The Value of Customer-Service Focused Education
This piece is the an entry in the "Happy to Help" Series, ongoing articles focused on elevating customer service experiences.
Most organizations do not offer formal customer service training during the on-boarding process. Employers often believe that if they hire for personality and train the skills, they will just find and hire those top-five percenters—this is rarely the case. When those employers hire one or two employees who do offer stellar customer service, they tend to believe that everyone in their organization offers that high level of service. What they do not realize is that technique is important too. No matter someone’s personality, if they do not have communication skills, critical thinking tools, or the ability to smile at people, they won’t succeed.
I have had other servers at Applebee’s, and while there are one or two that are almost as good as Reno, most are average. Similarly, I have worked with other employees at Office Depot and Lowe’s that try to be helpful, but I have had others avoid eye contact at all costs. Few measure up to Quincy and Gordon.
It is clear that if customer service training were offered to all employees in a business, most employees at that business should perform at nearly the same level.
Once Upon a Time
Regarding my own experience in customer service, I admit that I have not always served like a top five-percenter. While I felt successful as a paperboy, a cook at Wendy’s, and a DJ at a roller-skating rink, the truth is that I was still just a ninety-percenter. Sometimes I was a really awesome ninety-percenter, and other times, I was more like the bottom five-percent.
I’ve given bad service. I’ve done stupid and mean things to people who annoyed me.
For example, I used to work in a facility that had a video game arcade. We closed the facility at 11:00 p.m. during the week. On more than one occasion, that time approached and passed, but there were a few customers who still had coins and continued to play. At about 11:05 p.m., I turned off all the breakers and shut down the arcade completely. Pretty awful, right? This is where most businesses are. They hire people they think will do a great job, but don’t offer training outside of processes, policies, and systems that are specific to the business. If you don't train your employees, then you are leaving them to their preprogrammed skill levels.
Trends in Training
What do great customer service companies like Disney, Starbucks, and American Express have in common? They all understand the value of deliberately and consistently training their employees in delivering great customer service. It is no secret that these companies spend marginally more time on training employees customer specific skills, yet very few businesses follow suit.
Personally, all but one of the jobs I’ve held were customer facing positions. Of these, not one offered me training to build relationships or create better service experiences for my customers. In contrast, a good friend of mine who worked at Disney World as a Merchantainment Hostess, spent three days in training before ever coming into contact with a customer.
Do you know what a Merchantainment Hostess is outside of Disney World?
Yes, she spent three days in training, learning job specific skills as well as customer service specific skills before working with a single customer. I have worked with organizations that have cashiers working the cash register and interacting with customers the very first day. For one business, cashiers were at the cash register within the first hour. It’s hard to offer customer service specific training when managers are so anxious to get employees trained on a cash register.
I understand that very often the first thing that comes to mind when I mention training is budget. I am often asked, especially by small business owners, “How can I afford to?” My reply is,
“How can you afford not to?”
What is Customer Service?
As a hiring manager I often asked applicants, “How do you define customer service?” I could ask that question a hundred times and get a hundred different answers. Most of them were acceptable, but there was no common definition or plan for performance. One girl simply said, “Duh! It’s serving the customer!”
As I began studying more about customer service, I found that there are multitudes of books extolling the virtues and the importance of offering great service. However, I had difficulty finding a specific definition for customer service. After years of serving customers and studying best practices, I created my own definition of what customer service looks like.
Customer service is taking action to create value for someone else.
Customer service involves three steps. The first step is to Discover. Discover your customers' needs by engaging them in casual conversation. Enquire about what need you can fulfill specifically and why they chose you over a competitor (yes I know I spelled 'enquire' with an 'e'. It is correct and keeps up the alliteration). As you learn about their needs, enlighten them about your product, services, or purchasing procedures to create smoother experiences.
The next step is to Deliver. Delivering effectively requires three important skills. First, you must Deliver exactly as your customer requested. Second, Deliver elegantly by being a genuinely polite, pleasant, and nice person that utilizes good manners. Use the kind words your mother tried to teach you like please, thank you, and you’re welcome. Third, Deliver energetically by being happy, friendly, and enthusiastic. Show people that you enjoy your work and are ecstatic about the opportunity to work with them.
The third step is to Do More. Do More by going the extra mile for your customer to exceed expectations. You can offer extras to your customer like rewarding them for being loyal, getting to know them on a personal level, or sending them a thank you card. Part of Doing More is to continually evaluate your own customer service performance and seek to improve those skills.
Customer Service Performance
Let’s be clear about why customer service is a performance. Customer Service is sometimes a department you call when you have a problem with a provider. Or it may be where you go to return clothing that doesn’t fit. Customer Service is also something that employees do when they interact with the people who purchase from their business. In this case it is a performance.
Once I began training the concepts of Discover, Deliver, Do More, I saw dramatic performance improvement. It wasn’t just about the customers either. Managers began treating employees better. Employees began treating each other better. And everyone began treating the customers better.
Here’s why this works: Discover, Deliver, Do More gives everyone a common definition of what customer service is, as well as a plan for executing it. And, as the skill level of service providers improves, everyone’s personal desire improves, making them happy to help.
Here are some of the results I’ve seen from implementing this training in various businesses:
An entertainment venue saw increases in purchasing of every attraction leading to an overall growth of twenty-one percent in annual revenue.
One company focused on improving a specific three-hour period of each day. A few weeks after training, revenue during that same three-hour period had increased by almost eighty percent.
At one organization, Discover, Deliver, Do More was used to create a word-of-mouth marketing campaign during the slower months of business. The year prior, the organization spent over twenty thousand dollars on one advertising campaign. It was a flop. They penetrated less than one percent of the target market and each dollar spent on advertising brought in about nine cents in revenue. When this organization focused on building word-of-mouth, the only cost was for training. Every dollar spent on training was tracked to bring in about six dollars. The return on investment was sixty-seven times more effective than the advertising campaign that failed the previous year.
Where We’re Going
The entries that follow take a deep dive into the steps of Discover, Deliver, Do More. As we cover each topic we'll cover review real life stories of good and bad customer service. We’ll discuss the subset of skills required to be successful with each step. There are also practical examples, review questions, and exercises that can be done with a partner or team. Finally, I’ll be including some challenges for comparing your organization to the competition and some pictures that fit the theme of each step.
After learning more about the three main steps, we’ll explore how you can use these same steps to create Service Resolution when there are gaps in your customer service performance. I’ll also leave you with some quick tips for improving service performance.
Zappo’s CEO, Tony Hsieh, has said, “We don’t look at customer service as an expense, we look at it as an extension of our marketing budget. Indeed, taking time to train your employees with customer service skills is a valuable investment.
When you maximize your customer service performance, you:
Ensure customer happiness and retention (the first most effective way to grow business is also the most cost efficient; do not lose your existing customers)
Increase spending with each transaction (the second most effective way to grow your business and also the second most cost efficient; create higher per capita spending from each customer)
Accelerate the frequency of purchasing (the third most effective way to grow business and the third most cost effective; develop higher repeat business from your existing customers)
Multiply your customers’ personal recommendations (the most effective and cost efficient way to gain new customers; ninety-two percent of consumers believe recommendations from friends and family over all forms of advertising)
Experience an expanded and thriving customer family (the result of the four previous points combined)
Continuously cultivate lasting loyal business relationships (perpetuate the cycle by creating and growing relationships with customers, old and new alike)