How to Train New Hires on Culture

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The first customer I ever served resulted in a service failure.

Some of it was my fault. I said the wrong thing to a customer and he stormed off, grumbling about the sorry state of customer service these days.

Some of it was not my fault. I was sixteen years old and this was my first job. I hadn't yet been trained and didn't yet have the experience to know what to do. The person who was supposed to be training me had gone on break and left me to fend for myself.

It all worked out in the end. I learned from the experience, discovered a passion for customer service, and eventually learned how to train others. 

Things don't always go this way. Many employees develop bad habits as a result of insufficient new hire training. The results is poor customer service, low engagement, and high attrition.

We need to take responsibility for giving new hires the right kind of training if we expect them to deliver our brand of exceptional service. 

You can hear my story in this short video:

The Woeful Lack of Training

A 2018 study by the research firm Ipsos revealed that 31 percent of employees get no formal training.

This statistic is even worse for low-wage jobs (earning <$50,000 per year), where 36 percent of employees report they received no formal training. This group encompasses a majority of frontline customer service employees. 

Even the training that does occur may not be sufficient.

I routinely ask customer service leaders whether their company has a customer service vision, which is a shared definition of outstanding customer service. Typically, 40 percent or more admit there is none.

A vision is critical because it provides a common framework for training that describes your organization's unique brand of customer service. Without one, new hire training must focus on tactical procedures and generic customer service tips.

The best companies know this. 

New hires at In-N-Out burger are trained around a vision of quality, service, and cleanliness; you can see that vision in everything they do. Guests at The Ritz-Carlton naturally expect a different type of service than at In-N-Out, so Ritz-Carlton associates are trained on that company's vision, We are ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen.


Key Elements of Culture Training

An entire chapter in The Service Culture Handbook is devoted to training employees to embody the culture in their daily work.

Here are a few highlights.

Element 1: You need a customer service vision. Your training will be generic and unfocused if you skip this step. You can use this guide to create one.

Element 2: Create learning objectives for your training. Think about what you want your new hires to know and be able to do. I recommend setting an objective that employees will be able to answer three questions by the end of the training:

  1. What is our customer service vision?
  2. What does the vision mean?
  3. How does I personally contribute to the vision in my daily work?

Element 3: Develop activities to achieve your learning objectives. This is your chance to get a little creative, but make sure you can verify the learning objectives have been achieved by the end of the training.


New Hire Training Examples

Here are two sample training plans that have both been effective. Both training plans share the learning objectives described above (i.e. participants have to answer those three questions).

Sample #1: The Scavenger Hunt. I ran this exercise for new managers at a parking management company. 

The training started in the classroom, where participants were introduced to the customer service vision. We had a group discussion around its meaning and talked about the answers to the three questions.

Next, participants were split into small groups and each was given a list of locations to visit near the company's downtown headquarters. Each group was asked to take pictures of scenes that showed the vision in real-life. This included signage, employees interacting with customers, etc. The entire assignment could easily be completed in less than an hour, with the teams walking from location to location.

Finally, we gathered in the classroom again to look at everyone's pictures. The teams took turns walking us through what they saw and explaining how each image connected to the vision.


Sample #2: The Thank You Letter Challenge. I did this exercise with Clio, the winner of the 2017 ICMI Global Contact Center award for best culture

Employees were first asked to identify places where they saw the customer service vision before coming to class. This one was easy, since each person had a small sign hung at their workstation.

Next, employees were asked to describe the answers to the three questions in their own words. 

Finally, each person completed the Thank You Letter challenge. They started by writing a thank you letter to themselves from an imaginary customer. The letter reflected service that aligned with the company's customer service vision. Then participants were asked to read the letter each day for two weeks and try to earn feedback from a real customer that matched the letter.

At the end of the two weeks, we reconvened and participants shared their experiences. It was amazing how they were able to generate so many success stories! (You can try this exercise here.)


Take Action!

Start today by asking two questions:

  1. Do we have a customer service vision? (Y/N)
  2. Do we train new employees on the customer service vision (Y/N)

If the answer is "No" to either question, you'll see immediate results by adding that element to your training program.

How to Prevent Customer Tweets from Going Public

There are probably two desires for every company's Twitter strategy:

  1. Get people to love us so they buy more
  2. Avoid public complaints

Unfortunately, many companies inadvertently nudge customers to complain via Twitter. Case in point is a recent experience I had with a consumer products company.

It had been three days since I had emailed the company and it still had not responded. I wanted to send them a direct message (DM) via Twitter to gently nudge the company and request a response. For the uninitiated, a DM is private, meaning the world can't see it.

But wait! The company hadn't configured its Twitter account to accept DMs (i.e. private messages). So I couldn't message the company privately. I opted to send a public tweet instead.

Here's how companies can prevent this.

 Person clicking on the Twitter app on their smartphone.

Why Private Messaging is Important

The key difference between a public tweet and a private DM is who can read it.

Anyone can read a public tweet. A private DM, however, is similar to email, chat, and other written customer service channels. The conversation remains private.

