Customer Experience Training — 10 Tips For Success

With decades of live and virtual CX training under our belt, here are 10 things we’ve learned about doing it successfully.


More and more companies are investing in customer experience training – but the key question for most of them is simply this:  How do we maximize the return on our investment?

Businesses rightfully view customer experience training as an essential part of their customer experience (CX) strategy.  After all, if you want to derive competitive advantage from a great customer experience, you’ve got to equip your staff with the skills and knowledge needed to deliver that.

[New to customer experience?  Check out our CX 101 resources.] 

Watermark authored one of the first (and now, most widely-cited) studies on Customer Experience ROI.  That research became the basis for the live and virtual customer experience training programs and conference keynotes that we’ve delivered for more than a decade to B2C and B2B companies, large and small.

We’ve learned a lot in that time about what makes for an effective customer experience training program.  Whether you conduct that training with in-house resources, or work with an external provider, here are 10 tips to keep in mind to help maximize your return on that training investment.


1.  Frame it as “customer experience training” — not “customer service training.”

“Customer experience” is different than “customer service” (a critical point that you’ll want to be sure to cover in your training.)  Since many people view the two terms as synonymous, it’s important, even in pre-training communications, to make this distinction.  Otherwise, entire segments of your workforce – sales, marketing, IT, legal, etc. – will immediately perceive the training as being irrelevant to them, viewing it instead as the domain of the “service people.”

That starts everything off on the wrong foot, because “customer experience” is much broader than “customer service,” and the delivery of a great, competitively differentiated experience requires the involvement of everyone in the organization, not just those in traditional service roles.


2.  Pursue a role-based approach to the training.

For training on any topic to be effective, it needs to be relevant to your target audience.  Customer experience training is no different.

For example, we find it’s particularly valuable to train managers and non-managers separately (or to at least provide supplemental training to those in managerial roles).  Why?  Because delivering a great customer experience isn’t just about what happens “onstage” (the things customers can see), it’s also about what happens “backstage” (behind-the-scenes workplace practices, for which managers are primarily responsible).

Similarly, what’s accentuated in customer experience training for sales staff will be different than what’s accentuated for service staff.  So, if your budget allows it, creating role-based training cohorts is a much more effective way of delivering customized, relevant CX education to your workforce.


3.  Include customer-facing and non-customer-facing employees in the training.

When people think of customer experience training, they tend to think of call center agents, retail store associates, sales representatives, etc.  However, the best CX training programs recognize that behind every great external customer experience is a great internal customer experience.  Meaning – in order for customer-facing staff to deliver a great customer experience, they have to be getting phenomenal support from their internal, behind-the-scenes colleagues.

For example, call center agents can’t perform well if they’re not getting great, responsive support from their technology staff.  Retail store associates can’t wow their customers if product development teams haven’t effectively trained them on new offerings.  Sales reps can’t impress prospects during the purchase process if Marketing hasn’t provided them with top-notch product information material.

An effective customer experience training program should have representation from nearly every functional area, not just those that are traditionally viewed as customer-facing.  While not everyone in your organization might be customer-facing, they are all most certainly customer-impacting – and, for that reason, educating all employees in customer experience design and delivery is a smart move.


4.  Keep the training classes small and interactive.

Depending on the size of your organization, when you start considering all the different roles and functions that should be included in the customer experience training, the size of the target audience can get pretty large.

Ideally, if your budget allows it, try to keep the training sessions relatively small, between 15-30 people.  That will help make the sessions more personalized and interactive, which generally translates into a better experience for your trainees.

Of course, if budget constraints simply won’t support that approach, it’s still better to hold a large training session than no training at all.  However, other aspects of the program design (such as session length, curriculum and follow-up communication) will become more critical in order to overcome some of the challenges associated with large group training.


5.  Don’t forget to make the case for change.

Many companies jump into customer experience training without recognizing that a big part of that exercise is change management.  You can’t assume that every employee who walks into a CX training program will arrive with a clear understanding of why they are there.

