Key Learning Outcomes

  • Learn to use role-play as a tool for building the skills within your team.
  • Implement a method of role-play that best suits your workplace, such as one-on-one, pairs/small groups, team or video.
  • Differentiate between those participants who role-play with confidence and those who need encouragement.
  • Understand why role-play has been proven as a highly effective training tool.

Article

Role-playing is a highly effective training technique when training your sales and customer service team. Role-playing allows the sales or customer service employee to experience a situation in a stress-free environment away from real customers, and if conducted effectively can improve skills very quickly. You may find that when you first introduce role-play into your training sessions you will get some resistance from employees who are nervous, a little shy or lacking confidence in their skills. This is understandable as role-play means putting yourself out there in front of your peers. Remember what it felt like in school when you were singled out in class to answer a question? If you are like most of us, you would have felt a little embarrassed and might have stumbled on the answer – even if you knew it. It is important that you follow our guidelines to ensure that any role-play is a positive and rewarding experience for everyone involved.

Types of role-play

One-on-one – this type of role-play can be highly effective when you are training new members of your team. Typically you would get the trainee to role-play a particular interaction with a customer. For example, if you are training a salesperson in presentation techniques, you would play the role of the customer and they would need to present to you as they would in a real-life situation. It is important to make the situation as realistic as possible, and to give them the scenario prior to the role-play appointment. At the end of the session give constructive feedback and identify areas that need further work or improvement.[wlm_ismember]

Pairs/small groups – this can be effective when looking to enhance the skills of an entire group or when introducing role-play as a new training tool. Create a scenario and get the pairs or small groups within the team (we suggest no more than three or four) to take turns role-playing among themselves. It may then be appropriate for each small group to report to the larger team what learning or ideas came out of the role-play. This type of role-play allows those that are more confident to speak to the entire group, and also allows newer or less confident group members to build their skills in a no-threatening role-play situation.

Team – using role-play with your entire team allows the collective skills, knowledge and experience of the group to be shared. We use two key types of group role-play:

Video – filming role-play can be highly effective as a learning tool, particularly in situations where a more structured or longer sales presentation is required. We suggest you do not film a role-play until your team are comfortable with the process, as the presence of a camera can add to the stress of the situation. The footage can be then be used as a training tool that allows the trainee to review their performance objectively after the role-play is over. This is similar to professional sports teams or athletes reviewing tapes of their games to identify areas of improvement.

Tips and guidelines

“I am much better with the real customers.” You will hear this phrase a lot when you introduce role-play into your training. Role-play can be confronting for some people; therefore, it is important to make it as non-threatening as possible and fully explain its purpose prior to beginning a session. Comment that it is not ideal to practise on “real” customers, and that role-playing enables us to enhance our skills and dialogue as a team. It is important to acknowledge that in almost all cases people do perform better in live situations. We know that someone who role-plays well is usually brilliant with actual customers; however, if they are not good at role-play we can only hope that they manage a live situation successfully. At Absolute Best we do not believe in hope as a strategy, and we use role-play to ensure that front-line staff are as competent and prepared as possible.

Make sure you know the basics

Before role-playing it is important to ensure that every participant knows the theory of the topic you are working on. For example, if you are going to do a role-play on why a customer should use your business, it is important that everyone is clear on the “points of difference” before you start. Newer team members may need some additional one-on-one training in conjunction with group training. That is not to say new team members cannot join in from the get go, as we often find that the newest team member comes up with dialogue or a response to a question that no one had previously thought of.

Walk before you run

It is important if you are introducing role-play as a new training tool that you start with the easier topics and simple scenarios to get everyone used to the format. To get the maximum benefit it is important role-play sessions are a positive experience for all involved. Our experience is that most people learn to enjoy role-play even if they are hesitant in the first instance. Once everyone feels confident with the format you can start to introduce trickier scenarios that may require more detailed and in-depth responses or may cause some to stumble.

Consistency is key

The key to training is that it needs to be regular, you will find most high performing sales teams training at least once a week. You will find that if your team have not done a role-play session for a while,  their skills may have slipped and need some fine-tuning. In these situations those involved will often exclaim, for example, “I forgot about that” or “I have not done or said that for a while”. Like that Olympic athlete who practises every day, in business we need to spend time honing and crafting our skills.

Be a part of it

For role-play to be effective the facilitator has to be willing to be a part of it. This means being able to role-play and participate along with everyone else in the group. If this is not something that you have done previously or if you are not confident, then you should be upfront with your team and declare that this type of training will benefit everyone including yourself. We believe that you should not ask your team to do things that you are not prepared to do yourself; therefore, if necessary, practice before starting your sessions. Role-play with a friend, partner or colleague to gain confidence.

Build from strength

We know that role-play is confronting for many people; therefore, it is essential that it is not used for any other purpose than to build a team’s knowledge, skills and confidence. If someone is struggling, use your position as the facilitator to assist them, give them some encouragement and tell them what part of their dialogue was good. Using phrases like “you are on the right track” or “that’s good, tell me more” will give them confidence. Or perhaps ask a question or seek clarification, as often people find this helps if they are nervous or getting tongue-tied. Remember to always start your critique with a positive and build on the strengths that the team have.

Share the load

You may find, in sales teams in particular, that there are one or two individuals that always want to role-play or speak up. They may be the ones with the most outgoing personality or are the more senior members of the group. It is important to ensure that everyone has a chance to participate. While we find that people learn a lot from listening to others respond, it is essential that they practise being the first to respond also. If you are working in small groups ensure there is a mix of experienced and less experienced team members to maximise the benefits of knowledge-sharing.

Practice makes perfect

Role-playing has proven to be a highly effective tool in such areas as the military and professional sports. You will see war games played out in the armed services during training, with blanks used to ensure no harm comes to the recruits. The scenarios played out are made to be as real as possible so that soldiers have the confidence to act when they face a genuine life or death situation. Likewise, when you see a professional athlete, such as a tennis player, practising the same drill over and over, it is not that the stroke needs a lot of work, as they are likely to be already highly competent, but they want to ensure that when they make that stroke in a match, it is second nature. Role-play in business is exactly the same; it is essential to ensure that your employees are not practising their skills on your customers.[/wlm_ismember]

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