Customer Service Training – The What, The Why and The How

For your organisation to witness stupendous growth, it is highly important that every single employee in your company has a clear understanding of your company’s core values and implements the same in their customer service. The essence of core values should reflect in every dimension of work that your employees do.

The Fall 2012 Workforce Moodtracker Report highlights some highly critical points about core values contributing to employee performance.

  • 79% of employees say recognition tied to core values gave them a stronger sense of company goals and objectives

The report concludes that frequent timely recognition linked to the company’s core values results in

  • Increased productivity
  • Improved focus towards customer service
  • Enhanced employee engagement

In fact, the understanding of core values is so crucial to a company, that this does not just include the employees in a company, but begins at the very grassroots level when a person is hired or trained to be a part of the company.

Companies that are known for their customer service like Zappos and Apple have clearly established their core business principles and have put in place a strategy around employee training and on-boarding process. They have built a sound system where the core values are ingrained in every individual before they take up the smallest work within the organisation.

Apple, for instance has a Genius Training Student Workbook that every new employee has to study completely before stepping onto the Apple foyer. The following article about Apple’s secret employee training manual explains Apple’s Customer Service Training ideas and how Apple insists that their new employees learn everything from the words to not use with customers to capitalising on human emotions to even empathising with and consoling customers in distress. This brings us to our very first point.

 Implement customer-centric core values into every new employee

It is always the start that requires the greatest effort – J.C.Penney

These are the words of a man who built the Penney empire. It is very important that you begin inculcating your core values of customer service from the very start of an employee’s journey in your company. Build customer-centric core values and make sure every new employee in your company implements the same in their work.

Zappos, another company known for their ‘Wow experience’ in customer service has a Zappos Family Culture book which inspires them to outdo themselves year on year in terms of customer service.

The right people on the bus; In the right seat.

When you are looking to train people to understand your core values and your customer service, the first and foremost thing you need to look into is who you are hiring. Recruitment is a failure when you are looking for a ‘resource’. You need to look for ‘talent’ that exactly fulfils your requirement in every way. This article on How to hire successfully shows that as a recruiter it is more important for you to look into who your candidate is rather than what he has accomplished.

Every employee is a leader and hiring the right leader is crucial in grooming them to get the best talent for your work.

  • Outline your company’s goals, mission statements and core values
  • Understand has the right skill-set, drive and passion to follow through on these goals while strongly upholding these core values
  • Weigh pros and cons to see if candidate is talented enough to tackle the challenges in the role
  • Pick the person who suits the role in all dimensions

Expose new hires to the nitty gritties of the job

Before you throw an employee into the ring, you need to accustom him/her to the nuances of customer service, how to go about it and what it takes to provide the ‘Wow experience’ to your customer. Customer service is no longer just another parameter of work. It is a culture that has to exist in a company for it to reflect in the work they do.

Zappos for instance, has a culture specific core curriculum for customer service training activities. Every new Zappos hire has to learn the culture of customer service before going about implementing it to their customers. The curriculum explains the five aspects of exceptional customer service

  • Hiring
  • Training
  • Customer Service
  • Empowerment
  • Leadership

The on-boarding process for Customer service training has five simple steps

  • Expose the new hires to the functioning of the organisation. Be open to queries and make sure they have a complete and clear understanding of the way the company works.
  • Take them through customer conversations via mail and chat to show the approach employees take towards their customers
  • Provide demos or show live support calls that employees are taking with customers to see how the process works
  • Evaluate the candidates on their understanding of the process
  • Provide mentorship for every employee through their initial phase until they can take things up on their own

A Detailed Development and Training Program

When training hires on customer service, there should be a detailed demonstration of the basics of good customer service. The demonstration should include some key factors that are required for providing good service.

1. Get support priorities right

When a support staff has to attend to more than one customer query, it is imperative that they understand which ones to target first. This is defined by three simple levels of priority (which may slightly differ from company to company.)

Priority 1: Business Critical – Affects business entirely. Has to be resolved immediately

Priority 2: Degraded service – Intermittent issues that reduce quality of service

Priority 3: General issues – Queries, simple fixes and development issues

2. Empower support staff to drive better engagement

For your support staff to drive better engagement, they have to primarily understand who their customers are. You can never going to provide good customer service if you do not know who you are catering to. There are two important things required for evaluating what your customer needs from you.

  • Customer communication
  • Customer rapport

Support staff have to communicate in the right way with the customer to build a good rapport with them. Build qualities like politeness and empathy and explain the importance of knowledge. No representative who does not know the product fully will be able to provide good customer service.

3. Inculcate Leadership

When providing customer service, you are completely responsible for your actions and a simple mistake could also have a huge toll on your customer satisfaction index. You have to take decisions on the fly and also be able to back them up. This requires a strong sense of leadership from within that drives them to take informed decisions spontaneously and also cover up in case of imminent danger.

4. Follow organisational process

This comes back to the initial concept of core values. There needs to be constant mentoring to ensure that support staff are following the organisational process. This is in all aspects of support right from mailing templates to customer calls to live chat discussions. The process has to be standard, uniform and thorough so that no customer is ever treated differently.

5. Monitor activities on a daily basis

Monitor the performance of the new hires on a daily basis, find areas that need improvement and make sure the same are communicated clearly to the support staff so that they know their shortcomings and do the needful to rectify the same.

Now that support staff have the necessary training, it needs evaluation. There are help desk metrics that every responsible one in the team should be conscious about.

Appraisal process to evaluate training and work

There are two types of service. Internal customer service and external customer service. External is what you provide to the customers of your company. Internal is what reflects within your own organisation. Employees need to be evaluated and recognised for the work they do or they lose the motivation to continue delivering good work.

The above graph from the Fall Moodtracker survey shows that there need to regular appraisals for your support staff. They need to be recognised for the work they do or they are either to perform poorly or jump ship at the first opportunity they get.

The Zappos Customer Loyalty team has built their own satisfaction index called Happy Experience Form and Happiness Experience roadmap to evaluate the work of their support staff.

Have a regular quarterly or half-yearly appraisal process to evaluate the staff’s work, recognise their accolades, communicate their shortcomings and provide the necessary confidence boost for them to want to rectify them and perform better in the coming months.

Build a consistent and successful customer service practice

Once the above methods reap the desired rewards, the process does not end there. It is important that you not only celebrate the success but also go the extra mile to build this customer service culture as a consistent practice, keep bettering your customer satisfaction ratings on a yearly basis and strive to outdo the standards you have set for yourself.

Murali Satagopan

Customer service blogger, HappyFox enthusiast.