Be cognizant of this and structure the training accordingly.  Good CX training helps make the case for change, and highlights for employees how a renewed focus on customer experience isn’t just good for business – it’s good for them, personally.  Once they understand the “why” and the “what’s in it for me” behind the customer experience training, it’s a lot more likely they’ll be interested and engaged in the endeavor.


6.  Give training participants permission to “disconnect.”

We once had a client who engaged us to deliver customer experience training for their staff – but also stressed that there would need to be breaks in the training every hour so employees could check their e-mails and voice mails.

Perhaps it goes without saying, but that’s a really bad idea.  The message that sends to participants is that sure, this training is important… but not as important as continuing to do your regular job.  Right then and there, you’ll lose your target audience (mentally, if not also physically) — and you will have wasted your training investment.

Senior leaders who are sponsoring these sessions need to give attendees explicit permission to disconnect from their job through the duration of the training.  Of course, there should be periodic breaks, and people can check their messages at that time.  But the expectation should be set that employees are there to learn, not to tap away on their phones and laptops, doing their normal job albeit in a different venue.

Among the ways to facilitate this:  Split training into groups, so there’s always a contingent of employees providing backup while their counterparts are in training.  Have people set their mobile devices aside, to avoid distractions.  And, lastly, for in-person programs, consider holding the training offsite to help minimize interruptions that can more easily occur when participants are technically still “in the office.”


7.  Keep the training practical and pragmatic.

For many in the workplace, hearing that they need to attend “customer experience training” is sure to generate more than a little eye-rolling.  That’s not surprising, since many customer experience training programs are heavy on platitudes and theory, but light on practicality and pragmatism.

The most effective customer experience training programs aren’t academic, they’re actionable.  Instead of four quadrant diagrams, philosophical constructs and worn-out mantras (“Put yourself in the customer’s shoes!”), they equip attendees with specific, science-based techniques for creating impressive customer experiences and shaping customer perceptions in a positive way.

The litmus test in designing your customer experience training should be this:  Will the staff know exactly what to do differently when they return to their desk?  If the answer to that question is “no,” then go back to the drawing board.


8.  Give training participants a chance to apply their newly learned skills.

It’s one thing to learn about customer experience design and delivery techniques – and another to actually employ them in your job.

Ideally, you’ll want your customer experience training to incorporate both a classroom component as well as a hands-on workshop component.  That latter piece can be fulfilled in a variety of ways, from simple facilitated breakout discussions to more intricate customer journey mapping and experience engineering exercises.

Either way, the objective is the same:  Give staff an opportunity to apply what they’ve learned to actual customer experience episodes in which they’re involved.  That helps ensure they leave the customer experience training not just with an academic understanding of the material, but also a grasp of how to practically apply that knowledge on the job.


9.  Incorporate some type of post-training follow-up.

The most important day of your customer experience training is the day after it ends.  Will people apply what they learned, or get distracted by the whirlwind of day-to-day business?  To ensure the former, and avoid the latter, design your training to include post-session “refreshers.”

This can be done in a variety of ways across a variety of platforms (live, print or digital).  However it is accomplished, the key is to “drip” additional training content and guidance on the target audience – potentially for weeks if not months after the session.  This helps remind them of what they learned during the training (facilitating their absorption of the material), and also gives them concrete ideas on how to apply what they learned to their daily jobs.


10.  Recognize that CX training is but one part of an effective CX strategy.

Customer experience training can be a very powerful driver for organizational success, but make no mistake – staff training alone won’t get you to where you want to be.

Yes, training is a critical ingredient, but it should be pursued in tandem with other efforts, such as cultivating greater insight into customers’ needs, fostering a more customer-centric workplace culture, and engaging the staff in specific CX improvement efforts.  That broad-based approach helps bring credibility to the whole endeavor, and makes it far less likely that customer experience training will be viewed by the staff as mere corporate “window dressing.”


Watermark has helped educate some of the world’s leading brands in the design and delivery of exceptional customer experiences.  Contact us to start turning your company’s customer experience into its greatest competitive advantage.


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