3 Deadly Evaluation Mistakes That Can Destroy Your Training

It's budgeting season for many companies, which means your training programs may be at risk. 

Many of my clients are looking for cheaper ways to deliver customer service training. They're facing pressure from executives to cut costs, but they don't have hard data to prove their training program is working.

Others are trying to get new funding for expansion, but they're having an equally tough time making their case.

Forget the lofty platitudes like "training is an investment" or "it will help our employees grow." You'll need to back up those statements with some real numbers if you want them to fly in the c-suite.

Here are three deadly evaluation mistakes to avoid if you want to make a solid case.

Mistake #1: No goals

If your training program lacks goals, you're sunk.

It's impossible to evaluate training if you haven't set any goals that provide a target to evaluate your program against. I don't mean fluffy goals like "inspire employees to WOW customers" or some other platitude. Trust me, most executives find these worthless.

I'm talking about concrete goals that are set using the SMART model (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Bound). Here are some examples:

  • Customer service employees will reduce monthly escalations 15% by 12/31.
  • We will reduce customer churn by 10% by 1/31.
  • The Support Team will improve customer satisfaction 5 points by 2/28.

Setting goals often results in another important activity.

You need to have baseline measurements in place before you set a goal. It's pretty hard to reduce monthly escalations by 15 percent if you don't know how many escalations you have now, or why they're happening. So, the goal-setting process often forces managers to start measuring how their department brings value to the business.


Mistake #2: No linkages

Many training programs fail to link the training to the goals. Here's how a typical organization approaches training evaluation.

  1. Survey participants after the class
  2. ???
  3. Customer service improves

That part in the middle is absolutely critical. 

In his book, Telling Training's Story, Robert Brinkerhoff outlines a simple method called a Training Impact Model for making that critical connection. You do it by working backwards from business goals to the training itself.

  1. Establish business goals (see Mistake #1)
  2. Determine results needed from employees to achieve the goals.
  3. List actions needed to accomplish desired results.
  4. Identify knowledge and skills needed for those actions.

Here's an example for reducing escalations:

  • Goal: Reduce monthly escalations 15% by 12/31
  • Results: Resolve issues to customers' satisfaction without escalation
  • Actions: Apply the LAURA technique
  • Knowledge & Skills: Active listening, expressing empathy

So, my training in this case should focus on developing active listening skills and empathy. I'll want to set clear learning objectives using the A-B-C-D model so I can easily evaluate whether training participants have actually learned the right skills.. 

And, I'll also want to develop a workshop plan make sure employees aren't considered fully trained until I can observe them using the LAURA technique on the job.


Mistake #3: No financials

You'd better have some numbers if you're going to a budget meeting.

Many trainers are uncomfortable working with financials, so they avoid them. Or worse, they spout bogus metrics like telling people that ROI equals "Return on Inspiration." (Sadly, that's a true story.) 

Your CFO will laugh at you if you refer to ROI as Return on Inspiration.

You'll need to come correct with some real financial figures instead. Fortunately, this isn't too difficult if you've established clear goals that are linked to business results.

Let's go back to the escalations goal we've used as example. The sample goal was reduce monthly escalations 15% by 12/31.

Connecting those escalations to financial results should be easy. First, calculate the average cost of an escalation. There are a few places you might look:

Revenue: Look at how much your average customer spends (per order, per year, etc.) and compare that to how much customers with escalations spend after they have an issue that's been escalated. The escalations customers almost certainly spend less. Just for fun, lets say its $100 less per customer, per year.

Cost: Calculate the average cost of an escalation. For instance, if the average escalated call takes 15 minutes and is handled by someone making $20 per hour, then each escalation costs $5.

Projected Savings: Now, determine how much more money customers would spend and how much money you'd save with 15 percent fewer escalations. Prepare a nice report (showing your work) and share it with key stakeholders like your CFO.

