You cannot expect to create a culture of excellent customer service without a training program. Employees need to be given the education and tools to adopt your organizations’ customer service values. Through my years in the private and public sectors, I have seen customer service training programs ranging from lecture-based to hands-on exercises to pamphlets to everything in-between. One of my most recent experiences with customer service training program was the “Customer Service Leadership Academy” I launched in 2009 for the City of Philadelphia. Although this class was originally developed for a small group of employees, it expanded within the next year to train over 24,000 employees. Across mediums and sizes, however, the success of these programs (getting employees to “buy-in” to customer service values and techniques) relies on two things: structure and engagement. We can tackle structure first.
In creating a customer service training program, you need to make sure it has real structure. By this I mean that the program has substance—the program needs to have been built on concrete values with the buy-in from an organization’s leadership. This will provide the training program with the resources it needs to be sustained. Structure and substance also deals with the actual make-up of the program. Is this program only a few PowerPoint slides? Have you as the facilitator done outside research? Do you have committed instructors? Put yourself in the shoes of the attending employees: does this program have enough structure to be meaningful for you?
Here is a “To-Do” List to ensure your customer service training program has structure:
- Establish your organization’s customer service values and what you hope the training program will accomplish.
- Get buy-in from organizations leaders; make sure the leaders can deliver the resources you need.
- Review supplementary materials from outside sources.
- Craft a course curriculum keeping in mind both the goals of the program and the employees’ point of view.
- Incorporate other mediums of education and learning (i.e. videos; hands-on exercises) to provide a textured learning experience.
- Launch the program, being careful to take feedback from employees along the way.
- Evaluate the program and its results before offering another session.
One of the ways we were able to add to the Customer Service Leadership Academy’s structure was to gather immediate feedback after each session. This was accomplished by simply asking participating employees to fill-out a survey as each session finished, creating an instantaneous bench-marking system for the program and its instructors.
The next key to your customer service training program being a success is engagement. While engagement can mean discussion and entertainment (you don’t want to bore your employees to death) it should also expand on what is traditionally taught. In creating an engaging customer service training program, are you giving employees a chance to look at V.O.C. metrics? Are there case studies to show examples of best practices? Have you properly explained customer service vs. customer experience? To create an engaging training program, you need to provide both interesting and challenging examples to get employees thinking about customer service practices past what they have typically been taught—it’s the best way to get their buy-in.
A way we tried to create a high level of engagement in the Customer Service Leadership Academy was through inviting instructors from the private sectors to share their stories and best practices. This gave employees another lens to which to look at customer service practices. It provided entertainment while adding a new dimension to the learning experience.
Do you agree with structure and engagement being critical in a customer service training program’s success? Help me out by leaving your suggestions in the comments below and the best answer (determined by me) will be rewarded with a $5 Starbucks gift card.