Category Archives: Customer Service Training

A Waiting Game

queueBusy periods should be great for business. But don’t let the bonus of being busy backfire.

With half term next week and the glorious weather of late you may be expecting a busy week ahead, particularly if you’re a visitor attraction or leisure business.

And quite possibly some of your customers will be visiting you for the first time. So naturally you’ll want to give them a great first impression. And keep your regulars happy, too.

So how can you ensure that even when you’re busy your customers get the same warm welcome and attention they do on every other day of the year.

When we’re busy one of the criticisms from customers can be queuing. Let’s face it; none of us like to be kept waiting. We always think of the 101 things we could be doing instead.

Here are 10 things to think about so your team can be prepared and your customers get the warm welcome they’re expecting …even if waiting.

1. Prevention is better than cure

Queues and being kept waiting are never going to be popular with your customers. Whether it’s waiting in a queue, being put on hold, waiting for a slow internet connection or waiting for your order to arrive, any of these situations can try our patience.

Estimate your busy times. If you know when your peak times are in the first instance warn customers of these times, with alternatives when they can avoid the rush – and potentially even out the pressure for you.

I know this sounds obvious, but adjust your staffing accordingly. This isn’t just a case of more staff when busy; it means more staff who are competent and confident to take on the extra workload, so ensure appropriate training is given to anyone who is redeployed to ‘help out’.

If you have self-service areas, or payment machines, help speed up the process by helping customers; you can avoid the time it takes them to read instructions, which might reduce your transaction time by half, thus reducing queues.

Can you divert people from queues to other options to achieve the same result? E.g.  to other tills, entrances or places with shorter queues. Give your team licence to cut red tape and open up alternative channels where you can.

2. Make use of waiting time to save time elsewhere

If people do have to wait, make this as painless as possible.

Can customers be doing other things whilst queuing or waiting to be served which will save time once they get served –  such as reading information that speeds up their buying decision, e.g. reading what’s on offer, finding out about specials, understanding what’s included in each price option?  Or learning of anything that isn’t available so they can be thinking of alternatives (and not have their hopes dashed when you tell them they can’t have their No 1 choice).

Can they be getting tickets or vouchers ready, filling out forms or processing payment. Can you take cash payments from people in the queue to speed things up?

Can customers be doing something that saves them time once served, e.g. reading menus or site maps to plan their visit?

3 A team effort

Even if you don’t have enough space, equipment or outlets to serve more customers at any one time, you can at least have people on hand to deal with any queries, printing out bills or acting as ‘runners’ for those dealing with customers.

Have empathy for the waiting customers; the waiting may not be your fault, but take some responsibility for action, not blame others for their wait.  If you rely on business partners or outsourced services, your customers don’t care if it’s down to them; as far as they are concerned you all represent your business.

4. Alleviate the pain

Make waiting time a pleasurable experience by offering your customers something to distract from the wait or maybe even compensate for their wait. Ask them to take a seat, or stand in the warm…

Maybe a little something to compensate for the wait may be appropriate: a drink, map, kids’ colouring in sheet or sticker, as appropriate for your business. Just a small token gift, just to say we appreciate your patience.

(And if you’re now subconsciously thinking you couldn’t afford to do this every time someone has to wait; maybe it’s time you reviewed your customer experience. Waiting should be the exception, not the norm. Compare this investment to the cost of losing the customer altogether!)

If people have been kept patiently waiting for even a few moments, at the very least acknowledge this and thank them for their patience.

5. Give alternatives

If there is a delay, does the customer wait, or do they opt for something that doesn’t involve waiting? That might of course depend on just how long they have to wait.

When we’re put on hold, if told we are 2nd in the queue we are far more likely to hang on than if we’re told we are 10th.

So let you customers know – is it expected to be a 2 minutes wait or half an hour? Disney have mastered this; you always know how long you’ll be waiting in line, so you aren’t agitated whilst you wait.