The summary might look like this:

  • Each escalation costs $105 ($100 in lost revenue, $5 servicing cost)
  • A 15% reduction in escalation would equal 180 fewer escalations per year (based on 100 escalations per month).
  • $105 x 180 = $18,900 projected annual savings


Learn More

This short video provides five reasons why you should measure your training programs. 

It's part of the How to Measure Learning Effectiveness Course on lynda.com and LinkedIn Learning. You'll need a lynda.com or LinkedIn Premium subscription to view the course, but you can get a 10-day trial account on lynda.com.

Contact Center Satisfaction Reaches Lowest Point in 9 Years

CFI Group has just released its 2016 Contact Center Satisfaction Index, and the results aren't pretty.

The report reveals that consumer satisfaction with contact centers has reached its lowest point since the Contact Center Satisfaction Index (CCSI) was created in 2007. 

The latest report covers the 2015 year and shows an overall score of 68 on a 100 point scale. That's down from 72 in 2014.

The main culprit?

Contact centers are making it hard for their agents to deliver outstanding customer service. This post dives into some of the specific reasons why and suggests some solutions.

CCSI Report Overview

Let's first take a look at the CCSI and how its compiled.

CFI Group surveyed more than 3,000 consumers who had interacted with a contact center in the past 30 days. The survey asked people to rate their overall satisfaction and also a series of follow-up questions designed to help identify the key drivers of those satisfaction ratings.

The process is modeled after the American Customer Satisfaction Index. You can download the entire report or keep reading this post for some highlights.


Top Dissatisfaction Drivers

Three dissatisfaction drivers jumped out immediately:

  • Contact Process
  • Policies & Procedures
  • IVR

Here's a little more detail on each one.


Contact Process

This was the biggest driver of customers' dissatisfaction with contact centers. One major issue was the time customers felt it took to resolve an issue.

Self-service plays a big role in the perception of time spent on an issue.

In theory, self-service is great because customers can help themselves faster than by contacting a live agent and companies can spend far less money per contact.

Unfortunately, self-service doesn't always work well. When it fails, customers now have to spend extra time moving to a second channel such as phone, email, or chat. Now, it feels like the issue is taking too long to resolve.

There's a stark difference in overall satisfaction between customers who are successful and unsuccessful when first attempting to use self-service.

Poor self-service and an annoying IVR (more on that later) can put customers in a sour mood when they reach a live a gent. A 2015 study by Mattersight concluded that 66 percent of customers who call a contact center are frustrated before then even speak to a customer service representative.

This means customer service agents often serve customers who are upset about two things - their original problem and the process required to solve it.

Action item: Test your self-service channels

  • Employ user testing to check for self-serve problems
  • Review the topics customers search for on your website (and the results they get)
  • Make self-serve options as convenient as possible


Policies & Procedures

Many customer service agents are hamstrung by ineffective policies. There was a large dip in consumer satisfaction in this category:

A 2015 research report from ICMI found that 74 percent of contact centers admit to hindering their agents from providing the best service possible.

Part of the challenge is contact center leaders don't know how to empower their agents. Many contact centers have tightly controlled systems that work for normal situations, but quickly unravel when there's an unusual situation.

Action Item: Expand Empowerment

Make a list of the top 10 issues that require an escalation. Identify the processes, procedures, and authority that agents need to resolve these without escalating the contact. You can use this empowerment guide to help you.



Consumers were least satisfied with IVR or Interactive Voice Response. IVR refers to those annoying phone menus that make it hard for a customer to reach a live person.

There are a few reasons for this.

One stems from a primary reason contact centers use IVR in the first place. The aim is often to encourage a customer who calls to solve their problem via self-service without routing the call to a more expensive live agent.

The problem here is customers are often calling because they've already tried self-service and failed. 

That 2015 Mattersight study I referenced earlier found that only 28 percent of customers use the phone as their primary channel. That means most people would rather solve their issue another way. They don't want to call.

The 2014 American Express Global Customer Service Barometer took a deeper look and discovered that the complexity of the issue influences a customer's decision to call. Not surprisingly, customers are more likely to call when an issue is more complex.

