Building an organization that is customer-focused begins with the hiring process—but it doesn’t end there. You need employees who are technically proficient, of course, but they also must have the right attitude and a desire to deliver great customer service. Those are the ones you hire.
And then, you train them—and keep training them.
The hiring professional in the organization looks at the applicant’s background, prior experience, answers to interview questions, and more. The applicant’s background indicates extensive customer service experience, and he or she may be the perfect fit.
Still, after the interviews and assessments, hiring the people who know it, get it, and have experience with it doesn’t always mean they are going to deliver the customer service you hope for, unless you provide training—specifically, technical customer service training.
What does good customer service training look like?
As an experiment, I took a few minutes to talk to people in different jobs about how they were trained. I talked to a retail salesperson, a flight attendant, and a server at a restaurant. I asked them what kind of customer service training they received from the companies they worked for.
The retail salesperson was sharp. She delivered great service, but her fellow employees didn’t seem to operate at her level. When I entered the store, the other employees just stood and watched me look over their merchandise.
The salesperson who engaged me showed initiative and a desire to help, which also meant hopefully make a sale. She told me that when she was hired she went through training, including how to deliver good customer service. However, in the 18 months she had worked at the store, she received no additional customer service training.
I had a similar discussion with a flight attendant. She was amazing. Unfortunately, her fellow flight attendants were not. She, too, had received extensive customer service training when she went to flight attendant school, but had not received any formal training in the five years since she was hired.
The third conversation was with a server at a restaurant. The server—and everyone else at the restaurant—was laser-focused on making sure customers were delighted with their experience. This server told me that when he was hired, he also went through training. But it didn’t end there. Every day when he comes to work, his manager has a brief team meeting before the shift begins to talk about customer service and share examples from the day before or suggestions about what everyone can do.
Every day, every employee hears a customer service message. It’s constantly reinforced. It becomes top of mind. It turns into a habit.
The difference between the three examples is obvious—in my experiment, and to the customer. The retail store and the airline hired good people and trained them when they were hired. But, because they didn’t continuously reinforce the training, the quality of service that the customer receives is left to chance. At the restaurant, however, the daily focus on customer service ensures that every customer enjoys the best possible experience.
Once you have hired the right people, trained them, and are consistently reinforcing the importance of customer service, it’s time to empower them to put their skills to use. In doing so, another essential element of good service is good old common sense. Customer service is not just a set of rules or policies. Employees will be required to make judgment calls as they interact with customers, and they should be confident enough to do what’s right for the customer and the company.
A “moment of misery” that could have been averted
One of my colleagues in the speaking business, Bob Wendover, shared a story that highlights how the lack of common sense can damage a company’s customer service reputation. It’s an incredible story—and not in a good way.
Bob decided to make a change in his cable TV plan, so, as most customers do, he called the company’s customer service support number. Now, the cable industry has never been known for delivering high-quality customer service, and while I believe the industry is making an effort to do better (and some companies are becoming more customer-focused), it’s this kind of story that makes me wonder if they are going about it the right way.
So, Bob went through various prompts and after a short wait time, his call was connected to a customer service rep. She introduced herself by her first name and asked for his, to which he replied, “Bob,” which is how he always introduces himself. Then she asked for the name on the account. He said, “Robert Wendover,” and she went on to verify the street address. She then informed Bob that he was not authorized to change the account.
Why? Her answer was, in a word, ridiculous! It’s because when he first introduced himself, he didn’t do so by using his formal name, Robert. Bob was surprised, to say the least—flabbergasted, even. He asked her if she could ask some questions to verify his identity, but she refused to do so.
He ultimately had to call back and introduce himself as “Robert” in order to make the change.
This incredible example of customer service gone wrong was the result of one of two things: either hiring the wrong person for the front line, or not properly training the person (or maybe a combination of the two). The customer service rep was lacking in common sense and flexibility and was not doing right by the customer or the company. This “moment of misery” could have easily been avoided with better training and a little common sense.
Creating a customer-focused team
Here’s my “short list” for creating a customer-focused team of employees who will help you build a loyal base of customers and grow your business:
- Hire the right people: These should be people who have good common sense and the right attitude about taking care of customers.
- Train these good people properly: In addition to whatever technical training they may need to answer customers’ questions, teach them some soft skills, such as how to communicate, and when to be flexible. Customer service training must be ongoing—and if you run out of ideas, I can definitely help with that.
- Common sense should prevail: If you’ve hired the right people, and they are trained well, let them do their job. Empower them to do what is right for both the company and the customer.
While the list is short, if you follow these steps you’ll be well on your way to creating a culture that makes both your employees and customers happy.