51 Resources for Learning About Customer Service

Beware of the person who thinks they know it all.

Elite customer service professionals know something the rest don't. You must never stop learning. Each day is an opportunity to gain new skills, insights, and perspectives.

So, where do you start?

Here are 51 terrific resources you can use to deepen your customer service knowledge. Most are low-cost or no-cost. Your biggest investment will be your time.

Books

The great part about a book is it can go really in-depth into a particular topic. Here are some of my favorite customer service books. (And yes, I've read them all.)

  1. The Amazement Revolution by Shep Hyken
  2. High-Tech, High-Touch Customer Service by Micah Solomon
  3. Be Your Customer’s Hero by Adam Toporek
  4. Delight Your Customers by Steve Curtin
  5. Uncommon Service by Frances Frei and Anne Morriss
  6. Reinventing the Wheel by Chris Zane
  7. Strategic Customer Service by John A. Goodman
  8. The Science of Service by Wendi Pomerance Brick
  9. The Ultimate Question 2.0 by Fred Reichheld and Rob Markey
  10. What's Your Purple Goldfish? by Stan Phelps
  11. The Effortless Experience by Matthew Dixon and Nick Toman
  12. Human Sigma by John H. Fleming and Jim Asplund
  13. Service Failure by Jeff Toister (I can't leave out my own book!)

 

Blogs

Reading blogs is a great way to stay up to date on the latest customer service trends. Here are some blogs that I enjoy on a regular basis.

  1. Shep Hyken's Customer Service Blog
  2. Customers That Stick
  3. CX Journey
  4. Communicate Better Blog
  5. Help Scout Blog
  6. 360 Connext
  7. Customer Experience Matters
  8. One Reach
  9. Provide Support Blog
  10. Zendesk Blog
  11. The Retail Doctor Blog
  12. Loyalty Blog
  13. CustomerThink
  14. Fonolo Customer Service Blog
  15. Win the Customer

Pssst! You can receive a free copy of 10 Customer Service Activities to Supercharge Your Team if you subscribe to my Inside Customer Service blog. 

 

Training Videos

Why go to a training class when the training class can come to you? There's a growing collection of customer service training videos on lynda.com. You'll need a subscription to view courses in their entirety, but you can get a free 10-day trial.

  1. Leading a Customer-Centric Culture
  2. Customer Service Fundamentals
  3. Using Customer Surveys to Improve Service
  4. Managing a Customer Service Team

 

Twitter

You don't need to post updates on what you had for lunch. Twitter is a great resources for discovering customer service ideas and connecting with customer service leaders.

  1. Who to follow: ICMI’s Top 50 #cctr Thought Leaders
  2. Call center Tweet chat: #icmichat (Tuesdays at 10am Pacific)
  3. General customer service Tweet chat: #custserv chat (Tuesdays at 6pm Pacific)

Tip: You don't need a Twitter account to follow hashtag conversations. Just click on the links above.

 

Conferences

OK, these are definitely not low or no-cost. They are wonderfully immersive experiences where you can learn about the latest trends and meet a lot of customer professionals and thought leaders. Here are four conferences I've attended and can recommend:

  1. CRM Evolution
  2. Customer Service Experience
  3. Contact Center Demo (Save $200 if you use code SPKR at checkout.)
  4. Contact Center Expo

 

Organizations

There are many organizations that focus on providing cutting-edge research, engaging content, and educational opportunities. They typically have a lot of free resources and content on their websites plus additional content and research for a fee.

  1. International Customer Management Institute (ICMI)
  2. HDI (focused on technical support)
  3. Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA)
  4. Society of Consumer Affairs Professionals in Business (SOCAP)
  5. Professional Association for Customer Engagement (PACE)
  6. Contact Center Networking Group (CCNG)

 

LinkedIn

There's a wealth of great customer service discussions and information to be found on LinkedIn. Your own connections are a terrific start. Here are a few more resources:

  1. LinkedIn Pulse: Customer Experience Channel 
  2. Inside Customer Service Group
  3. ICMI Group
  4. Customer Service Champions Group

 

Podcasts

I've found this is a great way to spend time while traveling. Planes, trains, or automobiles - you name it! I'm still discovering podcasts, but here are two I enjoy:

  1. Crack the Customer Code
  2. The Net Promoter System Podcast

 

What Else You Got?

These are 51 great resources but I know there's more. Many more. So, what else would you recommend for someone with an insatiable customer service curiosity?

An Amazingly Simple Shortcut to Improve Customer Insight

You could solve a lot of problems if you better understood your customers.

This can be a real challenge. Budgets are sometimes tight. Deadlines are short. Resources are spread thin.