IVR is best suited for handling simple issues, the very type of issue customers least want to call to resolve.

So, the typical customer calls because he or she has a complex issue or has already tried and failed to use another channel. Then, they encounter IVR, which feels like a giant roadblock standing in the way of a successful resolution.

From the CCSI study:

  • 64 percent of callers encountered an IVR system
  • 1 in 5 tried to use the IVR, but it failed to solve their issue
  • The overall failure rate for IVR was 32 percent

That last figure should be eye opening: IVR fails 32 percent of the time. Can you imagine subjecting your customers to any other product that failed that frequently?!

Action item: Get rid of your IVR system.

Customers are calling because they want to talk to a human. Don't make that difficult. Invest your resources in building better self-service systems that will prevent more calls to begin with.



Customer-focused organizations make it easy for their agents to deliver exceptional customer service. Here are a few examples from this post highlighting the next wave of customer service stars.

  • REI's 100 percent satisfaction guarantee makes returns and exchanges easy.
  • Safelite Autoglass has a live person answer their customer service line (no IVR)!
  • Zendesk empowers robust customer communities to enable effective self-help.

I'm Thankful for Customer Service Professionals

Note: I originally ran this post the same time last year. It's an important message that I think is worth running again. One small addition - check out this powerful story about what happened when college students started seeing a janitor as more than just a janitor.

While most Americans are enjoying Thanksgiving dinner, retail employees in stores across the country will be hard at work. That's because a long list of retail stores will be open on Thanksgiving.

Those hardworking employees deserve our thanks. In many cases, they have no choice but to work the holiday. 

There are other customer service employees who deserve our thanks too. They're the unsung heroes of Thanksgiving (and other holidays). Here are just a few we should give thanks to:

Thank you to the airline employees, airport workers, and security personnel who make Thanksgiving travel possible. Likewise, much appreciation is due to gas station attendants, convenience store employees, fast food workers, and coffee shop baristas who allow millions of Americans to take a road trip to see their families.

Thank you to the hotel associates who make our families feel at home when there's not enough room in our actual home. 

Thank you to the chefs, servers, bussers, and other restaurant employees who feed so many people who'd rather not prepare a big feast or know they'll never do it quite as good as their favorite restaurant.

Thank you to the homeless shelter employees, social workers, and volunteers who help feed less fortunate families on Thanksgiving.

Thank you to the movie theater employees who give us all an outlet when we still want to spend time with family, but also want to get out of the house.

Thank you to the football players, officials, team employees, television employees, and stadium workers who all make it possible for us to watch football while we relax in the living room. Football may just be the one thing we actually have in common with some of our family members.

Thank you to the EMTs, hospital employees, police officers, and other emergency workers who come to our aid when we overdo it on turkey or get into an accident because the roads are so crowded.

Thank you to all of the people I forgot to mention for not getting too upset that I forgot them. You know I didn't mean it. I appreciate you too.

So many people will be working this Thanksgiving. If you should require their service, I hope you will treat them with kindness and respect. Thank them for all that they do to make it possible for so many of us to enjoy this day.

How to Use Simple Video to Save Your Customers Headaches

Product assembly is a moment of truth.

For some customers, this is no issue. For others, its a potential exercise in frustration. If the assembly process doesn't go well, the product may be returned and that customer may never buy another product from your company again.

Hayneedle is an online home furnishings retailer. Many of their products require assembly. The instructions provided by the manufacturer often leave a lot to be desired.

The company solves this challenge using simple video. Here's how they do it and how you can do it too.

Let's say a customer purchases this Orbelle Contemporary Solid Wood Toddler Bed:

Image source: Hayneedle website

Image source: Hayneedle website

There's a little bit of assembly required. The written instructions from Orbelle can be a bit confusing to most customers. (See the instruction booklet here.)

Here's a screen shot:

This may seem simple to you, given your innate mechanical ability and savant-like grasp of obscure terms like "mattress base mullion," but think like a typical customer.

