Leveraging the power of citizen engagement to dramatically improve customer service, agency focus and cost efficiency.
Can Excellence in Customer Service Be Taught?
April 26, 2010 at 12:24 pm #98841
One of the big questions I have encountered in reading about customer service is whether customer-facing employees “either got it or they don’t.”Do some people just have the personality for customer service while others will never be capable of achieving the basic skills required for that kind of position?My hunch is that it can be taught only to a point, and star performers have something innate – an emotional intelligence – that enables them to better meet customers’ needs.Your thoughts?
April 26, 2010 at 12:46 pm #98875
I agree that there are those with an innate knack for handling customer service. However, my experience over the years is that it is definitely possible to teach those skills – given that someone has some ability and desire to speak with customers. Beyond basic training, mentoring and “story-telling” where an ace works with beginners, or even more experienced personnel in need of improvement, seems to be most effective.
Beyond personality and rapport, the most important factor is to provide all customer service personnel with access to good information. While customers like to speak with friendly and personable reps, their most important objective is to get the information they wanted, a reliable answer to their questions, their problem resolved to their satisfaction, etc., the first time they call.
April 26, 2010 at 12:54 pm #98873
I think that is pretty accurate. We are primarily a sales company here at DLT, so for our employees, customer service is extremely important. When an individual starts here, customer service is a big part of training. You can definitely see, however, the people that “get it”. They are willing to work exrtra hours, make additional phone calls, etc.
I think there is a certain quality that these people have that cannot be taught. They really take the time to listen to the needs of their customers as opposed to just trying to make a sale.
I am interested to see what other people’s thoughts are on this…
April 26, 2010 at 1:36 pm #98871
Good point. I have talked to a lot of customer service reps in the past. They may be very nice and easy to work with, but if they don’t have the information that I need, it is very easy to get frustrated.
April 26, 2010 at 2:56 pm #98869
The best way to train people in good customer service is for the management to model that behavior in the way they treat front-line employees. If you are a boss and you treat your employees poorly then they will treat customers badly because why put out your best effort for a jerk?
Recognize and reward good behavior in all workplace instances and not just at the front counter and you will have great customer service people.
April 26, 2010 at 3:16 pm #98867
I think customer service can be taught but at the same time I feel like it’s dying. These days more and more people don’t even know what true customer service is which makes it impossible to teach.
With the lack of knowledge it’s becoming socially acceptable for companies not to provide true service to customers. The part that makes it even more annoying is that most customers just sit there and take it.
Companies and CEO’s won’t force the change and actually bother to provide customer service until it affects their bottom line.
April 26, 2010 at 5:45 pm #98865
Great question! It is my belief that exceptional customer service (or customer engagement) is a behavior that one can learn. In this world of instant feedback, many organizations still miss the boat when it comes to providing outstanding customer service (which equals loss revenue). The following comes from one of my favorite books on customer service; “Hey, I’m The Customer” by Ron Willingham
The Customer Satisfaction Satisfaction System:
1. Greet Customers
2. Value Customers
3. Ask how to help customers
4. Listen to customers
5. Help customers
6. Invite customers back
April 26, 2010 at 6:51 pm #98863
What you say is true but if we are honest, many customers do not value customer service. How many old line corporations who modeled world class customer service have been put out of business by cheap buck artists offering the lowest prices regardless of how they cut costs? Many customers will say they value quality and customer service and than ask a vendor to match the prices of competitors who provide neither. I’ve been guilty of this myself. Much as I would like to claim otherwise, when the cost differential exceeds 15-20 percent, I often choose low price over quality service.
April 26, 2010 at 7:38 pm #98861
It really depends on the “market” as to whether customers value service. Companies and organizations need to know their customers. Being “world class” was a slogan that many large corporations and organizations aspired to. But, this was more about customer service from the company perspective – telling customers that “we’re world class.” The bottom line – it’s all about giving the customer what they need or explaining in a credible way why you can’t. They don’t really care about world class service, and It doesn’t make sense to “exceed” customers expectations unless it can be done without extra costs to the company/organization and there is benefit for the company/organization.
