Posts Tagged ‘Training’

Great Customer Service Reps are Born, not Made

11-25 Hiring Employees smallAll new hires need some formal or informal training to learn the ins and outs of their jobs, including customer service reps, who need to master basic company policies and procedures connected with customer interactions. While most employees who master training become great workers, perfect policy and procedure proficiency does not automatically make customer-facing employees good at their jobs.

Great customer service requires a special breed of people. Whether they sell to customers, help them navigate the aisles or resolve their issues on the phone, they display a genuine caring and helpful spirit, while being authentic. You can't teach that spirit, so your job is to seek it out from the time you write the want ad and throughout the interview process.

Advertise and Assess for Character Traits Before Technical Skills

Exceptional technical skills are meaningless in a customer service rep who doesn't deal well with people, so ask for people skills in the heading of your employment ad. A heading like, "Customer Service Rep with Computer Experience" attracts people who can log calls. A heading like, "Do People Come to You for Help?" draws in people who really like to help others. By all means, list minimum qualifications within the ad, but focus on attitude and people skills.

Of course, the interview requires the same type of focus. Be prepared to pose customer-related scenarios to find out how the applicant will handle them. And, even if some applicants fall slightly short of the skills requirements, listen for signs of trainability. Friendly, helpful people with basic computer skills can learn how to log calls, even if they have never before worked in a customer service environment.

Identify the Right Character Traits

You probably have no training in psychology, but that doesn't mean you have no capacity to recognize applicants who have a natural affinity for customer service. Here are some of the character traits to look for — and how to identify them:

  • Strong communication skills: Face it; angry or frustrated customers often do not communicate clearly. The reps you hire must be able to listen and understand long before they deliver a clear, unambiguous message. During the interview, applicants with the knack for two-way communication rise to the surface when you ask unclear questions. If they tactfully ask for clarification, they are better communicators than applicants who answer the wrong question.
  • Patience and compassion: Customers seldom seek out support when they are happy. In the worst cases, they are so livid that no solution seems to satisfy them. Your reps need a thick skin to avoid striking back at unearned verbal attacks. Then, they need the stamina to find resolutions that meet the customer's needs, while displaying a genuine degree of compassion for the customer's circumstances (no pity, please). A good way to test for these traits is to present an unsolvable issue and monitor the applicant's patience levels every time that you reject another solution.
  • Proactive problem-solving: Your company may have a rule book for resolving typical complaints. But even when reps memorize every rule, undocumented issues frequently arise. If you empower your employees to make decisions on the fly, raise some hypothetical situations to make sure that applicants have enough common sense to respond appropriately — and when they recognize the need to seek management intervention.

Mirror the Work Environment During the Interview

Traditionally, short phone interviews are a first step before bringing applicants in for one or more face-to-face meetings. But, does this really tell the whole story for a phone support applicant? Sure, these people may need to interact with other employees, so meeting in person makes sense. Still, the phone interview may be the best way to assess what their on-the-job performance will really be like.

If the position involves phone support, maybe the phone interview is most important because it lets you listen for a smile and get an idea of how well applicants read emotions over the phone without of the benefit of facial queues. Similarly, consider meeting in a coffee shop or restaurant to see how traveling sales reps handle business conversations in noisy environments — and to check their table manners.

Put Yourself in the Customer's Shoes During Each Interview:

You may be interviewing as the boss, but you need to listen to each answer as if you were the customer. Customers quickly recognize the difference between genuine support and scripted problem-solving. You can certainly teach new reps about the support process. You can even teach them to avoid certain stock phrases — like responding to a thank you with "no problem."

But helpfulness and winning personalities come from the heart. Bruce Nordstrom, of the third generation of customer service-oriented Nordstrom management, said it best: "We can hire nice people and teach them to sell, but we can't hire salespeople and teach them to be nice."

Great Customer Service Requires Effective Language

Your company, I expect, has put quite a bit of thought into the language used in your marketing campaigns and website. And quite a bit less thought into the words that your employees use directly with customers.

At least, this is the pattern I encounter as a customer experience consultant. And it's a serious mistake, because customers don’t generally get their make-or-break impressions of a company primarily from high-minded branding exercises. They get them primarily from day-to-day conversations with you.

Language underlies all other components of customer satisfaction.

For example:

  • A perfect product won’t be experienced as perfect unless you also use the right language in describing it to customers.
  • Even your best-intentioned, technically flawless employees can alienate customers if they use the wrong language.

  • When you have a service failure, the right words can be your best ally.

If you haven’t given much thought to selecting and controlling your company language—what your staff, signage, emails, voicemails, and web-based autoresponders should say, and should never say, to customers—it’s time to do it now.

Establish a Consistent Style of Speech

No brand is complete until a brand-appropriate style of speaking with customers is in place at all levels of the enterprise. You should therefore work to achieve a consistent (although not stilted or overly scripted-sounding) style of service speech.

A distinctive and consistent companywide style of service speech won’t happen on its own. You’ll need social engineering: that is, systematic training of employees. Imagine, for example, that you’ve selected ten promising salespeople for your new high-end jewelry boutique. You’ve provided them with uniforms and stylish haircuts and encouraged them to become your own brand’s versions of a Mr. or Ms. Cartier, starting on opening day. But they’ll still speak with customers much the way they speak in their own homes: that is, until you’ve trained them in a different language style.

