To Train or Not to Train

By Rosanne D’Ausilio, Ph.D.

According to a recent survey conducted by Tealeaf, a leading customer experience management company, one key element to surviving an economic downturn is excellent customer service. This is a huge opportunity for companies and call centers willing to significantly improve their customer service as this enables them to stand out among the competition.

By providing world class customer service and listening to what the customer needs and wants, call centers are more able to satisfy caller’s needs. This allows them to not only retain the loyalty of existing customers, but it also allows them to procure new ones through positive word-of-mouth without spending excessively on marketing and advertising.

This is vital since these same survey results showed that, in the online market in particular, four out of ten people stopped doing all business with a company after just one incidence of poor customer service. A favorite expression of mine (I don’t know who first said it) is you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression.

Listening is a major component of customer service. In the book A Whole New Mind by Daniel H. Pink, he cites research from twenty years ago when doctor-patient encounters were videotaped. They found that the doctors interrupted their patients after an average of 21 seconds. A more recent study shows that doctors have improved. It’s now 23 seconds before they interrupt.

While we can all probably relate and even chuckle, if we move this to the customer service arena, what happens? Customers aren’t listened to. And what do customers want? What do we all want? To be treated with dignity and respect, and most of all, to be heard!

It isn’t that people don’t want to hear what’s being said. Oftentimes, the intentions are good. We want to do our best job in the shortest time possible. What ends up happening is we listen for the pause to jump in and take the person where we think they want to go (which may or may not be accurate). If we’re listening for the pause, we are not listening to the person, and therefore, we have no idea what they have said. Given these circumstances, they usually have to repeat it, actually extending the length of the call

In today’s world, repetitive, routine, “just the facts, ma’am” issues can be handled through self-service, usually quite efficiently and effectively. Therefore, the more complex, complicated, and accelerated calls necessitate human contact.

Tools, techniques, common phraseology, and language are just a few requirements for world-class customer service. But are these taught in school? No. These are introduced in customized, live, interactive training sessions delivered in real time. Is this a cost to bear? No. This is about investing in people. Usually the lowest paid person has the highest responsibility of contact with the current and potential clients and their customers.

There are KPI (Key Performance Indicators) that can be directly positively impacted by customer service skills training. What needs to be included? Obviously, communication and (pro-active) listening are the place to start, with rapport building, anger diffusion, and offering options being also important. After all, we, the people, are who make the difference.

Rosanne D’Ausilio, Ph.D., is an industrial psychologist, consultant, master trainer, best- selling author, executive coach, customer service expert, and president of Human Technologies Global, Inc., specializing in human performance management. Over the last 25 years, she has provided needs analyses, instructional design, and customized, live customer service skills trainings, as well as executive/leadership coaching. Also offered is agent and facilitator university certification through Purdue University’s Center for Customer Driven Quality.

[From the October/November 2010 issue of AnswerStat magazine]