Back in college, I took a customer service job one summer working in a call center for a nationwide moving service. When I think back to my first week on the job, my body still recoils with the anxiety I felt. It was overwhelming. Day one you’re handed large amounts of information to learn, systems to get acclimated with, and told to listen to phone calls taken by your peers. I remember wondering, how am I ever going to get the handle of this?

The onboarding process in any call center can feel daunting. Contact center agents are the primary touchpoint your customers have with your company. They feel the pressure to support the reputation of the business and to know your product and services exceptionally well, all while maintaining a positive attitude. The training it takes to get to that level of expertise takes more than just a week or two. To help your agents support a positive customer experience, training has to extend past initial onboarding, too.

Making Training Engaging

Training is integral for providing a good customer experience, but it’s just as important in helping employee morale and engagement. When you invest in your employee’s professional development and provide them the tools to succeed in their work, they’re more likely to deliver quality service.

Considering that 78% of customers have backed out of a purchase due to a poor customer experience, you can’t risk your agents being underprepared. In our digital age, you have a finite amount of time to impress a customer before they open a new tab and — click! — they move on to a competitor.

The benefits of employee engagement are far-reaching:

But, let’s be honest. When you think about training, does it make you excited? Training, when done poorly, can be monotonous and time-consuming. The first days of training as a new employee feel a bit like trying to drink from a fire hose. It’s a lot of information to consume. And, when you’re feeding agents information in long drawn out presentations, it can be difficult to retain.

So, let’s take a look at some more creative customer service training ideas that can help engage employees while improving their performance.

1. Product & Service Demonstration

It can be easy for managers to unintentionally push the “fake it till you make it” mentality. You may be trying to backfill a position and may feel pressured to have new hires onboarded and taking phone calls quickly. But sometimes, this leads to agents not being fully prepared to step into their roles. When a customer contacts your business, they’re expecting that whoever they talk to is knowledgeable about your products and services.

Product and services education should be a priority for training a new customer service rep. One effective way to enforce knowledge is to make the trainee a trainer for a moment. Learning by teaching is a proven, effective method of education.

Have you ever thought you really “knew” something? But then… as soon as you have to explain it to someone else, you realize you may not understand it as well as you thought? When you’re required to teach someone else about a subject, it sheds light on whether or not you truly understand how it works.

Use the learning by teaching strategy with your team:

Have each agent showcase products and services as if they’re teaching a prospective customer about how to use it. Provide agents an outline to walk through every feature and key benefits in front of their peers. Let the agent create a microlearning lesson to deliver to other agents’ queues. And, have your more experienced agents play the customer, asking questions they hear from customers and providing feedback on how the new hire’s answers.

It’s worthwhile to have every agent return to this customer service training exercise throughout the year as new features are added to products or ideas shift. It positions agents to help customers with any question or problem they may encounter. And, the small amount of peer pressure keeps employees engaged in their work and encourages healthy competition.

2. Cross-Train Employees to Expose Them to New Situations

At some point while assisting your customers, your customer service employees will have to interact with representatives from other departments in order to fulfill requests. If they spend the entirety of their tenure working in the confines of the contact center, they won’t have a realistic view of how other departments function.

It’s easy to get siloed within your department. Your team has different expertise and motivations than your sales team or your product team. As a result, sometimes the departments’ motivations butt heads. This is inevitable. And, in many ways, it produces healthy conflict.

But, when cross-functional work truly starts to splinter, your customers notice. The customer journey gets interrupted by internal conflict, and it’s your customers who suffer.

Cross-training helps alleviate this issue. It allows your front-line team members to see the inner-workings of other departments. Then, when they need help with sending out a customer email from your marketing team or working with your product team to fix a bug, they know how to navigate the process. They are better educated about the rest of your customer journey. And, they develop empathy for the work the other departments do.

Similarly, you want to ensure that representatives from all departments cross-train and with the customer service team. This helps other teams learn about the process of resolving issues, and allows them to recognize how difficult it can be to care for customers.

Cross-training with other departments can be a refreshing step outside of the day-to-day workflow for your agents. If they’re feeling stressed or overwhelmed in the details of their work, give them a day to shadow another team. It helps them see the bigger picture of their work, hear the ideas of other departments, and get valuable training outside of the customer service umbrella.

3. Role Play to Step into your Customer’s Shoes

Your customers should remain the center of your service training. And, since 70% of the customer’s journey is based on how the customer feels they are being treated, it’s important to step into the shoes of your customers in every interaction. Your customer service reps must have an understanding of your customer’s point of view to best personalize their experience and avoid conflict.

This can be difficult when you’re on one end of the line getting an ear full or hearing a strange request from a customer. Sometimes customers ask seemingly ridiculous questions or hit you with an ask that’s outside of company policy. But, when your employees are mindful to understand their perspectives, often you can find some solution to strange or difficult cases.

We’re all customers in some context. Role playing as your own company’s customer can be incredibly effective to train for empathy and highlight areas of weakness. Make it a game and act out real scenarios with your team.

Sit down with all your customer service agents and create a list of some of the more difficult or bizarre requests they get from customers. Then, divide your team into pairs. Ask one person to play the customer and the other to be the customer service agent who has to solve their request.

Let’s walk through an example:

You choose two agents, Sean and Jessica, to act out a common request from customers. Customers call in regularly and ask your agents to refund their bill from the last several months. Either they forgot to cancel, or they were unhappy with their service. Whatever the reason, they want their money back.

How should your agents handle a call like this? Let’s have Jessica play the agent and Sean play the customer. Sean picks up the phone, pretty heated, and gets connected to Jessica. He explains how unhappy he was with his last few months of service, and he thinks he should get a full refund.

Rather than just handing the call up to a supervisor, Jessica steps in and handles the situation on the first touch. She tells the “customer” that she can’t give out a refund on the nose, but she’d be happy to file a complaint on his behalf and get feedback to the product team. And, once approved by her supervisor, she can credit his account.

Let Jessica handle the call how she would with a real customer, then give feedback on how she handled the situation in the moment. And, fill out an agent scorecard for Jessica, so she knows where to improve when she handles the next real customer interaction. Acting out these situations can be fun, and helps your agents learn from one another’s experience.

When you let your reps work out issues together, you’re empowering them to think creatively to solve problems. And, when you step into your customer’s shoes, you’re building empathy among your team for those you serve.

Training Doesn’t Have to be Monotonous

Training doesn’t need to be monotonous or overwhelming. When you take creative approaches to train your customer service representatives, you can empower them to learn from one another. Creative coaching and training ideas can be an organic way to build culture, improve morale, and help customer service agents learn and grow more.

Find 29 more customer service training ideas and ways to coach and your team in this distilled version of Your Call Center Manager Playbook. Get the Guide.