I recall a time when a simple shortcut came to me like a bolt of lighting.

Years ago, I served on the board of directors for my local ASTD chapter. This was the American Association for Training and Development (now known as the Association for Talent Development). My role was Membership Director.

We were discussing member participation at a board meeting. Specifically, we were discussing a lack of attendance at certain events.

In the midst of our discussion I realized that few board members were attending events themselves. An idea struck and I posed this question to the group:

Why aren't you attending events?

Board members gave me a range of excuses.

  • They were too busy.
  • The events weren’t at convenient times or locations.
  • The topics weren’t interesting to them.

In many cases, they simply forgot.

Lightbulbs starting going off. Weren’t these the same reasons why our members didn’t attend events? 

The discussion quickly turned to solutions. We focused on rethinking our events to make them so compelling that people absolutely had to be there. We varied the times, days of the week, and the locations. 

Most importantly, we each made a personal commitment to attend the events the really interested us and invite some of our friends and colleagues.

It took awhile to implement some of these ideas, but attendance steadily began to climb. We had discovered the secret of empathetic insight.

Applying Empathetic Insight

This type of customer insight comes from putting yourself in your customers’ shoes. Try to imagine how your customers think and feel. Answer key questions from their perspective.

Here are a few examples:

Hotel associates might learn how to improve room cleanliness by asking themselves, “What do I look for when I check into one of our hotel rooms?”

Employees at a software as a service company might learn how to reduce customer churn by asking themselves, “What do I find most frustrating about our product?”

Retail associates might improve sales by asking themselves, “Why don’t I personally buy more from my store?”

The goal is to try to see things from your customers’ perspective by imaging yourself as a customer. In theory, you’re the most educated, loyal customer. If something bothers you, it must really bother your customers who don't have the same insider connection that you do.

This may sound snarky, but I really do wish cable company executives would take a half day off of work and wait around their house for somebody who doesn’t come. My guess is that would be the fast demise of the four hour appointment window.

 

Words of Caution

We have to be careful to acknowledge that this approach is prone to error.

You’re not every customer. You might not even be the typical customer. You might even be a little weird. 

Imagination won’t replace solid data. You should still gather voice of customer data, whether you use a survey (see my how-to course) or choose one of these five alternatives.

However, empathetic insight can augment your data collection. At ASTD, our empathetic insight exercise changed the types of questions we asked our members and the data we collected. It was a great starting point, but not a panacea. 

We also realized that it would be hard to attract members to our events if we weren’t excited about them. That really pushed us to raise the bar on what we offered.

 

Why Culture Initiatives Fail

“We’re working on culture this year.”

I wish I had a dime for every time I heard an executive make that announcement. I’d have a lot of dimes.

It seems like everyone wants a great culture. One that’s customer-focused. And why not? A strong culture promises many benefits:

  • Employees will happily do the right thing
  • You’ll attract top talent
  • Customers will sing your praises

CEOs like to boldly announce that culture is a priority. Even Comcast is getting in on the culture game by announcing a major new initiative.

Most of these initiatives will fail. Here are three reasons why.

Undefined

It’s hard to be good at something if you can’t define it.

The vast majority of organizations I talk to do not have a clearly defined culture. I’m not referring to the standard set of cultural artifacts like mission, vision, values. Let’s face it - most of those are hollow and empty.

I'm talking about something real. A clear compass that points people in the right direction.

The litmus test is to ask any random employee to describe the culture. Chances are, you’ll get a puzzled look or an answer that’s inconsistent from one person to the next.

The few companies who succeed with culture ensure every employee can answer three questions:

  1. What is our culture?
  2. How are we doing?
  3. How do I contribute?

 

Mimicry

Culture initiatives fail when companies try to copy someone else’s culture. 

That doesn’t stop companies from trying. A CIO once told me he wanted his team to be like the Apple Store. When I pressed him for details, the best he could do was say, “I want them to be good at service. You know, like the Apple Store.”

There’s a long list of books extolling the greatness of other company’s cultures. The Nordstrom Way, The Disney Way, The Virgin Way, The Cleveland Clinic Way, and the Southwest Airlines Way are on all sale right now. 

The absolute peak is when you can turn your culture into its own brand. The Ritz-Carlton and Disney offer classes on how to be more like them. Zappos now charges 10 bucks a head to tour their Las Vegas headquarters. 

Trying to copy another company’s culture fails because it’s their culture, not yours. Each company is unique. And, copying another culture ignores all the hard work the other company needed to get where they are today.

Great cultures can provide ideas and inspiration. But, they’re not paint-by-numbers guides.

