When you are doing your job well, knowledge matters – and in the customer service industry, that is even truer than in others. Real-time demands require you to know what you are talking about, without having to hunt through manuals and documents like a miner sifting for gold!
While you probably thought that your days of studying and cramming for tests was over once you’d left college and university, to compete and stay current in today’s global economies, keeping your customer service professional development up to date is an absolute necessity.
The service sector as a whole has experienced steady but sustained growth over the past decade (approx. 12% growth from 2008-2018) and in some countries around the world, it is the primary driver of their economy. To ensure that you stand out in this market, it is imperative that you maintain and constantly build upon your skills and knowledge – as on-the-job experience will only take you so far.
Staying on top of this ever-increasing and ever-changing mountain of information can sometimes be a job in itself! Not only does the technology change, but also changing customer demands and legislation often require new business practices and procedures.
You cannot make the mistake of thinking that it is ONLY the company’s responsibility to increase your skills. In reality, this has to be something you take at least equal responsibility for, and you need to honestly evaluate your strengths and weaknesses and look at implementing the necessary steps to address any gaps.
In my own personal career, I have used quite a few different resources to stay on top of my job and the demands placed upon me. I have found that using only one of these methods by itself is generally not enough. It is best to mix and match a couple of different tricks and tips from the list below so that you are always as up to date and current as possible.
A common misconception is that social media is only good for sharing cat pictures and political complaints, and while it IS good for both of these things, it is also a great place to have more targeted conversations with some exceptional thought leaders in your field.
A great way to keep your knowledge up to date is to follow some groups and message boards that are relevant to your industry and chosen field. There are high-quality writers and leaders all over the internet who are interested and eager to share their knowledge and to help you grow. Here are some of the best sources to start with!
LinkedIn is, of course, the premier location for business-to-business contacts and communication and it has a host of resources and people to follow. Here’s a quick snapshot of some groups that you might want to add to your list:
Worldwide Contact Center Professionals – Worldwide industry experts in customer contact strategies including CRM, BPO, direct marketing, managed services and call center industries with close to 32000 members!
Call Center Professionals – A professional networking group for individuals actively involved in the Call Center Industry as a Strategic Leader, Operations Manager or Consultant. Active group with 20000 members.
Customer Service Champions – Customer Service Champions is a group of people who believe customer service is a core driver of all organizations, and they have almost 17000 members who believe the same thing!
LinkedIn is the network for business people – it is a bit more esoteric though in its approach. Twitter’s strength is in its brevity and immediacy, versus the more structured blog posts and articles that are prevalent on other sites. Some experts in customer service and operations on Twitter who you should follow are:
Jeff Toister – Passionate about customer service, focusing on people. Author of The Service Culture Handbook
Shep Hyken – Customer service and experience expert, keynote speaker and NYT bestselling author
Jeremy Watkin – Bringing the right people and technology together to deliver AWESOME customer experiences
Mike Aoki – Focused on customer service and training
Roy Atkinson – Senior Writer with a focus on customer service, training, and ITSM
Kaye Chapman – Comm100’s own customer service & training expert
But Twitter is not only about the individuals – there are also quite a few Twitter Chat Groups and hashtags that are absolutely worth taking a look at:
While searching for ways to improve your skills, remember what is available within your own company and ensure that you are taking advantage of it wherever possible.
Some things to look for are:
Senior leaders are often the best place to look for help and inspiration. They can guide you in the minutiae of company do’s and don’ts, and also help address gaps that they perceive in your abilities.
Don’t be afraid of the hard conversations if you are lucky enough to get a mentor. You need to remember they are spending the time they could devote to their own personal development and growth on you! They will be quite frank, and that’s probably for the best.
Most organizations encourage “lunch and learn” sessions where you can pick up new knowledge from others in the department or even from senior leaders in other departments. If your company does not have this, consider starting it – the investment in pizza is nominal considering the potential upside to the organization as a whole.
You could consider holding innovation workshops or brainstorming sessions where staff can come up with ideas and suggestions to improve the business also.
Conferences are a great way to meet your peers and learn what other companies in your sector are doing and what they are focusing on. When you tie this in with more focused training and certifications that are especially targeted at your specific sector, you are bound to see some real benefits in a fairly short period of time. Cost considerations do need to be kept in mind on this path though, as while the ROI is real, the cost can be considerable.
Some excellent business courses that should be considered for those in the management, operations and IT fields are:
Project Management – There are several different bodies governing Project Mangement courses, but Prince 2 is one of the big ones and it’s definitely a useful skill to have.
Six Sigma – If your business is at all interested in efficiency, you really want to take a look at this certification and training. It’s a long-term investment, but boy does it pay off!
BRM – Business Relationship Management focuses on the interaction between a business and its partners.
ITSM – IT Service Management courses. Typified by ITIL is a focus on the best practices needed to support an IT Operations function.
However, there are literally hundreds of different courses that can also be considered, covering everything from workflow management to programming languages. Other options also include certification courses for computers and networking equipment, or you could even consider an extra language as a skill worth pursuing.
There is no single “right answer” when considering potential training courses to take – you really need to see what the requirements of your business need and what you are missing. Once you’ve made that determination, you will definitely be able to find a suitable course or training opportunity that can help you plug the gap!
One new initiative that I was quite excited about was a partnership between CareerBuilder (the job board) and Capella Education. They’ve created focused and targeted online educational programs that are based on high demand skills. Priced at around $1000, these 90-day courses are a quick way of picking up the necessary skills.
Finally, we can’t forget about MOOCs (Massively Open Online Courses) which are often offered by some of the world’s best universities. These courses are often free (or nearly free) and are a great way to learn something new.
There is no ONE solution to this question. The only thing that is really important is that you need to want to continue growing and improving your skills. Subscribe to as many blogs and publications as you can. A great way of doing this is to set up some Google Alerts or RSS Feeds so that any updates will automatically be pushed to you. That way you don’t even have to search for new information!
Read. Read every day and try to get as many different viewpoints as possible. If you can’t spend the time reading, try audiobooks – they are a great way of passing the time while commuting!
Your main focus should always be on improvement. Improving yourself, improving your team and company and most importantly improving the customer experience – the only real way that this can consistently be achieved is by remembering that knowledge matters! What and who you know matter.
Learning and development takes time and effort and it can sometimes pull you outside of your preferred comfort areas. However, if you can keep the momentum going, you will find significant benefits accrue to you in your personal and professional life. It is key to remember too that training cannot be a single event and should be considered a constant – just like change – as that is the only way to stay in the running.
What are some other sources of learning that you’ve encountered and found helpful? Share with us in the comments below!