Customer service training, is it really valued?

With so much readily available data on customer experience and the impact of poor service, on both revenues and reputation, it is hardly surprising that an ever growing number of organisations are now focusing their efforts on customer experience and improving how their frontline employees provide customer service.

Customer experience at its simplest is how customers perceive their interactions with your organisation. Improving customer service is about improving the quality of these interactions, wherever they occur. These interactions, sometimes called ‘moments of truth’ provide opportunities for organisations to shape and influence the customers experience and how they perceive your brand or organisation.

Your people shape your brand experience, so don’t become over reliant on technology. Some organisations for various reasons have failed to recognise this fact and are slightly confused by the fact that they have invested considerable sums in new technology to improve their customer experience, only to find this has made little if any significant difference to customer loyalty.

Considering the latest research that suggested UK business lost about £12 billion pounds last year due to poor customer service it might be time for a bit of a re think.  Some 84% of companies say they are always striving to exceed customer expectations, yet 86% of customers feel organisations rarely meet their expectations.

Consider how much time is spent on communication and customer service training (and product knowledge) as part of a new hires induction programme. I asked the question at a conference last week and most people said between 5-25%, with the remainder on systems, processes and procedures.  The very best companies for customer experience spend between 70-80% of their induction on customer service and product knowledge and only 20% on the systems and processes. They know what really matters.  How their people communicate and provide customer service during their interactions, be they in person, on the phone or online.

I visited a well known organisation earlier this year, to carry out a review of their induction training, and out of eight weeks only half a day was devoted to customer service, and this was for a role in their contact centre. If you have been watching the programme on retail store Liberty, who pride themselves on great service, you will like me have noticed that their customer service training for their new employees consisted of a two hour lecture (passed off as training) by someone who clearly had no training experience.

The harsh reality is that many organisations do not really understand or value customer service training and think it can be covered in a couple of hours by a team leader or manager and sometimes a trainer. Consider how we label these behaviours and skills, we call them ‘soft skills’ a term I personally dislike as it couldn’t be further from the truth.  Not only are these essential skills for interacting and developing effective relationships, they are also some of the hardest skills and behaviours to learn and master, and yet they provide the foundation for excellent customer service. Something all organisations claim they want to deliver or are delivering, albeit not consistently.

Is this why so many organisations spend so little time on developing these skills and behaviours? Do they really know what makes great customer service training?

Stepping into the customers’ shoes and being able to take their perspective is fundamental to understanding what customers want, need and expect from their interactions with an organisation. How much training time is given to areas such as empathy, and understanding the role of emotions in customer service?

So coming back to the title of this blog, is customer service training really valued? For a small number yes I believe it is, for the vast majority the reality suggests something else, something we really need to change.

In my next blog I will begin to set out the core elements of customer service learning and how developing the right content, facilitated in the right way can transform how your people deliver customer service.

Tony Dain

Tony is the co-founder and MD of Future Vision. He has been working in customer service and contact centres since 1993 including frontline retail and contact centre roles, before becoming a supervisor and team coach. In 1997 he joined CCC, one of the first training organisations dedicated to customer service and contact centres, where he established the telebusiness function. After three years he became the sales and services director before leaving to set up Future Vision.

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