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customer service training

Customer service training needs to be on your short-term bucket list

Reprinted with permission from Winning at Work

Back in the olden days — say, five years ago — customer experience was recognized as the great competitive differentiator. The experience organizations provided for customers was a powerful force that made them stand out. The supporting evidence was overwhelming and it was the foundation of powerful success stories like Amazon, Zappos, Trader Joe’s and Southwest Airlines.

Organizations around the world have been scrambling to capture some of this magic. Most aren’t succeeding. Those that are, while seeing impressive gains in profitability, are no longer achieving the lightning-in-a-bottle results of the above role models. What’s going on? Is customer experience becoming passé? Is it suddenly playing less of a role in organizational success?

Hardly. In fact, exactly the opposite is true.

Customer Experience isn’t a differentiator - it’s the price of admission

Pandemic aside, the strategic role of customer experience has indeed changed in recent years. It has transformed from being a unique competitive differentiator to simply being a non-negotiable. As the bar in every industry continues to raise to meet escalating customer expectations, providing outstanding experiences is, at minimum, about survival. Ten years ago, it was the secret to winning the game. Today, it is basic table-stakes. Without a focus on customer experience, you will quickly be on the outside looking in.

Customer service has taken a back seat - and that’s a mistake

Customer experience refers to the overall experience people have with your company. The people side of customer experience, the customer service part, has taken somewhat of a back seat over the last few years – and it’s been a mistake.

An increasing number of companies, in fact, are actively seeking automated solutions and self-serve platforms to replace people in customer service. Although most tout self-serve solutions as something that enhances customer experience, the trend is really about cost savings. The cost of real humans is 80-100 times more than the cost of technology. It’s a math thing – but is very often a big mistake.

Customer service drives customer loyalty. Automation and self-service don't

The value of human customer service, however, is irrefutable. Nine-out-of-ten Wow experiences — experiences that customers are most likely to share with friends and family — come from customer-employee interactions. It is, ultimately, the core ingredient of customer loyalty. Ignoring it carries a heavy price.

Customer service is not something you want to leave to chance. It’s more than just being nice to people, and more than just common sense. It’s the execution of a collection of skills, behaviours and attitudes that consistently send the message to customers that you care about them. A customer-focused culture is created by highly-focused leadership and solid customer service  training.

Customer service training needs to be on your short-term bucket list

If you’ve never run a customer service training session for your team, it’s time to put it on your short-term bucket list. But even if you have done training in the past, there comes a time when it should be re-visited. Either way, here are five signs to tell you that its time:

 
1. Your service levels are inconsistent

Inconsistent service levels are sure signs that your team isn’t all on the same page. Here are a couple of things to look for:

Some team members getting a lot more “difficult customers” than others.

Don’t write this off as coincidence. It’s likely that they are missing key service recovery skills.

Employees having “bad days” in front of customers.

We all have an occasional bad day, of course, but when personal emotions begin to seep into professional interactions, that’s a big warning sign.

2. Your customers are focusing more on price

Scores of studies over the years continue to point out that customers are willing to pay higher prices when they perceive a significant difference in the service they receive. There’s a reason that people pay more for the Ritz-Carleton or Four Seasons than they will for other, less expensive hotels. Customers perceive that the value of the service outweighs the price.

If you start to see increased incidents of price influencing your customer buying decisions, it is a very real possibility that it is actually being caused by a perceived decline in your service levels.

3. Your customers are complaining

Starting to see an uptick in issue escalations? That’s a big, giant, red-flashing-light sign telling you that issues are increasing in either frequency or intensity — and it’s not because your customers are just becoming more difficult.

A landmark 1990 study by Mary Jo Bitner highlighted that the majority of difficult customer interactions are actually caused by the words and actions of employees — not customers.

Our own analyses of hundreds of recorded customer service phone calls provided by our clients confirms this. Two things we’ve learned are:

  • The majority of negative customer interactions actually begin quite positively.
  • You can rewind these interactions and identify the exact trigger that caused it to go sideways. It is almost always the result of something an employee said or did.
4. Long-time customers are behaving differently

Are your long-time customers disappearing, using your services less frequently or spending less than they used to? These are often early indicators that customers have entered the churn cycle.

This is something that should be keeping you awake at night.  Every business has churn. But when your loyal customers begin to explore other options, you have problems. People, once they’ve developed loyalties, don’t give them up easily. When they do, it’s rarely because of a single event. It’s because they’re getting the repeated message that they aren’t valued.

5. Your employees aren’t working well together

Strong teamwork, or internal customer service, is foundational to the experience we provide to external customers. When you start to see signs of interpersonal issues, or departmental silos creating roadblocks to getting things done, it will eventually start impacting your external customers. Well-constructed, cross-functional internal customer service training, along with a closer look at managers’ leadership skills will go a long way to nipping bigger problems in the bud.

Customer service training needs to be on your short-term bucket list
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