Customer Service Training Is Like Chocolate Sauce And Marriage Counseling (Here's Why)

​​​APR 11, 2016  Micah Solomon

Customer service training is like chocolate sauce or a good ribeye. You'd never want to try to live without it, but it can't solve everything.

There​​'s no substitute for thoughtful, well-designed customer service training, whether as part of new-employee onboarding; annually or semi-annually to teach new skills and refresh those already acquired; or as part of a new push to improve customer service companywide or in a particular department. [Professional disclosure: I make my living as a customer service consultant, trainer, and speaker.] However, training alone can't solve every deep-seated problem. Here are some particular issues that your company may need to address apart from, or in addition to, undertaking customer service training:

1.  Poor employee selection (hiring). 

Above, I comp​ared training to chocolate sauce and good ribeyes; now, get ready for another comparison:  Training is akin to marriage counseling, whereas hiring is your chance to choose the best possible "mate" in the first place.  Great customer service, like a strong marriage, has the best shot of success if you make a good choice in the first place of whom you're going to be working with.  No amount of great customer service training can entirely overcome poor employee selection (though it certainly can help).

A customer experience is most likely to be successful if it's undertaken by properly selected employees, specifically employees with the right traits for customer-facing work.  This is an area that benefits from the application of some complicated science, but if you want it all wrapped up in a nutshell–or, rather, in an acronym­–the traits you're looking for for most customer-facing positions spell WETCO:  Warmth, Empathy, Teamwork, Conscientiousness and Optimism. 

2. Lack of leadership buy-in to the value of superior customer service. 

Is your company in fact striving to provide great customer serv​​​ice, or, when push comes to shove, not so much? If this isn't positively decided, then training, no matter how well designed and conducted, is going to fall flat.

3. Lack of employee empowerment. 

And by empowerment, I d​​on't mean little sprinkles of empowerment on an impotence sundae. I mean empowerment that is inherent in how employees are expected to do their jobs, and that doesn't bite an employee in the buns when she goes out on a limb for a customer and as a result has to punch out later than you were budgeting for that day, or when her solution that you empowered her to make on her own doesn't work perfectly. These are moments when, if management doesn't support employee efforts, no matter how imperfect, they learn to never try that risky empowerment stuff again.

4. Failure to create customer service framework docum​​​ents. 

I recommend creation of the following doc​​​uments, to provide a backbone for all customer service training and other customer-related efforts. Among other benefits, these will ensure that when you train in customer service competencies, those competencies are informed by and in support of the right goals.

  • A "Customer Service Standards and Guidelines" document.  These should include telephone interaction standards, in-person standards, and digital interaction standards (for email, texting, responding to tweets etc.) These guidelines are necessary to ensure customer service delivery and ensure reliability and consistency.
  • A "Customer Service Aspirations, Values, and Principles" document that represents the framework of your customer service philosophy.
  • A "Preferred Terminology" Document: A set of language guidelines representing agreed-upon language choices for your organization

5. Failure to provide employees with a good, up-to-date to​​olbox. 

Your entreaties to employees that they should do their very best when interacting with customers falls a little flat when you don't arm them with the best electronic and physical tools. If you want employees to do their best work, arm them with the best tools.

6. Poor pay, poor benefits, or other unfair or below-par w​​orker practices. 

This should b​​e obvious, but you'd be surprised what I see out there. Training employees to treat their customers like kings, then treating those same employees as serfs, is never going to be a recipe for success.

7. Lack of a plan for and commitment to sustaining and reinforcing the results of the tra​​​ining. 

One-time tr​​aining does have value; don't get me wrong. But how much more value it has if it's married to a plan for, and commitment to sustainment, for example, to a weekly, monthly, or even daily reinforcement activity?  

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