To get started with training agents for live chat, first you’ll need to hire them. While many skills can be developed over time, there are some that are best to look for in applicants right from the start.
Once you’ve hired a new chat agent, starting them off on the right foot requires a plan for training. Rather than creating a gigantic training resource and having the new employee work through it on their own all at once, consider breaking the training up into sessions and building skills over time.
To train a new chat agent, consider the following:
Instead of dropping every training material on a new agent at once, start them out with a few small tasks to tackle and work to build on those as time goes on. If they are eventually expected to chat with every type of customer in every kind of chat you offer — support, sales, onboarding, marketing, and so on — consider starting them out in only one area, like support then adding more in as time goes on.
Instead of practicing faux chats in an internal-only tool, train agents on live chat in the actual chat tool they’ll be using every day. While starting out with basic training that includes text documentation, screenshots, or video examples is okay, make sure to build on the entry-level knowledge with real experience getting to know how the chat tool works.
Make sure agents have a deep understanding of every tool they need to use to perform their job successfully. While working on chat skills in relation to how to craft replies for a customer is important, don’t slack on helping them best utilize the internal tools too.
While a new agent may start the job with some product knowledge, it’s highly likely they’ll still need to expand upon that knowledge. Once they have access to the product from the other side, plus all of their skilled teammates, there will be lots to learn about the product from the agent side. Plus, as soon as they start helping real customers, they’re likely to get questions they never even thought to look for answers to but will need to in the moment.
Don’t let training be just for new hires or a once a year phenomenon. Create a culture that includes constant learning and skill improvement. Give your agents time to expand their knowledge and become better at their jobs. Beyond training, encourage teammates to help each other and reach out when needed.
If your team is large enough, consider assigning every new chat agent a peer mentor. Establish general guidelines for how the relationship should go — like how often they should have a chat to check-in or topics to discuss — and then give the pair the space to work together. Don’t monitor their chats or interrupt their time together.
While the bulk of training a chat agent often happens early on in their employment, don’t let it stop there. Training for customer service should be an ongoing process throughout their time on the team. To do this, consider the following:
Your product or service likely changes over time, which means your agents will need to keep current. Rather than leaving them to casually follow any updates to the product and risk annoying customers in chat with incorrect answers, create specific training for product updates and give your agents the time they need to complete it. You may also want to assess the basic chat skills of your agents to identify individual areas where they need improvement and then plan future training materials around those results.
One fascinating thing about working in customer service for an online service or software is how varied the backgrounds are of the chat agents on any given team. Everyone has their own experiences, strengths, and interests, so why not use those to your advantage? Track skill levels or how individuals perform in various areas, then ask anyone particularly strong in one area to train their teammates on it. For example, if you notice one agent is really good at juggling multiple chats without frustrating customers, help them identify the ways they achieve that and pass the knowledge along to others. If the team meets weekly, encourage sharing of tips and tricks on a regular basis too.
Don’t leave training to chance. Establish a schedule for agents to stick to once they’ve completed their new hire training sessions. A quarterly training or yearly check-in may be the right fit. If you’ve got the staffing, consider allowing an entire team to take a break from front line support for a day or two to complete the training together before diving back into the queues.
People might feel pretty silly pretending to live chat at first, but by role-playing and figuring out how to handle more difficult questions and issues, agents can be better prepared when faced with a customer who presents a tricky situation.
Beyond the initial batch of skills referenced when hiring a new chat agent — communication, experience, people skills, and product knowledge — you may want to train existing employees in other areas too, like:
Live chat requires solid reading and writing skills, from being able to use proper grammar to clearly communicating a thought and beyond. Beyond basic grammar and proper spelling, make sure chat agents are good at — or work on — asking clear and to the point questions to find the issue, avoid using jargon or overly technical terms with inexperienced users, and know how to explain a process in simple steps that won’t overwhelm the chat box or the customer.
An excellent customer service agent is likely curious and tenacious. They should be the kind of person who wants to dig until they find the answer. If you see an agent struggling with this, help them develop their troubleshooting skills. You could pair them up with someone who is particularly good at diving deep into tough issues or come up with a challenging question and pose it to them as an exercise.
Some customers don’t want to take “no” for an answer, just like some will keep hanging out in chat long after the conversation should’ve ended. It’s essential for your agents to know how to provide the customer with the answer they need — even if it’s not the one they want to hear — and move on to another chat. Develop a guide on how to deliver bad news as well as examples of how to close out a chat without making a customer feel ditched.
Knowing how to talk to customers is one thing, but understanding how to communicate with teammates best is another. Even if a chat agent is great at the chats that make up the bulk of their day, they may struggle with how to share information internally or what’s worth documenting for other agents. Establish clear guidelines for internal communications and help agents learn to master them.
In customer service and live chat support, there’s always something to do. Being pulled in so many directions and knowing customers are counting on you for speedy replies can make prioritizing tasks and managing time a tricky prospect. Encourage chat agents to try out various to-do list and time management apps or systems and share their systems with each other. It may take some time for each agent to find the right fit, so be sure to support them in searching for the best setup for their work style.
Understanding it’s important to listen to a customer is pretty straightforward and probably obvious to every agent. However, listening closely and reading between the lines is a trickier skill to master. Reviewing chats to look for instances when an agent missed a cue from a customer and pointing out the error is a great way to help them start to look deeper at what a customer is saying — whether they’re using the proper technical terms or not.