The key is starting the conversation in private.

The social customer care platform Conversocial recently released some interesting data based on two years of tweets from its enterprise clients.

 Table showing tweets that started in public versus tweets that started in private.

Nearly all conversations that start in private (i.e. via DM) remain there. So the key is making it easy for customers to send you a DM.


Make It Easy to DM Your Business

Let's go back to the consumer products company. Twitter aside, the first and most obvious move is to respond to customer emails! My own research has uncovered two things:

  • Email response time standards should be 1 hour
  • Most Twitter complaints are escalations

So a fast and effective email response will likely prevent an escalation to Twitter. When you don't handle your business in other channels, customers will complain in public.

OK, so how can the company make it easier for me to DM them?

Right now, the company's Twitter settings are set up so only customers the company follows can send them a DM. One simple change to the privacy and safety settings on the company's Twitter account can fix that:

 Screenshot of Twitter's Direct Message settings.

This setting allows anyone to DM the company, making it far easier for customers to start a conversation in private. Notice the difference between the @Comcast and @ComcastCares Twitter profiles. You'll need @Comcast to follow you if you want to send the company a DM, but you can send @ComcastCares a DM immediately.

 Screenshot of Comcast corporate Twitter profile.
 Screenshot of the Comcast Cares Twitter profile.

Take Action!

The best thing you can do is make it easy for your customers to contact your company, and make it easy for your agents to respond properly.

Twitter offers a slew of more advanced features for businesses. These include:

You can learn the basics of serving customers via Twitter from my training video, Serving Customers via Social Media.

Why Service Leaders Need to Be Role Models

The exact words the restaurant manager used were, "I'm not arguing with you."

Funny, because arguing was exactly what he was doing. My wife and I were celebrating the wrap of filming for my latest training video at a nice steakhouse. Both of our first steaks were overdone and the manager had offered to prepare us new ones.

Sally's steak was prepared correctly the second time, but my replacement was very rare, even though I had ordered medium rare. I sent it back to the kitchen once more, but the steak still came back rare. 

I wasn't going to send it back a third time.

The manager checked on our table. He seemed frustrated with me that I wasn't happy and insinuated that I was being too picky. In our ensuing conversation, he revealed he had asked the kitchen to prepare my second steak rare because he didn't think I understood what medium rare really was.

"I'm not arguing with you," he said, "but your first steak was medium rare."

That statement cost him a customer. Taking my steak off the bill wasn't enough at this point to repair his rudeness.

The worst part was our server was handling the situation just fine until the manager stepped in. The manager was setting a poor example for his staff.

 Two small wooden flags rest on a plate, one says "M.Rare" and the other reads "Rare."

The Impact of a Negative Role Model

Leaders set the tone through their actions. In this case, the manager did several things that sent the wrong message to his staff.

  • He undercut trust by intervening when our server was handling it fine.
  • He displayed rudeness by jumping into our conversation without first introducing himself.
  • He exhibited selfishness by putting my replacement steak in as rare without telling our server.

I asked a community of hospitality professionals on the I'm Your Server, Not Your Servant Facebook group to weigh in on their experience working in similar situations.

People generally shared that these types of experiences made them want to work someplace else. A few also suggested the drama and mistrust created by the manager was likely to continue well past our evening at the restaurant. Several also thought it might create tension between the servers and kitchen staff.

All of this came from the manager's poor reaction that unnecessarily escalated what should have been a minor situation.

We noticed a change in our service level after our interaction with the manager. Our server avoided our table as much as she brought us the check as soon as our meal was finished, as if she could not wait to be done with us. 

There was no final apology or a confirmation of any deductions from the check (my steak was removed). She didn't make an effort to resolve the situation on a high note by asking us to come back again. She simply processed our check and wordlessly dropped it back off at our table.


Positive Role Model Actions

There are many things you can do to be a positive role model.

The first thing you should do is model customer service skills when interacting with both customers and employees. Treat people exactly the way you want your employees to treat customers. Your team is looking to you for guidance and your actions will speak louder than words.

Positive role models also take the same training they require employees to take. This move brings three benefits:

  1. You'll have the same skills as your employees, so you can model them.
  2. Your presence sends the message that the training is important.
  3. You'll be better able to coach employees after the training.

Finally, it's critical to support your employees.

One of the worst things the restaurant manager did was undercut his server by stepping into the situation she was already handling and then blind-siding her by deliberately putting in my replacement steak at the wrong temperature.

Here's how I've seen other restaurant managers handle a similar situation.

They start by talking with the server off to the side to get the story and see if there's anything they need to do. Then they come to the table, introduce themselves, and confirm the server is rectifying the situation.

This action supports the server while still sending a positive message to the guests that the manager is monitoring the situation and is there to help. 

Work on these role model actions and you'll likely see higher levels of service from your employees in response.

What to Do During a Week Full of Distractions

Advertising disclosure: We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to and affiliated sites.

This is a lost week for many people.

