Never Underestimate the Importance of Education

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Training employees for more than the technical role of their job is key in every company’s customer service success 

Customer Care News is continually dedicated to informing business owners and leaders on the importance of providing excellent customer care and providing information and education to help businesses improve all aspects of customer satisfaction. To that end, Associate Publisher Dr. Keith Levick weighs in on the importance of properly educating and training employees, who are on the front lines with customers every day, to provide that level of customer service the company desires.

In our fast-paced, competitive world, providing exceptional customer service is critical. Stellar service is no longer a passing thought, but is the lifeblood of an organization — survival depends on it. When talking to business owners or HR professionals, I have found that most understand the importance of providing excellent service. So, why do American companies struggle with applying what they know to be true?

The Better Business Bureau (BBB) received approximately one million customer service complaints in 2010 (10 percent higher than the previous year), and statistics pertaining to customer service are as numerous as is the plethora of books on the topic. We continue to struggle. Why?

It boils down to education and training. Many business owners and top leaders within companies seem to believe that common sense is equal to common practice. There are far too many examples that dispute that notion. From new supervisors who are thrown on the front line and expected to run a team well to customer service representatives who are required to satisfy a disgruntled customer without proper and ongoing education, failure is inevitable.

Effective customer service requires the ability to combine interpersonal, intrapersonal and technical skills. Business owners certainly recognize the importance of providing technical training to their employees. When it comes to providing interpersonal skills training, however, many shy away. Unfortunately, this shortsightedness has a major impact on the company’s bottom line. Consider the following, shown by research:

  • It is 30 to 40 times more expensive to acquire new customers than it is to manage existing customers.
  • A five percent increase in overall customer retention equates to a 25 to 55 percent increase in profitability.
  • Negative word of mouth results in an 8.5 percent decrease of revenues.
  • Fifty percent of customers report having a negative experience in the past six months.
  • A negative experience is told to three to eight people.
  • It takes 12 positive stories to offset one negative story.
  • One hundred satisfied customers generate 25 new customers.
  • Most companies lose half their customers every five years.
  • When a customer is dissatisfied:
    • 4 percent tell management
    • 96 percent go away
    • 91 percent never return

Company leaders can no longer trust that an employee intuitively knows the importance of or has the skills to provide exceptional customer service. Like any skill set, it requires education and training — not a pamphlet or book to read or a crash course on “pleasing the customer.” Developing good customer relationships is not an event but rather an ongoing process of understanding yourself and the customer, and then providing what the customer wants and needs.

It begins with employees understanding themselves. There is a strong relationship between how one feels and thinks about him/herself and the level of customer service he or she provides. The following cycles put this in perspective:

CycleNow that human behavior is reduced to two cycles (positive and negative), where would you prefer to spend most of your time? Most of you would say, I’m sure, the positive cycle. However, research shows that at any given point in time approximately 66 percent of workers are in the negative cycle. The reasons for this are numerous. From financial troubles to health problems to work hassles, people find their way to the negative cycle far too often.

If 66 percent of workers are in the negative cycle, where do they work? An employee’s attitude (the cycle they are in) directly influences the level of customer service.

Cycle

The above service cycle demonstrates that it is imperative for employees to be aware of how they communicate and interact with the customer. How an employee communicates begins with self-awareness. Is the employee aware of his/her attitude when interacting with a customer after a road rage incident on the way to work? Are they aware of their tone of voice, body language, and the energy they bring to the interaction? Equally important, is the employee aware of the micro-messages the customer presents? If so, do they know how to appropriately address those messages?

These and other interpersonal skills, respectful listening, empathic responding, asking the “right” questions, etc. are what set apart strong customer service companies from the pack. Any company can announce they provide exceptional service, but it is the company that truly integrates it into its culture that maintains a competitive edge over the competition. When employees are educated and trained appropriately, exceptional customer service becomes their first and foremost state of mind and action.

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