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Customer Service Training ... without the training

I recently came back from running 3 one-day customer service training programmes feeling really fired up by the power of experiential learning.

I had groups of about 10 justifiably cynical front-line staff who do a really tough job, day in day out, dealing with hundreds of people face to face every day - on the railway. And we know that rail passengers can cover a wide church of satisfaction!

The experience of these people ranges from 2 months to 20 years, and if I were to stand up in front of them and suggest I could tell them anything about customer service … well, I’d be setting myself up to fail.

But it is really important that we all take a fresh look at what we do and these people are no exception. It is important to know what your customers think, to know how important it is to your organisation, to remember what gives you job satisfaction, to focus on how you can make a difference, and to find the motivation to keep focused on this.

Through a wide range of engaging and stimulating activities, I believe we’ve created a programme which helps front-line staff re-focus on customer service.

In this day, the participants engaged in a challenging Q&A with a manager, mystery shopped local retail outlets, reviewed customer complaint letters, and met face-to-face with an actor in the role of a customer.

Those were the activities. More importantly, they discussed systemic blockages to good customer service, analysed important behavioural aspects of good customer service, and committed to personal actions for review with their direct line managers. There was a lot of debate and challenge - within the groups.

All the theory and discussion was material generated by them, and consequently credible to them. By designing a programme which takes customer service from the experience of the learners - and respects this experience - we have people who are not only bought in to the subject matter, but to learning generally.

Find out more about our truly engaging development programmes

The power of customer care

I’ve had a few experiences recently that prompted me to think about customer service. I’m a big believer in the power of good customer service and for me the treatment I get often makes the difference between buying something or not, and my loyalty levels. This is probably the case for a lot of people I know. However, when I found myself feeling grateful when a delivery man was pleasant and helpful - I wondered if my values had overtaken me!

The more I thought about it though, the more I realised my feelings were justified. It is just a shame that good customer service is perhaps the exception rather than the rule, or that I feel that it is. There’s no doubt that training can help and so I was pleased to see the case study in this month’s Training Journal on a leading retailer and its ‘Always Happy to Help’ initiative. Underpinning this initiative were three key behaviours:

- always being warm (when greeting customers)
- always being interested (in customers’ needs)
- always being willing (to help customers).

Common sense really. So why is it so difficult to put this into practice?

So why is this the exception rather than the rule? It’s pretty complex - there are many organisational influences that affect customer service. For example how much an employee is rewarded, if they are engaged and motivated by their work, whether they feel valued by their employer/line manager and the extent to which the culture supports good customer practice . So when you are on the receiving end of bad customer service, it could be for any number of reasons - some of which sit at the heart of an organisation and are therefore pretty hard to change. It could also be because people haven’t been trained how to deal with customers. And this is where I feel that basic skills training can genuinely help. I know this from being a customer and from some of the client work we do. I just wish it were more widespread!

Customer service case study  |  Another post about customer service training

What's the customer's role in customer service?

I've just come back from London having delivered a customer service course for 24 people on the front line at some of the main London stations (ticket office, gateline and platforms).

I've worked with them before and I'm always struck by what a difficult job it is. It's cold, noisy, draughty and extremely busy, and on top of this, there are a good number of rude, sometimes abusive customers.

One of the delegates explained how he makes sure that he gets to know as many customers as possible. I asked him to explain to everyone why he does this. This was his rationale.

'When a customer comes along and is rude or difficult, it's easy to be pulled down and then to look miserable for the next batch of customers. When you then see someone you know, who smiles at you and wishes you good morning, your mood's lifted and then you can deliver good service again.'

So, if you're a regular at a station (or anywhere else) why not make an effort to get to know the person providing the service. Who knows, next time you go back there, you might be the one to lift their mood so they can deliver good service again.