Simple Training Plan: Eliminating Repeat Service Failures

A few weeks ago I posted a simple training plan that customer service leaders can use to train their teams.

It was called Serving Upset Customers 101. The focus was training customer service reps to respond effectively when serving an angry or upset customer.

This training plan is a sequel. It's called Serving Upset Customers: Eliminating Repeat Service Failures. It focuses on actions you can take after serving an upset customer to ensure the same issue doesn't happen again. 

Give it a try and send me your feedback to let me know how it goes.

Overview: Eliminating Repeat Service Failures

Participants will be able to do the following at the end of this training:

  • Preserve long-term customer relationships
  • Identify the root cause of chronic service problems
  • Share customer feedback with appropriate leaders

This course is the second in a three part series:

  • Part 1: Serving Upset Customers 101
  • Part 2: Serving Upset Customers, Eliminating Repeat Service Failures
  • Part 3: Service Upset Customers, Preventing Customer Anger

Resources Required:

  • Worksheet: Workshop Planning Tool, cost: $0
  • Training Video: Working with Upset Customers. You'll need a or LinkedIn Premium subscription for each participant. Subscriptions start at $19.99 per person, per month and discounts are available for teams of 5 or more. A 30-day trial is available here.
  • Exercise Files: The Working with Upset Customers training video comes with a set of downloadable exercise files to help implement concepts from the course.

Time Required: <1 hour per week for 3 weeks.


Pre-Work: Do This Before You Begin

You can boost the impact of any training program by properly preparing. Here are two simple assignments you should do before starting the training.

Assignment #1: Create a training plan. Use the Workshop Planning Tool to create a training plan:

  • Identify your goal for the training.
  • Determine what needs to be done to prepare for success.
  • Decide how the training will be run.
  • Create a plan to sustain your progress.


Assignment #2: Announce the Training. Tell your team what to expect by announcing the training via a team meeting, one-on-one conversation, email, or some other form of communication. Make sure you address three things:

  • Tell participants what the training is about.
  • Explain why the training is important.
  • Share how you expect participants to use the training in their daily work.


Training Plan: Eliminating Repeat Service Failures

This plan is divided into three lessons that each take place one week apart.

Pre-Work: Ask participants to watch the short training video, Preserving The Relationship (3m 10s), before attending the first meeting.


Week 1: Kick-off. 

Call a 30 minute team meeting to kick off the training program. Hold it in-person if possible, or via Skype or web-conference if your team is remote. 

  1. Review the purpose and goals for this course.
  2. Re-cap results from Serving Upset Customers 101 (if applicable)
  3. Discuss ways to preserve the relationship with an angry customer.
  4. Assign training videos and activities for the next meeting.


Assignments for next week:

  • Exercise: Follow-up with an angry customer to preserve the relationship.
  • Watch video: Conducting an After Action Review (3m 24s).
  • Exercise: Download the After Action Review worksheet exercise file. Use it to evaluate a recent experience with an upset customer.


Week 2: After Action Reviews

Call a 30 minute team meeting to check-in on the training program. Hold it in-person if possible, or via Skype or web-conference if your team is remote.

  1. Discuss the results of the following-up with angry customers exercise.
  2. Discuss the results of the after action review exercise.
  3. Assign training videos and activities for the next meeting.


Assignments for next week:


Week 3: Finding Room for Improvement

Call a 30 minute team meeting to check-in on the training program. Hold it in-person if possible, or via Skype or web-conference if your team is remote.

  1. Discuss the top customer complaints and identify the most common.
  2. Brainstorm solutions to some of the most common problems.
  3. Discuss ways to sustain the learning and solutions from this course.

Lessons from The Overlook: Patience

Note: Lessons from The Overlook is a monthly update on lessons learned from owning a vacation rental property in the Southern California mountain town of Idyllwild. It's a hands-on opportunity to apply some of the techniques I advise my clients to use. You can find past updates here.

Rentals at The Overlook started with a bang.

My wife, Sally, and I bought the place in October 2016, took a month to do some light upgrades, and put it on the rental market in November. It immediately started renting nearly every weekend, a torrid pace that kept up through April.

That was the busy season.

Now we've hit the slow season and things are a bit different. The cabin is rented every other weekend. Monthly revenue is down 50 percent from our peak month.

There's also a to-do list piling up as small maintenance issues naturally arise with any house. Some outdoor lights needed to be replaced. We had to get some pictures to hang in our new game room. There's some exterior painting that needs to get done.

When are we going to find time to do it all? And how can we book more rentals so our revenue doesn't dip so much this time of year?

Deep breath...

