Who are the most important people in your organization? It may come as a surprise to learn that the most important people are your employees – not your customers. Customers come second. Without qualified and well-trained employees committed to strong customer service all of your efforts to please customers will be fruitless. Customer service training has become a popular way for service organizations to provide employees with the information they need to meet customer needs.
It should not, however, be considered a one-time or annual event. Customer service training is an ongoing process that needs to be incorporated into the organization’s culture and way of doing business.Good customer service training will be based on the needs of your organization as well as the skill level of your employees. Following are some key elements in ensuring that your customer service training efforts get results.
1) Start with the end in mind. What do you want to accomplish with your customer service training efforts? Your answer will be unique to your business, the product or service you provide and the type of customer you serve. For example, if you run a dry cleaning business, your expectation may be that customers are greeted promptly when they come into your store, that clothing is cleaned to their specifications and that any problems or issues are resolved according to prescribed policies/practices that have been clearly communicated to customers.
If you run a consulting business your customer service expectations may include lengthy interactions with clients to clearly determine their needs, identified check-points throughout the consulting process, etc. Regardless of the specifics, the point is that you need to have a clear idea of the end results you’re looking for. Then you can use these results to help direct the focus of your customer service training efforts.
2) Define success. Employees need to have clear expectations; they want to succeed, but they need to know what success “looks like” and how you will be judging their efforts. Based on the objectives you identified, quantify as best you can measures of customer service success. Provide these measures to employees as the goals they will be charged with obtaining.
3) Communicate your expectations – be specific. Don’t assume that employees know what you expect in terms of service. Be specific and make sure you “catch them early.” A new employee’s orientation is the time to let them know what your service expectations are.
4) Provide the tools that employees need to serve your customers. Employees need tools, and need to know how to use those tools, to serve customers effectively. For example, if employees don’t have access to e-mail they may be hampered in communicating effectively with their customers. Or, if a graphic designer doesn’t have the latest software and appropriate hardware, he or she may not be able to provide high quality or timely turnaround to clients. A cell phone may be a critical tool for a sales person who is frequently away from his or her desk.
5) Let employees know their limits. Your employees need to know your policies and practices with regard to satisfying customers and responding to complaints. The more flexibility you’re able to offer and the more clearly you communicate these guidelines, the better able employees will be to meet customer needs. Customers benefit, too, when employees are able to resolve situations “on the spot” instead of having to “talk to my manager.”
6) Gather common situations and scenarios to use as examples. Your customer service training should be “real.” Examples gathered from the real life experience if your employees can help to highlight bad/good/better/best examples of working with clients and customers. Involve employees in providing training. Enlist the aid of your most service-successful employees in training and coaching others.
7) Role play common challenging situations to provide employees with an opportunity to “practice” their responses. Then, when a “real situation” occurs they will have a higher comfort level about their ability to respond effectively.
8) Encourage employees to talk to their “worst nightmare” customers. Customers who are most demanding, who complain the loudest or who are hardest to please can be a rich source of information in your customer service improvement efforts. After all, if you can please these “tough customers” you should be able to consistently delight your average customers. Behind the complaints and the demands you’ll often find very valid points and issues that you can use to improve service. Resist the urge to “ignore” the tough customers; consider them your best resource for good information on service improvement.
9) Share failures – celebrate successes. Don’t just focus on successes. Don’t just point out failures. You need a good balance of both failure and success stories to build a strong service culture. Staff can learn from their own failures as well as the failures of others. Treat each failure not as an opportunity to “punish” staff, but as an opportunity to learn. Why did the failure occur? What could be done differently next time to avoid such a failure? What lessons might other staff learn to avoid these issues? Similarly, take time to celebrate your successes and to share these success examples with all employees. Sometimes the best “customer service training” for staff can be a good debriefing of either a positive or negative customer situation. These debriefings can also be good opportunities for role playing.
10) The most effective training? The example you set. Your staff will watch not only how you interact with customers, but what you say about your customers. If your attitude toward customers is disparaging, this sends a very strong, negative, message to employees. Make sure you’re being a strong role model – both in word and deed.