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.


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.

14 Reasons Training Fails

” Training is a waste of time and money.” Businessman Looking At Colleagues Sleeping During Presentation

“It didn’t work the last time we did it.”

There are times when training is a waste of time and money.  I’ve found that when training does not produce behavioral change, there are generally some underlying reasons to that. Here are fourteen.  What other reasons can you think of?

One:  When everyone must take the training, not because everyone needs it but because it’s easier to put a whole bunch of people in a training session than deal with the individuals who are not performing to standard.

Two:  When the participants have no idea why they are there, what they are being trained on or how it will help them be more successful at their job.

Three:  When you’re being over-zealous with training.  Training is good.  Too much training, especially when the participants don’t understand why they are there, is exhausting.

Four:  When it’s boring!

Five:  When the principles taught are not backed up or supported by the executive and management team.

Six:  When the training is not in alignment with organizational realities, current or future.

Seven:  When it’s not tied to a specific goal or objective.

Eight:  When a toxic, negative work environment exists.

Nine:  When the learner doesn’t have the necessary skills to process or apply the learning.

Ten:  When the learner’s current knowledge, skills and abilities are not acknowledged and recognized.

Eleven: When it is rushed, either by packing  too much information in a session or not allowing participants time to absorb and practice before introducing the next level or topic.

Twelve: When there is no clear statement as to what a successful training session will achieve.  If end goals are not clearly stated, it is very difficult to measure success.

Thirteen:  When the training doesn’t address the real issue.  For example, a full-day of customer service training won’t improve customer satisfaction scores if the real problem is skill or knowledge based. When team members don’t know HOW to do job tasks, they become frustrated and customers become frustrated.  Or perhaps the team leader never provides any feedback or only provides negative feedback, so morale is low and the “can do” attitude has died.  In that case, training one supervisor how to be a strong leader will be more effective.

Fourteen:  When short-term thinking prevails.  Sometimes, results are immediate.  If a safety policy is not being followed, new behaviours, such as always wearing a harness when working on a roof, should be seen immediately. Mastering time management takes longer which means increased efficiency or productivity will be a more gradual change.


Training, when done well, is not a waste of time or money.  There are numerous studies that show training improves employee morale, productivity and the bottom line.  The key lesson is, before planning any kind of training, whether with an internal trainer or an external trainer, be sure you know why you are training and the end result you desire.  If you can’t clearly articulate that, go hang up the phone and go back to the drawing board.


The Four Rules of Customer Service

Those of you who have been reading this blog for a while, know I believe that great customer service, delivered consistently, doesn’t happen by chance.  Companies that consistently meet or exceed their customers’ expectations have taken the time to develop a service strategy that includes clearly outlined service expectations (based on well-understood customer expectations), training, measurement, reward and recognition tactics.

Below is an excerpt from my soon to be completed book ‘Customer Service from the Inside Out’ that outlines four rules to keep in mind when developing a customer service strategy for your company.

Rule Number 1:  Put the Customer First

You’ve seen the slogans.  Perhaps your company even has one.

  • We are number one in service.
  • Where the customer comes first.
  • Come for the price, stay for the service.

It’s not that service slogans are wrong; it’s just that very often the slogans are created as a marketing tool instead of an actual service promise.   A lot of companies focus on the product first instead of on the customer.  We go into business wanting (hoping?) to provide good service, but there is no concrete plan on how to deliver the implied promise.

Rule Number 2:  It’s the customer’s perception that matters

There is very often a huge disconnect between how often organizations believe they deliver good or great service and how often customers believe they receive it.

Some of that is simply because the people within those organizations are faced with the daunting and challenging task of hiring, training, scheduling, coaching, mentoring, ordering, reporting… the list goes on and on.  Supplies are late, weather is bad, someone calls in sick and yet, somehow, in spite of all the challenges, the business is open and customers are coming in the door.  We give ourselves a lot of credit for the challenges we overcome on a regular basis.

Go ahead, pat yourself on the back.  After all someone has to! Just don’t expect your customers to do so. They’ll pat you on the back, give you figurative high fives, maybe even the occasional real one, if and when their expectations are consistently met and even exceeded.