We also bought the place to enjoy it ourselves. It's pointless if all we do is visit the cabin to do chores. There's nothing like enjoying a cup of coffee out on our deck on a crisp mountain morning and remembering why the cabin is called The Overlook.

Photo credit: Jeff Toister

Photo credit: Jeff Toister

How Impatience Kills Business

So many business objectives are undermined by impatience.

Want to fix poor customer service? Leaders often ask for customer service training without understanding the root cause. The laziest managers automatically default to incentives, which routinely fail to solve the problem and often make it worse.

Want to improve employee engagement? The go-to move is to hire a consulting firm to conduct a one-time survey, form a committee to analyze the results, and then do nothing.

Want to improve the customer-focused culture? Write a half-hearted vision statement at an executive retreat and then never speak of it again.

Impatience even tempts us to make poor decisions at The Overlook. 

Rentals are down, which is normal for this time of year, but we'd like more revenue. We could cut our nightly rate and spend more money on advertising. Both might help us get a few more bookings, but that tactic would also eat into our profits while straying from our year one goal.

In year one, we want to build a loyal guest following by making them feel welcome, connecting them to the mountain community, and providing a wonderful place for a retreat. 

We definitely don't want to be the Cut-Rate Discount Chalet, which is the image that lower rates and lots of advertising would create.


The Value of Patience

Patience was a consistent theme among the many customer-focused companies I profiled in The Service Culture Handbook.

One example is Clio, a leading provider of cloud-based legal practice management software. I worked with the company in 2014 and its leaders have been building Clio's culture ever since. Three years later, Clio won the 2017 award for Best Contact Center Culture from ICMI.

The company was already terrific in 2014 but its leaders stayed committed to the culture initiative year after year because they knew the company could be even better still.

Sally and I think about patience a lot as we work on The Overlook.

It took us several months to find the right contractor to turn an unused garage into a game room, but now it's awesome.

We're typically able to visit the property just once per month, so we try to use that time wisely. We've learned to rely on our key partners to help keep the place in peak condition. 

For example, our propane provider, Ferrell Gas, has a program where they automatically check our propane tank and keep it filled. That's one less thing to worry about.

The revenue will increase in time.

There's a predictable seasonality to the business that we're experiencing for the first summer. Meanwhile, we're studying our guests to find ways to make The Overlook even more appealing.

Our property manager, Idyllwild Vacation Cabins, is also working hard on our behalf. We need to trust that partner to help us grow. And they are—two new bookings came in during the day or so that I've been working on this blog post.

All the while, we're keeping in mind that we didn't buy The Overlook for a quick fix. This is a long-term investment and we're just getting started.

Why Incentives Are a Tool of the Lazy Manager

"Let's create an incentive plan!" 

That's the rallying cry for lazy managers. Whether its lagging customer service survey scores, poor productivity, or dismal attendance, lazy managers think the solution is an an incentive.

Or perhaps a disincentive will do the trick! 

A three strikes and yer out sort of thing where bad employees receive marks on their permanent employment record which shouldn't really be called permanent because we all know that employee won't be there for very long anyway.

Why are incentives a tool of lazy managers

The short answer is incentives represent an apparent quick fix, which is tempting to a manager who doesn't want to put in the real work.

Here's a deeper look.

Who is Actually Motivated?

In a 1968 Harvard Business Review article, psychologist Frederick Herzberg made an interesting observation about incentives.

It's the manager who is motivated, not necessarily the employee.

A manager might be motivated to improve customer service survey scores. Perhaps it's part of her job review or she's catching some flak from senior leadership. Maybe the manager is competitive and just wants her department to have the best score.

Whatever the reason, she's desperate for results so she creates an incentive for employees who receive good survey scores.

But what about the employees?

The employees aren't really motivated to deliver better service. Better service isn't even part of the incentive. The incentive focuses on good survey scores, which is a crucial distinction.

So the employees might be motivated to earn the incentive. And some will step outside the lines to do it, even resorting to survey begging.


What the Lazy Manager Misses

A motivated employee wants to do something.

If employees are motivated to deliver better customer service, they'll willingly put in extra effort and find their way around obstacles. Motivated employees will look at poor customer service survey scores as an opportunity to learn and get better, not a disastrous set-back in their quest to earn an incentive.

The lazy manager doesn't see this. 

In my experience, the lazy manager will tell employees that survey scores need to improve. She'll announce the incentive and she might explain why improvement is important to her. ("My boss is really upset about our latest survey scores!")

But she won't explain why the improvement is important to the employees, the company, or even the customers. She also won't make a connection between her goals and what the employees want to achieve.

Lazy managers leave out the "Why?" completely when organizing an incentive plan.