Wednesday is Independence Day in the United States, which means many employees (and customers) are taking the week off. Those still at work are likely to be obsessed with the World Cup.

Then there's you. You are at work and reading blog posts like this one in an attempt to continue building your customer service skills and somehow use this week to get ahead. 

So here are a few suggestions to make the most of the week.

 Distracted employee trying hard to pay attention.

Do a System Reset

One of my favorite business books is Getting Things Done, by David Allen. It's details simple ways to maximize your daily productivity and I follow many of the principles on a regular basis.

A useful suggestion for weeks like this is to do a system reset. This is where you review your entire time management system and look for loose ends. Here are a few examples:

  • Clean out your email inbox
  • Review your project list and re-prioritize key actions
  • Update your calendar with meetings, appointments, and due dates

I find whenever I do this exercise that I catch something important I might otherwise have missed. 


Start a New Book

There are several terrific customer service books that have come out in recent months. Here are a few of my favorites:

Fusion, by Denise Lee Yohn. This book is a wonderfully practical look at how leading companies integrate their brand and culture. It resonates with me because the interactions customers have with your company form a huge part of their brand perception. 

Be Amazing or Go Home, by Shep Hyken. I really like this book because it focuses on how we can take individual responsibility for our own performance at work. You must commit to delivering amazing service every day.

Would You Do That to Your Mother?, by Jeanne Bliss. This book introduces the "Make Mom Proud" standard for customer service. It essentially asks you to consider whether you would be okay with your mom receiving the service you deliver.


Take a Training Class

Why not use this time to invest in your own development?

You can access a vast library of customer service training videos on LinkedIn Learning or You'll need a LinkedIn Premium or Lynda account to get started, but 30-day trials are available.

Another option is the daily email format. You can try Highbrow, which serves up courses on a wide range of topics via one email per day for 10 days. (The company offers a 30-day trial, too.) My new course, How to Serve Upset Customers, just launched on this platform and I'd welcome your feedback if you get a chance to try it.

You can also try my 21-day Thank You Letter Challenge. There's no cost on this one and it's a lot of fun.



It's always a great idea to unplug.

Take a break from social media, keep email to a minimum, and take some extra time to get outside. You'll end up feeling mentally refreshed and ready to go when things get into full swing again!

Introducing My New Customer Service Course on Highbrow

Can you spare five minutes a day to improve crucial skills?

That's the premise behind Highbrow, a service that features more than 2,500 training courses on topics ranging from personal growth to business skills. Each one is delivered via a series of 10 daily emails.

I've recently partnered with Highbrow to launch a new course, How to Serve Upset Customers.

This post is an overview of the course along with what I see are the primary benefits of the daily email format. I've also included some tips for maximizing your learning and a link to try Highbrow for free.

 Angry customer blowing steam out of his ears.

Course Overview

Serving upset customers is one of my most requested training topics.

We all encounter challenging customers from time to time. It can be frustrating and even exhausting. It can also be one of the greatest feelings in customer service when you are able to help an upset customer feel better!

How to Serve Upset Customers can help you build your skills in three key areas:

  • Defusing customer anger
  • Recovering angry customers
  • Preventing customers from getting angry in the first place

The course is delivered entirely via email. You'll receive one email per day over the course of ten days, with each email containing a new lesson.


Benefits of Email

I'm was already a big proponent of email-based learning before I discovered Highbrow. 

Thousands of customer service professionals around the world subscribe to my Customer Service Tip of the Week. Subscribers receive one customer service tip per week via email and they are able to immediately put that tip into action.

Highbrow courses offer a few distinctive benefits:

Fast. The courses really take just five minutes a day. Each lesson is 500-700 words long, which is the length of a short blog post. Many include links to additional content and resources in case you want to dive deeper.

Convenient. The one thing I guarantee you'll do today, tomorrow, and the next day is check your email. That makes email lessons so easy, since they're delivered to a place where you'll already be looking. You don't have to drive to a classroom or remember to logon to a website.

Action-Oriented. You don't learn when you consume content. You learn when you take action! That's what I love most about email training. Each Highbrow lesson includes a specific activity you can use to immediately apply the concept.

The best part may be the cost.

A Highbrow membership will get you access to the entire library. You get one month free when you sign up, and then a membership will cost just $48 per year ($4 per month!)


Best Practices for Email Learning

Over the past few months, I've been experimenting with a 21-day email course I designed called The Thank You Letter Challenge. It's designed to help you receive positive feedback from customers by visualizing the type of service you'd like to provide.

Along the way, I've collected feedback from participants to identify best practices:

  1. Do the exercises! The training won't help you if you don't apply it.
  2. Make a habit. Set aside five minutes per day to read each lesson.
  3. Reset! Life happens, so don't be afraid to restart the training if you get hung up.

Another feature I really like is Highbrow courses include a short quiz to test your learning. 

If you do take my course, please leave a comment or contact me directly to let me know how it goes. This is a new course and a new platform for me, so I'm eager to get your feedback!