Customer service representatives sit with headsets across from laptops.
5 keys to training the next generation

In the ever-evolving landscape of customer service, the role of customer experience associates has become increasingly pivotal. As businesses strive to stand out in a crowded marketplace, the quality of customer interactions often becomes the deciding factor in winning and retaining customer loyalty. These factors are particularly magnified in the propane industry, where providing an excellent customer experience is one of the few distinguishing factors between companies aside from price in the eyes of the consumer.

Consequently, leaders tasked with training the next generation of customer experience associates must approach this responsibility with a strategic, thoughtful mindset. Here are five critical considerations for leaders embarking on this journey.

1. Emphasize Emotional Intelligence

The first and perhaps most crucial consideration is the cultivation of emotional intelligence (EQ) in customer experience associates. EQ — the ability to understand and manage one’s own emotions and to empathize with others — is the cornerstone of effective customer interactions. In training, leaders should focus on developing skills, such as active listening, empathy and patience. There are several techniques leaders can employ, including role playing, feedback sessions and playing calls from a role model agent you want your trainees to emulate.


One of the most effective and simplest ways to see immediate improvement in overall phone presence is to play your trainees’ calls back to them. Oftentimes, agents will have no idea they come off monotone or have a perceived negative demeanor until they hear their own calls. Once aware, they will often become more cognizant of these factors and dramatically improve when they are also coached with these findings.

Moreover, training should also include strategies for managing personal stress while maintaining a positive attitude, even in challenging customer interactions. Even just asking your team to smile while they’re interacting with the customer will lead to a more positive experience. This not only improves the quality of service but also contributes to the well-being and job satisfaction of the associates, reducing turnover rates.

2. Technology & Human Training

Remote work, a competitive labor market and rapidly advancing technology have made it increasingly challenging for employers not only to attract but also to retain top talent. In today’s market, prospective employees have options from all over the country at competitive rates. As a result, it is imperative to strike a balance between adopting the latest training technology and methodology while preserving a human touch.

An over-reliance on technology can leave the new hire feeling isolated, especially if remote. For instance, the lack of face-to-face interaction or personalized support might contribute to this sense of isolation. Conversely, relying solely on older training techniques like live classes and side-by-side observations can be overwhelming and largely inefficient.

One effective metric for assessing this balance is comparing your team’s new hire turnover rate to the industry standard. For example, the contact center turnover rate for 2022 was roughly 38%. How does your team’s turnover rate compare to this? If it’s close or significantly higher, you may want to audit your training onboarding process.

Additionally, leaders should emphasize the importance of using technology as a tool to enhance, rather than replace, human interaction. Training should include scenarios where associates must decide the best course of action — whether to rely on automated solutions or to escalate issues to a more personal level of service. This approach ensures technology is used to augment the customer experience, not diminish it.

3. Customer-Centric Mindset

A customer-centric approach is vital in today’s service-oriented industries. Training programs should instill a mindset where the customers’ needs and experiences are at the forefront of every decision and action. This involves teaching associates to think beyond the immediate transaction and understand the long-term value of customer relationships. Instilling this mindset is critical, as it takes a lifetime to build trust with a customer and only one bad interaction to lose it. This principle is especially true in the propane industry where people place trust in you to deliver at the most vulnerable times.

Leaders can foster this mindset through training modules that focus on understanding customer personas, mapping customer journeys and analyzing feedback to identify areas for improvement. Additionally, encouraging associates to provide input on customer service strategies can empower them and provide valuable frontline insights.

4. Continuous Learning & Adaptability

The customer service landscape is constantly changing, with new technologies, communication channels and customer expectations. As such, training the next generation of customer experience associates is not a one-time event but an ongoing process. Leaders need to cultivate a culture of continuous learning and adaptability.

This can be achieved by providing regular training updates, encouraging associates to stay abreast of industry trends and offering opportunities for professional development. Moreover, an essential yet often disregarded aspect of training teams is the incorporation of employee feedback throughout the training life cycle.

Engaging new hires in the continuous improvement process is not only a best practice, but also a critical factor that could determine the success or failure of your training program. Few individuals possess better insights into identifying weaknesses and areas for enhancement than those who are currently undergoing or have recently completed your training program. Integrating their feedback in subsequent training sessions is key for any effective training program to build upon past successes.

Furthermore, involving new hires also demonstrates from the outset your commitment to valuing their input and incorporating their ideas. This early demonstration of trust not only contributes to employee retention but also underscores your organization’s dedication to cultivating an environment where sharing feedback is both safe and encouraged, fostering a culture of continuous improvement.

5. Ethical & Inclusive Practices

Finally, leaders must ensure that training programs encompass ethical and inclusive service practices. This involves teaching associates to treat every customer with respect, regardless of their background or the nature of their inquiry. Aside from the core pillars of your business, training should cover topics such as cultural sensitivity, accessibility and the importance of maintaining privacy and confidentiality.

Incorporating these principles into customer service training not only ensures compliance with legal standards but also builds a brand reputation that is inclusive and trustworthy. It’s about ensuring customers feel valued and respected, which in turn fosters loyalty and positive word-of-mouth.

Training the next generation of customer experience associates is a multifaceted endeavor that requires careful consideration and strategic planning. By focusing on emotional intelligence, balancing technology with the human touch, fostering a customer-centric mindset, promoting continuous learning, and upholding ethical and inclusive service practices, leaders can equip their teams to excel in delivering exceptional customer experiences.

As businesses continue to navigate the complexities of the marketplace, the role of skilled, empathetic and adaptable customer experience associates cannot be overstated.

Daniel Gugliemo has over 12 years of experience in the propane industry with Paraco Gas. He’s worked as a dock worker, cylinder truck driver, workforce manager and senior manager of customer experience leading Paraco’s training and QA programs. He was recognized as one of the Young Gassers’ 30 Under 30 in April 2020, and as of 2024, he has become a PERC Ambassador.


Placing Priority on the Employee