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NogginLabs was founded on the notion that custom e-learning design and development is the ultimate horizontal industry. Time and again, each new project, client, and industry proves it. The biggest advantage of the e-learning horizontal is cross-pollinating ideas from two wildly different domains. A restaurant service simulation for iPad may influence a high-fashion online retail challenge. E-learning for financial advisors in a bank could inspire a mobile outreach program for cancer survivors. This variety also keeps the creative folks at NogginLabs fresh. Fresh learning ideas and designs come from a set of constantly changing constraints.

Here's how to write more realistic characters in your customer service training


Here's how to write more realistic characters in your customer service training

Jonathan Baude

A lot of the courses we build focus on teaching learners to give better customer service. This is a crucial skill. Great customer service can be a huge investment in audience engagement, word of mouth, and even your company's global standing. Bad customer service can be a huge blow to your reputation, and it can even go viral, almost certainly leading to some form of vicious Internet mockery and/or meme-mongering. This is high-stakes stuff.

So when you're training your learners with simulated customer service interactions, it's important to make them realistic. That means challenging scenarios filled with real, nuanced people who have varying needs and concerns. This can be tough stuff, but when you get it right, you'll drive engagement and you'll encourage your learners to think critically and strengthen their customer service skills.

Here are 4 tips for writing more realistic customers:

1. Think about where they're coming from

In real life, customers are... people. Regular people trying to get something taken care of. It can be easy to lose sight of this when writing customer scenarios. You can just think of them as little mannequins with exactly the necessary traits and information for their interactions and nothing more. But think about how we ourselves interact when we're customers. We've probably got other things on our minds. We probably just came from somewhere else. As exhilarating as it is to get our customer service issues solved, we've probably got somewhere else we'd like to be. 

Try not to lose track of your characters' internal lives. Why do they care about what they're asking about? How do they feel about it? What are they hoping for? Don't settle for customers who are nothing more than mouthpieces for a hodgepodge of customer service issues. Let them care, and let that influence the shape of the interaction. It's more realistic, and it's way more engaging.

2. Don't make them too dumb

This is a sort of insidious bad habit. I think it comes from a place of wanting our learners to demonstrate as much knowledge as possible. But the result is these customer characters who basically aren't functioning humans. These are characters who own smartphones and have never heard of apps. These are characters who are buying winter outfits and haven't thought about whether or not they need a coat. These are characters who need help fixing their budgets and don't realize they're spending $500 a month on lattes (this is more of a health concern than anything).

It's a natural impulse, really. We want our learners to get to solve problems, so we want to make sure there are real, obviously solvable problems. But this sells learners short. Let your customers be a little smarter. Again, think about how we act when we're customers. We aren't completely helpless. We've probably already figured out a few of the basic things about our situation, and we need help finishing the task. We need help with a specific issue on our phones. We need expert advice on the perfect outfit. We're only spending like $150 on lattes. Let your characters be as smart as you are so they can have tougher—and more rewarding—interactions.

3. Don't make them too smart, either

That being said, you've got to leave a little challenge for your learners. And the potential pitfall here is making your characters too specifically attuned to exactly what the learner might need to know in a customer interaction. In real life, customers don't always know their account numbers off the tops of their heads, they don't always know the exact model of printer they're looking for, and they certainly don't know the steps of any process your employee needs to work through to solve the problem. 

Let your customers be a little frustrating. Let them say things out of order, or ask slightly irrelevant questions, or even let them propose their own theories of how things might work. That is to say, let them be wrong. We're often hesitant to let learners make wrong choices, for fear the interaction becomes unfocused, but if anything it helps learners practice focusing through the static and the noise to see the central issue. Having an ability to make every customer feel heard goes a long way toward giving great customer service.  

4. Have them speak like humans

This one is more of a pet peeve than anything, but honestly: When you're writing dialogue, don't forget how humans speak. Try saying your dialogue out loud to yourself. Do you sound like a weirdo? Then your character's being a weirdo. Don't be afraid to keep things loose, casual, light—the way real people really talk. 

This is particularly important for customer characters. You might want to encourage the use of really specific language in your employees, and that's fine. But your customers don't know that. Your customers are just average people trying to get something done. They're probably conversational. They probably use contractions, everyday figures of speech, maybe even (dare I say it) humor. It can seem like a little thing, but it'll drive buy-in with your audience in a big way.

When you give your learners realistic characters with realistic needs, you won't just make the training more interesting—you'll get stronger results. Oh, and one last thing: Please, I beg of you, give your characters real names.