DIY Customer Service Training: Setting Clear Goals

This post is part two in an ongoing series on Do-It-Yourself Customer Service Training.

Today, we’re going to focus on setting clear goals. You might want to start by getting caught up on the first post in the series where we explore what DIY or self-directed learning is all about. You can also follow along in real time on the Inside Customer Service group on LinkedIn.

The first step in a DIY learning project is setting a goal to learn a useful skill. This post will look at how to set a good learning goal and provide some examples.

Getting Clear

Most people falter here. Their goals are too squishy and ambiguous. Learning goals have got to be clear and very specific.

A great way to start is to choose a specific focus area.

I chose to focus on photography for this project. It’s not a customer service topic, but it does make it very easy to provide visual updates.

My starting point was pretty squishy:

I’d like to learn more about photography.

A goal like this isn’t really a goal. It’s just a theme. It’s also a recipe for procrastination - something to put on your “someday, I will…” list.

Your learning goal needs to focus on something more specific. A great way to boil things down is to ask yourself these questions:

  • Why do I want to learn about this topic?
  • How will learning these skills help me?
  • What’s an example of something useful I could do with this skill?

These questions bring much more clarity to my photography goal:

Why do I want to learn about this topic? I spend a lot of time outdoors and want to capture some of the beautiful scenery.

How will learning these skills help me? My wife and I want to use pictures of places we’ve been as art in our home.

What’s an example of something useful I could do with this skill? I could start by taking one photograph my wife agrees to hang on a wall.

The answers to these three questions add much needed clarity. I went from “I’d like to learn about photography” to “I want to take one picture good enough to hang on a wall.”

My friend Jenny provided a great success story on our LinkedIn group. She started with a very squishy desire to "learn tips and tricks to allow myself to do better with time management at work!"

We talked a little about why time management was an issue and how new skills could help her. Afterwards, Jenny made some revisions. She ended up focusing on playing guitar and singing at one open mic gig in San Diego.

Wait! That isn't customer service. What gives?

I actually think Jenny's focus area is really smart. She moved to San Diego several months ago. Work has been crazy and she hasn't played any gigs since moving here. Her real struggle with time management is prioritizing work, setting clear boundaries, and making time for things outside of work that she's really passionate about.

Carving out time to play guitar and sing at an open mic gig will help Jenny develop time management skills. Those skills will be very useful in her day job as a customer service manager.


Words of Caution: Many customer service initiatives falter here. They never get specific enough to take action.

To be clear, this step is difficult

Impatience often gets the better of the people. They decide to skip this part and keep moving, not realizing this part is essential. You won’t have clarity until you have direction.


Setting A Goal

Now that you’ve clarified where you’re going, the next step is to set a specific goal. A good goal should fit the SMART model. 

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Relevant
  • Time-bound

Let’s go back to my photography goal. Here’s what it looks like when I make it SMART:

By August 7, I will take a landscape photograph that my wife agrees to display on a wall in our home as art work.

Here’s how it fits the SMART model:

  • Specific: Take a photograph my wife agrees to display on a wall.
  • Measurable: If my wife agrees, I’ve achieved it.
  • Attainable: I like my chances here, but I also know I have to earn it.
  • Relevant: It’s definitely related to photography.
  • Time-bound: August 7 is my deadline.

Jenny's goal provides another great example:

By August 7th, I will play guitar and sing at an open mic in San Diego.

Here's how it fits the SMART model:

  • Specific: Play guitar and sing at an open mic in San Diego.
  • Measurable: If Jenny plays the gig, she achieves the goal.
  • Attainable: Yes. Jenny already plays and sings quite well. She just needs the gig.
  • Relevant: It’s definitely related to time management and prioritization.
  • Time-bound: August 7 is her deadline.


Words of Caution: A SMART learning goal is an example, not a destination. Learning to take that one picture will give me skills I can use to take many other pictures. Playing an open mic gig will give Jenny skills she can use to prioritize projects and work.

Setting a clear goal makes it easy to focus my energy on accomplishing something tangible. And, once I do, I’ll have learned some skills that are transferrable to other situations.


Finding the Gap

A clear goal can also help you pinpoint what you need to learn. The key is to compare your current performance to your desired performance.

Here’s a landscape picture I took of a place in Kauai called Mahaulepu:

Credit: Jeff Toister

Credit: Jeff Toister

The place is gorgeous. Unfortunately, my camera skills weren’t good enough to capture an image that I’d want to blow up and hang on my wall.

Here's another photo I took of a Kauai beach at sunset:

Credit: Jeff Toister

Credit: Jeff Toister

I like the view, but the sunset part is severely missing. This wasn't a great choice in terms of composition.

Finally, here's a sunset photo taken on the water in Kauai:

Credit: Jeff Toister

Credit: Jeff Toister

The sun was bright, but the scene is missing the pastel hues and sharp contrasts that make a great sunset picture. There's a little something in the right hand corner (the tail of a surfboard?) but it's not clear enough to be interesting so it's just in the way.

The key is figuring out what I don’t like about these pictures so I know what I need to learn. For me, three things stand out.

Lighting. None of these photos really pop. For example, in the first picture, there are too many shadows on the beach. A better understanding of lighting would help.

Composition. All three scenes looked amazing in person but that didn't translate to a great photo. My challenge is to find scenes that will look great in pictures. Some variables might be timing, location, and technique.

Equipment. These pictures were taken on a point-and-shoot camera. It’s great for snapping a few vacation photos, but not the best tool for taking a picture for my wall. I might need to upgrade.

Jenny's gap was much easier to sort out. She hasn't played any open mic gigs since moving to San Diego. Playing just one puts her in the right direction.


Next Steps

I’ll post updates on this blog over the next few weeks. 

For now, here are a few things to get you started:

I’ve already discovered one cool technique for DIY Learning.

If you are trying to learn something, put it out there. Let your friends and colleagues know what you’re up to. Share your goal so they know exactly that you’re trying to accomplish.

When I shared my photography goal, my friend Jess sent me some resources. One was Ted Forbes’s Art of Photography YouTube channel. The first video I saw was a short tutorial on exposure. Perfect!