Can you think of a company that doesn’t have any clients or customers? Frankly, we can’t.
When we asked an executive we know to name a company that didn’t have any clients or customers, he thought about it for a few minutes and then said, “A company that uses robots to dig mines on Mars, and that never has to deal directly with customers, might not have to think about customer service.”
That was a good try. But even a company that sent mining robots to Mars would still need customers in order to survive. If the company is in the mining business, it needs to sell what it is pulling from beneath the surface of Mars to someone. And to make those sales, the company needs customers . . . and those customers need to be served.
Can’t You Simply Hire People who are “Good with People” and turn them loose?
You might also think that if you hire pleasant employees who have positive attitudes, customer service will pretty much take care of itself. Again, that is not an unintelligent assumption to make. The problem is that pleasing customers demands more of your employees than simply being pleasant. Successful results depend on specific skills.
What Customer Service Training Can Do for Your Organization
And to please your customers, you need to provide focused training that you design and deliver to achieve specific, results like these:
- Increasing the size of an average sale. Employees who know how to please customers simply sell more. Good customer service skills, if applied consistently, boost profits dramatically.
- Increasing customer loyalty and repeat business. No matter what kind of business you are in, you want repeat customers. And you get repeat customers because your employees have excellent customer service skills. If you are in the hospitality business, for example, you want the members of your hotel staff to provide the kind of excellent service that gets your guests to become loyal, repeat customers. Hitting that goal means defining specific skills that hotel personnel need to need to build repeat business. As with any other kind of training, you need to identify specific skills that can be taught or improved and develop training that addresses them.
- Preventing and resolving conflict with customers and clients. Carefully define the skills that your employees in all job roles need to resolve conflicts, answer questions, and please customers.
- Anticipating and dealing with safety concerns. You need employees who are trained to keep customers safe inside your facilities, in outdoor areas. You need employees who know how to respond to specific emergencies. Again, you need to pinpoint specific skills and to train your employees to practice them.
Remember . . .
Great customer service doesn’t just “happen” – even if you hire excellent people. It is something you build and cultivate through training.
Critical Customer Service Aptitudes that Can Be Trained
Let’s assume that you have made the decision to train certain groups of your employees to improve their customer-service skills. For the purposes of this article, let’s also assume that you have identified specific jobs and positions where your employees interact with clients and customers, and that you have decided to direct your training efforts toward them.
Very good. You are on your way toward developing and delivering training that can dramatically improve the satisfaction levels experienced by your clients and customers. But the next question is, what specific skills and aptitudes do you need to teach?
To answer that question, your first step is to identify specific skills and activities that impact most strongly on customer satisfaction. You can pinpoint those skills by speaking with individuals who fall into these groups . . .
- The people who are currently performing the customers services jobs where you will direct your training efforts. Which of their activities do they feel need improvement? Where do they feel they need to increase their knowledge? Where do they feel they lack the resources to perform their jobs successfully? Talk with them, listen to what they have to say, and create a list of important skills to be improved through your training.
- The managers who supervise your front-line employees. From the perspective of these managers, are there recurring situations or problems that could be improved through training? If so, what specific activities are they, and what specific skills and aptitudes need to be addressed?
- Customers and clients. Survey them. Be sure to ask for suggestions about improving the quality of service you provide, about how problems they encountered could have been handled better, and more. If you have a list of customers who were displeased with something about the customer service they received from you, be sure to call them up and learn more about specific aspects of your customer service that should be improved.
Four Critical Areas to Focus Your Customer Service Training Efforts
As you talk to the people we listed just above – your employees, managers and your customer too – chances are you will discover that you can produce the most dramatic changes in your company’s customer service by developing training in the following four areas.
Critical Customer Service Skill to Train: Systems
When customers are displeased with the level of service and attention they have received from a company, the underlying cause is often this . . .
The employee who was serving them was not completely trained to use company systems.
There are many instances when customers receive poor service for this reason, including these:
- The customer wants to return a product, but an employee does not know how to expedite the return.
- A salesperson does not completely understand know how to use cash registers and other equipment.
- A phone representative in a customer service center doesn’t know how to obtain authorization from a system that processes returns.
The fact is that when employees are trained to use your company equipment and systems, you prevent many customer service problems from arising in the first place. And the good news is, developing training to teach the needed skills is usually a simple and straightforward process.
Critical Customer Service Skill to Train: Listening Skills
Your customers can immediately sense whether or not your employees are really focusing on what they are saying. And if those clients sense that they are not being heard, they quickly become frustrated and dissatisfied with the quality of care you have provided.
Some of the critical listening skills to teach include:
- The ability to completely focus on what a customer is saying, while shutting out everything else that is taking place in the work area.
- The skill to “read between the lines” and identify the underlying solution that the customer is really talking about.
- The skill to listen for what the customer is saying that is valid and correct . . . and not what is wrong or inaccurate. When your employees can focus in that way and discuss what is valid in what the customer is saying, problems and issues can be resolved more quickly and satisfactorily.
Critical Customer Service Skill to Train: Conflict Resolution
Customers become more satisfied increase when they are dealing with employees who have been trained to resolve conflicts or – even better – to provide customers with solutions that prevent real conflict from arising at all.
Some skills that can be trained include:
- Good listening, as we explained just above. When customers know and sense that their concerns have been heard and understood, they understand that they are not in conflict with your organization. They are working with you to decide on a mutually positive and acceptable solution to the issue that is under discussion.
- The ability to envision and suggest multiple solutions for an issue that is under discussion. When your employees are trained to identify and suggest a range of choices that will resolve an issue or remove an obstacle, levels of customer satisfaction soar.
- The skills to implement a solution quickly, predictably and effectively. Customers don’t want to hear that you have worked with them to develop a theoretical solution to a concern they have. They are entitled to hear specifics. For example, their refund will be immediately credited to their bank account. Or they will meet with one of your bank officers in 30 minutes to discuss your mortgage refining options. The ability to plan and implement solutions is something that can be effectively trained.
Critical Customer Service Skill to Train: Autonomy and Decision-Making
Unfortunately, many of us have become accustomed to hearing frustrating statements like these when we are trying to resolve issues with companies we are going business with:
- “I am not authorized to approve your return.”
- “Let me bring my manager in on this call.”
- “I know you would like to send your product back to us, but first I have to get somebody to approve the return . . . can I put you on hold for five minutes?”
Instead, you can train your employees to use strategies like these that can dramatically improve the level of your customers’ satisfaction:
- Apply the “common sense rule” that means that if a solution to a customer-related issue makes sense, they should go ahead and use it.
- Exercise autonomy, which means that they have the leeway to make independent decisions (within predetermined parameters) without asking their supervisors.