Customer Service Training Can Be Worthwhile, But…
Customer service training is one of the most commonly searched terms online. Sadly, far too many companies throw away their money on such training. I bet United Airlines spends hundreds of thousands of dollars on customer service training, and we see where it got them.
Don’t get me wrong: many companies have staff who could benefit from good training in how to deal better with customers. And no doubt there are many good training companies out there.
But, as the United Airlines case illustrates all too well, customer service training is often like putting a Band-Aid on a hemorrhage: the problem runs far deeper, and even if the Band-Aid is a really good one, it won’t work.
Get the 3Ps Right First
In the book, PeopleShock: The Path to Profits When Customers Rule, I talk about the 3Ps of profit: Promise, People and Process. Customer service training is just a tiny piece of the picture, and if it is just tacked on as part of the process, it won’t solve anything.
Why won’t it solve anything?
Let’start with the Promise.
If staff don’t have a clear vision of what they are trying to accomplish, they won’t be motivated to care about customer service; they are just there to get a paycheck.
What is United’s promise? Despite what it says on United Airlines’ website, management’s actions show that the actual promise is to shareholders, and it is about maximizing short-term returns. Even if they had profit sharing, that still wouldn’t be enough to inspire passion and caring in most staff.
Without happy staff, you won’t get great customer service.
United’s staff have not felt united in many years. Dave Carroll, the man who launched what, until now, was the most widely shared customer service complaint in United’s history – the United Breaks Guitars video – told me on the Frank Reactions podcast that he regularly hears from disgruntled United Airlines staff.
Customer service training can teach staff to smile and tell people to have a nice flight, but it won’t get them to do it, especially not in a way that comes across as sincere.
The people factor extends not just to your own staff and customers, but also to people like suppliers and the general public.
The men who dragged Dr. Dao off the United airplane were suppliers, not United staff. But, of course, their actions reflect on United, as they were taken at the request of the airline and in one of their planes.
Which brings us to the third P: process. United staff may well have followed the prescribed process, and done what their customer service training taught them to do: offer compensation, if nobody bites, decide who has to go, then tell the customer with a firm, but polite expression of regret.
Their training and procedures also taught them that if a customer refuses to follow staff orders, he or she is to be considered a threat, and, as soon as possible, removed from the flight by security forces.
Everybody did what they were trained to do.
How to Use the 3Ps of Profit to Get Value from Customer Service Training
So before a company like United (and very possibly yours) throws away money on more customer service training, it should invest in the 3Ps:
Develop a Motivational Promise
Clarify what your actual promise is. Involve staff at all levels in this.
If you want your staff to be better able to handle unexpected situations, such as a customer who non-violently refuses to deplane, a strong, well-understood promise gives staff a guideline or filter to use in deciding what is the best way to handle the situation.
That said, if the promise isn’t consistent with how staff are treated and with the processes, it won’t solve the problem. If you look at United’s website you’ll see that part of their promise is:
We Fly Friendly
Warm and welcoming is who we are.
We Fly Together
As a united United (sic), we respect every voice, communicate openly and honestly, make decisions with facts and empathy, and celebrate our journey together.
Clearly something got lost in translation.
Ensure Your People Policies Are Aligned With the Promise
- Work with staff at all levels and with your unions to identify areas of dissatisfaction and resolve them.
- Change hiring procedures to ensure you are actually hiring the sort of people who will deliver on your promise.
- Change reward and promotion policies to ensure you are reinforcing the desired values, not fostering antagonism or encouraging a culture of simply handing the problem off to somebody else (like a contracted security force).
- Work with your contractors to ensure they understand and share you values, and will act accordingly. (At Oxford Properties they go even further: they give their contract office cleaning staff $500 any contracted cleaner can use without approval to make a customer happy.)
Do Customer Journey Mapping to Improve Processes
- Start by identifying customer pain points. If there are many, you’ll have to set some priorities about which to tackle first.
- Then follow them back into your organization, asking “why” at each step to figure out where things are going wrong and how they can be fixed. Why did this happen? Why do we need the rules we’ve got around it? How could it be done differently? Often, solving a customer pain point will also save you money, because it is likely to make your internal processes more efficient too.
- Be sure you involve people from all levels and departments in this customer journey mapping process. Otherwise your great ideas for improvement won’t happen. They’ll be blocked by others whose understanding of the issues is different from yours.
Now You Are Ready for Customer Service Training
Finally, to make this whole thing work, we come back to training.
Now your customer service training will be consistent with your promise, people’s motivations, and your processes.
When that happens, it is worth investing in.
But if you do customer service training as a stand-alone item, you are wasting your money.