Why do customer service training programmes fail to drive change?

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In this extract from The Journey to WOW: A Roadmap to Outstanding Customer Experience and Loyalty by Shaun Belding, the protagonist explores how customer service training programmes come unstuck. 

There’s trouble at Household Solutions Inc. While its sales have been increasing at a steady pace, the numbers are deceptive. Research reveals that while customers are satisfied with its products, they have a low opinion of the company itself and the way it treats customers. Cameron Whitehall is appointed chief customer experience officer to turn things around. In search of help, he turns to Madeleine the consultant.

Seated at Cappugino's, Cameron took a sip through the straw to his Mocha-nilla. He looked at Madeleine who was enjoying her Lychee-cran cocktail.

“So,” Madeleine said, setting her glass down and looking directly at Cameron. “You have a theory as to why Rosa’s customer service training programs aren’t sticking?”

“I do.” Cameron leaned forward, eyes looking upward as he searched for the best way to explain it. “There are three things, here, I think.”

“Obviously, their greeting rule has stuck with everyone,” he began, “and the other things they may have introduced in the training haven’t. So clearly they’re doing something different with that whole ten-feet, ten-seconds thing. The most obvious difference seems to be that there are tangible things attached to it. When they do it as they’ve been told, they’re rewarded. When they don’t, they get in trouble.”

Madeleine nodded and smiled at Cameron. Her eyes sparkled.

“It looks like this is the only part of the training where they’ve created a direct, concrete link between the ideas presented in the training and the actual performance expectations on the sales floor,” he continued. “The training is important, but the training alone won’t necessarily translate into behavior in a live environment. They need something that reinforces the performance.”

He paused for another sip of his Mocha-nilla. “It probably doesn’t even have to be a tangible reinforcement. I’m guessing that it’s mostly a management/leadership thing. When the managers and supervisors focus on something, so do the staff. People are focused on the ten-feet, ten-second rule ultimately because that’s what Rosa is focused on.”

Cameron looked at Madeleine to see if he was on the right track. “Keep going!” she encouraged him. “You’re on a roll!”

“The second thing has to do with the way people execute the skills. I was curious as to why the Gray People all came up to me with ‘Nelpya’ or left me with ‘Okay well I’ll be over here if you need me,’ but the Real People actually seemed to want to talk with me.”

It seems to me that outstanding customer experience begins with having processes that make sense from the customer’s point of view.

“‘Gray People’ and ‘Real People’?” Madeleine asked with mild amusement. But it was pretty clear she knew what Cameron was talking about.

“I’m not sure what to make of it,” Cameron confessed. “It’s like there are some people in the stores who just have no interest in customers at all. They’d rather avoid us than talk to us. Why would someone take a job in customer service if they don’t like dealing with customers?” he asked, not really expecting an answer.

“I’m thinking about what I’ve seen in the Saggezza Centre so far, and how it relates not just to Household Solutions, but to any organization. It seems to me that outstanding customer experience begins with having processes that make sense from the customer’s point of view. If that’s not in place, then you’re sunk. It has to be easy for a customer to do business with us.

“Once that’s in place, we have to make sure that our policies are focused on what’s best for the customer, not what’s best for us. We have to let people know that we’re interested in them, and that they are important to us.

“This is the part where we move from being a profit-focused business to a customer-focused business to being a business that begins to earn real customer loyalty. That’s where the people come in. You have to have people in place to look after customers. That’s what begins to engage the customers.

“And it’s not just having people use the right skills and say the right things,” Cameron continued. “They have to actually be interested in the customers. They have to care. That’s the difference between the Gray People and the Real People.

It’s not just having people use the right skills and say the right things.They have to actually be interested in the customers. They have to care. That’s the difference between the Gray People and the Real People.

“The last element is leadership. They have to genuinely care, and genuinely believe that customers’ experiences are the foundation of a company’s success. Because if the leadership doesn’t believe it, there’s no way their teams will.”

Cameron had begun speaking faster, as the concepts were rapidly crystalizing in his mind. “Some people just naturally care. Those are the Real People. They are the people who are probably self-motivated in everything they do in life, so it is just natural for them to be like that in their jobs. But the others— the Gray People—need the leadership. They need champions; a purpose; a rallying cry that gets them excited. Without purpose, it just becomes a job with a ten-feet-ten-seconds rule.

“All of this has to be consistent,” he went on, “which means, for the people at least, there needs to be clear, meaningful, nonnegotiable standards of behavior in place. There needs to be effective training so that people have the skills to execute them consistently. Then, leaders need to champion and inspect the performance regularly, and make sure that positive behavior is acknowledged, and substandard behavior isn’t accepted.”

Madeleine sat back with a proud smile on her face. “For a young man who just a few weeks ago didn’t even know what shopping was, you’ve come a long way,” she said.

Cameron smiled back, his burning eyes flickering downward with a slightly embarrassed look. “I should never have doubted you, Maddy,” he said. “Now I just have to figure out how to translate all of this into something that will work for Household Solutions.” He glanced at his watch. “And I guess I should get back there.” He took one last sip of his Mocha-nilla, stood, and helped Madeleine with her chair. “So, what’s next?” he asked.

Madeleine thought for a moment, adjusted her hat, and gave Cameron a look that seemed to ask if he really just said that.

Cameron grinned at her. “Same time, same place?” “Marvelous idea!” Madeleine agreed, then winked, spun, and walked off just in time to miss the waitress showing up with the bill.

This is an extract from The Journey to WOW: A Roadmap to Outstanding Customer Experience and Loyalty by Shaun Belding.

About Shaun Belding

Shaun Belding

Shaun Belding is CEO of The Belding Group of Companies, and is recognized as one of the leading global experts on customer service, service recovery and building positive workplaces. He has appeared internationally on television and radio and newspaper, and blogs regularly on customer service. Shaun is author of 5 books, including the customer service international best-seller, Winning with the Customer from Hell[***] - a survival guide.

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