How to Train 35,000 People Before Lunch

Training large numbers of employees is a big challenge.

Organizations have several factors working against them. There's geography, where employees are spread out over multiple locations. You need to keep people running the operation while employees are getting trained. And, the sheer number of participants involved can be daunting.

Some people thought e-learning could solve this problem. There's just one issue - it's boring. A lot of e-learning is nothing more than an amateurish voice over PowerPoint.

The future is in video. Short, engaging, and beautifully produced video. 

More than 35,000 customer service professionals have now taken my Customer Service Fundamentals video-based course on It's rapidly approaching 1,000,000 individual views. That many people have got to be on to something.

One promising feature is employees can complete the training much faster than a traditional class. The entire program takes less than two hours, far less than the eight hours the live version requires. There's no set-up, scheduling, or logistics to handle either. It's ready to go right now - your employees could easily start the training in the morning and finish before lunch.

Here's why this and other courses like it are the wave of the future.

The Power of Video

Video offers a number of distinct advantages over other forms of training.

It's engaging. People enjoy watching video. According to eMarketer, adults in the U.S. spend 5.5 hours per day watching video.

You want training to be engaging enough so employees enjoy the process. Here are just a few comments from people who have watched the Customer Service Fundamentals training video:

"This course has really been an eye opening in all aspects of customer service.. I enjoyed every bit of it."

"He did a great job keeping the material interesting."

"The author's positive attitude is contagious."

And, it's always good when a participant feels the training made a difference:

"I am about to start my first working day as a customer service representative and thanks to this course I feel myself more confident and equipped with essential knowledge on making my customers feel satisfied."

It's easy to access. Employees can watch the videos from their computer, their tablet, or even their smart phone. now offers a download feature where you can watch the videos offline. I'll often load a few courses on my iPad when I know I'm going to be spending a lot of time in an airplane. There's no reason for the learning to stop at 35,000 feet!

It's inexpensive. Here's a cost comparison between live training and using video. Video can cut your costs in three ways:

  • Delivery is less expensive per person.
  • Development is less expensive (if you buy pre-packaged courses).
  • You spend 50 - 75 percent less on employee wages since video-based training goes faster than a live course. has also introduced an impressive array of features to improve how companies can manage video-based training.

  • Quizzes to test participants' knowledge.
  • Certificates of completion (they can be added to your LinkedIn profile!).
  • Management features like customer playlists and LMS integration.


Don't Forget the Special Sauce

There's one danger of using video. It's a problem called Popcorn Learning where participants just consume the training and then do nothing. (This problem exists for classroom-based and e-learning programs too.) 

You can avoid this problem by adding this secret sauce to the mix:

You can access a wide range of customer service training courses on or explore many of their other topics such as content marketing or becoming a manager.

You'll need a subscription to view full courses, but you can check everything out with a ten day trial.

Book Review: The Five Deadly Shoulds of Office Politics

This book was a huge surprise. But first, I have a confession.

If you're a friend of mine and you write a book, I want to buy it. I'm going to try to get you to sign it. And, I'm going to read it whether it's relevant to me or not. Taking time to read someone's book is a good way to support a friend.

So, let's get this out of the way. Grace Judson, the author of The Five Deadly Shoulds of Office Politics is a friend of mine. I'm especially indebted to her because she was one of the editors for my own book, Service Failure. Considering that I work for myself, it's very unlikely I would have found and read a book about corporate politics if I didn't know the author.

Ok, what's the surprise?

This short book is incredibly relevant to customer service. The focus is on office politics, but it's really about empathizing with other people and realizing their goals and interests might be different than yours.

Judson explains that politics are part of every human interaction. We don't often realize this when interacting with friends or family members because it feels authentic. It's situations where we don't have a strong relationship with the other person where politics feel forced or contrived.

The premise of the "Shoulds" is that we often tell ourselves that politics should work a certain way, but they don't. We limit ourselves and our success if we ignore reality. 

The first deadly should is:

I should be able to succeed without participating in office politics.

Judson goes on to explain that this feeling leads people to try to do good work without considering the wants and needs of others. This is a recipe for failure with co-workers who have different goals and face different pressures. It's also a recipe for failure in customer service when your customer may want something very different than you do.

And, it's especially difficult when you, your customer, and your boss all have different agendas. 

Judson provides case studies and practical advice for facing these challenges. I finished the book while traveling to a business meeting last week and immediately put a lesson to use.

