When is Customer Service Training NOT the Answer? – Repost

question mark over headJust what can you do when you notice service rants for your business are trending up and service raves are going down?

First of all, pat yourself on the back for noticing. There are a lot of companies that don’t ask for customer feedback or keep track of the feedback when it does come in. Knowing there is a problem is an important and valuable first step.

Second, don’t assume that customer service training will fix the problem or reverse the trend.

It’s not that customer service training is a bad thing. Customer service training can be effective when it provides a forum to discuss challenges and develop solutions. It is a great opportunity to focus on and identify specific customer needs, wants and expectations and come up with new  ideas on how to meet or exceed those expectations. Customer service training helps build confidence and skills in dealing with difficult or challenging situations.

But all too often, the reason for poor customer service is much deeper. Very often, the reason for poor customer service falls in one or more of the following areas:

  1. There are no clear service standards in place. When service professionals don’t know or understand the service expectations, it’s very difficult to meet or exceed them.
  2. Internal customer service is fair to middling. Fair to middling internal service results in fair to middling external service. Very, very few of us are able to turn off the negative feelings that result from a squabble with a team member, a dressing down by a supervisor (especially when done in front of others), unreasonable workloads, no response or slow response to requests … the list could go on and on. And when we are not happy, generally those around us aren’t happy either, or at least not as happy as they could be.
  3. Skills training is rushed or poorly developed. When somebody does not know how to complete the tasks associated with their job, if they cannot answer basic customer questions or know who to go to for the answers, they become frustrated and the customer becomes frustrated. Putting someone on a shift too soon is not good for business.
  4. The wrong people are in the job. When the focus is on finding the most qualified candidate instead of the most suitable candidate in order to shorten skills training time, customer service suffers. Yes, it’s important that people know how to do their job. That’s what the skills training is for. But generally the hardest part of the job isn’t the how, it’s the “how the how is completed”. Efficiency and knowledge improves with training and practice. It’s much more difficult to turn surly indifference into genuine friendliness and concern.

Customer service training is a valuable tool for companies committed to the creating positive, memorable customer experiences, but by itself, won’t provide the results you are looking for.  Before hiring a trainer, ask yourself:

  • Have we taken the time to really figure out what our customers want, need and expect and then developed standards to meet and exceed those expectations? 
  • Am I providing the same level of high service to my service team that I expect them to provide?
  • Are we providing in-depth and effective skills training?
  • Do we have the right people, with the right attitudes and personal attributes in roles they are most suited to? 

If you can honestly answer yes to all those questions, then customer service training that focuses on your business, your service team members and your customers, will help move the service bar forward.

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I had a great conversation this week with an organization that has recognized the need to create a customer service strategy.  I absolutely loved it when they said “this needs to be more than a stand alone training session.”  They get it!  Workshops and training sessions are effective, when they are supported by clear standards, skills training and a recruitment and hiring strategy that includes attitude and the desire to serve as a key attribute.

If You Can’t Fulfill A Customer Request, Who Can?

Years ago, I was working in sales at a hotel. The Grey Cup was coming to Winnipeg and we, like almost every other hotel in Winnipeg, were completely sold out.  A travel agent called, desperately looking for a room for one of her clients. We couldn’t help her but I decided to make a few calls on her behalf.  I called a few of our competitors and found a room in one of them. I reserved the room under the travel agent’s name, called her back and gave her the good news. She was thrilled and took the time to write a letter to my general manager, letting him know how much she appreciated that I’d helped her out of a tight spot. Even better, in the end, my hotel became her hotel of choice when a client needed a room in Winnipeg, all because I took the time to fix her problem by sending her to a competitor.

Chances are, you’ve been asked by a customer or potential customer to provide a service you don’t provide.  In some cases, it may make sense to find a way to say “yes, I can make that happen for you”.  It may even be a product or service offering you decide to make permanent.

Other times, the best answer you can give your customer or potential customer is ‘no, that is not something we offer.” Or perhaps you do provide what they need, but are out of stock or inventory and are unable to say ‘yes’, as much as you’d like to. Telling a customer or potential customer “no” is a customer touch point that needs to be handled with care and provides an excellent opportunity to wow.

