Training for Customer Service (2)

Customer service is one of the hot training topics for the 80s and 90s. Service excellence, and the particular ‘package’ of services offered to customers, are often the most important differentiating factor between competitor organizations. So how should your organization be training to make your service better than the rest?

Customer service is an area in which DBA has considerable training experience. In a previous issue of Tips and Tools (September 1997) we put forward some reasons for why many customer service programmes fail to make a difference. In this issue we will be balancing this with some ideas for programmes which do make an impact on organization-wide service standards and attitudes.

What customer service programmes should aim to achieve and deliver

Research among organizations which score highly on customer service shows that their customer service strategies share ten key characteristics. Using the principle of benchmarking it makes sense, therefore, that customer service training should aim to communicate these ten characteristics on to staff and managers, in the way they think about customer service.

This leads us to ten core messages which need to be incorporated into customer service training, and which are as follows:

Customer service is …

Customer service requires:

  • driven by top level impetus
  • clear board level vision and commitment, communicated and cascaded from board to management, and from management to staff
  • business led
  • a service effort which is informed by clearly defined business needs
  • derived from a real knowledge of what customers want
  • the active pursuit of customer knowledge and understanding
  • products and services which are matched precisely to identified customer problems and needs
  • a shared responsibility for all managers
  • managers who will take responsibility for reviewing and, where appropriate, redesigning work systems to ensure that they are supportive of the service effort
  • inseparable from staff care
  • organization-wide awareness and understanding of internal customer service principles and practice
  • an issue which involves and affects everyone at all levels
  • whole-organization provision of relevant, appropriate customer service training
  • whole-organization involvement in continuous review and improvement of customer service
  • non-optional
  • specified service standards as a basic performance requirement for all staff
  • part of the organization’s culture
  • adherence to service values and standards to become an organizational ‘habit’ influencing every aspect of the operation.
  • dependant on good communication between different areas of the organization
  • co-operation and team working between departments and functions
  • regular cross-functional communication about service problems and needs
  • fundamentally concerned with continuous improvement
  • continuous review of methods and practices, with a view to achieving ever higher standards of service.

Planning what training is required

In our September 1997 issue of Tips and Tools we asserted that, in order to avoid failure, customer service programmes need to take an integrated, whole-organization view of customer service. This clearly requires different types of training activity at various levels throughout the organization, starting at the top.

The model below provides a quick overview of the various stages involved, and the key training issues to be addressed at each stage:

Raise awareness and understanding of the need for highly visible board level commitment to customer service.
Facilitate development of clear vision and values at board level.
Plan how these will be communicated on to the rest of the organization.
Equip managers with the knowledge and skills required to implement the vision and values within their own department or area of the business.
Plan ways to review, monitor and evaluate work systems and practices, in line with staff and internal customer needs.
Raise awareness of customer service as an organization-wide issue, affecting everyone.
Develop staff understanding of who their internal customers are, and the services they require
Secure staff involvement in and commitment to review of internal service standards.

Training for frontline and customer service staff in:

  • identifying and responding to individual customer needs
  • managing service relationships with internal service providers
  • handling and resolving customer problems and complaints.

Introduce and enable people in the use of continuous review strategies to:

  • monitor and evaluate levels of customer satisfaction
  • inform the organization of persistent problems and changes required
  • identify and implement required changes.

Board level commitment and involvement

Those at board level would not need to have a detailed understanding of front line customer service, nor or the skills involved in working with customers to identify their specific problems and needs. However, they would need an understanding of their role, in championing customer service. And they would need an understanding of how their own attitudes to staff may have considerable impact on staff’s service attitudes at the front line and with colleagues.

A Senior Management team which does not listen to its staff’s views on service and which makes no effort to moderate its own behaviours in dealings with internal customers cannot expect to achieve the level of commitment which service excellence requires. Customer service is a whole-organization effort which requires clear and visible leadership from the top. Trainers must make every effort to ensure that this message is clearly received and understood, and positively acted on by those with the power to influence others within their organization. Without their support, customer service programmes have limited chances of real success.

© DBA 1997