Training: Customer Service Management


Broadly speaking, there are 2 types of training:

  • Generic training
  • Tailored or customized training

In a service organization, customer service management is an important area for training. It is at the customer interface point where the quality of handling of the customer determines the service levels.

Customer service management is simply the management of the customer’s responses and emotions in a given customer interaction situation.

Although customer service situations may be similar between organizations but there are customer service situations specific to each particular organization. Because of this tailored training is the preferred choice. Rather than sending staff for “train the trainer” courses, it is more effective to spend money to hire an external training consultant that has experience in the industry to develop the training materials and train the staff.

Hard Work and Time Spent

It is easy to voice expectations but these are merely lip services and empty aspirations. Instead hard work and time are needed to look for and assess prospective training consultants.

After you have found one, it is work again to brief him or her on the customer situations that are encountered in your organization, the standard operating procedures; and to evaluate and fine tune the consultant’s work once he is about done.

The value of engaging a consultant is benefiting from his or her ability to point out your blindside and to provide you with workable and doable solutions to your difficult customer situations.

The System-Situation-Person Model

Customer service management has 4 components:

  • The standard operating procedure; management decisions and support.
  • Day, time and place of events.
  • Events (customer service situations).
  • Customer service personnel.

Employee empowerment means giving employees authority to make certain decisions or take specific actions. That has to be in the standard operating procedure. Translated, that means the standard operating procedure enables the staff to go the extra mile.

Empowerment means that management’s initiatives are to give away specific authorities to staff and to facilitate staff so that staff may do their work effectively.

Getting the Role of Supervisor Right

When it comes to customer service, there are 2 perspectives that are always deliberated and here are the arguments against them

Perspective 1: The supervisor should be role model for his subordinates.

Here are the arguments against it:

  • Hiring is not 100 percent perfect
  • Some people are in the wrong jobs with regards to their personality, but they already gain a reasonable amount of work experience.
  • A lot of people are promoted to the level of supervisor or hired to work as one even though they did not receive or have very little structured supervisor training.
  • With the introduction of facilitator role and employee empowerment, the roles of supervisors have evolved.
  • Difficult customers are difficult to pacify or handle for anyone.
  • It opens the supervisor to critics and conflicts with his or subordinates.

Perspective 2: The supervisor should hold all the decision making authority on refund, product replacement, product exchange, waivers and similar matters.

Here are the arguments against it:

  • In today’s context, staff turnover is faster; business costs creeps higher each year and business runs on leaner staff each year.
  • Under this context, supervisor has also to spend more time assisting staff doing the actual work and less time supervising staff.
  • To add on to the woes, a lot of businesses have little or no budget; are less willing to spend on staff training or cannot afford to release staff for training, leading to the need for increased support from supervisors for staff that are less well trained.

A side point: We should not confuse the topic of supervisor being a role model and the topic of supervisor’s conduct (how he or she treats subordinates).

Capabilities of Staff: Hiring the Right (Ideal) Staff?

Do not pin all hopes on your ability to hire the right (ideal) staff. You cannot always be sure of who will come through the door; whether the one that joins you eventually turns out to be what you perceives the person to be at the job interview; and how long the person will last in the job.

Obviously there must be minimum pre-requisites for the job. Always differentiate what aspects can be trained; and what is really a person’s personality (and as such, hard to change).

Always have your feet on the ground: Make the best with what you got. This is also the basis of the strengths theory. This is also a point made by Peter Drucker.

Capabilities of Staff: Different Staff Different Skill levels

Most of the time, staff at the front-line are rank and file staff. It means that their level of education is not high, implying that they may have problem in phrasing the words to deal with the customers; their thinking skills may not be as developed as a person with tertiary education to analyze the situation, and they may be hampered by fear of repercussions if they choose to go the extra mile for the customer.

This is why situation based training, involving simple instructions, role-play, mnemonics, reinforcement, supervisor facilitation becomes important.

In the light of this, learn to moderate your expectations; let the staff do more of what they can do and do best; and think of all the ways to support them so that they will do an effective job. Stop wasting everyone’s time of trying to be the role model.

Components of Human Interactions

In order to understand the nature interactions and be successful at it, we need to look at all the components that go into a human interaction between customer and service staff. They are:

  • Non-verbal communication
  • Verbal communication skills (listening, feedback, tone)
  • Managing one’s and customer’s emotions
  • Words (scripting)
  • Tools
  • Solutions

Customer Situations

The ideal person who knows and understands the various customer situations is a staff who had been in the job for 5 to 6 years, dealing day in and day out with customers.

Customer situations can be group into:

  • Normal customer situations – these are usually taken care of by operating routines
  • Common difficult customer situations
  • Less common customer situations

Operating Procedures

Most operating procedures fail to address different difficult customer situations other than the routine customer situation. The procedures tend to focus on operating routine.

Needless to say, it is valuable to document procedure for handling different difficult customer situations. It serve as ready reference for handling difficult customer situations that do not commonly occur.

Service Standards

It goes without saying that part of training should be a refresher on routine procedures involving customer interactions.

When working to define the service standards, it is useful to have some thoughts about 5 things that you want potential and existing customers to know about your service.

In addition, it is useful to clarify on the following areas:

  • Roles and authorities of supervisor and staff
  • Customer service situations
  • The Wow in the service that you have identified
  • Other factors that affect the service delivery, such as tools, size of physical space to cover (example size and levels of restaurant), team size, number of customers, use of technology.

Steps to Deal with Difficult Customers

It is an important contribution to uplift service levels to be able to craft an interaction plan beforehand for both common and rare difficult customer situations.

To be remember for the fantastic way that you handle difficult customer situations, it is best to identify and think beforehand about what and how you can do to give that wow in your service.

In your preparations, you have:

  • Keep things simple – Have a few steps
  • Describe it in plain English
  • Ensure that it is doable for everyone
  • Check that it is easy to reinforce
  • Adopt a simple format
  • Not too many to remember, for example top 5 common difficult customer situations to ensure role plays are done. Having too many will just confuse staff or they will forget.
  • Keep customer service staff informed as to where written responses to all identified customer service situations can be referred,

Strategies and Tactics to Quell Customer’s Fire

If you are paying valuable money to an external consultant to develop your training programs, he or she better be able to provide you with both strategies and tactics to quell a customer’s anger or displeasure.

After all, not only you want to retain someone who is already your customer; but you hope that with they will give you not only repeat business but buy more or spread words about your fantastic service to other people who are potential customers.

Training Requirement Brief

Before you go out to ask for a quote and for the training consultant to see you, draw up a training requirement (project) brief.

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