When I was a customer service manager, I once had to walk a customer through how to operate a music box!

"Now, turn that key to the right a few times. To the right. The other way. Yes, now let it go. The key, let go of the key. Yes, that's it. Do you hear the music?"

Fortunately, Hayneedle provides a video explaining the assembly instructions.

This simple video is very clear and makes the assembly process look much easier!

Notice there's nothing fancy going on. You can shoot similar videos using basic equipment, even your smart phone. There are just a few keys:

  • Make sure the person on camera speaks clearly and slowly.
  • Get enough lighting so everything is well-lit. 
  • Zoom in on detail work so it's easy for your audience to see.

You can find some basic tutorials on lynda.com, such as this one for shooting video with an iPhone. (A lynda.com account is required, but you can get a free 10-day trial.)


Applications & Benefits

Video like this can be a great self-service option for customers. It can help your company in a few ways:

  • Reduce customer contacts
  • Reduce product returns
  • Improve repeat business

Keep in mind that many customers don't complain about a poor experience. They simply give up and take their business somewhere else.

These videos also give your customer service agents another tool to help customers. Verbally walking customers through instructions over the phone is difficult and time consuming. 

Much better to direct customers to the video, which provides a clear visual reference. Customers can also stop, rewind, and re-start the video to review key parts.

There is one thing that Hayneedle can do a little better. The video link isn't always obvious. Let's look at the product page for that toddler bed again:

Customers may not see the link to the video, or they may not realize that it's a product assembly video. And, you won't see the videos mentioned if you go to Hayneedle's customer help page.

You'll make your videos even more useful if you can put them right where customers go looking for them.

This could mean your help center, your product page, or even your customer contact page. Better yet, put a conspicuous link in all three places since you never know how your customers will navigate in search of help.

9 Underhanded Ways to Boost Your Survey Scores

I'll never forget shoplifting class.

It was a workshop for associates at the retail chain I worked for in high school. The idea was to help us prevent shoplifting by showing us how shoplifters operated.

The class was amazing. We learned advanced techniques used by professionals, such as how to defeat alarm sensors, conceal piles of merchandise, or confuse clueless sales people.

Quite a few thefts were prevented as a result of the class.

So, in the spirit of that training, I bring this blog post to you. Many customer service professionals are willing to stoop to underhanded means to artificially boost survey scores.

This post will help you catch them.

Technique #1: Manipulate Your Sample

You can't survey everyone, so companies survey a small portion of their customers, called the sample.

Ideally, your sample represents the thoughts and opinions of all your customers. However, you can make a few tweaks to increase the likelihood that only happy customers are surveyed.

For example, you could survey customers who complete a transaction using self-service. You'll likely get high scores since self-service transactions are typically simple and you are only surveying people who succeeded. Customers who get frustrated and switch to another channel for live help won't be counted in this survey.

There are other ways to get higher scores by being selective about your sample.

  • Limit your survey to channels with simpler transactions, like chat.
  • Limit your survey to people who have contacted you just once.
  • Limit your survey to people who contact you for certain types of transactions.


Technique #2: Manually Select Respondents

Some employees can manually select survey respondents. This enables them to target happy customers while leaving out the grumpy ones.

The survey invitation at the bottom of a register receipt is an excellent example. If a customer is obviously happy, the employee can circle the invitation, write down his or her name, and politely ask the customer to complete the survey.

What if the customer is grumpy? It's pretty easy to tear off the receipt above the survey invitation so the customer never sees it.

Look for any situation where employees have some manual control over who gets a survey. There's the potential for an employee to by choosy about who gets surveyed and who doesn't.


Technique #3: Survey Begging

This occurs when an employee asks a customer to give a positive score on a survey by explaining how it will directly benefit the customer, the employee, or both.

I've written about this scourge before, but it's worth mentioning again here. Employees beg, plead, and even offer incentives to customers in exchange for a good score.