Being honest (and not making false promises and under estimating) allows the customer to make an informed decision. If you need to put someone on hold, ask them first if this is OK; don’t just assume they’re happy to hang on.

If you’ve a backlog of orders and they’ll have to wait 10 minutes for their Panini tell them so (and of course make sure it does only take 10 minutes or less!).

At the very least give notice if you can’t deliver your promise.

Being kept informed is not about making excuses!  It’s about keeping the customer informed of the situation and giving them options…

6. Streamline your operation

Review all the touch points on the customers’ journey – where can time be saved; waiting for web pages or images to load, phones being answered more quickly, keeping on top of orders so purchases can be dispatched/served quickly.

Do customers ever have to repeat information they’ve already given, double back to access things they need, duplicate processes, or re-queue for secondary transactions or information. This not only wastes their valuable time, but takes more effort on their part, (and potentially disrupts other queuing customers).

Just because this is how it’s always been done, isn’t a good enough reason to do it that way!

Do you give customers accurate information so they can get to speak to the right person first time around? Do you have some generic phone number that takes customers through 5 (or even more) options before they can even get to speak to a human being? Give them a direct number next time so as a valued customer they can jump the ‘queue’ to go directly to the right person.

If you’re not sure if there is any doubling up – ask your customers… And ask your team; I bet they know where things could be streamlined.

7. Save your customers time and effort

In the same way that anything that wastes time for your customers can be an irritation, anything that saves your customer time will add value.

Why not have an express service, line, process, phone number, etc. for your existing loyal customers. Make them feel special and valued. Even for new customers who are time poor, introduce a quick option that saves time – at a premium price if you need to – you may be surprised how many take you up on that.

A minute here, and a minute there may not seem much individually, but add them all together and you might save your customers considerably time.

8. Keep a balance

However, remember you don’t want customers to feel rushed, so apply time savings sensibly and appropriately.

Never compromise quality for speed or let your team use it as an excuse to cut corners or make mistakes.

It’s a fine balance. Test, review and ask your team for their ideas, then tweak accordingly.

9. Last impressions

You’re only as good as your last encounter with the customer.

What’s the very last thing your customers see, hear, smell, taste or feel as they leave?

Say thank you. A simple verbal thank you and acknowledgement as they leave, even if it’s just a smile and a nod of the head or wave is always appreciated by customers; it’s one of the simplest ways to make them feel appreciated.

Whatever happens in the last few moments of their visit will undoubtedly influence their lasting impression.

What’s the one thing they remember when they get home, or next time they’re thinking of visiting you…?

10. Engage and enthuse your team for the busy time ahead

A happy team equals happy customers. Give your team all the information, support, resources and training they need.

Tap into people’s strengths and give experienced team members specific responsibilities to oversee key points on the customer journey.

Empower everyone to make decisions to do what’s in the customer’s best interest. Having to seek approval or authorisation at the best of times is annoying for the customer and demeaning for team members, but it becomes even more irritating when you’re busy.

Be the prefect role model. Stay enthusiastic and energised; staff and customers will soon pick it up if you’re not.

We talked about acknowledging customers, but at the end of the busy period it’s so important to acknowledge your team; thank you for their hard work over any busy periods. It doesn’t have to be lavish; a simple thank you for all their hard work goes a long way.

So make the most of your busy periods and don’t let the bonus of being busy backfire.


But, I do that already!

One of my clients was telling me last week of her frustration when her team were reluctant to get involved in training.  “They think they know it all already” she said.

Have you ever experienced that too? I know I have.

A big barrier to training, particularly customer service training or management skills, is when an employee thinks they know it all or are already doing everything correctly already. So they see the training as a criticism.

This means they are not receptive, which is not only frustrating for you, but means in all likelihood your training is a waste of time, money and effort.

Here are some ideas to get over this…

.



I’ll have to get my manager

When you’re a customer and want to make a complaint the last thing you want to hear is “I’ll have to go and get my manager…”

Not only is it frustrating for you as the customer, it’s demeaning for the employee and time consuming of the manager.

