6 Fun and Powerful Training Games for Customer Service Teams
What makes a good customer service representative? According to Help Scout, the skill set includes empathy, patience, flexibility, a calming presence, as well as communication, listening and persuasion skills.
A rare combination, indeed.
Instead of finding people who possess all of these skills, it’s easier to hire talented people with a good basis and train them towards perfection.
The problem is that these skills are usually developed subconsciously throughout our lives. They can’t be learned from books; you need to live them.
There’s a way, though, to let your service reps live and learn these skills in a time compressed manner: training games. Many of the games and ideas I’ll suggest here are based on improvisation, an area that more and more companies are discovering as a powerful tool for communication training.
The power of improvisation games for customer service
Jesse Scinto from Colombia University explains in Forbes why Fortune 500 companies like Google, PepsiCo and McKinsey send their employees to improvisation classes.
The power from improvisation training derives from the fact that performers don’t know what will happen before they’re on stage. The performance starts based on suggestions from the audience, after which the performers improvise and make the story up on the fly.
The improvised performance is based on certain principles – principles that can be mastered through training. For a successful performance, actors need to be present, listen carefully, and contribute freely. These skills are obviously valuable in a customer service environment, in which adaptability is crucial.
This isn’t about cleverness training or joke training. It’s really about the infrastructure of communication and connecting.Ed Herbstman, cofounder of the Magnet Theater
Although laughing isn’t necessarily the goal, the fun surrounding improvisation is perfect for group activities and benefits the learning experience.
According to a growing body of research, comedy has the power of improving student performance by reducing anxiety, raising motivation, and stimulating participation.
Similar findings were shared in a paper on The Neuroscience of Joyful Education. Studies on neuroimaging and brain chemical transmitter measurements showed that the transfer and storage of information in the brain is the highest when students are engaged, motivated and feel minimal stress.
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Here are the best games for training customer service skills and/or for getting in the right customer service mindset. The first 4 improv games can be done in a group; 5 and 6 are computer games that can be practiced alone.
The Improv Encyclopedia shares the 5 Rules of Improvisation:
- Don’t deny
- Don’t ask open ended questions
- You don’t have to be funny
- You can look good by making your partner look good
- Tell a story
The “Yes, and…” story telling exercise can be carried out by two people or more and builds especially on the “Don’t deny” principle. One person starts with one sentence of a story, and the next person builds on that, either bouncing back and forth between two people or circling around in a larger group.
You can take the story in any direction, as long as it builds on top of the previous sentence with a “yes, and…” take off.
Besides the fun of seeing the story go in the strangest directions, this game teaches a few crucial customer service skills.
One is listening skills. You have to build upon what was said last. A nasty conversation habit is to be overly focused on what you want to say. While the other person is talking, many people miss out on a lot that’s been said.
It also teaches flexibility. Instead of going against what’s been said, your aim is to build on top of it. How many service deliveries go astray because the service rep doesn’t listen or tries to prove the customer wrong? It works better to build on what’s been said.
2Same letter, new sentence
A variation of the above exercise, with the difference that the next person builds on top of what’s been said with a sentence that starts with the same letter that the previous sentence ended with.
Example video (watch at 2:57):
This trains your listening skills even more, since you have to pay full attention till the end of the last sentence to be able to make the correct follow-up sentence.
This improv game is played in a group, divided up in pairs. One person – let’s call him John – takes the stage and does any repetitive motion that comes to mind, over and over again. It’s not the responsibility of John to make sense of that activity.
At first, this will make John look… like a weirdo. It’s the job of the partner – let’s call her Anne – to fix this by stepping in and making sense of the scene, that way making John seem fully justified for performing his activity. John then, in return, builds on that. It’s best illustrated with a video:
Example video (watch at 11:30):
Not only is this exercise a lot of fun, it also teaches about the importance of building on what the other person says and making her look good. In our case, it’s about making the customer look good.
4Customer Role Play
This improvisation game is tailored towards customer service. You divide the team in couples, with group A playing the customers and group B playing the service reps.
The people in Group A play angry customers. They are either handed a certain complaint, or can think of one themselves (think ridiculous complaints, e.g. “the water was too wet”). Also, they are given a certain goal – to get a big refund, for example.
The service reps in Group B are given the task to resolve the situation. They, too, have a goal – to calm down the customer and minimize the damage as much as possible. They might not be allowed to give a refund, for example, but are allowed to give away drinks or a few weeks of free service.
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The couples then perform their role play in front of the group. The performers are encouraged to be creative, especially the customers. It’s fun for them to play the extreme customer, but do encourage them to stay reasonable. Like in all improvisation, the participants should build on what their partners say or do. It’s a conversation, not a shout-out.
After the role play, the rest of the group can give feedback – e.g. what the service rep could have done differently to minimize the damage.
This is a useful exercise for both groups. The service rep gets a thorough exercise in conflict resolution, while the ones playing the customers get a training in empathy – filling the shoes of the customers they engage with on a daily basis.
It’s also fun for the group to recognize typical arguments and dilemmas they encounter in everyday life.
Remembering names is a powerful social skill. As Dale Carnegie so eloquently phrased it:
… a person's name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.
The Dale Carnegie Training Institute shares their method for memorizing names on their website: impression, repetition, association. You could incorporate these practices in the above-mentioned role game, with the customer group adopting imaginary names for the service reps to memorize.
6Psych Me Up
A positive mindset is arguably the most important element of a good service delivery. Yet it's terribly challenging to maintain after an encounter with an angry customer.
According to a study published in 2009, much of the stress we experience actually derives from fear of social rejection. Humans are social creatures, and in prehistoric times being rejected from the group meant certain death. Because of this, we’ve developed a strong fear reaction against rejection.
This stress reaction however doesn’t do us much good in our current society. Today, if you’re rejected in one group, you can easily go out and find a new one. And it’s an especially limiting emotional reflex if you’re a service rep who encounters many stressful individuals on a daily basis.
The researchers found, however, that test subjects trained to look for “positive social feedback” were less susceptible to social stress.
The mobile app Psych Me Up builds on this research. With the free app, the exercise is to pick the laughing face out of a group of negative faces. This trains your brain to focus on the positive.
Having your service reps do a daily set of Psych Me Up could have a strong effect on their mental positive resilience. Combine that with an improv mindset and an elephant memory for names, and you've got yourself one heck of a service rep.