In one example, a retail store manager offered a 20 percent discount in exchange for a perfect 10 on a customer service survey.

In another example, a cashier stamped register receipts with the requested survey response:

Image credit: Jeff Toister

Image credit: Jeff Toister

Technique #4: Fake Surveys

Anonymous survey systems are easy to game. These include pen and paper surveys or electronic surveys that aren't tied to a specific transaction or customer record.

Unscrupulous employees have been known to enter fake surveys, complete with top ratings and glowing comments. They enlist their friends and family members to do the same.


Technique #5: Incentivize Employees

Give employees an incentive to get high survey scores and you'll likely learn a few new tricks.

In one company, technical support was divided into Tier 1 for easy inquiries and Tier 2 for more complicated requests. Tier 1 employees quickly learned they could transfer any upset customer to the Tier 2 team to avoid having that person complete a survey about them. 

The poor Tier 2 employee was now stuck with the angry customer and would be the subject of any follow-up survey.

Why would the Tier 1 employees do this? They earned a cash bonus each month if they kept their survey scores above a certain level.


Technique #6: Write Positive Survey Questions

Survey questions can easily be slanted to elicit more positive responses. Consider these two examples.

This question is positively worded. Notice that the threshold for giving a top rating of "Strongly Agree" is pretty low; the customer merely has to be satisfied with the service they received.

This question is neutral. It's more likely to get a lower overall rating even though the feedback may be more accurate.


Technique #7: Use an Even Scale

There's a long-running argument over whether customer surveys should have a odd or even point scale.

An odd-numbered scale, such as 1 - 5, provides customers with the option to provide a neutral rating.

An even numbered scale, such as 1 - 4, forces customers to choose a positive or negative overall rating. 

More often than not, you'll tip customers into a positive rating by eliminating the mid-point.


Technique #8: Change Your Scoring Process

The exact meaning of a "customer satisfaction rate" is up for interpretation. You can interpret this loosely to increase your score.

Let's say you survey 100 customers using a scale of 1 - 5 with the following scale points and responses:

  • 1 = Highly Dissatisfied (2 responses)
  • 2 = Dissatisfied (6 responses)
  • 3 = Neutral (7 responses)
  • 4 = Satisfied (45 responses)
  • 5 = Highly Satisfied (40 responses)

You could report the score as a weighted average and call it 4.15 or 83 percent. Or, you could simply add the satisfied (45) and highly satisfied (40) customers and give yourself an 85 percent rating.

Even better, combine this technique with an even-numbered scale. Those same 100 customers might respond this way:

  • 1 = Highly Dissatisfied (2 responses)
  • 2 = Dissatisfied (8 responses)
  • 3 = Satisfied (50 responses)
  • 4 = Highly Satisfied (40 responses)

Suddenly, you can boast of a 90 percent customer satisfaction rating from the same group! This little bit of trickery just boosted the score by 7 percentage points.


Technique #9: Adopt a Generous Error Procedure

Some people advocate rejecting surveys with an obvious error.

For example, let's say a customer rates your service as a 1, the lowest score possible, and then writes:

"Hands-down the best service ever. If I could give a higher score I would. I absolutely love their service!!"

You can reasonably conclude this customer meant to give a 5, not a 1. Using that logic, the survey could be removed. Some unscrupulous people might correct the score to a 5 (the highest score possible).

This technique manipulates your scores directly, so unethical service leaders might adopt a generous error procedure. 

For example, a neutral score of a 3 combined with a mildly positive comment might be kicked out as an error or even adjusted to a 4 based on the comment. These adjustments can really add up and significantly impact an overall average!



I want to be clear that I don't advocate the use of any of these techniques.

The real purpose of a customer service survey is to gain actionable insight from your customers that allows you to improve service. You can't do that if you use these methods to artificially inflate your scores.

You can learn more about sound methods for implementing a customer service survey via this training video on lynda.com.

You'll need a lynda.com account to watch the entire course, but you can get a 10-day trial.