This week I’ve been training line managers, giving them the skills and confidence to coach their own teams in how to handle customer complaints, so they can trust their team to handle them effectively.

This means customers get any complaints handled swiftly, team members feel empowered, and managers are freed up to get on with other things.

You can watch here to discover the 4 key areas we covered.

So what’s the process in your business when a customer has a complaint? Do your team have the skills and confidence to deal with complaints, and do their line managers have the skills and confidence to train, coach, and support them?

 


Who handles your customer complaints?

Coaching in Complaint Handling

When you’re a customer and want to make a complaint the last thing you want to hear is “I’ll have to go and get my manager…”

Not only is it frustrating for you as the customer, it’s demeaning for the employee and time consuming of the manager.

So what’s the process in your business when a customer has a complaint? Do your team have the skills and confidence to deal with complaints, and do their line managers have the skills and confidence to train, coach, and support them?



What great looks like

checklistI was reminded again this week of the importance of defining the experience you want to create for your customers.

When I start working with a business I often find they don’t have any clearly defined ideas of what good service looks like; they just know they’ll recognise it when they see it.

This isn’t particularly helpful when you’re trying to convey to others what you expect!

Before we can hope to manage our customer experience we need to define what that experience is.

Lack of clarity leads to confusion for your team, inconsistencies for your customers and frustration for you.

What does great customer service look like, sound like or feel like for you?

Do your team know what great (or even good or acceptable) looks like? How will they know when they are doing things right? Do they know what they’re aiming for?

Although you may not want to be totally prescriptive, you’ll at least want to define minimum expectations, as everyone’s interpretation and perspective can differ.  The better they understand your end goal the easier it will be for them to deliver the customer experience you are aiming for.

It’s not just about the behaviours you expect your team to demonstrate in dealing with customers, but defining the whole of the customer experience from end to end.

Unless your team understands what you’re looking to achieve have to rely on guesswork to get it right, and it means decision making becomes really difficult unless everyone knows the outcome you expect.

Once you can define what great looks like it certainly makes training easier as you know exactly what you’re aiming for.


Hit the ground running

Holiday coverYour first day in any job can be daunting. It’s all new and can feel a bit lonely. Hardly the best place to be to give your best.

So whether you’re taking on seasonal staff for the summer or full timers you want to do everything in your power so they can get off to a flying start, and have them start paying their way.

If all you do is give them a uniform and tell them to get on with it, they could be doing more harm than good.

Everyone needs a thorough induction with good support and direction.

Here are my top 10 basics to cover with any new member of staff, whether for the holiday season or at any other time of year.

  1. Teamwork is key. Introduce new staff to the whole team, defining everyone’s areas of responsibility to ensure no gaps and no duplication of effort. Avoid the frictions that occur when someone hasn’t pulled their weight or others are seen to ‘interfere’ with your way of doing things.
    .
  2. Don’t leave them floundering or too scared to ask for help. Establish a clear line of reporting, and who to go to for help and guidance when needed – ensuring, of course, that this person will be patient and supportive when asked.
    .
  3. Everyone needs to know what’s expected of them from day one. Clarify basic standards of dress, staff behaviour, time keeping, break allowance, staff meals, security, food safety, health and safety.
    .
  4. First impressions count. Specify your establishment’s standards for welcoming and greeting customers, including the booking procedures if this is part of their role. Your customers don’t care whether they’re new, temporary or a trainee; they’ll still expect a consistent level of service and care.
    .
  5. What is their role in up-selling, and what are the products you want them to promote, including any future events?  If your core team are incentivised, make sure you include seasonal staff in the scheme.
    .
  6. People can’t sell something they don’t know exists. Ensure a thorough product knowledge – what does your establishment offer – times of service, complementary products, etc.  Let your staff taste dishes, explain what accompanies what products, or anything that’s normally sold together, what it should look like, what prices include and what’s extra (especially with packages or promotions).
    .
  7. Establish protocol in dealing with difficult situations, customer complaints, and awkward customers.  Define the line between handling themselves and when to seek intervention from a manager or a more experienced staff member (and who that person is).
    .
  8. Run through the payment procedures, including any security procedures or checks needed.
    .
  9. Avoid being let down at the last minute – Provide out of hours contact numbers and establish procedures for sickness reporting.
    .
  10. Maintain your reputation as a good employer. Treat seasonal staff well, and they will be willing to come back next time you need an extra hand. Give them something to look forward to and keep them interested for the whole season.  Involve them in any after work social activities and maybe some incentive awarded at the end of the season.