Happily, engineering a company-wide style of speech can be a positive, collaborative experience. If you approach this correctly, you won’t need to put a gag on anybody or twist any arms. Once everybody in an organization understands the reasons for language guidelines, it becomes a challenge, not a hindrance. The improved customer reactions and collaborative pride of mission are rewarding. As a consequence, my customer service consulting clients have found it to be a pretty easy sell companywide.

Heres how to make it happen

Study the language that works best with your own customers, and identify harmful phrases that should be avoided. Codify this for your employees in a brief lexicon or language handbook that can be learned and referred to on the job. In the lexicon, you’ll spell out which words and phrases are best to use and which should be avoided in various common situations.

Putting together a language handbook is a relatively simple undertaking. It doesn’t require an English degree (although those are great to have). But it does require forethought, experimentation, and some pondering about human nature.

Here, for example, are some good/bad language choices I use in the lexicon I’ve prepared for my own businesses and those for whom I'm a customer service consultant. These are certainly not surgical rocketry, as you’ll see.

Bad: ‘‘You owe . . .’’
Good: ‘‘Our records show a balance of . . .’’

Bad: ‘‘You need to . . .’’ (This makes some customers think: ‘‘I don’need to do jack, buddy—Im your customer!’’)
Good: ‘‘We find it usually works best when . . .’’

Bad: ‘‘Please hold.’’
Good: ‘‘May I briefly place you on hold?’’ (and then actually listen to the callers answer)

Time to worry about  “No worries!”

Good lexicons will vary depending on industry, clientele, and location. A cheerful ‘‘No worries!’’ sounds fine coming from the clerk at a Bose audio store in Portland (an informal business in an informal town) but bizarre if spoken by the concierge at the Four Seasons in Milan.

Choose language to put customers at ease, not to put them down

No matter what your business is, make it your mission to avoid having your employees use any condescending or coercive language. Sometimes these language put-downs are obvious, but sometimes they're quite subtle. Here are examples of both:

Subtly insulting: In an informal business, if a customer asks, ‘‘How are you?’’ the response, ‘‘I’m well,’’ may make you feel like you're using proper-sounding grammar—but may not be the best choice. Hearing this  Victorian-sounding response may make your customers momentarily self-conscious about whether their own grammar is less than perfect. It may be better to have your employees choose from more familiar alternatives like, ‘‘I’m doing great!’’ or ‘’Super!’’

(Most important, of course, is to follow up with an inquiry about the customer’s own well-being: ‘‘And how are you, this morning?’’)

Unsubtly coercive: I’m not likely to forget the famous steakhouse that trained staff to ask our party as they seated us, ‘‘Which bottled water will you be enjoying with us this evening, still, or sparkling?’’ We took that phrasing to mean we weren’t permitted to ask for tap water.

(In this situation, one that comes up in many restaurants, what is a better choice of words? How about: ‘‘Would you prefer ice water or bottled water with your meal?’’ Or, considering that this question offers an early chance for the waitstaff to build rapport with guests, add some local flavor. In Chicago, a friend’s restaurant a few years back was asking, ‘‘Will you be having bottled water or The Mayor’s finest aqua with your meal?’’)

Danny Meyer-ize or the classic Ritz-Carlton approach: It's your choice.

Getting employees to say the right thing is a tough and touchy subject. And there are two ways to write your company lexicon–your language handbook. You should choose whichever method suits you better.

One is the classic ‘‘Say This While Avoiding This’’ language guide style, made famous for many years by the work of the Ritz-Carlton.   This optimizes customer satisfaction in most businesses and helps bind staff members into a team. It also helps you work with a wider variety of employees, with a wider variety of educational backgrounds, who may appreciate the help choosing the most appropriate phrase.

But if it strikes you as too prescriptive (or too much work) to develop scripted phrases and specific word choices for your employees, at least consider developing a brief ‘‘Negative Lexicon.’’ A Negative Lexicon is just a list of crucial Thou Shalt Nots.

I call the Negative Lexicon the Danny Meyer approach, after the teachings of the New York restaurateur and master of hospitality. Meyer feels uncomfortable giving his staff a list of what to say, but he doesn’t hesitate to specifically ban phrases that grate on his ears (‘‘Are we still working on the lamb?’’)

A Negative Lexicon can be kept short, sweet, and easy to learn. Of course, new problematic words and phrases are sure to crop up as time moves on. Ideally, you’ll update your Negative Lexicon frequently.

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Nextiva Tuesday Tip: How to Get the Most From a Temporary Employee

??????????????????????????????????Are you using (or considering) temporary employees in your small business? Last year we told you why hiring temps can be a smart way to staff up without the hassles of hiring permanent employees. These tips will help you get the most out of your temporary employee relationships.

Welcome temporary employees on board. Too many temporary employees are met with blank stares when they arrive at a new job, then essentially ignored for the duration of their employment. Just as with any new employee, your temporary workers should receive a warm welcome to your business. (This is especially important if you think you may eventually want to hire the temp full-time.) It’s a good idea to match the temp with an employee on staff who can show him or her the ropes of company culture. Talk to your full-time employees about the importance of making sure they help the temp fit in.

