I have an admission to make: Just like you, I am sick of hearing about customer service. And to make matters worse, we are retail trainers, and yes, customer service trainers.
Delivering great customer service is hard – possibly the hardest thing to achieve in an organisation. Great customer service is therefore also one of the best differentiators a retailer can have because it is so hard to copy. Great customer service is therefore still the holy grail of a retail organisation. You can copy someone’s marketing. You can copy their range and assortment. You can even open up right next door. But you can’t copy a service culture.
Ready for the big insight?
You don’t TRAIN for customer service, you BREED it.
If you consider that key difference carefully, then quite a few differences emerge from the traditional view of customer service. Let’s consider what the process might be like if you thought about breeding customer service. (I will use plant breeding as the analogy here)
The first step in the process is to plant the seeds of customer service. A vision. A customer service charter. (Of course planting assumes planter – and it is a prerequisite that the planter is made of the right stuff.) It helps if the first seed is a strong seed that will eventually sprout the other seeds that will spread the culture.
Many employees will have been exposed to other customer service cultures and will have been trained in other organisations. Transplanting them is a dicey proposition. Sometimes it will take and sometimes not.
Water and fertisliser. Not everything is easy or pleasant to do. Nurturing is hard work – ask any farmer. And it is relentless.
The fuel that will deliver your success (maybe this is the fertiliser) is your passion. You have to absolutely stir your passion into the soil and spread it around generously.
Make heroes of the people who deliver. When it comes to cutting staff, are your frontline people first to go and the hierarchy in management the last? Or does it always boil down to managers looking after themselves.
If the CEO does not take a pay cut when things are tight, you can be sure the soil for customer service is not fertile.
If someone makes a legitimate mistake, with the customers’ best interests at heart, and they are fired anyway; you can be sure that seeds of service will not grow. If punishment is the outcome, then making yourself small and invisible is the natural response.
Small and invisible people cannot do great things.
I have written elsewhere about what it takes to create happy workplaces. One of the hardest things you must do is to fire the people who don’t fit in. Those who are unhappy and those who mock customers or serve with a heavy heart must be let go.
A novice who observes an experienced gardener will sometimes wonder why the best-looking, healthy branches seem to be the ones that are cut. But the experienced I can see which shoots are growing in the wrong direction and sapping the energy of the whole plant.
Not much to say here of course. This is why we do it: to reap the fruits. And as the biblical analogy goes (and I paraphrase) we all know that bad trees don’t bear good fruit.
Put back. Re-invest. Use the best performers as your mentors for the new people coming through. To reap does not mean stripping the cupboard bare – it means you allow enough to reinvest in next year’s crop. Leaving some money on the table, the old gamblers knew, would allow you to walk away from the game alive.
Reward the ‘soil’ with a break. Plant a different plant. Don’t train in customer service only. Add some variety. Allow people to develop themselves and their other interests too.
So much for the process of ‘breeding’a customer service culture.
There are other dynamics at play too, and it is worth considering a few other salient facts and facets before rushing out to start the process.
You can never stop. If you lose focus because you want to implement something else (another buzzword platform) and you lose sight of this process, it will wither on the vine.
You are working with people some results may surprise you – and not always in a bad way. You are bound to experience and gain some delightful interactions and outcomes. And you are bound to come across a customer that is hard to please no matter what.
In conclusion, we should then consider what the role of customer service training is, if there is one.
Breeding your customer service culture is not something that can be outsourced to a trainer. Consultants and trainers have a role to play, and the role WE play is:
CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE DESIGN
We have adopted a structured approach to help our clients step through the whole customer experience. It is easy to SAY that we should walk in the shoes of the customers; and it is easy to TALK about Moments of Truth. But institutionalising those the experience is another matter altogether. Customer Experience Design (CXD in our shorthand) in corporate several frameworks that constitute a comprehensive
CUSTOMER SERVICE SKILLS
The skills employees need to have to deliver great customer service are either communication based: How to ask questions. Listening with intent. Responding with empathy. Solving problems efficiently.
And great customer service also needs product- and organisational knowledge. Product knowledge supports the sales process and is rather obvious. But organisational knowledge in is equally (if not more) important. And by this I don’t only mean knowledge of policies and procedures, but:
- What are the limits of authority? (And when is it OK to break it.)
- What is our vision and what is my role in growing towards that vision?
The caveat, going back full circle, is of course that these skills are only viable in the right culture. And creating the ‘right’ culture can be done, and you can even use consultants to get it right, but change management is not a simple skills training exercise that is sold to the cheapest bidder.
PS: I programmed this post some time ago before some R&R in New Zealand. Upon my return I will work on the next newsletter – and the topic will be customer experience (which is not customer service).
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