Save

Save

Save


Creating Conscious Incompetence

Get a return on your investment in customer service training by helping people move up the Conscious Competence Learning Model

Have you ever had the task of changing the behaviour of one of your team members who thinks they know it all? I think we’ve all encountered such people who are blissfully unaware of their lack of competence.

.

I’m sure you’re already familiar with the Conscious Competence Learning Model.

These are the four stages people go through when they are learning something new.

The learner always begins at stage 1 – ‘unconscious incompetence’, and ends at stage 4 – ‘unconscious competence’, having passed through stage 2 – ‘conscious incompetence’ and – 3 ‘conscious competence’.

It’s not possible to jump stages, so when helping people learn something new we need to help them to get to the next stage.

When I’m working with clients to develop management, training or customer service skills there is often an assumption he people I’m working with are already at stage 2. In other words it’s assumed that they already recognise any shortfalls and the need for change or development.

But sadly they’re often still at stage 1 – unconscious incompetence – and not yet aware of any need to develop a new skill or behaviour. Trying to teach somebody something new from this point is a key reason so much training fails!

For anyone to learn something new or change their behaviour there needs to be some motivation to do so. Particularly when it requires some effort on their part. Without that recognition they will not be receptive to learning and the barriers will go up thinking “this doesn’t apply to me”.

In some instances people may previously have been at other levels but have regressed to an unconscious incompetence over a period of time.

From conscious incompetence they may simply have forgotten what is involved.

From conscious competence they may just have got rusty through lack of practice.

Or from a position of unconscious competence they’ve been doing it so long they’ve picked up bad habits. (I think here as an example of many people whose driving skills have lapsed into something verging on dangerous simply because they’ve picked up poor driving habits without being conscious of how bad the driving really is!)

This can present a challenge for us at times, as to undo a bad habit and replace it with a new habit can be more difficult than creating new habits from scratch.

 

Moving from stage 1 to stage 2

So how do we move somebody from a level of unconscious incompetence to conscious incompetence?

If somebody believes they’re already doing something well this can be a sensitive area (who ever likes to have their driving criticised?!)

One (potentially risky) way of doing this is waiting for something to go wrong. And this is often what is used to prompt training. In the case customer service training it might already be after a customer has received poor service and complained, or in the case of management skills it might be when a manager fails to get the response he expects from the team member.

it helps knowing the outcome or standard you’re aiming for, then comparing this with the employee’s level of performance. (Of course we must recognise this isn’t necessarily always a training need; it could be a number of other reasons which I’ll comment on another time. But let’s assume this time it is)

So by now we recognise a learning need, but maybe the individual doesn’t. We shouldn’t assume the employee recognises that shortfall; they need feedback to highlight the gap.

It might be advisable at this point want to steer away from the language used in the model; being told you are incompetent in a task is hardly likely to motivate or engage an employee!

The learner might now be conscious of their ‘incompetence’ or training need but still needs to be motivated to do something about it. This might be created by highlighting its relevance to their role and why it’s important.

But so often this focuses on why it’s important to the business and not what’s relevant to the individual. So focus on what’s in it for them, and of course this could vary from person to person depending on what’s important to the individual.

The better the person understands the training need prior to any tuition, coaching or training beginning the more enthusiastic they will be to even turn up for the training.

The greater the awareness or consciousness of their incompetence the more receptive they will be to learning, development and change, and the quicker they’ll move to a level of conscious competence and ultimately your goal of unconscious competence.


