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[Interview] Improve Your Customer Service Training with This Expert Advice

A lot of different concerns crop up when you consider the best way to train your team in customer service. It’s enough work to consider all of your options and find the best course; you also have to learn how to implement the training to get the highest ROI.

But now you can stop guessing, as we’re presenting you with some of the best customer service training advice in the industry from a seasoned professional, Ray Miller, who is the CEO of e-learning solution company The Training Bank and author of the book That Customer Focus.

With over two decades of experience in the customer service training industry, Ray knows what it takes to get your staff focused on the customer experience. I got to speak with him over the phone from his home in Ontario, Canada.

Below is the transcript of the interview.

Q: In your experience, what do learners gain from in-person training that’s unique from online training (and vice versa)?

A: We find the greatest success is with a blend of the two. Especially when it comes to service, a great deal about service is mindset. And it’s important to shift people’s focus from administration to the customer experience. The classroom is a better place to affect mindset change because you can be asking them questions and reading body language. You can put them into different activities and monitor what’s happening so that you can begin shift their thinking from an administrative mindset to something where they understand the impact their actions have on the customer. And so you’re really trying to shift that mindset.The classroom is where you can help them make the connections to do their job. And the more you do that, the faster students will begin to change the way they do things.Online stuff is education basically—it’s knowledge building. You can build an understanding of all these core concepts and principles, and why they’re important, online. But you can’t build change of mindset until you actually begin drilling down and helping them make the connections to the job.

Q: How do most organizations and companies fail their customers? And how can training help them recognize these shortcomings?

A: The training can’t just be, “well let’s just throw a bunch of training at the frontline service staff.” Service is a company-wide issue; customer service is not just the purview of people who work in the customer service department. The customer’s experience is affected by the work that everybody in an organization does, no matter what they do. Most service breakdown are a result of a breakdown internally and the customer ends up paying for it. You can have a really top-notch service provider in a call center, but in order for that person to solve a customer’s problem they have to contact someone in the ABC department. First of all they have to get a hold of the person in the ABC department, then that person has to be willing to do whatever necessary to help the customer service agent fix the problem for the customer. But if that person in the ABC department really sees their job as a series of tasks and they don’t understand the impact of what they do on the customer, then they’ll say, “well I’m busy right now, I have to get this report done for my boss first. And after that I’ll see if I can help you.” So if you want positive impact, then you need to know what it is that you do and how that impacts the customer, and you also need to know who else within the organization you work with, so that you can work together to exceed customer expectations. If you’re trying to improve the quality of service within an organization, then you have to train everybody.

Q: What should management consider before investing in customer service training for their employees?

A: Most companies do not invest enough in their training. The best of the best invest anywhere between 3-5% of their payroll on training; the average in North America is under 1%. What this means is that a lot of companies spend money on training but they do the mandatory compulsory training. And a lot of that eats up most of the training budget, so they don’t have a lot of money left over for the things that would help their employee to improve the customer experience. The amount of money that companies will make through improved service and save by reducing the cost of poor service, is significantly higher than the amount of money that it would cost them to actually train their employees. The cost of the poor service in service industry is between 25% and 30% of a company’s gross expenses. But let’s get ultra conservative and say that the cost is only 10%. If a company’s operating costs is $2 million, the cost of poor service is $200,000. Most companies would never spend $200,000 on customer training. But if they would just do something, it might cost them $100,000, within the first year they’d make it back.

Q: Do you notice a difference in how customer service agents at different professional levels learn? Do you think that affects how much a company should invest in their training?

A: For top performers, it may be better to have them shadow someone than to send them to training. They respond better to it, because you’re recognizing the capabilities that they have. High performing people can be a great asset in training if you use them as an information source. You include them as part of the training process, because it’s actually massaging their egos and recognizing the capabilities that they do have. At the same time they’ll learn a new skill in terms of how to facilitate training. But if it’s a new process, a new technology, then they need to be trained exactly the same way as everybody else.

Q: What kind of activities can management use to engage their staff in customer service training?

A: We’ve been doing these classroom training for years and years. But we could see that something needed to happen after people were in the classroom to help with that. So in the program we did for leaders, Customer Focus in Leadership program, we built a tool, which we called the activity guide, to help the leaders do that. And it was basically mini lesson plans in the form of meetings. What we would do is we would provide them with outlines that said, “Here’s what you are trying to accomplish in the meeting, here are all the steps, here is how long it takes. Here are the materials you need and here is the step by step process.” It walked the leaders step by step on how to conduct a meeting. For example, one of the things we do in the course is help people understand what service is and why it’s important. We help them by creating a definition of what service is based on the five dimension of hurt. One of the activities in the activity guides is to help people say, ‘OK, here are the five dimensions of hurt, but what does that mean in our own team or department? Let’s come up with our own definition that’s specific to our work room.’ It reinforces the concepts, plus they walk away defining how they are going to interact with customers based on those five dimensions of hurt.

The Sound Advice of a Customer Service Veteran

Speaking to Ray Miller really drove home the importance of implementing customer service training in a way that can affect company wide changes.

From post-implementation activities to organization-wide training, Miller’s training philosophy urges companies to put the customer’s experience at the heart of every decision.

After all, the customer experience is fundamental to the success of every company—without customers, what’s the point?

Did any of Ray Miller’s advice resonate with you? What problems have you faced when considering or implementing customer service training?

Download now: 50 Customer Service Training Activities for Live Chat and Telephone Teams

Download now: 50 Customer Service Training Activities for Live Chat and Telephone Teams

The activities in this eBook can be great training materials to improve customer service or morale in your team. Each activity focuses on a particular area of learning and comes with suggested debriefs. This helps your team link activities to learning and apply the learning to the workplace.

Download Now
Carla Jerez

About Carla Jerez

Carla Jerez is a senior content writer at Comm100. She has a degree in Creative Writing from Florida State University and has years' experience writing for the SaaS industry. When she’s not writing, she’s reading, traveling, or playing around on Photoshop. Connect with her on LinkedIn.