Provide adequate orientation and training. Sure, a temp will come to you with knowledge of a skill, such as how to use Excel spreadsheets, code websites or operate a certain type of machinery. But that doesn’t mean he or she knows how the particular job he or she is doing at your company works. No matter how impatient you are for the temp to get to work immediately, spend some time orienting temps as to where their job fits in within the company, what the goals of the job are, and how to perform the specific duties of the job. It will be time well spent.

Take care of the proper paperwork. Just because a temporary agency is handling the temp’s payroll doesn’t mean you’re off the hook legally. Temporary employees can still file claims against your company if they feel discriminated against, harassed or if you are breaking wage and hour laws. Make sure each temporary employee reviews your employee handbook and signs a document that he or she has read and understood it. Also review your contract with the temporary agency carefully so you know what forms you need to have the temp complete, what records you’re required to keep about the person’s employment, and how long you need to maintain them after he or she leaves. By dotting all the i’s and crossing your t’s, you’ll protect yourself and your business. 

Nextiva Tuesday Tip: 5 Steps to Get Your Customer Service in Shape for the Holidays

Black Friday is only a little more than a month away (in fact, this year there will be two Black Fridays as Thanksgiving and the first day of Hanukkah fall on the same day—a rarity that won’t happen for another 70,000 years). With competition for shoppers’ dollars stiffer than ever, is your small business prepared to offer the kind of customer service needed to stand out in the crowd? Here are some steps you should take now to get your business’s customer service in shape for the holidays.

  1. Staff up. I posted last week about hiring tips for the holidays; if you haven’t already got your team in place, get going!
  2. Educate. “Showrooming”—customers coming into your store to touch and try merchandise, then using smartphones to look for lower prices online—is a game-changer for retailers (and not in a good way). Combat the practice by making sure your retail associates are educated about the products you sell so they can answer all your customers’ questions and basically be more helpful than the Internet.
  3. Equip. Make sure your team has the tools they need for smooth selling this holiday season. That means a well-stocked inventory, up-to-date point-of-sale systems and mobile technology like iPads and smartphones. Mobile tools can shorten wait times if you use software like Square so customers can pay from anywhere in the store (instead of waiting on line). They can also help fight showrooming by allowing clerks to look up product information or check inventory levels. 
  4. Test. If you sell online, make sure your customer service team is ready for the holiday overload. Start by testing your website to ensure it can handle heavy traffic and that browsing, shopping and checking out are clear and intuitive. Provide a variety of ways that users can contact your customer service team, from email and phone to live chat. Speed things along by making sure your Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ), shipping, returns and other information is current and clear. If customers can answer their own questions, they won’t need your customer service team.
  5. Motivate. Customer service can be a grueling task during the holiday rush, so plan how you will reward and motivate your team. Setting attainable goals, holding regular meetings to bring up problems or concerns, and encouraging employees with rewards and prizes are great ways to keep your customer service reps powering through the toughest times.



Effective Ways to Train Customer Service Employees

The best customer service employees are highly trained, strongly motivated, and on the receiving end of constant encouragement and positive reinforcement from management.

Here, Barbara Khozam, customer service training facilitator and author of How Organizations Deliver BAD Customer Service (and Strategies that Turn it Around!), offers a few of her favorite ways to educate incoming customer service reps.

Site real-world examples

Before launching a training session, Khozam assumes the role of “mystery shopper” for the company she is training. She will call the customer service line to ask questions or walk, in-person, into the company she is helping to see how staffers respond. She will then reference her experiences and use them as a teaching tool for new customer service employees.

“I will site specific examples of customer service successes or failures from their own facility; it usually gets their attention very quickly,” she says. “From there, we will discuss better methods and why certain actions were helpful or unhelpful.”

Small business owners can do this by asking a friend to be the company’s incognito shopper and then reporting back.

Make training interactive

Talk at your employees, i.e. via PowerPoint presentations and the like, and your training will go in one ear and out the other, says Khozam. Instead, involve participants by asking them questions and even encouraging them to break off into groups to solve simulated customer service situations.

“Section employees into groups of three and have them watch a YouTube video of a terrible customer service scenario,” she recommends. “Then, ask them to act out how the service on the video could be improved.” 

Get detailed

Don’t assume that just because you hired a nice person they will be the world’s best customer service employees. Spell out each of your expectations in detail.

“Tell them that you want phones answered on the first ring if that is important to you,” advises Khozam. “The more detailed you can get, the better.”

Talk big picture

Discuss why superior customer service is so important to your company as a whole during training.

“Talk about the fact that when you have customers, the company makes more money,” she says. “Employees will be more motivated if they can see beyond just day-to-day tasks.”

Don’t ever stop training (and motivating) your employees

“My most successful clients have daily huddles,” Khozam says. “At the beginning of every shift, they reiterate important points of good customer service and make sure their employees are engaged and feel motivated and valued.

“If business owners dedicate time to do that every day, their companies will do well.”  


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