There is a job I need taken care of at the hotel.  I called a supplier that I incorrectly assumed could complete it for us. What I need done is outside of their scope of work. The person I spoke to was understanding and apologized for not being able to help. The moment was not handled badly.  It just wasn’t capitalized on. My expectations would have been exceeded if after hearing ‘no’, I then heard ‘but here are two companies that can and come highly recommended.”  That little extra bit of information would have said “‘I understand and I care.”

Do you and your team know who to refer customer’s to if you are unable to fulfill their request and is it being done?

Sometimes providing excellent service means sending your customer to a competitor.  Know which ones you trust to take care of your customer when you can’t.

What is your Priority – Product or Service?

Motivational concept image of a hand holding marker and write What is your priority isolated on white

There is a restaurant here in Winnipeg that has the talent in place to create and plate a ‘to-die-for-good’ meal.  My husband and I had plans to dine there one evening.  Then I heard and read many comments regarding the arrogant, sometimes verging on abusive, service from people who’ve gone to that restaurant… once and only once. Some of these comments have come from people I know personally and whose opinion I trust.  That restaurant is now off my list of places to go.  There are many other restaurants to go to in Winnipeg that create and plate amazing meals and just as importantly, provide friendly, attentive and professional service,

In the service industry, dinner is never just a dinner and a hotel room is never just a hotel room. It is the entire experience wrapping up the basic need for food and shelter that is important and sets one business apart from another.

Of course, this doesn’t just apply to the hospitality industry.  We are all in business to meet and address a specific need.  So are our competitors. Even if a business offers something totally unique, it won’t be forever.  At some point, that unique product and idea will be replicated and if customers have been putting up with lousy service because there wasn’t an alternative, as soon as there is one, they are gone!

Product quality is important, but it is only one piece of the puzzle. Back up the great product with great service.  That’s what brings customers back more than once, creates referrals and brings new customers through the door.

Government Employee + Email = Great Customer Service

Yes, you read that right and yes, it really happened.

There are some industries that get a bad rap when it comes to providing good customer service. Government is one of them and there are lots of stories of mediocre or lousy service that are  true.  But as with all assumptions, typecasts and rules, none are true 100% of the time.

I recently took one more step towards publishing my book ‘Customer Service from the Inside Out’.  I am going the self-publishing route and while creating my account with a self-publishing provider, it turned out that what I thought was my ISBN number was in fact my publisher number. When I tried to log into my CISS account to create the ISBN, I’d forgotten my password.  As per the instructions, I emailed a request for a password reset.

The next morning, I opened my email to a very friendly reply, with reset information and very detailed instructions on how to create a new ISBN.  It was very apparent that the people who worked in this department had received numerous requests from customers who had trouble completing the process and took steps to fix that.

When I work with companies to help them develop their customer service strategies, some of the questions we work on answering are:

  • What could go wrong right here?
  • How could our customers/members/patients be confused or disappointed?
  • Can we answer their questions before they ask?
  • What do we know we assume our customers know?
  • What can we do to make this less confusing or easier for our customer?

This government department asked those questions and eliminated my frustrations before they happened (which was all the more apparent when I saw the form!).

Walk through your business and ask “What could go wrong here and what can we do to make sure it never happens or make it less painful for our customer if it does happen?

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If you are considering developing a customer service strategy for your business, call Laurie at (204) 995-5836, email her or fill out this form.

 

Location, Location, Location – Repost

Would you go to a business with great service if a similar business, with poor service, was more convenient?

Your answer might be “It depends”.

There are times when convenience trumps service. When you realize you’re out of eggs an hour before your family arrives for Sunday brunch, you’ll probably go to the nearby store with indifferent employees instead of driving 15 minutes to get eggs from the store with friendly employees.

Many poor-service businesses are in business because they are convenient.  But, companies that count on the convenience factor to drive business, instead of the service factor, leave money on the table. Their customers do not visit as often and when they do, they tend to get only what they need right now, instead of filling their cart with extras. Their customers are also very willing to cut and run when a competitor opens up nearby, especially if the competitor also provides good service.

When a company focuses on creating a great service experience, their customers feel valued and customers who feel valued are:

  • Less price conscious
  • More likely to try new product or service offerings
  • Happy to provide referrals to family, friends and colleagues
  • Less likely to cut and run when a competitor opens up nearby

Besides, who wants to be known as the business people “have to go to” when you could be known as the business people “want to go to”?