The lesson centered around identifying power. In this case, I was advising a colleague on how to tackle a challenging internal service issue. She was having difficulty getting the support she needed from her boss for a key project.

Her boss had the power to support her, but her boss also seemed reluctant to use it.

Recalling Judson's book, I asked my colleague what sort of power might be influencing her boss. She thought about it and realized that he may have made some commitments that were counter to her project. So, his lack of support might stem from a fear that her project, while beneficial to the company, might make him look bad. 

My colleague decided she was going to find the hidden power source that was influencing her boss and then try to find a way to make him look good while still making her project a success. I think she'll succeed.

The Seven Deadly Shoulds of Office Politics is an easy read that's highly recommended for customer service professionals or anyone who has co-workers. 

How to Avoid Confusion Between KPIs and Goals

Imagine going on a road trip.

Your destination is 100 miles away and your GPS system says it will take about two hours to get there. A quick calculation shows your average speed needs to be 50 miles per hour.

Average speed is a key performance indicator, or KPI, in this context. You risk taking longer than two hours if you average less than 50 mph.

Going 50 mph isn't the goal. Imagine you tried to maintain 50 mph for the entire trip. That wouldn't win you any friends while driving on a highway with a speed limit of 65 mph. It would be flat out reckless to maintain a speed of 50 mph in a 25 mph school zone.

Yet, this is the very sort of confusion that customer service leaders encounter on a daily basis. The goal is to reach the destination in two hours, but the focus wanders to maintaining 50 mph.

Here's what to do about it.

The Danger of Confusing KPIs for Goals

Wells Fargo recently made headlines when it was announced the company had fired 5,300 employees since 2011 for creating more than 2 million phony bank and credit card accounts.

The primary culprit was a culture that pressured employees to focus on KPIs instead of goals. The KPI was the number of Wells Fargo products a customer has, which was intended to help achieve a goal of increased fee revenue. In 2015, the company made more than 10 percent of its revenue from service charges on deposit accounts and credit card fees.

Here's a statement from a 2006 Wells Fargo strategy document which described this up-selling focus:

The more you sell them, the higher the profit because the added cost of selling another product to an existing customer is often only about ten percent of the cost of selling that same product to a new customer.

The confusion between KPIs and goals is rampant in contact centers. 

For example, a recent Contact Center Pipeline report discovered that 94 percent of contact centers list call quality as a KPI that's tracked. Yet, only 59 percent felt call quality mapped to organizational goals.

That means that roughly 35 percent of contact centers are tracking a KPI that's not really indicating good performance. It's just a metric with no clear bearing on what the contact center is trying to achieve.

Another metric in the report was even worse:

  • 88 percent track the length of calls
  • 35 percent felt it mapped very well to business goals

What about the other 53 percent?!

Here's just one more example. Many companies are confusing survey score (a KPI) with a goal of providing outstanding customer service. This confusion often leads to employees engaging in survey begging, where they plead with customers to give them a good survey.

This extreme example came from the now-bankrupt sporting goods retailer, Sports Authority, where employees stamped the expected result on the survey invitation:

Photo credit: Jeff Toister

Photo credit: Jeff Toister

Putting KPIs in Their Place

You can put KPIs in their appropriate place if you set goals first. A good goal should follow the SMART model. (You can use this SMART goal worksheet.)

  • S = Specific
  • M = Measurable
  • A = Attainable
  • R = Relevant (to the business, your vision, etc.)
  • T = Time-bound

You may also want to check your goal against the good goal, bad goal criteria to ensure it will likely drive the right behavior. Good goals:

  • Focus attention on the desired results.
  • Promote teamwork.
  • Rely on intrinsic, or internal, motivation.

Once you've set your goals, you can identify KPIs that support achieving these goals. So, an average customer service survey score might be a good KPI for a customer retention goal.

The final step in this process is critical. You must view KPIs in the context of achieving your goal.

Let's go back to the road trip example from the start of this post. Your average speed is a KPI on a trip where you have to go 100 miles in 2 hours. But, you know you'll have to slow down sometimes (like that 25 mph school zone). Other times, you can go faster. 

You can also make other decisions that affect your goal, such as taking a toll road that cuts off five miles from the original route or filling up your tank with gas before the trip so you don't have to stop. You might even leave a few minutes early to ensure you arrive on time.

Apply that same logic to your business KPIs. A KPI should always be viewed in context.