 

Delay

Culture initiatives don’t work when they’re a side project.

Here are a few excuses I’ve heard for delaying a culture initiative:

  • “We’re knee-deep in system stuff right now.”
  • “We’d like to do it, but we don’t have the funding.”
  • “We’re focused on employee engagement right now.”

These excuses are convenient, but they really reflect a deeper misunderstanding about culture. Developing a strong culture is core. It’s fundamental and strategic.

A great culture would help make all of those decisions easier!

You have to live your culture if you want it to succeed. In-N-Out and McDonald’s started with the same three words to define their culture, but only In-N-Out actually lived them.

Treat it as a side project at your own peril.

 

Building a Strong Culture

You might want to start by reading about a successful cultural initiative.

Here are two resources to help you build your own customer-focused culture:

These resources can help, but there are no short-cuts. Culture initiatives can only succeed through a deep commitment.

Defining Your Customer Can Be Complicated

The definition of a customer is broad.

Customer (noun)

  1. a person who purchases goods or services from another.
  2. Informal. a person one has to deal with.

Source: Dictionary.com

This seems fairly straightforward in some businesses. 

Let’s say you own a restaurant. Your guests would be your customer. You might also include vendors and employees as customers under part two of the definition. But, there’d be no confusion that guests are your ultimate customer. They’re the people who purchase goods or services from you.

This gets more complicated in other organizations.

The nonprofit Goodwill has three primary customers. The people who donate clothing and other items, the people who shop in their thrift stores, and the people who receive jobs and job training.

Organizations like this have to decide how to manage the needs of their different customers. This is especially true when there's an apparent conflict or limited resources. 

There could be trouble if you choose poorly.

The Forgotten Customer

McDonald’s has long had a reputation for poor customer service. Last year, I wrote a post detailing how their problems boil down to three areas:

  • Lack of focus
  • Lack of quality
  • Lack of control

It’s that last part that’s starting to bite them.

Franchisees operate 81 percent of McDonald’s locations. That means most of McDonald’s customers aren’t actually served by a McDonald’s employee. 

Right now, the franchisees aren’t too happy. A recent article on Slate described McDonald’s relationship with its franchise owners as “the bleakest it’s been.”

Rent has increased an average of 26 percent over the past five years. Meanwhile, year over year same store sales are down 4.2 percent.

Now, McDonald’s wants its franchise owners to invest an estimated $120,000 to $160,000 in it’s new Create Your Taste initiative. The Create Your Taste program is designed to allow people to customize the burger they order using an interactive kiosk.

Many franchise owners resent the additional investment. It will take a significant chunk out of short-term profits while making operations even more complicated.

McDonald’s can’t turn around it’s fortunes unless it improves it’s relationship with franchisees.

 

Complicated Industries

McDonald’s is hardly alone. Many industries have complicated customer relationships.

Hotels are a good example. In a typical hotel, one company owns the building, another company owns the brand, and a third company manages the hotel. 

Let’s say the property is getting a bit old and needs some upgrades. The brand might dictate the type of upgrades that need to be made. The building owner has to find a way to pay for the upgrades. And, the management company has to keep guests happy until they all can sort things out. 

That’s are a lot of interests to manage.

Insurance is another example. Many companies have independent brokers who sell and service their policies. They must keep these brokers happy to ensure policy holders receive great service. At the same time, insurance companies must keep tabs on their brokers to ensure they’re representing the company fairly and accurately.

It’s enough to give you a headache.

 

Solutions

Companies can achieve clarity when they have a customer-focused mission or vision.

Take a look at Goodwill’s mission:

Goodwill works to enhance the dignity and quality of life of individuals and families by strengthening communities, eliminating barriers to opportunity, and helping people in need reach their full potential through learning and the power of work.

So, donations are important, but only to the extent that they help fulfill the mission. If a donation isn’t ultimately helping people reach their full potential through learning and the power of work, Goodwill doesn’t want it.

Let’s look at State Farm’s mission for a for-profit example:

The State Farm mission is to help people manage the risks of everyday life, recover from the unexpected, and realize their dreams.

I can tell you from experience that State Farm and their independent agents are aligned around the same mission. In 2001, I traveled to Houston to help my in-laws recover from a flood. My father-in-law's truck had been completely submerged in water and was totaled. His State Farm agent showed up the next day with a check in hand so my father-in-law could buy a replacement.

It required coordination between State Farm and it’s agents to make the same thing happen for hundreds if not thousands of customers who were similarly affected.

Meanwhile, people in the neighborhood who had other insurance companies waited days for their insurance company to lend a hand.