Rule Number 3:  Service teams provide the service they receive.

If you want your service team to provide great service, provide them with great service.  If you want them to value and respect their customers, value and respect them.  If you want your service team to acknowledge your customers, acknowledge your service team. Say good morning, good afternoon. Ask them about their day. Know their names!

Disgruntled service providers are usually disgruntled employees.  Don’t assume it’s their bad attitude.  Make sure you are not a contributing factor.

Rule Number 4:  Make This a Team Effort

Consistently delivering good to great service is not the responsibility of just one or two people.  It doesn’t matter if someone works front-of-house or back-of-house. It doesn’t matter if they answer phones at front reception or sit in a corner office.  Everyone plays a role in the overall customer service experience.

It takes a team to build a strong customer service strategy.  As the leader of a service team, if you want your team members to buy into the process, include them in it.   Identify key players on your team who can help you build your customer service strategy.  Who will talk to other team members to get ideas and input? Who has the trust of other team members? Who has great listening skills?  Those are the people you want to pull into this very important project.

Are there some other rules you can think of?  Please feel free to share them here.


Living up to Your Promise

There are a lot of ads, billboards and slogans that promise great service.  “The best service in town.” “We are here to serve.”

Paying lip service to the concept of great service is one thing; actually living up to it is another.  Those companies that do live up to their promise know that good or great service isn’t built on a wish and a prayer.  It takes time, energy, commitment and a strong customer service strategy.

A customer service strategy is just as important as a sales and marketing strategy.  The customer service strategy supports your overall business goals.  A successful sales and marketing strategy gets customers in the door; a successful customer service strategy keeps the customers coming back.

A customer service strategy includes the following:

  1. A service promise. The service promise supports your company’s overall mission and goals.
  2. The service expectations of your customers, based on the product or service that you offer. Remember, you can’t be all things to all people. Who are your customers, who is your target market and what do they want?  If you offer thick, juicy made to order burgers, you will not be able to provide a two minute burger. That’s what fast food restaurants are for.
  3. Customer feedback.  Your customer service strategy needs to include a process to generate and review customer comments and feedback, both internal and external customers. Don’t assume you know what your customers/ employees want.  Ask them!  You may find out that there are some significant gaps that you can address and still stay true to your business model.
  4. Clearly defined service standards. Telling your employees to be friendly isn’t enough.  What does friendly look like?  How do you want “friendly” conveyed on the telephone?  While you’re at it, create internal customer service standards as well.  The attitude / service that is provided to internal customers tends to flow to external customers.  Be sure that everyone in your company clearly understands the importance of internal customer service.
  5. A training plan.  Your employees need to know what you expect from them if you want them to provide consistent service.  What training do new hires need? What about training for long-time employees?  Sometimes we make the mistake of assuming that employees who have been with us for awhile are trained and we forget about them.  Don’t make that mistake.   It can be easy to fall into a rut after doing the same job for a long time.  On-going training helps to keep those expectations front and centre.
  6. Performance management plan.  In order for the service standards to be adopted by your team, they need to know that you take it seriously enough to evaluate whether or not the standards are being followed.  Take the time to recognize and reward employees who are providing the service levels that you ask for.  Provide additional coaching and mentoring when the service standards are not being followed.
  7. Plan for mistakes. The reality is that there will be mistakes made, either due to errors by your employees or by your suppliers.  Take the time to identify potential errors and come up with service recovery options.  Share those options with your employees so that when errors happen, they know what they can do to try and resolve the situation immediately.  Better yet, get them involved in coming up with potential solutions or responses.

If your company doesn’t have a clearly defined service strategy in place, I encourage you to take the time to create one. While you probably won’t envision every situation or customer touch point, a well thought out plan will reduce the number of customer complaints and service issues that you need to handle.  Besides, just like your sales and marketing strategy, your customer service strategy needs to be reviewed and revised where necessary on a regular basis.


To find out more about customer service strategies, sign up for a free consult here, email me at lbarkman@servicedge.ca or call me at 204-995-5836.

