Effective Customer Service Training

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.

Improve Restaurant Customer Service – Proper Floor Diagrams and Table Numbering

It is essential to post proper floor diagrams with position points in strategic areas of a restaurant in order to provide excellent dining room service. You cannot rely on the fact that the floor diagrams are in the computer system either.

Case in point #1: What happens when a new waiter, carrying 3 hot pasta plates, walks from the kitchen into a busy dining room alone and cannot distinguish which is the correct table where the food must arrive? Does the waiter put the 3 hot pasta plates down somewhere and then log into the computer to see which is the correct table? I don’t think so. The waiter is going to guess possibly resulting in a costly mistake of the food going to wrong table. If the floor diagram was posted properly in an inconspicuous location for the waiter to take a quick glance at, then the food arrives at the table quickly and smoothly.

Case in point #2: I recently had a situation at a restaurant where the owner was changing the dining room table numbers during the actual shift–spelling disaster. His explanation was that he needed to keep track of coupons being distributed for the restaurant’s marketing campaign which used a separate numbered table for each individual coupon.

The owner did not realize there was no way to provide superb restaurant customer service by using this system. It was no wonder that the delicious and delicately prepared food was quite often being brought to the wrong table by the dining room service staff. How many times does this happen in one night, one week, one month? Why not take a handful of money and just throw it out the front door?

Below, I have outlined a few simple, but important concepts to help improve restaurant customer service. There are too many operations that do not implement these concepts which cause many unnecessary mistakes. This translates into lost revenue and a poor service reputation that will repel repeat business.

Here is how it works:

Dining room floor diagrams, with correct numbering for each table and position point (explained below), must be clearly printed and handed out to all dining room service staff, with extra printed copies available for any future waiter that is hired. These essential diagrams must be placed in strategic locations for all staff to easily view, preferably out of the customer’s sight.

It is essential that position points are established if there is any attempt to improve restaurant customer service. Basically, any diner in the restaurant can be identified by a particular table number and seat number. Keeping up with position points will not be a problem for a waiter as long as all dining room service staff knows the arrangement ahead of time. It is most important to establish position point #1 for each table. The easiest way of determining the position point #1 is to have the customer’s back directly in line (or as close as possible) with a particular location in the restaurant, such as the kitchen, front/back door or perhaps a particularly visible item of decor.

Every customer whose back is closest to this particular location is position #1. Once that is established, rotate clockwise around the table, identifying each customer as position #2, 3, and so on. If a seat is empty, a position number should be assigned to it anyway, as a guest may be arriving late. If customer position points are not used, a waiter, holding hot and heavy plates, will be calling out dishes to customers because they do not know the exact position placements. This wastes precious time and energy, not to mention how unprofessional it looks. Moreover, the customers, often in mid conversation or laughter will be unnecessarily interrupted.

Position points must be clearly explained in every waiter training program. The main objective is for the waiter to serve the food and beverage accurately, safely and cleanly. This is more likely to happen when there is prior knowledge of the table and seat numbers far ahead of time.

The above concepts give the dining room service staff “a sense of where they are,” which is extremely important especially if the restaurant is new or the staff is new to the restaurant. It enhances the ability to communicate, which in turn, will improve restaurant customer service all around for everyone.

Using an Auto Attendant For Better Customer Service

An auto attendant is an automated program that provides customer service over the phone. Such programs are also known as virtual receptionists because, in effect, they are a sequence of digitally prerecorded and pre-designed scripts that are used as a replacement for the traditional office receptionist. Businesses often debate over the use of an auto attendant, and callers also give a wide variety of responses about their likes and dislikes toward hearing a “machine recording” instead of a real human voice. Eventually, the type of business that one is running and the desires of its customers should be the factors that help in deciding whether or not an auto attendant is the right option.

Similarly to how any receptionist reflects the image and voice of a company, business owners must realize that making the choice between an auto attendant and a human receptionist depends on how it will impact their business internally and externally. In most cases, a hybrid system is a logical solution since it allows a company to reduce labor costs and streamline operations while also allowing callers to opt to speak to a live person at any time. However, when seeking to improve customer service, an auto attendant can prove to be an effective tool.

Businesses can enjoy many advantages of having an auto attendant. Such automated programs are usually a low monthly cost that is minor compared to the costs of hiring a salaried receptionist. If budget is at a minimum, a company can choose to get a less expensive system with default functions. Although a very basic version, some systems can be better than traditional receptionists when it comes to service because they are conveniently available around the clock, respond quickly to callers, and can attend to multiple callers at once.

A well-built system will greet callers with a company greeting and enable them to interact through phone dialing or voice prompts in order to provide and gather information. For example, a caller may be able to select option 1 on their phone keypad to hear a prerecorded description about the company’s products and services. Or, selecting option 2 may lead to another prerecorded message that provides information about the company’s hours of operation, observed holidays, and additional details that would otherwise take up an employee’s time. Option 3, on the other hand, could lead to a menu of extension numbers and allow callers to choose exactly whom they want to talk to. Hence, even at the most basic levels, an auto attendant can make a company’s customer services operations work more efficiently and also create a better customer experience for callers.

Companies can go many steps further in order to take full advantage of the benefits of an auto attendant. With the right implementation, such a system can expand according to a company’s specific needs and be customized in order to represent the company’s voice. In general, larger companies can reap the greatest benefits because adding any sort of automation to their customer service department can dramatically reduce operational expenses. In some cases, the auto attendant may recognize the caller ID, link it to the caller’s account number, and automatically forward calls to the appropriate sales agent. This not only saves time and effort for the caller, but also warns the sales agent about who is calling and triggers a link that the sales agent can use to immediately access the respective account information.

For an international company, an auto attendant can detect which geographical location a call is being made from and automatically redirect the call to the matching local office. Finally, the system can be customized with personal voice recordings, greetings, and scripts in order to create a more personalized experience for the customer. As a result, an auto attendant can become much more than just a cold and mundane answering machine.