When it comes down to it, a company’s thorough knowledge of its own products has the ability to make or break customer relationships, both individually and organisationally. A company that is knowledgeable of both changing market conditions and the evolving nature of its own products gives customers a sense of trustworthiness and competence. These feelings translate into customers perceiving that company or brand to be less risky than others.
More specifically, having a knowledgeable team of both sales and customer service staff inevitably leads to:
Because of benefits like these, some successful companies have made thorough product knowledge an integral part of their brand and culture.
LUSH Cosmetics, a company renowned for its excellent customer service, values product knowledge as a way of creating empowered employees and delivering an exquisite consumer experience. According to co-founder Rowena Bird, LUSH sends its new recruits away on interactive training days where they learn about a range of products and their properties. This means they are able to sell customers what they need – not simply the latest favourite.
Meanwhile, Tech giant Apple, focuses on building its sales staff’s knowledge continuously so they are able to stay in the know on the latest gadgets and explain why Apple is the better choice. Apple also created the ‘Genius Bar’ – a dedicated spot within every store where customers can go for technical help and advice.
So, how can business leaders go about building product knowledge across all of their teams and departments, ensuring that team members are delivering consistent product knowledge to consumers? Here are 5 ways:
To start with, it is preferable that all members of staff within the company or branch take the same training. This way, everyone will be working from the same knowledge base, and the team will work collectively to retrieve information.
Product knowledge training must also be consistent, engaging and customised. There is no point in re-using the same material twice or giving unnecessary information to those who do not need it. Once initial training has been completed, employees should be tested using fresh new content, and this content can be tailored later on to fit particular job roles.
One of the fastest ways to improve employee knowledge is to allow employees lots of opportunities to become familiar with the products and services they will be selling. Whether it’s holding seminars to expose employees to new products or offering employee discounts on the items you sell, it’s crucial that employees gain exposure to the products they work with regularly.
Be sure to get feedback from staff on the products they use, such as their favourites and least favourites, as well as feedback on what can be improved.
Use role play to encourage your employees to demonstrate their knowledge and expertise on the spot by getting other members of staff to pose as customers. And not just any old customers either, but educated customers that ask challenging, intelligent questions.
This type of training is invaluable for helping employees use their product knowledge in simulated real-word situations.
Not only does role play give your employees a chance to put their training into practise; it also encourages fluency – a sign the knowledge has been internalised and understood.
Training can be integrated into your company’s existing incentive program using something such as a points system to incentivise customers. Points could be awarded when employees do well in knowledge tests and training exercises, and bonus perks could be ‘unlocked’ when he or she completes another section of the training.
These points could then be exchanged for prizes or perks at the end of each month or quarter. Rewards are a sure-fire way to keep training fun, relaxed and engaging for your employees.
Give your people a change of scenery every once in a while by offering opportunities for field trips, which take training out of the usual environment.
Mark Applegate from Demand Media suggests sending your team to trade fairs, conventions, or anywhere else where they’ll be able to network and pick up some valuable market knowledge. Many trade events involve a series of seminars from manufacturer reps, where employees can get hands-on experience with new products and the chance to ask questions directly at the source.
No matter what the department or sector, a lack of proper product knowledge can have disastrous consequences for both customer relationships and a company’s reputation. The above five ideas should start you well on your way to a team that has thorough, useful product knowledge.
If you can train your people to become intimately familiar with your products and services, they’ll naturally want to share the benefits of both with your customers, giving them an edge in building positive consumer relationships.
Adele Halsall is a writer and researcher for Customer Service Guru. (Notice the British spellings in her post.) She is passionate about retail and consumer trends, and how this is shaped by advertising and social marketing.
She is particularly experienced in marketing and customer engagement, and enjoys contributing to ongoing debates related to best business practices, start-up culture, and the culture of customer relations. Tweet her @gurucustomers or follow Customer Service Guru on Google+
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