- The customer service disconnect - companies think they're doing well when they're not
- The process of writing the book
- How Service Failure is different from other customer service books
You can view the interview here:
Next Level Customer Service Blog
The Next Level Customer Service blog features tips, trends, and analysis that can help you take customer service to the next level.
You can view the interview here:
Your organization has decided it’s time to work on customer service.
Maybe there’s been a few complaints. Perhaps employees are struggling to do things right. It could be that an executive simply decided it was time.
Training is the reflexive solution. Pick some topics, determine how long the training should be, and get it scheduled. It seems like a magic cure-all, sort of like aspirin for the corporate world.
It’s a strategy that rarely works.
There are a myriad of reasons why customer service training programs fail.
Here’s the biggest culprit: training is only a 1 percent solution.
Below is my analysis. The percentages are rough estimates and averages, not absolutes, but they paint a pretty clear picture.
You need to know what's causing the problem before you select a solution.
In his book, Strategic Customer Service, customer service expert John Goodman estimated that service failures can be attributed to poor products and services, customer error, and employee mistakes or attitudes:
Training is employee-focused, but Goodman estimates that employees are responsible for only 20 percent of service failures.
What about the other 80 percent?
The largest share of service failures (60 percent) are caused by poor products or services. This includes defects, unfulfilled promises, and broken systems.
Customers also cause their fair share of service failures (20 percent) due to their own errors or inappropriate expectations.
A training-only solution is likely to miss a lot of the problem. In fact, I had training all the way down at number seven on my Next Level Customer Service Action Plan.
It’s helpful to look at some of the factors that impact a customer service employee's performance:
Training can only improve the first three: knowledge, skills, and abilities.
This leaves other factors unaccounted for by a training class.
All of these factors are intertwined and difficult to separate. It might be fair to give training 50 percent of the credit since training can improve half the items on the list.
Since employees only account for 20 percent of service failures and training can only improve half of that, we’re down to 10 percent.
But wait, we’re not done yet. Most training doesn’t occur in the classroom.
The American Society for Training and Development released a white paper in 2009 that identified the role of informal learning in employee development. The paper described the 70 - 20 - 10 rule, which roughly estimates how employees learn.
That’s right - only 10 percent of learning comes from the training class itself. Since training is only 10 percent of the customer service improvement solution, that puts the impact of the typical customer service training class at only 1 percent.
The remaining 90 percent is much more important, yet routinely ignored.
A holistic approach is needed that addresses 100 percent of the problem.
Step 1: Clearly identify the problem you are trying to solve
Determine the gap between existing and desired customer service. It’s hard to get better at anything unless you can articulate what success looks like. You might start by creating a customer service vision and establishing a SMART goal.
Step 2: Analyze the cause of the gap
Imagine you went to a doctor to get treatment for back pain. Without conducting an examination, the doctor prescribes a new drug that she happened to learn about from a sales rep earlier that day.
How confident would you be in the doctor’s recommendation?
Trying to solve a problem without first doing an analysis is the same thing. You must first try to understand what’s keeping you from reaching your customer service goal before you select the most appropriate solution.
Step 3: Select a solution
Now, it’s time to take action.
Training can be very effective, if used the right way. Here are some resources to help you out if you do decide training should be part of the solution.
One of my favorite features of ICMI's Contact Center Conference & Expo are the Thought Leader Panels.
These are short panel discussions on specific topics featuring thought leaders from the contact center industry. I had the privilege of moderating the Social Media panel at the 2014 conference.
Here's the video (click here if you don't see it):
A needs analysis is the first step when developing a new training program.
It can help you identify what training participants really need and connect that training to business objectives. In many cases, a good needs analysis allows you to create training that's faster, cheaper, and more effective.
My new course on lynda.com will take you step-by-step through the needs analysis process. It’s intended for instructional designers, but anyone who creates training programs can benefit.
The course is part of lynda.com’s online library of video-based training programs. Using video allowed me to create some interesting visual examples.
In the sample video below, you’ll see me meeting with a Vice President who requested an interviewing skills training program. Initial meetings like this can help trainers discover a lot of really useful information. (Click here if you don’t see the video.)
You’ll need a lynda.com subscription to view the entire course. The good news is your subscription gives you unlimited access to all of their courses.
Even better news? You can drop my name and get a free 7-day trial.
Some service failures are frustratingly obvious.
Take this one for example. I spoke at the CRM Evolution 2014 conference last week. The conference was fantastic (re-cap here).
There was just a small issue with how the hotel set up my breakout room:
It’s obvious that seats shouldn’t be placed directly behind this enormous pillar. So, why did it happen? Ironically, I touched on the root cause in my session on hidden causes of poor customer service.
The root cause is employees who didn’t know their real job.
Try to see this room through the eyes of the people who were responsible. An obvious blunder can easily be overlooked when people are focused on tactical responsibilities:
Nobody stopped to question the big picture because they weren't looking at the big picture.
The problem is caused by something called framing that allows your customers to see what you don’t. The tough part is framing happens to us instinctively. And, it's further supported by job descriptions that read like a laundry list of tasks.
So, what is their real job? Their real job should be helping their guests enjoy a successful conference.
View the job this way and there are multiple opportunities to prevent this service failure from happening.
On a strategic level, companies need a strong customer service vision. This is a shared definition of outstanding customer service that’s understood by all employees.
On a tactical level, employees should see their jobs from their customers’ perspective. Here’s an exercise that can help:
Here are some examples of customer-focused perspectives excerpted from my book, Service Failure:
Sales reps at a flower and plant wholesaler decided their role was helping florists (their primary customer) grow their businesses by helping them select flowers and plants that will sell well in their shops.
Information technology employees working on a college campus determined that their role was helping faculty and staff minimize downtime from malfunctioning computers.
Call center agents at a medical device manufacturer realized their role was helping to save lives by making sure the right products got to the right doctor in time to help the patients who need them.
Service failures are often obvious, but discovering their root causes can often require deeper insight. I've compiled a set of ten exercises you can use to help your team understand some of these obstacles. You can access them by downloading the free Service Failure Workbook.