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Kinesis - Insights - CEM Training - Beyond the Golden Rule


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Customer Experience Management


Author: Shelley Caro

Customer Experience Management Training
– Beyond the Golden Rule –

Some wear running shoes frayed from exercise and errands. Others wear tasseled loafers with an Italian accent. Still others are shod in stiletto pumps, *@#%-kicking cowboy boots, flip-flops, or flats.

They're customers. The very same customers in whose shoes customer service representatives (CSRs) are typically schooled to "walk" during customer service training in order to behave per the Golden Rule: "Do unto others as you would have done unto you."

Whether taught in the classroom, on computer screens or through a combination of delivery methodologies, teaching of the Golden Rule is inciting a Golden Age for customer service training. The rationale for investment in customer service training is found in the bottom line, as there is an undisputable connection between service excellence and excellent sales, retention, brand loyalty, and word-of-mouth. And well-documented trends in the labor market offer equally persuasive employee-centered reasons for companies' emphasis on training initiatives:

  • Skilled labor is in short supply. – The gap between skill demand and skill supply is growing. With both unemployment and educational levels on the wane, many companies are reporting the shortage of qualified workers as their single greatest barrier to growth. As a strategic response, spending on skill enhancement training, customer service skills among them, is accelerating.

  • A new employment paradigm exists. – As the knowledge-based economy proliferates, human capital carries the same high value accorded physical capital in the industrial economy. At the same time, companies no longer can guarantee life-long employment. The result: valued workers look to employers to help them build a personal, marketable "brand" by enriching their skills and knowledge portfolios. Continuous education through training has become a necessary benefit offered by companies that wish to attract and retain skilled workers in the "sellers' market" created by chronic labor shortages.

  • The business environment moves at warp-speed. – Today's workers must learn at light speed in order to keep pace with the onslaught of information and high-velocity processes that reduce time-to-market while increasing competitiveness. Continuous training is an essential antidote to knowledge obsolescence.

While there's ample justification for corporate training, there's much less evidence that such investment pays dividends. In the case of customer service training, companies have come to realize that typical programs are failing to convert into fiscal gold and that customer satisfaction with service is actually plummeting.

The solution to the conundrum requires a systematic performance management approach that supplants the shopworn A-B-C's of customer service with training built on Four-C's.

Four-C's Training Model

A key principle of "androgogy" - adult education - states that adults are primed to learn only when they understand why the training's content is important. Typical customer service training invariably includes a "what's-in-it-for-me" segment during which employees list the personal benefits of service excellence. Without fail, the list includes "job satisfaction", "job security", "few hassles", and "maybe better pay."

It's a perfectly fine list, but it's not a strong enough learning justification for today's employees. They may be less skilled, but they're certainly astute and able to grasp and value an enterprise-specific rationale for improved customer service delivery.

CEM scans corporate clients' market research, sales figures, industry analyses, and other pertinent data prior to training development. This hard data is presented up-front in the program, allowing employees an insiders' look at the strides that need to be made to ensure corporate viability and profitability.

One brand-name company in the highly competitive brokerage industry presented its employees with cold truth about the low ranking of its customer satisfaction levels against that of its competition. Employees were chagrined by the data, but pleased by the candor. The open communication between company and employees led to open minds about the necessity of learning and applying training content.

The typical customer service training program often evolves in a vacuum, oddly removed from the preferences of actual customers. As a result, companies often school employees to focus their performance on indicators of service that are meaningless to customers, running the risk of alienating them.

A story in the New York Times offers a perfect illustration. One customer contact representative for a major player in the telecommunications industry was trained to end every telephone interaction with a stock phrase, "Have we provided you with good service today?" Additionally, her conversations were monitored for compliance with this standard, as is the ordinary practice in call centers. She found that this phrase raised ire rather than delight, particularly when offered at the end of an escalated interaction with a peeved customer. Unfortunately for the representative, training content had not been predicated on actual customer research that might have revealed negative response to the phrase, setting up both the representative and, ultimately, the company for failure.

Another example, at another bustling call center where employees were trained to engage customers through questioning. However, the employees consistently reported that customers were turned off by questioning, instead wanting thorough and accurate answers to questions of their own. Preliminary research would have found that the company's customers considered "product knowledge" by far the most important factor in customers' satisfaction with service and could have adjusted training focus accordingly.

CEM bases the content of its customer service training on practices, issues, scenarios, and standards that are meaningful to customers, as identified through collection and integration of baseline customer data. Metrics drive content, not well-intentioned guesswork. The Golden Rule, "Do unto others as you would have done unto you" is replaced with the vastly more effective Platinum Rule, "Do unto others as they would have done unto them."

Absent feedback, employees newly armed with practices acquired during training head back to the front, only to slip inexorably into familiar ways. This is a basic fact of human nature - and a basic principle of performance management. No consequences, no action.

It's usually the job of managers to provide corrective or confirming feedback. Unfortunately, it's a fact of managerial behavior that the provision of feedback is often pushed down the pressing list of "to-do's". When managers do provide feedback, employees tend to discount it as "unfair" or "judgmental". In this environment, even performance rewards and incentives are viewed through jaded eyes.

CEM rewrites the rules of feedback by providing employees and managers with factual reaction from the customer's standpoint. It is upon this no-nonsense information that managers can calibrate their unit's performance and employees can calibrate their individual behaviors.

Baseline research conducted prior to training is compared with follow-up studies, allowing executives, managers and employees to see pertinent trends on an item-by-item basis.

Then the CEM training approach goes a giant step further, by linking individual performance findings directly to self-selected incentives triggered by improved or exceptional service performance – again, from customers' perspective as proven by metrics.

Sporadic training means misspent financial and human assets. Companies that want fidelity to service excellence must show constancy to employees by continuously providing opportunities to learn. And companies that truly want to effect employee behavior must constantly reinforce customer service principles and preferred practices on a regular, real-time basis.

Short bursts of reinforcement training, delivered direct-to-desktop or in hard-copy format, efficiently facilitate employees' continuous calibration efforts, particularly when reinforcement is linked through the Customer Experience Management system to actionable customer-driven metrics.

It's na´ve to think that a systematic and sound approach to customer service training will on its own lead to productivity, profitability, and customer retention. There are also critical enterprise-wide factors that must be in place if customer service training is to reap intended results; Visible executive endorsement, Operational efficiency, and Recruitment and hiring of service-oriented employees. Assurance of these and other factors requires an ongoing organization development campaign that aligns people, processes and operational systems in support of superior service quality.

Customer service training is an integral step in that alignment and, as such, warrants the performance-focused, systematic solution.

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