The DIY Customer Service Learning Project

Let’s say you have to learn a new skill.

It could be something to do with customer service. Something that would elevate your service game. What would you do?

OK, I mean after you procrastinate a bit. What then? 

Would you:

  • Sign up for a class?
  • Read a book?
  • Google it?

All of these seem like natural solutions. None of them are very efficient.

That’s why I launched a Do-It-Yourself Learning Experiment on the Inside Customer Service LinkedIn group. The goal is to identify best practices for self-directed learning. 

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be posting updates on our progress. We’ll look at the challenges, techniques, and successes.

The idea is simple. Most of the skills we acquire come from informal learning. This first post is all about getting started.

Self-directed Learning Defined

We tend to think of learning as a formal activity. 

Examples might include attending a class, taking an e-learning course, or participating in a structured program. Informal learning is quite different. 

The American Society for Training and Development published a white paper in 2009 called Tapping the Potential of Informal Learning. It offered this definition: 

A learning activity that is not easily recognizable as formal training and performance support. Generally speaking, it takes place without a conventional instructor and is employee-controlled in terms of breadth, depth, and timing.

The truth is most of our learning happens informally. 

Research from the Center for Creative Leadership has popularized what's known as the 70-20-10 rule. It's a rough estimate of where employee learning generally occurs:

  • 70% - challenging assignments
  • 20% - developmental relationships (bosses, mentors, etc.)
  • 10% - formal training

Here's what that might look like in a customer service context. Think about a skill you have, such as serving angry customers. How did you learn it?

You may have taken a class somewhere. (My new class on, Working with Upset Customers, is a good resource.) You might have talked through a tough situation with a boss or a co-worker.

But, I bet you learned the most from experience. You noticed some things that worked well with an upset customer and some moves that definitely didn't. 


Benefits of Self-directed Learning

Sugata Mitra won the 2013 TED Prize.

That’s a pretty big deal. It’s awarded each year to an “individual with a creative, bold vision to spark global change.” The prize includes $1 million to help make that vision a reality.

Mitra’s vision was building cloud-based schools. It was born out of an amazing experiment where he installed a computer in a wall in New Dehli slum and then watched what happened.

The results were truly amazing, as you can see in Mitra’s TED talk.

What does all this mean for us?

Mitra’s experiments prove that self-directed learning has the potential to deliver three major benefits over traditional classroom-based learning:

  • Faster. We can learn faster when our curiosity and need are driving the bus.
  • Better. The learning experience is more immersive and enjoyable.
  • Deeper. We tend to learn much more when we’re self-directed.

Mitra focused his research on K-12 education. There’s no reason the same principles can’t apply to the corporate world. In fact, one of the big trends in training is something called flipped learning that leverages similar strategies.

The promise of flipped learning is clear: better learning for less money.


Getting Started

Self-directed learning requires a fundamental shift in thinking.

Learning must be a means to an end. The point is to learn a new skill so we can do something that we can’t do now. That’s a big switch from how most corporate training is delivered now:

Old approach:

“I’m going through training.”

New approach:

“I’m learning so I can do something new and useful.”

This mind-shift has already proven to be an interesting challenge. 

I reached out to a handful of people before I launched the DIY Learning Project. Would they be interested in participating? Most quickly replied with an enthusiastic “Yes!”

Things changed when I asked them to commit to doing something new. Some had trouble articulating their goals. Others felt pressed for time, even though a new skill might help them use their time more efficiently.

Real learning is scary and exhilarating at the same time!

So, keep an eye on this blog over the next few weeks as I report back on our progress, our lessons learned, and the challenges we encounter along the way.