Hash House A Go Go Rocks Service

It’s been a week since my last post … unusual for me and the only reason (excuse) is that my trip to Las Vegas was entirely focused on spending time with my family.  Of course, me being me, I simply could not help but notice and store up a whole lot of customer service related experiences.

There were many meh moments, as well as some truly fine examples of terrible customer service and service that rocks.  Today, I want to share one of those rocking moments.

Friends of ours told us about Hash House A Go Go, located on the strip at The Quad.  They’d discovered it on their last trip to Las Vegas and raved about the place. We almost went to a restaurant closer to our hotel but at the last minute decided to keep walking the few extra minutes.  It was worth those few extra minutes.

Chicken and waffles at Hash House A Go Go. My husband made a valiant effort, but in the end, the plate won!

The food looked good and tasted good. The portion sizes were huge! One plate could easily feed two. But most importantly, and the reason we went back a second time, was because of the service.  I simply had to know if they were really that good all the time or if we just got lucky with an unusually great server the first time.

Here is a short list of all the customer service standards they absolutely nailed:

  1.  Under promise, over deliver.   There was a wait to get into the restaurant at 10:00 am and at 2:00 pm.  I’m told it doesn’t really matter what time of day you get there; you will probably end up waiting.  Each time we put our name on the wait list, we were given an estimated wait time that was longer than the time we actually had to wait.  15 minutes doesn’t seem nearly as long if you are told it could be up to 25 minutes.  I have been to too many restaurants that told me 15 minutes when it was actually closer to 30.
  2. Acknowledge the customer immediately.  We were seated in two different sections and served by two different people.  Both times, our very busy servers were unable to get water glasses to us right away, but that did not stop them from taking a quick stop at our table, to let us know we had been seen and they would be with us in just a moment.  In some customer service sessions I deliver, I hear “They can see I am busy and I never keep them waiting for more than a few minutes.”  We could see they were busy and quite frankly, I expected to have a lot of time to peruse the menu before the server in our section got to us.  Not at Hash Hash A Go Go.  Both of our servers, as well as all the others I could see, stopped at each new table within seconds.
  3. Focus on the customer.  In spite of how busy the restaurant was, none of the serving staff gave the impression of being rushed. When they were standing in front of our table, we were their one and only focus. They patiently explained the menu, they asked how we were enjoying our trip to Vegas, they laughed, they smiled … they took the time to make us feel welcome.
  4. Find ways to make the impossible possible.  Hash House A Go Go is missing two pieces of standard commercial restaurant kitchen equipment … on purpose.  There is no microwave in their kitchen. There is also no food warming equipment.  When the kitchen team has cooked and plated the food, it doesn’t sit under a heat lamp.  It goes out to the table.  They made a commitment to fresh and they keep it. That means they have food runners.  Lots and lots of food runners.  I am pretty sure the labour costs are higher than a heat lamp.  I am also sure that the long line-ups and constant turn-over of tables that result from this, plus their other service standards, more than makes up for those additional costs.
  5. Be clear as to expectations.  Every single plate that came out of that kitchen was beautifully presented. Every plate of chicken and waffles that went by our table and the one that landed on our table in front of my husband looked the same.  The management team at Hash House A Go Go has very obviously created clearly defined standards, for both front and back of house.  Based on consistent delivery of those standards, I venture to guess they also have a strong training program in place to help their team meet and exceed the high expectations they have created.   Companies that want to be the best, outline what the best looks like and then supports their team in achieving the best.
  6. Have fun.  This restaurant seems to be in a consistent state of “getting slammed”.  The only difference is just how hard they are getting slammed.  I have never seen an entire team move that fast in such a coordinated way.  I have also never seen that many people having fun while working that hard. Smiles, laughter between team members.  High fives, managers fist-bumping their staff as they walked by.

On our second visit, I said something along the lines of “Everyone seems to be having so much fun” to our server.  He stopped what he was doing and told us how much he loved working at Hash House A Go Go.  He talked about the team environment, how everyone gets along.

Hash House A Go Go is busy for a reason. High standards, a great product and even more importantly, great service.  Next time you’re in Vegas, make sure you go.  Leave time and bring an empty stomach.  You will need both!