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Results-Oriented Customer Service Training

Customer satisfaction has dropped since 1994 in nearly every sector of the economy.

April 26, 2001
The scenario has a familiar ring: A frustrated buyer of computer productsfiles a complaint online. His posting says, "TigerDirect.com hasconsistently refused to respond to my faxes, e-mails, and calls about thismalfunctioning motherboard and CPU bundle. I have purchased many items from themin the past, and they are becoming less responsive to me when I have a problem.They take the customer's money but don't support their own product."

    Never mind that the motherboard was purchased online. A new Web site calledeComplaints.com provides a free online forum for customers to air complaintsabout any company's products or services. It could be a clothing retailer,manufacturer, financial institution, home-gardening company, hospital, or evenyour neighborhood gas station. At the same time, eComplaints.com gives thecompanies a chance to respond to the customers' concerns and purchasestatistical information from the site in order to identify and remedy troublespots. Interestingly, 6 out of the top 10 companies receiving online complaintson this particular Web site were airlines, among them American and United.

    Roger H. Nunley, managing director of Atlanta-based Customer Care Institute,says American consumers are more knowledgeable and have higher expectations thanmost other people. When a company improves its service delivery, thesatisfaction bar is raised.

    Why the fuss? According to the American Customer Satisfaction Index-compiledby the University of Michigan-customer satisfaction has dropped since 1994 innearly every sector of the economy.

    In many grocery chains, for example, the tongue-in-cheek phrase"customer checkout" has come to exemplify the unsettling trend of poorcustomer service. It means, of course, that customers won't be checking back inat the store.

    Customer service training begins with how an employer screens candidates forhire, and not only during employee orientation, says a spokesman at ReidSystems, a Chicago-based developer of automated applicant-screening tools. Inconjunction with several large North American grocery chains, Reid recentlystudied thousands of job applicant responses to pre-employment assessmentquestions on customer service. The study then examined the service-orientedquestions and found that:

  • 45 percent said they believe that customers should be told when they are wrong.

  • 46 percent said customers have to follow the rules if they are going to help them.

  • 34 percent said they would prefer to work behind the scenes, rather than with customers.

  • 13 percent said they believe that if customers don't ask for help, they don't need it.

  • 10 percent said they do not feel it is necessary to help a customer if the request falls outside their area of responsibility.

  • 6 percent said they have repeatedly argued with customers and coworkers in recent jobs.

    Is it any wonder that customer-service training-especially with a newgeneration of workers-is taking on greater importance? According to the AmericanSociety for Training and Development, in Alexandria, Virginia, service providersspent an average of $833 in education per employee in 1997, the most recent yearthat figures were available. This is nearly 30 percent higher than the nationalaverage for all industries.

    There was a time when customer service meant hiring an individual to sitbehind a complaint desk. Today, customer-service training is more comprehensive.It requires that employers hire the right employees, create a customer-serviceculture, view customers as high-maintenance "guests," and trainemployees on select technologies-without sacrificing the human touch. GulfBreeze Hospital, Wild Oats Markets, and the PPL Corporation are examples ofsmall, medium, and large companies, respectively, that are moving away fromhandling complaints to proactively anticipating customer needs-before troublebegins.

    Remember, whatever method or innovation you choose, your customer-servicetraining should be aligned with your company's own policies, procedures, andculture.

Workforce, May 2001, pp. 84-90-- Subscribe Now!