April 26, 2010 at 8:12 pm #98859
Almost everyone’s job has a customer service component and that is why I agree that it is important to improve emotional intelligence in the workplace. Emotional intelligence is the pattern of how people’s biases in their thinking leads them to think one thing or choice is better than another, as well as their clarity in differentiating within those biases to exercise clear and sound judgment, like the saying, “people see what they want to see.” A high emotional intelligence employee can manage their own impulses, communicate effectively with others, manage change, solve problems, and use humor well to build emotional rapport in challenging situations. These employees are empathetic, remain optimistic even cheerful, in the face of adversity, and are gifted at educating, persuading, and resolving customer issues in a customer service role. What customers desire is honesty and service and therefore, one has to communicate with customers, on a mutual emotional level, the issues that are confronting them. The ability to interact well with others is a prerequisite for building bridges of mutual understanding and trust in the space between people. Social capital can alleviate any gaps (e.g. mistrust) that may reside between parties.
April 27, 2010 at 3:05 am #98857
I am more and more frustrated with customer service. I am not sure if true customer service can be learned. Being polite can be learned, but customer service is so much more than that.
I think the problem with some people is lack of creativity or an open way of thinking.
If I am the customer and I ask you about ABC, and you say no we don’t have ABC, or you can’t do ABC, I get very frustrated if the customer service person does not follow up with; BUT, we do have this, or you can do this. I understand there are some situtations where options are not available (NO, you cannot ride on the warhead. No exceptions.), but those time are few and far between.
Also, the people who always say “it’s policy”, but when you ask them which policy, they don’t know, only frustrates me more.
It has been said here many times, some people get it, some people don’t.
Here is one of those examples of someone who gets it. Some time ago, someone hacked into a number of Paypal accounts and drained many bank accounts. Mine was one of those. The first person I called was my bank; 45 minutes later after talking with a person who had no idea what to do (even though this was her department and her job), and who was stating “policy” even though she could not tell me which one, I hung up and called Paypal directly. 10 minutes later, the lady was so great at her job I felt SORRY FOR HER that she was having to do all of this for everyone who got hacked. She had tons of options (which the bank could have offered) for me to do right then and there. She even talked me through doing some stuff on my bank account, even though she could not see my bank account (which means she had to be very experienced with helping people). We would cross one area, and she would come up with other options. It was like her brain was on fire and she had all this information up there about ready to jump out to help people. The next day, I reported the person who helped me at the bank, and then I wrote a huge thank you to PAYPAL. (BTW I did get all my money back).
That is the difference in people who get it, and people who don’t. People who get it, most of the time, already have it, and want to share it. The people who don’t get it, may be trained to “get it”, but they will very rarely be as good or as helpful as a natural CS person would be.
April 27, 2010 at 5:45 am #98855
You can teach someone to smile, listen, and act… but if the system they work in requires the customer to jump through 100 hoops – they still leave upset.
It’s not the service that customers hate nearly as much as the having to bring in 4 forms of ID, fill out 30 forms, and stand in line for 7 hours.
April 27, 2010 at 11:07 am #98853
AMEN to that!
May 13, 2010 at 7:00 pm #98851
Part of it has to do with the culture of the organization. I used to be very frustrated with Metro’s customer service people when I would call to ask which bus to take to get to a certain place by a certain time. They would painstakingly put me on a bus which would get me to that spot 45 min. early or 15 min. late, but it wouldn’t occur to them to mention the one that would get me one block away 10 min. early. Also, there was no way of just finding out which buses went to a spot, without taking time into consideration. Later, when they put up their Web site (you can tell that this was a while back!), it was set up the same way – you had to put in a time and a place, and the site would come back with the same kind of information the CS people had. This was very frustrating to me! It was obvious that the people there all wore the same mental blinders, and couldn’t think of other ways to answer the questions. The culture needs to allow for creative thinking, without which I don’t think good customer service is possible.
I haven’t called Metro or been to their site in a long time, so if this has changed, I apologize to anyone who has helped bring about the change.
May 14, 2010 at 1:16 pm #98849
As anyone who deals with management or leadership of people can attest to, people are multi-variable creatures. Employees always come through the door carrying “stuff” – a mixture of raw talent, motivation, predisposition, education, experience, prejudice, etc. From the moment they walk through the door, they are shaped by what they encounter once they get inside. Under the right conditions, they bloom. Under the wrong conditions, they wither.
I’m a big fan of a farming style of leadership. Leaders must “sample the soil” to understand what they are working with. The “PH” and temperature of the culture must be just right to support a good crop of customer service people – if that is what we’re after. Leaders responsibility is to add or subtract “nutrients,” “sunlight,” and “fertilizer” in order to give employees the best chance of growing. If the reward system is broken – fix it! If people need to be inspired – inspire them! If people need to be given boundaries – provide them! If people need more autonomy – give that too! Give what is needed.
