Train in Vain: Why Your Customer Service Training May Be Missing the Mark

by Peter Thomas Ricci

By Ron Kaufman

In an age when a customer’s unhappy experience with a company can go viral mere minutes after it occurred – and when customers regularly take to the Internet to publicize their great and not-so-great experiences – you understand the importance of superior customer service. Of course you do. That’s why you budget hundreds of thousands of dollars for customer service initiatives and put new and old employees through regular training. So why are the results only average?

Sure, criminal levels of customer service involving your company are few and far between. Unfortunately, reports of exceptional service are just as scarce. You just can’t seem to move the needle significantly in a positive direction. The problem is that you’re trying to train your employees in customer service when you should be educating them.

Training teaches someone what actions to take in a specific situation. Education teaches him or her how to think about service in any situation and then choose the best actions to take.

The differences between training and educating result in two distinctly different types of service. “Trained” employees will provide you with basic service. They’ll do just enough to get you out of their hair, but they won’t make you feel very good about their company in the process. In fact, sometimes they’ll make you feel bad – but you’re not sure exactly why.

Most of us have had this experience. The service person doesn’t do anything overtly rude or offensive. You probably won’t complain because you can’t put your finger on anything the person did or said that was wrong – but all the same you may walk away with the unsettled feeling that he or she doesn’t want to be there, doesn’t care about you and may even secretly resent serving you.

Educated service providers understand that sticking to the script and providing the service isn’t enough. Great service is not just about following a procedure or a sequence of steps. It’s about applying your attitude and heart to proven service principles and taking the right actions at the right time to provide uplifting service so your customers and colleagues feel great about your organization. Service education allows you to make that important distinction.

The best way to see the important differences between training and education is in practice. When employees are trained, there can be a fragmented understanding of what service means for different customers, and at different times. Process training often leaves employees uncertain of what to do in situations they have not been trained to handle.

Real service education means that people learn to think and act differently in service so that their actions always create value for someone else. Service education is more than teaching employees to deliver predictable service or handle customer complaints. It’s a foundation for creating a culture of uplifting service throughout the organization.

Infusing service education into your company’s culture is a vital process, requiring dedication from the top down and action from the bottom up. Here are a few important points to consider as you learn more about service education:

  • Carefully select your service education leaders. These individuals should be carefully selected for their understanding, attitude and orientation to new action. This role calls for patience, clarity of thinking, commitment to uplifting service and boundless generosity in the encouragement of others. This unique role is course leader, educator, facilitator, coach, encourager, problem solver, consultant and provocateur all in one.
  • Focus on long-term results. Short-term thinking is another common reason why so many customer service training programs don’t produce substantial or sustainable results. Your goal is more than short-term improvements in a few problem service areas. You want to build an organization with an internal capability to solve problems today and create great successes in the future.
  • Engage everyone. Remember, uplifting service means creating a culture shift at your organization, and that means everyone has to be on board. Service education will not take root unless everyone at your company has dedicated themselves to this change. And everyone means everyone. Your board of directors, C-level executives, managers, supervisors, warehouse staff, janitorial staff, new hires – everyone must be involved and dedicated to this ongoing learning adventure. The ultimate goal is to create a culture that earns and retains many loyal customers while building pride and problem-solving passion in every service provider. When team members are confident that everyone is committed to this cause, they will work enthusiastically to deliver uplifting service.
  • Don’t expect instant change. Becoming skillful in service does not happen all at once, just as mastering math or learning a new language cannot be accomplished in a single session. Service education must be frequent, repeatedly reviewed and renewed for everyone on a continuous and uplifting basis.

New learning happens when principles are put into action. New insights are discovered, new skills are developed, and new understanding and competencies are secured. Just reading a book won’t uplift your service performance or build your service culture. It takes new action to uplift your service and delight the people around you.

Be sure to incorporate all aspects of your service culture into your service education. Real-time data, current customer comments, compliments, complaints and competitive information can all play vital roles. Keep fresh information flowing into your service education process. Keep new ideas for action flowing out. Keep the energy for improvement moving and growing in all directions.

Ron Kaufman is the author of “Uplifting Service: The Proven Path to Delighting Your Customers, Colleagues, and Everyone Else You Meet” (Evolve Publishing, 2012, www.UpliftingService.com). He is an educator and motivator for uplifting customer service and building service cultures in many of the world’s largest and most respected organizations, including Singapore Airlines, Nokia Siemens Networks, Citibank, Microsoft and Xerox. He is the founder of UP! Your Service, a global service education and management consultancy firm with offices in the United States and Singapore. He is also a columnist at Bloomberg Businessweek and the author of 14 other books on service, business and inspiration.

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