They're too lazy to investigate what's causing lower survey scores. They don't take the time to involve and engage employees. They just want quick action.


A Better Way

Let's say you have an attendance problem.

The lazy manager will resort to an incentive (perfect attendance awards!) or a disincentive. Many customer service teams have elaborate attendance policies that make your head spin. And every one of those managers complains about employees who abuse the policy and do just enough to keep their job.

There's a better way.

  • What if you made work a place employees wanted to come to?
  • What if you had a customer service vision that gave employees a clear purpose?
  • What if you hired people who wanted to do what you wanted them to do?

The problem with this plan is it takes time. The benefit is it works.

Daniel Pink decoded many myths of about employee motivation in his best-selling book, Drive. He discovered that employees really crave three things:

  1. Purpose. There's got to be a point to all this work.
  2. Mastery. We want the ability to be good at what we do.
  3. Autonomy. It's good to have some measure of control over the work we perform.

(You can read a review of the book and it's application to customer service here.)

The short version is lazy managers won't take that time. They'll look for a shortcut and that shortcut is usually an incentive.

When I did research for The Service Culture Handbook, I never once heard a customer service leader talk about incentives as the key to a customer-focused culture. What I did consistently hear was leaders describing building a great service culture as a time-consuming task that required long-term commitment. 

These managers achieved success because they were willing to put in the extra work.

The Powerful Survey Feature That Drives Customer Loyalty

Improving loyalty is a big reason companies survey customers.

The challenge is finding ways to actually accomplish that goal. Customer service leaders tell me confidentially that analyzing survey data is a struggle. Getting leaders to take meaningful action is another tough task.

There's one survey feature that can immediately improve your results. Seriously, you could implement it today and start reducing customer defections.

What is it? 

It's the contact opt-in. Here's a run-down on what it is, why it's essential, and how to implement it immediately.

What is a Contact Opt-In?

A contact opt-in is a feature at the end of your customer service survey that allows customers to opt-in for a follow-up contact.

The opt-in does three important things:

  • It allows you to follow-up with an upset customer and save their business.
  • The survey itself remains anonymous, which is important to some customers.
  • The opt-in doesn't promise a contact, it just gives you the option.

Best of all, it's really simple. Here's a sample opt-in:

May we contact you if we have additional questions?

Just make sure you add fields to capture a customer's name and contact information if they say yes!


Why are Follow-ups Essential?

There's a widely held perception among customers that surveys are meaningless.

That's because we're inundated with survey requests, but we rarely see any meaningful changes as a result of our feedback. Many customers are convinced their feedback is routinely ignored. (Spoiler alert: they're right.)

A follow-up tells customers you're listening. It demonstrates caring and empathy. Some customers have told me they were surprised and amazed to get a follow-up contact!

Now here's the best part: you might even be able to solve the problem and save the customer!

Data provided by the customer feedback analysis company, Thematic, shows that customers who give a "0" rating on Net Promoter Surveys have a lot more to say in the comment section than customers who give other ratings:

Data source: Thematic

Data source: Thematic

“Detractors across dozens of companies we’ve worked with complain about the inability to contact the company about an issue they have, lack of communication, or difficulty finding information on how to fix an issue themselves”, says Alyona Medelyan, CEO at Thematic. “We have also observed that many customers leave their full name, phone number or reference number in a free-text comment. Detractors are three times more likely to leave contact details than others.”

This presents customer service leaders with two choices:

You can ignore all that anger and wait for the customer to tell family, friends, and colleagues or you can contact the customer and try to iron things out.


How to Implement a Contact Opt-In

The process is very straight forward.

  1. Add a contact opt-in to the end of your survey.
  2. Review your survey for opt-ins (I recommend daily).
  3. Contact as many customers as possible, especially angry ones.

Through trial and error, I've found that a phone call often works better than email or other channels for following up. It's easier to have a dialogue if you catch them on the phone and a surprising number of customers will call you back if you leave a message and a phone number where they can call you directly.

Here are a few other tips:

  • Empower your follow-up person (or team) to resolve as many issues as possible.
  • Use customer conversations to learn more about their situation.
  • Summarize feedback from customer follow-ups to identify broad trends.



Some leaders worry about the time required. If that's your focus, your head's probably not in the right place.

Here are three compelling reasons why you definitely have the time:

  1. Follow-up is optional. You don't have to contact every single customer.
  2. Saving customers can directly generate revenue and reduce servicing costs.
  3. Fixing chronic problems leads to fewer customer complaints in the long run.

Here are some additional resources to help you turn your survey into a feedback-generating, customer-saving, money-making machine: