DIY Customer Service Training: Harnessing the Wisdom of Experts

This post is part three in a series about Do-It-Yourself customer service training. 

You can learn new skills on your own. You don't need to wait for a class or for your boss to pull you aside and teach you. 

This post focuses on finding experts to help you achieve your goals.

You might first want to catch up on the project so far. The first post provided a general overview of self-directed training and how it has the potential to transform the way we learn. The second post focused on setting clear goals -- an essential step towards learning new skills.

You can also check out the Inside Customer Service group on LinkedIn. A few people are using the group to document their DIY customer service training journey.

The Power of Expertise

Here's a great definition of an expert from

a person who has special skill or knowledge in some particular field; specialist; authority

Experts have the amazing ability to speed up your learning process. 

Let's use my DIY learning project as an example. I want to learn more about photography. In particular, I want to take landscape photographs of places I visit so I can hang them up in my home. 

(I know, it's not a customer service project, but it does let me visually show you what I'm talking about.)

My first challenge was upgrading my camera from a pocket-sized point-and-shoot model to something a little more powerful. 

How should I pick out a new camera?

  • Wade through endless reviews on photography websites?
  • Take a photography class to learn the ins and outs of various models?
  • Visit an electronics store and hope for the best?

All of those options would take a lot of time. And, they still might not help me make a great decision. So, I decided to ask Tony Cruz for advice instead.

Tony is definitely a photography expert. He's directed a few of my courses on, including Customer Service Fundamentals, Working With Upset Customers, and Using Customer Surveys to Improve Service.

He also takes some amazing surf photography. (Do yourself a favor and check out his Instagram feed. You can also see some of his projects on his website.)

Pacific dreamer III #totallyother #ISD #WHPlowaltitude

A photo posted by Tony Cruz (@tonycruz) on

Tony asked me a few questions before making some recommendations. He suggested I look at mirrorless cameras since they combined the features of high-end DSLR cameras with the compactness of point-and-shoot models. 

I checked out his suggestions online and quickly decided to get the Olympus OM-D E-M10. It combines idiot-proof performance with an amazing array of high-end features.

Going to Tony first saved me a ton of time. It also gave me the confidence that I was making a great decision. 

This approach works for almost any type of DIY training.

  • Who do you know that could help you improve your customer service survey?
  • Do you know someone who can help you develop a customer-focused culture?
  • Can one of your colleagues help you improve your skills with upset customers?

(Hint: feel free to drop me a line if you'd like expertise in any of these areas.) Experts can help you find solid answers to your questions in a lot less time.


How to Approach an Expert

Experts typically have a lot of passion about their field of expertise. They are also typically short on time. So, you have to be efficient when you ask an expert for help.

The wrong way to do it is to bring up a vague topic.

If I had approached Tony and said, "I want to know more about photography," he'd likely have struggled to give me the specific advice I needed.

The right way to approach an expert is to ask for advice on something simple and specific. This is when it helps to have a clear learning goal for your DIY training project.

I asked Tony to recommend a camera that would be an upgrade from my point-and-shoot model. I told him my purpose (shooting landscape photography) and skill level (not much). This meant I needed a camera that was easy to use but also had more advanced features that I could learn.

Tony was able to answer my question immediately with some great advice.

So, before you approach an expert, make sure you have a clear learning goal.


Applying Expert Advice

Tony helped me pick out a great camera, but he also helped me use it.

One of his first suggestions was to take it somewhere interesting and just take pictures. He told me to play around with the various settings and notice the differences when I did. 

Here are a few examples I took from the beach in Santa Barbara while I was there filming one of my courses for

Credit: Jeff Toister

Credit: Jeff Toister

The late afternoon sunlight had this amazing effect coming through the trees. This picture doesn't do it justice. I'm still learning.

Credit: Jeff Toister

Credit: Jeff Toister

It's incredible how the same scene can look so different just by altering a few camera settings. My next challenge is to understand what adjustments product what effect. Here, I was just selecting random options.

Credit: Jeff Toister

Credit: Jeff Toister

This was the best photo I took. The dog hit me in the head with that huge branch as he walked by me on the sea wall. The camera was in full automatic mode and the shot was pure reaction. Sometimes, lucky is best.

I showed Tony these pictures the next day and he gave me some great advice. He pointed out how a large contrast between light and dark made it difficult for the first two pictures to come out. 

Tony also explained how the light worked in my favor on the last picture. Sunlight was diffused by the trees in the background and there weren't dark shadows to contend with.

Here's the key to expert advice:

If you're going to ask for it, you'd better take it. Following-up on Tony's suggestions opened the door to ask more questions. It wouldn't be very fair to Tony if I asked him for insight and then did nothing with it.

So, go ahead an ask an expert for advice. Just make sure you follow-up to let them know how things go. 


Finding an Expert

There are many ways to find an expert.

If you're lucky, you already know one. I was already working with Tony and knew about his passion for photography. I'd also seen his work and knew he could take the types of photos I aspired to take.

Of course, there are other ways to find an expert if one isn't already inside your inner circle. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Search LinkedIn - you never know what skills are in your network
  • Ask friends - it's often easy for them to recommend someone good
  • Get social - many experts are very accessible on social media

Once you find your expert, don't be afraid to ask a question. You may just be surprised at how much they love to share.