But, we’ve always done it this way

ChangeOne aspect of customer service training which can be really frustrating is when the people you’re training are stuck in the past and their old ways of doing things.

We’ve all heard the comment “But, we’ve always done it this way!”

There’s a whole host of reasons why people might be reluctant to change. And it’s not an unusual response to be resistant to change. Whilst some might rise to the challenge you’re more likely to have people who are resistant.

One of the first things to highlight is why. Why change. Not why it’s important from a company perspective, but focusing on WIIFM. I.e. what’s in it for me; from the employee’s perspective rather than ours.

Put yourself in the employee’s shoes…

Will it make my job easier? Will it free up some time to focus on other things that are important to me? Will it mean I get fewer complaints? Will it mean I can earn more tips? Will it make my job more enjoyable? Will it give me more pride in the job I do? Will it make me more confident?

…I could go on, but you get the idea.

We often think it’s obvious what the benefits will be; but to the employee will generally home in on the downsides first. More work. Something new to learn. It’s too complicated. I’m too old to change. It won’t work. We tried it before.

But even when we’ve sold them on the idea of changing their behaviour or the process in some way we still can’t guarantee we’re going to get buy in.

Look out for and listen for hesitation. And when you hear comments such as “I can’t do that” find out what’s holding them back. Is there still a lack of willingness because they’re not yet convinced it’s a good thing to do? Or is it a matter of skill or capability?

“I can’t…” Might simply mean a lack of confidence, and they’re in need of some reassurance, coaching or practice. Perhaps there are other skills that are a prerequisite, which they don’t yet have. Or, worse they fear it will expose other weaknesses they feel they have.

“I can’t…” Could mean they haven’t got all the resources they need; maybe they don’t think they have the time to do it, or if they need to make time what can they leave out instead.

Maybe there’s special equipment they need, or a budget they don’t have.

“I can’t…” Might be they’ve simply not been allowed to do this in the past. Previous systems, processes or procedures have prevented it, and despite the fact you’ve moved on nobody yet has set out the new ‘rules’, or demonstrated their trust in the team.

So frustrating as it is, when your team turn around and say “but, we’ve always done it this way” don’t give up in frustration! Give them a compelling enough reason and the support they need to do it the ‘new’ way.

And of course recognise old habits die hard, so continue to encourage, support and guide them whilst they embed their new habits.


“That’s not my job”

A true service culture is more than just a sheep dip customer service training exercise for your front line team.

Service is everyone’s responsibility

Customer service training

It’s part of your DNA and reflected in everything you do. A bit like a stick of rock – no matter where you break it the core message is still the same.

This means it goes far beyond how your customer facing teams interact with customers.

It isn’t just the responsibility of the sales team, the receptionists or customer service desk.

Everyone in your business contributes in some way to the customer experience either directly or indirectly (or why are they there?).

This includes how your support teams not only interact and serve your external customers, but how they serve the internal customer. How your customer facing teams are supported and treated internally will inevitably have a knock on effect on your customers. So include them too in your customer service training.

The more customers are kept in mind for every decision taken in the business the easier it will be to give a consistent level of service to your customers. This includes the design of your internal as well as customer facing systems. It means recruiting the right people; i.e. not just for their technical skills but those who are aligned with your customer service culture.

Everyone in your business must understand the basics, what good service looks like and recognise the role they play in achieving this. Not by having endless policies, but by having the freedom to use their initiative to do what’s right for the customer; be they internal or external.

Your customer service ethos has to be demonstrated by everyone in your business not just the front line team.


Show your team some love

do your team feel lovedYou might be doing all the right customer service training, but however much you invest in the training, unless you show your team you care about them as much as you care about your customers and your bottom line they are unlikely to demonstrate the behaviours and deliver the customer experience you’d hope.

I believe behaviour breeds behaviour. So a happy customer is dependent on a happy team. Have you ever been served by someone who isn’t happy and still felt you had a good experience? Unlikely.