That means if you're trying to achieve a customer loyalty goal, then survey scores can help you identify factors that will make customers less loyal. But, the score by itself is not a good loyalty predictor. You'll need to consider other KPIs along with each customer's needs to understand whether someone will be loyal.

5 Simple Changes That Will Boost Your Customer Service

Distractions are the bane any customer service employee.

They slow you down, break your concentration, and ultimately lead to service failures. In one silly email exchange, a customer service rep took three emails to answer a simple question that could have been answered in one, simply because she was too distracted to concentrate for just a moment.

Worst case scenario?

The cumulative impact of all that distraction leads to something called Directed Attention Fatigue that has symptoms similar to Attention Deficit Disorder. This can eventually lead to the dreaded burnout.

Let's face it. You're probably distracted right now. Am I right?

The good news is you can do something about it. Here are five simple changes to your normal routine that can help.

Spend Time Outdoors

My wife, Sally, and I spent a lot of time outdoors while vacationing in Ireland last month.

We hiked, biked, and even took a couple of boat rides. Here's an example from a hiking and boating trip we took through the Gap of Dunloe.

Photo credit: Jeff Toister

Photo credit: Jeff Toister

Over the course of the week we felt increasingly relaxed and clear headed. The "Black Belt" Sudoku puzzles that sometimes take me two hours to complete suddenly started taking less than 15 minutes.

Regular, outdoor exercise is good for the head that way. It's calming, reduces stress, and restores your ability to concentrate. The challenge, as Sally and I discovered when we returned from vacation, is spending regular time outdoors while you're juggling your busy schedule.


Hide Your Cell Phone

It's increasingly common to see customer service employees handling their personal cell phones.

They linger on desks at workstations. They're toted in pockets as retail associates serve customers and restaurant servers assist their guests. 

The problem is your cell phone causes distraction that leads to errors. One study found that just having your cell phone present increased errors by more than three times!

Try putting your cell phone away when you're serving customers. As in, out of sight. You'll be more focused. And, as a special bonus, your phone will be much more interesting when you haven't been checking it every five minutes.


Turn Email Off Between Uses

Email is a multitasking nightmare. 

The typical person has email up on their computer all the time. Incoming message notifications constantly distract them from other work, or else the waiting program tempts them to check messages every five minutes.

Unfortunately, this leads to less effective communication. People respond less carefully. They miss subtle cues about the sender's real intentions. Their lack of attention inevitably leads to unnecessary back and forth.

A recent study concluded that the average employee wastes 24 percent of their day on useless email.

The way to reduce this problem is to focus on email and then not focus on email. Give messages your full attention and then shut down your email program entirely. Set regular intervals when you'll open up email and check it and then resist the urge to check email outside of these times.


Turn On Your Red Light

Open offices are an open invitation for multitasking.

You're constantly distracted by your neighbors. Colleagues drop by your workstation to chat, ask a question, or just make faces at you. (I apologize to everyone I've done that to.) There's even some speculation that open offices pose a health risk.

A client of mine has a good solution to reduce distractions in their open office.

Each workstation has two small lights above it, one red and one green. A red light means "Please don't interrupt me - I'm busy." A green light means it's okay to disturb that person.

In many ways, the light system is similar to an open or closed office door.

You don't need a light system to create a busy signal in your open office. I've seen other workplaces use simple signs. The key is to send a clear, but polite signal to co-workers that you're immersed in something and don't wished to be disturbed.


Try the Pomodoro Technique

I discovered this simple technique a few years ago, and it works wonders for projects that require a little concentration.

You can watch the short video on the Pomodoro Technique website, but here's a quick summary:

  1. Pick a task that needs your focus.
  2. Set a timer. I use 13 minutes (my lucky number), but the Pomodoro Technique suggests 25.
  3. Block out all distractions that aren't related to that task. This includes hiding your cell phone, shutting down email, and turning on your red light.
  4. Focus on the task without distraction until the timer goes off.
  5. Re-evaluate.

Using this technique, I've often found myself so absorbed in a task that I instantly re-set the timer when it goes off. The end result is the task is completed faster and at a higher quality than if you did it in bits and pieces between other distractions.


Are Your Alert or Distracted?

The theme of all these suggestions is concentration. 

It seems so simple, but concentration is a rarity among today's customer service professionals. There's just too many distractions that get in the way. 