Each person has a unique “genetic code” that we must first understand in order to support them effectively. No one would plant banana trees in a field in Maryland and expect bananas. If bananas grow there, it’s a fluke. Likewise, we don’t stick Kudzu in the ground without solid boundaries.
I think the answer to the question above is larger than “they got it or they don’t.” Are people in the right places? Do they have what they need to grow? What stage of maturity is each person in when we challenge their customer service prowess? What is the ecosystem surrounding these people providing?
Perhaps a feeling that customer service skills are slipping is symptomatic of something else at work (or not at work) in the environment. People are totally awesome under the right circumstance. Under the wrong circumstances, they can be… well… not so awesome. We’re all like that. Provide the right environment and it’s amazing what will grow!
May 14, 2010 at 1:34 pm #98847
I like your exlplanation of the farming leadership style and how it applies to customer service. You definitely need to provide the right environment for the “customer service crop” to thrive and different plants (CSRs) may need different fertlizers and attention to flourish.
May 14, 2010 at 1:55 pm #98845
Caryn, Great insight! This sounds like a wonderful example of a system that was set up without good customer input. Had someone talked with you, they would know that there is more than one way to skin the metro travel cat.
I will use your example to illustrate a point – even though we have no way of knowing if my assumptions about this particular service provider (Metro) are accurate in any way.
Disclaimer stated, I suspect that you are correct – that it probably didn’t occur to the people you were talking with to send you one block away. They may not have been trained to consider that option – and they may not be empowered to take an independent action to get you the answer you needed.
I would be willing to bet that the people you spoke to – at some point got up in the morning with the desire to do the right thing and provide the best service possible. Once they got to work, perhaps they were handed their scripts, they may have heard opinions from their colleagues of perhaps how “stupid” travelers can be, etc.
Maybe they are not rewarded for giving you the best help. Maybe they are rewarded for answering the most number of calls. Therefore getting you off the phone and getting on to the next customer is the “right” thing to do for their culture.
I don’t really know anything about Metro’s customer service. They may be awesome now. My point is that I may have given you the same bad advice under those circumstance – and thought I was doing the right thing.
May 20, 2010 at 10:23 pm #98843
I think personality has a lot to do with it, but that customer service can be learned. I am not sure it can be taught or trained, but it can be improved. I found my own level of customer service increased immeasurably at two points.
Once when I was working in Yellowstone Park as a cafeteria line worker between a southerner and a New Englander, I soon became used to chatting with the customers in front of me and began referring to everyone as “Sir” or “Ma’am”, which I understand is the level etiquette needed for meeting with the Queen of England. This seems to me to be a very high level of service, and it was not natural to me as a midwesterner. I was used to responding naturally to comments, but not engaging everyone in conversation as a matter of policy nor had I called anyone Sir or Ma’am until it was just the way I passed people through my step in the line. The other servers’ modelling was very effective, and just standing there smiling nicely no longer seemed an option.
This level of service got me through numerous jobs as exceptionally polite, until I took library science classes by university extension with a group of experienced library assistants. It was a job I had held, but suddenly I was in a group devoted to supportive empowerment. There were competitive students, but as a whole the group supported and empowered everyone. If someone spoke slowly, everyone listened encouragingly; if someone needed help, someone lept to provide it; if someone did something inappropriate, it was ignored and corrected later. I came out of that experience a much nicer person.
Whatever customer service skills I have were immensely strengthened by having been in those two environments where good service was the expected norm and poor service seemed to be a social crime. I think that is how good customer service occurs and is passed on to new employees. What is generally different now is not ruder people or employees but an atmosphere where queuing strategies save money, fewer employees doing more for less is the norm, and customers are expected to know and do everything for themselves or be chastised for wasting other people’s time. If the point of hiring the employee is to prevent customers from ever talking to someone who might really help (and a surprising number of organizations have someone out front just to keep customers from barging in) the level of service is going to be poor. The more friendly and engaging the employee the better, but the service will still be poor. If we just want the perception of service, the personality of the gatekeeper is essential. If we want to really serve the customers, responsive organizational policies and a helpful atmosphere may be set by the leadership, and employees can respond accordingly.
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