it.

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Example of Game Applied to Customer Service Training

In the customer service training version of this game, one participant can play a customer, and another can play an employee. Every time the employee demonstrates an understanding of the customer’s complaint, the employee adds another detail. For example, it might play out like this:

  • Customer: I returned a meat thermometer, but I didn’t receive a refund.
  • Employee: You have not received a refund for the meat thermometer you bought from us.
  • Customer: I returned it a week ago.
  • Employee: You bought a meat thermometer from us, and you returned it a week ago, but you have not received a refund.
  • Customer: It cost $150, but I did a BNPL plan of five installments.
  • Employee: You bought a $150 meat thermometer on a five-installment payment plan, but then you returned it, and you still need to receive a refund.
  • Customer: I made the first two payments.
  • Employee: You paid $60 toward the purchase of a $150 meat thermometer, but then you returned it, and you are still waiting for a $60 refund.

In another variation of this game, the “customer” has a certain amount of time, for example, three minutes, to describe the problem in the most confusing way possible. The “employee” must then repeat the problem back to the customer as he or she understands it. To make this a truly challenging exercise in active listening, the “customer” can continue adding or changing details.

In another variation of the game, the “customer” describes the problem in detail, and the “employee” summarizes it, but it is obvious that the “employee” will need to refer the customer to another department. The first “employee” contacts a second “employee” and describes the customer’s complaint. The active listening process repeats until the second “employee” can accurately produce a description of the problem and what the customer needs. This process can repeat with multiple “other employees,” like a game of Telephone, except on speaker.

First World Problems: The Empathy Game

The first step in the HEARD method is to make sure that you understand the problem that the customer is complaining about. The next step is to empathize.

Empathy makes us human, but compassion fatigue can easily set in when your entire workday consists of listening to complaints about customer issues, each of them pettier and more avoidable than the last. Providing excellent service means adopting the attitude that the customer is always right, but it is very difficult to do this on a consistent basis, especially when customers are being patently unreasonable.

The more your company’s culture requires you to go above and beyond for customers, the harder it is to give each customer as much understanding as your employer wants you to give them. When your employer is constantly asking you to acquire new skills while simultaneously asking you to make customers’ needs your priority, it is doubly frustrating.

The “First World Problems” game can be a way for employees to show empathy instead of derision or impatience, in the face of unreasonable, or even ridiculous, customer feedback. Playing this game at training sessions in front of an audience of your peers shows that the empathy step of the HEARD method is a necessary, if time-consuming, prerequisite to meaningful resolution. Conflict resolution skills require you to “fake it ‘til you make it” with empathetic responses.

How to Play the Empathy Game

In this game, one participant plays the role of an employee in the customer support department, and four others play customers. The first “customer” complains about a problem, which is either trivial, entirely the result of the customer’s own mistake, or both. The “employee” must then offer an empathetic response that does not insinuate that the customer could easily have prevented or solved the problem without contacting the employee.

To make the game go more smoothly, the “employee” can only spend one minute per complaint. If the “customer” is not content with the solutions, if any, that the “employee” offers, the “employee” should refer the “customer” to the dispute resolution department offstage and move on to the next “customer.” The more sincere and genuinely concerned the “employee” sounds with each “customer,” the better.

From the perspective of de-escalation theory, empathizing with the customer and apologizing or acknowledging your role in contributing to the problem are two separate steps. In practice, employees sometimes implement both steps in the same speech act. This may also happen during the First World Problems game.

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Exercises in Creative Problem Solving

Resolving the problem is the fourth of five steps in the HEARD method. In other words, being patient with the customer and giving him or her a chance to speak before you start offering solutions is half the battle.

Playing customer service training games such as Telephone, World’s Worst, or First World Problems before you work on any problem-solving activities will emphasize this point. By the time you get to the part of the customer service training workshop where you get to solve problems, your customer service teams will probably be hangry.

This is a good time to break out the catered lunch because it is easier to meet customer service standards when you have had adequate nutrition than when you are working on an empty stomach. The possibilities are virtually endless for the ways that participants can practice solving problems collaboratively and creatively.

Example of Problem Solving Activity for a Customer Service Team

For example, you can distribute the pieces of several jigsaw puzzles among the employees and require them to communicate with each other to find out who has which pieces. You might set a rule that group conversations are not allowed, and they can only talk to each other in a speed dating-like setting. The conversation might go like this:

  • Employee 1: One of my pieces has a yellow and brown color scheme, with curved lines. The other two are mostly red and black.
  • Employee 2: I also have a yellow one with curved lines. Maybe they belong to the same puzzle.
  • Employee 1: I will leave my yellow and brown piece with you.

At the next table, the conversation might go like this.

  • Employee 1: I think both of my remaining pieces belong to the same puzzle. They are red and black. One of them has lots of fine, intersecting lines.
  • Employee 3: That doesn’t sound like any of my pieces. One of mine has a minion.
  • Employee 1: Maybe one of the puzzles is a Minions puzzle. I left one of my pieces with Employee 2. Maybe those pieces belong to the Minions puzzle.

Even playing a pre-existing strategy game like Mastermind requires employees to solve problems while keeping track of details, working within constraints, and collaborating.

Recognizing Patterns and Finding Ways to Change Them

The last step in the HEARD method is to diagnose the underlying problem and find ways to prevent it from recurring. You can reinforce this skill through games by having employees recognize patterns in charts and reports. You can give them a time limit to change one variable and see how it affects the outcome. It is easier to do exercises like this with computers, but it is more in the spirit of in-person collaboration to present the data in the form of images and text printed on paper.

De-escalation is Not a Game

Fun exercises and games can help you practice the skills you need in customer service, but true de-escalation skills are important for your employee’s productivity and well-being. Workshops on conflict psychology, conflict resolution, and de-escalation techniques can help employees gain practical skills in providing better customer service and de-escalating tense situations.

Contact Defuse About De-Escalation Training

Defuse offers de-escalation workshops in-person and online for customer service professionals. Contact Defuse today to find out more about our course offerings.