A true customer service master understands these distractions and takes steps to block or eliminate them so each customer receives full attention.

Culture, Not Rogue Employees to Blame at Wells Fargo

Employees at Wells Fargo have done a bad thing. Now, the question is who's to blame?

Last week, Wells Fargo made national headlines when it was revealed that employees have opened more than two million phony bank and credit card accounts since 2011. These accounts were opened in the names of actual customers without their consent in an effort by employees to achieve aggressive sales goals. Roughly 5,300 employees have been fired as a result. 

John Stumpf, Wells Fargo's Chairman and CEO, wants to make it clear that this was the work of rogue employees. He's wrong. The fault lies squarely with Stumpf, his executive team, and the culture they've created.

More on that in a moment. For now, let's look at Stump's take that Wells Fargo had, and continues to have, a customer-focused culture. Here's a quote from the Wells Fargo website:

Stumpf sent a message to all Wells Fargo employees on September 8, the day news of the widespread fraud was breaking. He referenced the company's culture no less than four times, including this:

"Our entire culture is centered on doing what is right for our customers."

On September 13, Stumpf defended the culture in an interview with the Wall Street Journal and blamed employees for the massive fraud. "There was no incentive to do bad things." 

That same day, the company's CFO, John Shrewsberry, told an audience at the Barclays 2016 Global Financial Services Conference, "It was really more at the lower end of the performance scale where people apparently were making bad choices to hang on to their job."

All of this follows a disturbing trend of corporate executives trying to blame their employees for widespread service failures.

The truth is that this epic fraud didn't occur despite the culture at Wells Fargo. It happened because of it. Here are just a few things to consider:

First, the numbers are staggering. I'm sure this type of activity happens at a low level in nearly every bank. But, 2 million phony accounts and 5,300 employees fired is an epic scale. Culture isn't defined by a slogan or what the CEO claims in an interview. It's defined by what people actually do. And, for the past five years, thousands of employees have been behaving badly.

Second, the timing looks bad. Here's a timeline that puts it into perspective:

  • June 30: The company set aside $190 million for fines and customer remediation. 
  • July 12: Carrie Tolstedt, head of retail banking, announces her retirement.
  • September 8: Wells Fargo reveals the settlement agreement.
  • September 13: The company announced it will eliminate sales goals for retail employees, effective January 1, 2017.

It should be noted that Tolstedt supervised the 5,300 rogue employees. The 2 million phony accounts happened on her watch.

Publicly, Stumpf is backing Tolstedt. In a statement announcing her retirement, Stumpf gave her nothing but praise. “A trusted colleague and dear friend, Carrie Tolstedt has been one of our most valuable Wells Fargo leaders, a standard-bearer of our culture, a champion for our customers, and a role model for responsible, principled and inclusive leadership.”

Notice Stumpf mentioned culture. A culture where 2 million phony accounts are created without customers' consent. A culture where 5,300 employees are fired over a period of five years for this fraud.

Finally, there are the many comments from Wells Fargo employees describing an intense culture that pressured employees to cross the line. Here are just a few:

Julie Miller, a former Wells Fargo banker, told the Charlotte Observer, "It became a living nightmare. They almost doubled our goals and decreased our incentive pay. It drove me to drink."

Sabrina Bertrand, a former Wells Fargo banker, told CNNMoney, "I had managers in my face yelling at me. They wanted you to open up dual checking accounts for people that couldn't even manage their original checking account."

Back in 2013, former branch manager Rita Murillo described the retail banking culture to the Los Angeles Times. "We were constantly told we would end up working for McDonald's. If we did not make the sales quotas … we had to stay for what felt like after-school detention, or report to a call session on Saturdays." Murillo said she had to provide her bosses with hourly updates on her branch's progress towards sales quotas for opening accounts.

So, why would Stumpf defend his company's culture despite all this evidence to the contrary? 

Just like their employees, Stumpf and other Wells Fargo executives have their own financial incentives to consider. Stumpf was paid $19.3 million last year. Shrewsberry, the CFO, was paid just over $9 million in 2015.

Fortune reported that Tolstedt is leaving the company with $124.6 million in stock, options, and restricted shares. Tolstedt would have had to give back at least $45 million if she had been fired instead of retiring.

That's lottery money. As in, buy your own island and a yacht to sail around it money. 

In a world where people physically assault each other for free t-shirts at sporting events, it's easy to imagine what a corporate executive would do when crazy lottery money is on the line.