Keeping your team inspired and engaged can be a challenge for some businesses. But a demotivated team can lead to poor performance, poor customer service, poor attendance and ultimately to losing not only your best people, but also losing your most valued customers.

So how do you show your team members that they are valued and what incentives can you give that show that you appreciate them without costing the Earth.

 

A good place to start…

Start by finding out what’s important to them. Not everyone values or is interested in the same things.

Most might say money, but it has a very short term impact. Get their money wrong and you’ll have a very disgruntled employee, but pay them more today and by next month it’s forgotten.

Whilst some love the sense of achievement or recognition others get a buzz from supporting others. Some love to have their say and see their ideas put into practice, whilst others are happiest when they’re learning or being stretched.

So ask the question.

Depending on the outcome here are 6 simple things to do:

 

1. Say thank you

The easiest thing you can do is a genuine thank you. Recognise and reward good performance, achievements and a job well-done. For many, that is all they need to feel encouraged.

It always helps to know that their work is recognised, even if this is what they are paid to do. Make a point of thanking individuals when you spot them doing something that shows they’ve made an extra effort or used their initiative.

Celebrate and share successes. Bring the team together to show you appreciate their efforts at the end of a hectic day or when everybody has pulled their weight towards a project. Your praise will create a buzz and a genuine thank you can work wonders.

 

2. A treat

You don’t have to go overboard, but an occasional treat is always appreciated. It could be something that is a win-win such as time out to visit a competitor or sister business to see how they do things and report back on ideas that can be implemented in your business.

When your team have worked long or unsociable hours that had an impact on their personal life, extend the treat to include their loved one. This not only makes your team member feel valued but paves the way for future good deeds by showing your appreciation of the support given by friends or family.

 

3. Time Off

Allowing the option to go home early, come in late, or take an additional day off to attend to a personal matter or just have a bit of fun can be very energizing.

We all lead hectic lives, so for some people some flexibility or time off could be the most valuable gift you could give them.

 

4. Make it personal

A little something that’s unexpected can evoke a very positive response.

If you’re aware of people’s interests when you see something that has to do with that particular interest, pick it up for them. Saying “I really appreciate what you do, and I got this for you as a small token of my appreciation”, not only will it make them feel they are recognised but it shows you’ve taken an interest in what’s important to them. It doesn’t have to cost the earth; just a token. Be careful it doesn’t embarrass them in any way, so consider when it is given, but at the right time can make an employee feel special and appreciated.

 

5. Prizes

There are bound to be people in your team with a competitive spirit. So consider awards, competitions, or even a league table.

League tables might mean focusing on a different theme each month so that everyone has the opportunity to be recognised for their particular skills and strengths. Tie this in with your values (it’s a great way to bring these alive!)

Keep your eye out for external awards which are relevant to your business or your market. These are an excellent way to give recognition to the whole team or an individual who has excelled. Just being nominated for awards is a great booster, and working towards an award gives a sense of focus and pride.

 

6. Development opportunities

Development isn’t just about grooming somebody for promotion. That might be one intention or outcome but even when we know that a team member has no aspirations to go further, or reached their peak, that doesn’t mean to say that we just let them stagnate.

Rather than making everybody mediocre at everything they do, tap into their strengths, talents and passions so they excel in certain areas, and work as a team to bridge the gaps in individuals’ abilities or interests.

Delegate and give ownership, such as making people champions for certain tasks. This gives them pride in the task and they’ll appreciate you’ve recognised where they do a good job (ensuring you’re careful not to overburden or just dump these tasks on them).

Think about life skills; for example offering English lessons for migrant workers.

Give people the opportunity for career progression where possible and appropriate. You may not be able to accommodate everyone’s aspirations particularly if you’re a small business, but having some kind of succession plan in place gives people something to work towards.

 

In summary

So by doing a little bit of homework and a little bit of creativity there are plenty of ways you can recognise and reward your team to show them some love and bring a smile to their face which they’re sure to pass on to your customers.