You know that customer service training programs are important. Your employees know it. And, oh boy, your customers certainly know it. Nobody enjoys experiencing a customer service disaster.
They can be fun to hear about, though. Kate Kassian is a consultant and co-owner of Tait & Kate, a Regan, North Dakota-based consultancy that specializes in helping companies improve their customer service.
Years ago, Kassian owned a cafe in Cope, Colorado. She said she realized that some of her employees needed customer service training after watching this exchange between a 15-year-old waitress and a customer.
Customer: I'll have the fried chicken
Waitress: We are out of chicken.
Customer: Well, then I'll have the chicken-fried steak—
Waitress: —I told you. We are out of chicken!
The moral and lesson for anyone working in customer service, according to Kassian: “Know your product."
But if your employees are in need of training, it can take more than just bringing in a customer service consultant and calling it a day. Every business is different, which means a good customer training program is one tailored to your company's needs.
If you're exploring the idea of utilizing customer service training programs, think through these issues before you hire anyone or try to figure out how to train your employees in customer service on your own.
1. Figure out what the problem is first before looking for customer service training programs.
You probably already know what needs to change. For instance, maybe your employees aren't making enough sales. But do you know why they aren't closing more deals?
Now, maybe you won't be able to figure that out without bringing in a consultant to train your employees. But before instituting customer service training programs, consider asking yourself, your managers and your employees a lot of questions first.
If your employees aren't making sales, you might want to ask, for instance, if they have enough time to make sales. Is the environment they work in not very conducive to a customer making a financial decision? Is the sales pitch too confusing, or are your prices too high? Play detective and try to learn on your own why things have gone south.
Do that, and you may discover a solution on your own that negates the need for a customer service training program, says Moshe Davidow, who teaches customer relationship management as an adjunct lecturer at the Israel Institute of Technology.
2. Ask yourself if management could be the problem.
“Most customer service training programs are a waste of money," Davidow says.
While business owners who offer customer service training programs may love hearing that, Davidow says that the waste of money doesn't come because the customer service training programs aren't good.
—JoAnna Brandi, consultant, Return on Happiness
“Most managers come to a trainer and say, 'My customer service is bad. It must be because my people are broken, fix them,'" Davidow explains.
But that rarely works. Why? Because, Davidow says, most customer service problems are rooted in management problems. When you're asking questions about why your customer service seems to be lacking, include your management team in your line of questioning.
3. Stop thinking of customer service as a department.
Sure, you may have a call center or sales associates who work the most with the customers. However, good customer service is something that everyone at your company is responsible for, says JoAnna Brandi, a consultant based out of Boca Raton, Florida, who specializes in customer service.
Too often, business owners “narrowly define what [customer service] is and who needs to understand more about it, reinforcing the idea that the only people responsible for it are the ones with a customer service or customer care title of some sort," Brandi says. "They couldn't be any more short-sighted."
When you're training your customer service reps, consider including other employees in the training. At the very least, consider changing the company's culture so your other employees don't feel that keeping customers happy isn't their responsibility, too.
Besides, Brandi adds, if you think about it, you work in customer service even if you never meet your customers.
“Everyone has a customer," she says. "Whether it's an internal or an external one, the skills are quite similar."
4. Give your employees the skills they need to offer better customer service.
You may want to consider going beyond your core training mission. For instance, let's say you have a restaurant. You're training your employees to know the products and understand the difference between chicken and chicken-fried steak, which is great.
But it helps to make sure your employees are empowered to offer great customer service even if it leads a customer to your competition. If it turns out that your business doesn't offer a solution to your potential customer, but you know who does, make sure your employees know to tell them, Kassian urges.
“By referring people back and forth, dollars stay right in our towns. And while you may not have made a sale today, that customer remembers that you tried to help them and will be back," she says.
If you're an online business, you may be working with people around the globe and are just succeeding in keeping dollars on the planet when you refer customers to other businesses. But that last point is a philosophy that many businesses adopt, whether you're a small-town store or a multimillion-dollar corporate or an online business—helping the customer even if it doesn't help you. Customers do tend to appreciate it when a business's employees or managers help them purely to be nice.
You may not need convincing that being accommodating to customers and potential clientele is good business sense, whether it helps you or not. But do your employees understand that? Make sure that they do.
5. Reflect your customer service training in your company culture.
Whatever customer service training programs you settle on, make sure that they sync up with your company's culture. You may find that you need to change your company's own culture if it isn't a culture that champions customer service.
6. Allow employees to show off their new know-how.
Once your customer service training program is done, try to do everything you can to empower your employees to execute what they have learned. Look for evidence that your customer service training program is working—that can help keep you focused on continuing the progress your company is making.
“Training employees is like going to rehab," Davidow says. “I can cure the problem, but if the environment doesn't change, the cure won't stick and the employee will continue to fall back into the same destructive activities that he or she was doing before. We need to change the culture, and that starts at the top."
The goal, Brandi says, is to make sure that what was learned isn't lost.
"Make sure there's some kind of follow-up or follow-on program to help people remember what they learned in training and to keep the topic alive and important long after the trainer is gone," she advises.
Read more articles on customer relations.