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<i>Dear Workforce</i> What Are Key Elements of Customer-Service Training?

June 8, 2005
Dear Quality:

At the highest (and most important) level, you are teaching a philosophy. You need to develop an organizational culture in which your employees really believe that their customers are the reason they have jobs. There is a subtle, but huge, difference between an organization that sees customers as a means to make money and one that sees making money as a way to better serve customers. I advocate the latter.
Of course, we're all in business to make money. But in my experience, a company that sees customers as a means of increasing profit will ultimately exploit customers. This hurts business in the long run.
At the second level, you need to teach processes--how you actually work with customers. The specific approach will depend on the nature of your customer-service operation. However, here are some general examples of the kinds of things you need to teach your people to do:
  • Establish procedures for handling various types of complaints.
  • Set priorities establishing the relative value of the customer, determining the degree of customer dissatisfaction, recognizing when they need to refer a case to a supervisor, etc.
  • Learn problem-diagnosis skills. This involves teaching people how to recognize actual problems vs. "shadow" issues.
  • Empathize with customers. Communicate that you care about the customer's problems while moving efficiently to a solution.
  • Communicate the overall philosophy and image of your organization while solving individual problems.
  • Pay attention to specific response patterns--"lines" that typically work well when responding to customers.
At the third level, you need to teach the specific technical knowledge required to answer questions and solve problems. This involves everything from the characteristics of your product line to sources of information, problem-solving techniques, and policies regarding what your company can and cannot do for customers.
Of course, the delivery is critical. Reading, lectures and videos can help with that. But in the end, your employees need practice, not just lectures. I'm a big fan of simulations. These may be anything from role plays to on-the-job reenactments to actual computer-based exercises, where representatives are faced with realistic situations and must respond in real time, facing realistic consequences.
The most important part of the simulation is always the debriefing--the "postmortem" where you talk about what really happened, what people were feeling, what you might have done or what might have been said, and what might have been the consequences of one scenario vs. another.
Another very useful approach is to capture actual customer-service encounters on tape and analyze them.
In every case, whether you're analyzing a simulation or an actual customer-service encounter, make sure you have developed sufficient rapport and trust to enable candid interaction. If employees feel they are being judged as opposed to coached, they will get defensive, try to "game" you, or mobilize social support to resist what you're trying to teach--and the exercise will blow up in your face.
SOURCE: Hugh M. Cannon, Ph.D., Adcraft/Simons-Michelson Professor, interim chair, department of marketing, Wayne State University, Detroit, August 6, 2004.
The information contained in this article is intended to provide useful information on the topic covered, but should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion. Also remember that state laws may differ from the federal law.
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