Three Overlooked (but important) Elements of Customer Service Training

Three Overlooked (but important) Elements of Customer Service Training

. 4 min read

After eight years of hypergrowth leading training for Airbnb’s 250 person Global Safety & Claims team, Robyn Barton joined PartnerHero to head up Learning & Development in September. During her time at Airbnb she learned a thing or two about how to build and scale successful training so that every hire is confident and ready to excel in their roles and now she brings that expertise to PartnerHero.

Here we share her method of scaling training and well as three foundational elements that every person building a customer service training needs to consider. And, as a bonus, her favorite books, tools and tricks she's learned along the way.

Your passion is really about scaling training and quality. Can you tell us how you scaled training at Airbnb to meet the needs of a 250 person team?

I once found myself on a 76-day business trip, traipsing around the world from Lisbon to Dublin to Singapore and Seoul in an effort to train all Safety & Claims agents, myself. It was on that trip that I realized we needed a better scaling plan. Turns out it's not scalable to have one person flying around the world to administer training which is why I built the trainer certification program.

We set up a certification program that had three phases to becoming a trainer. New hires going through phase one of the program would be certified to handle specific types of training, completing phase two of certification meant you could lead onboarding and completing phase three meant you could certify other trainers. The best part is that it is a self-sustaining program. We went from having just a couple of centralized trainers to having high quality teams of certified trainers all over the world.  

Finding a way to support all of these new teams and still have a high quality standard is the overarching problem that certification is solving. A bonus is that it also creates career pathways as it’s an entry into L&D.

We were all calibrated using a rubric that tested 70 skills so we could quantify trainer performance. The quality of a training might seem subjective but we were able to make it measurable and data driven. We wanted to be sure we were providing the same level of training all over the world that they would get from an Airbnb trainer. The certification program led to high quality customer outcomes and met the growth demands of the organization.

Certification really enabled our training to scale. With PartnerHero and Airbnb’s hyper growth that becomes really important. Finding a way to support all of these new teams and still have a high quality standard is the overarching problem that certification is solving. A bonus is that it also creates career pathways as it’s an entry into L&D. If someone is going to be acting as the trainer they will go through certification and when a permanent job opens up in L&D they will be the most qualified. When you become a trainer you are really acting as a leader and mentor. In many ways, the certification program is a career development framework AND allows your teams to scale.

What are some often overlooked, yet important elements of fantastic customer support training?

The number one place to start is a solid needs-analysis phase.  People think of training as a solution to every problem and don’t think critically through the root cause of issues they are facing. Some onboarding will always be necessary but I think that companies should be thinking through the supplemental things like a robust knowledge management system or a solid help center that might actually address the issue they are facing in a more efficient way. Conducting a needs analysis will help you identify what gaps you are solving for. The analysis might point toward making it easier for employees to reference less-used policies via a knowledge management system instead of creating a brand-new training that will be forgotten because the policy isn’t used very often. In this scenario, it would be better to train the team on how to use the knowledge management system and that they should go there to reference less-used policies that they may have forgotten the specifics of.

The analysis might point toward making it easier for employees to reference less-used policies via a knowledge management system instead of creating a brand-new training that will be forgotten because the policy isn’t used very often.

The second overlooked yet crucial thing to consider is scalability. When people think of training their mind immediately goes to an instructor-led system. The truth is, that’s not scalable. Having a million Google slide decks just isn’t scalable and you will run into issues, quickly. Building a healthy mix of blended learning from some instructor-led, some self-paced modules and lots of shadowing is where the world is going and the pandemic has only accelerated that. At PartnerHero we use Workramp to build both instructor led and self-paced modules.

When people think of training their mind immediately goes to an instructor-led system. The truth is, that’s not scalable.

The last thing, and the one that is the hardest to swallow, is the recognition that training will likely require a larger time investment than you might think. Management always wants training to be one week max even though the job you’re asking people to do is incredibly complex and sometimes very emotionally taxing. The goal should be to build a training that truly sets agents up for success which will turn into better customer experiences and better employee retention. Getting management buy-in into how long and how split up training needs to be in order to best set agents up for success is foundational to having a good outcome.

What about the nuts and bolts of training?

We used the ADDIE model, the industry standard design framework for any training that you are designing. ADDIE stands for analysis, design, development, implementation, evaluation. It guides how to build a training from start to finish.

It is the gold standard for how to design any curriculum. That is how to design a best in class customer service training.

Can you share some books you’ve read that inspire you or were especially informative as you built your career in L&D?

There are four books that I find myself referring back to over and over again. They are:

Design for How People Learn (Voices that Matter) by Julie Dirksen

Kirkpatrick’s Four Levels of Training Evaluation by James and Wendy Kirkpatrick

The Making of a Manager: What To Do When Everyone Looks To You by Julie Zhuo

Virtual Training Tools and Templates by Cindy Huggett