How to Use Role-Playing to Master Soft Skills in Customer Service

Training & Development  |  December 3, 2019

I think you will agree with me when I say role-playing can be darn uncomfortable. We’ve all been through awkward role-play sessions where coworkers don’t take the task seriously, or the moderator doesn’t know how to set the stage properly, and the point becomes moot. 

That doesn’t change the fact, though, that using role-play activities to train your customer service team can be extremely valuable. This is particularly true concerning soft skills — the very skills needed most when dealing with your cherished customer base. 

For that reason, let’s talk about why role-playing is crucial in customer service training and how to do it successfully. 

Why You Need Role-Play Activities in Your Customer Service Training 

Think about it: so-called “hard skills,” such as coding or plumbing, are measurable and technical. Although they can be taught in a classroom, they’re mastered through practice and experience. 

The same goes for soft skills. Soft skills, such as good communication and listening, can’t be taught in a classroom. They are mastered through practice and experience, too. The only way to gain experience in soft skills is through conversing with other human beings. 

Rather than throwing your customer service team to the customers and crossing your fingers, role-play! Allow them the chance to work on their interpersonal skills in a safe environment. 

“Information, alone, rarely makes people change their minds, but personal experience often does. Role-playing, like any good inquiry approach, transforms the content of education from information into experience.” –Science Education Resource Center

Taking a Step Back: What Are Soft Skills Exactly?

As Investopedia puts it, soft skills are “character traits and interpersonal skills that characterize a person’s relationship with other people.” Where hard skills deal with knowledge, soft skills deal with behaviors. 

Hard skills in customer service include things like using the technology required for the job, accurately following company policies and procedures, and understanding the details about the products and services offered. 

Soft skills, on the other hand, include communication skills, working as a team, leadership, creative and critical thinking, being adaptable and flexible in new situations, operating with integrity and honesty, and working hard. 

Why Are Soft Skills Important in Customer Service? 

Good customer service is dependent on soft skills, regardless of the mode of communication between consumers and company representatives. 

One of the most important soft skills a customer service representative can have is situational awareness. This includes recognizing verbal and non-verbal cues customers give in the context of what is occurring, and the ability to respond appropriately. In this way, customer service reps are able to communicate to the customer that their needs and concerns have been genuinely heard and will be addressed. 

There are many other things your soft skills training should teach your team, however. Some we find to be the most critical include how to: 

  1. Communicate clearly and effectively
  2. Demonstrate empathy and help customers feel heard
  3. Avoid getting stressed under pressure
  4. Use positive and problem-solving language 

Effective Role-Play in Customer Service Training: How To

We’ve established that soft skills are vital for customer service roles, and that role-playing is the best way to master them. But how can trainers do role-playing effectively? 

Step #1: Gain Buy-In

First, you need to get your trainees on board. Participation is a key ingredient to successful role-playing, after all, and making activities mandatory can sometimes do more harm than good. 

Put participants at ease by setting clear expectations.

  • Let them know they won’t be graded on their acting, and that they only need to be themselves.
  • Provide scripts for the parts of the role-play that the team isn’t familiar with, such as the customer’s role. 
  • Encourage them to make mistakes. Tell them “we fail here so we can get it right with our customers.” 
  • Encourage laughter to an extent. Of course, we want participants to take the activity seriously and stay on topic, but the ability to laugh at themselves will keep the team relaxed. Allow for a moment or two of laughter, then steer the group back to the fictitious situation. 

Explain what’s in it for them.

  • They might not see it as such, but by offering trainees the opportunity to practice interpersonal skills with experts on hand will only help them in their careers long term. Emotional intelligence is projected to be the most desirable job skill in 2020, and here they are, honing those skills! 
  • Remind them that it would be better to make mistakes during training and sort them out than to make mistakes with a real live customer and face real-life consequences!

Step #2: Create the Environment (and Make it Comfortable)

Whenever possible, use actual locations your trainees will experience in the field. That may be behind the counter, on the phone or on the sales floor. When it comes to role-playing, the more familiar the participant is with the scenario, the better. 

Besides your location, another element that comes into play in setting the scene for role-play is your people. You’ve already gotten them to buy into the activity (hopefully), but you also must help them feel comfortable with the people with whom they will be interacting during their role-playing. Build rapport among participants through ice breakers and team-building activities. 

Step #3: Devise Storylines

Your storylines obviously ought to center around common customer service issues handled by your team. Two tips to keep in mind:

  1. Limit the focus.” Rather than wrapping up a training session with an all-lesson-inclusive role-play activity, focus on one skill or one customer pain point you’d like to improve with each role-play session. Once mastered by the group, move onto another. 
  2. Keep it familiar. Again, the more familiar the scenario to the player, the more comfortable they will be, and therefore the more they can learn from it. If the trainee isn’t up to speed with all your products yet, for example, don’t throw them into a scenario that requires them to rattle off product features. 

Step #4: Role-Play

Have your team hop into the action. Stick closeby to encourage them, keep them on track or guide them when they need to phone a friend. 

Step #5: Close the Feedback Loop

Feedback is a necessary final step to role-playing. Otherwise, you might reinforce negative behaviors rather than correct them. Plan on spending just as much time on feedback as you did on the activity itself.

Master the art of constructive criticism. While your trainees need to hear criticism in order to learn and grow, you don’t want them on their guard or justifying their bad behavior. We want them open to learning. Keep comments simple and to the point, and encourage other observers to do the same. 

Need Help Training Your Customer Service Team?

Customer service is the backbone of your business. How can you make sure your team does it well? 

Check out our Employer’s Guide to Customer Service Training to learn more about customer service training and how good, quality training can improve your day-to-day operations, reduce your costs and increase your revenue. 

Contact us with any questions you have, so that we can help you create targeted, practical solutions for your customer service training. Regardless of your time frame or budget, we are ready to work with you to find the solutions that meet your needs.

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