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.