Training Needs Analysis: What it is, and why you need it

The customer service leader sounded desperate.

She had called and told me her team needed training. Her boss had given her a tight timeline and she was looking for quick results. 

When I asked her why, she told me her company was losing customers due to poor service. Fair enough. "So what do your people need to do that they don't know how to do now?"

That one stumped her. 

She had no idea. All the leader knew was she needed things to improve and she thought training would be the answer. She wasn’t even sure what training was needed.

Customer service leaders often send employees to training because they have a vague idea of what they want to improve, but they aren't able to be specific. And that dooms the training to fail. 

The good news is there's a simple fix called a training needs analysis. Here's what it is, why you need it, and some resources to help you do it.

Two business colleagues analyzing data.

What is a training needs analysis?

A training needs analysis is the process of identifying whether training will solve a specific business problem. If training is warranted, the needs analysis will also identify the specific training that's needed and the best way to deliver it.

A typical needs analysis consists of three broad stages:

  1. Communicate with sponsors to clarify goals.

  2. Gather and analyze data.

  3. Present conclusions and make recommendations.

One client managed multiple apartment communities. The vice president of operations wanted a standardized training program for new leasing managers to improve sales, service quality, and consistency.

Here's what that needs analysis entailed.


Communicate with sponsors to clarify goals

It helps to get project sponsors to identify measurable business goals whenever possible. This creates a clear connection between the business and the training request, and makes it easier to measure the impact of the training later on.

The initial request from the vice president was simply to create a single new hire training program for all apartment communities. However, without a goal there was no way to evaluate the program's success.

We worked together to set a goal as part of the needs analysis process: new leasing managers would achieve a 20 percent lease closing ratio within their first 90 days.

Here were the results from the previous eight new hires:

Graph showing the lease closing ratio for new hires after 90 days.

Gather and analyze data

This stage is a bit like being a detective. You have to look in various places to find data and information that will help you crack the case. There are often surprising discoveries as you do your analysis.

For example, half of the most recent new hires did achieve the 20 percent goal. So there might be something different about their training compared to the four who fell short of the goal.

There were a number of data sources examined for the apartment community needs analysis:

  • Interviewed new hires and managers from various locations.

  • Reviewed existing training materials.

  • Analyzed performance data from previous hires.

One discovery is that community managers were inconsistent in how they coached new leasing managers. Some were very hands on, while others spent very little time with their new employees. The hands-on managers generally achieved much better performance.


Present conclusions and make recommendations

The needs analysis concludes when you present your findings to the project sponsor and make recommendations based on your conclusions. The goal is to gain agreement on the best way to develop the training.

The needs analysis for the apartment community made it clear that community managers needed to be more hands on. Helping them become better coaches wasn’t in the original scope of the project, but the vice president was able to make it a requirement for the new program.

We ended up creating guides for community managers to help them coach new hires.

That key insight led to impressive results. In our initial pilot, every new hire achieved the 20 percent goal within 90 days, and the overall average was much higher:

Graph showing the performance before and after the training program was implemented.

Why is a training needs analysis important?

There are a number of benefits gained by conducting a needs analysis:

  • Save time and money by eliminating waste from the training process.

  • Identify factors besides training that influence performance.

  • Focus the training on exactly what's needed to improve performance.

In some cases, training is unnecessary. 

The CEO of a company I worked for once asked me to conduct customer service training to save an important contract. My needs analysis revealed the problem wasn't related to training—so we implemented a different solution and saved the contract.

Sometimes, training is only part of the solution.

I was once asked to conduct sales training for an inbound call center to help agents upsell items to customers. My needs analysis revealed that agents needed to learn some basic sales skills, but they also lacked information about the products they were selling. We provided the agents with product samples and guides, and the agents were able to increase upsells by $1 million in the first year.

At other times, it's unclear exactly what training is needed.

I helped one client reduce new hire training time for customer service reps by 50 percent. A needs analysis revealed the old program spent too much time training employees on knowledge they rarely used, and not enough time helping new hires develop the skills they used every day.

A training needs analysis does not need to take a long time. Some projects can be done in just a few hours, while even more complicated initiatives can be completed in just a few weeks.

Needs Analysis Resources

These resources can help you learn how to conduct a training needs analysis on your own. Keep in mind the goal of a needs analysis is to clarify the objectives and decide what training, if any, is needed.

The training video will walk you step-by-step through the process of conducting a training needs analysis, and it even provides you with complete sample project.

There are three ways to watch it:

Here's a short preview of the video.


How to Get the Most Out of Training Videos

Training videos are increasing in popularity.

Platforms like LinkedIn Learning have become vital sources of content for learning job-related skills. There's good reason for this:

That last one is a bit of a surprise to most customer service leaders I talk to. And there's a giant caveat—you have to change the way you use video. 

Here are the techniques you can apply to get the most out of training videos.

Employee watching a training video on a computer.

Step One: Set Clear Learning Objectives

Let's say you want your employees to do a better job serving customers who call in to share a complaint. 

I have a LinkedIn Learning course called Working with Upset Customers, but just asking employees to take the course creates a problem. "Take this course," sends a signal that the only clear goal is to complete the training.

That's not your goal. 

You send employees to training because you want them to learn something they can apply on the job that will help them improve performance. So before you assign a video, it's essential to set clear learning objectives.

Back to the upset customers example. You might create an objective for this training by thinking about what specifically you want employees to do differently in situations where they serve an upset customer. 

For instance, you might decide to you want to focus on de-escalation skills to avoid complaints. You could set this as the learning objective: 

Customer service reps will demonstrate the ability to de-escalate an angry caller so the customer is feeling neutral or happy at the end of the interaction.

You’d be able to determine whether the training was complete by monitoring a phone call for each participant where the customer started out angry and determining whether the rep was able to successfully de-escalate the situation.

You can get more help with learning objectives from this guide.


Step Two: Assign Short Segments

The old way of consuming a training video is to push play, sit back, watch the entire thing from start to finish, and hope for the best.

Customer service leaders cite this as the number one challenge with training videos. Employees push back because spending an hour watching an instructional video is no kind of fun. And it doesn't produce results.

The better way to do it is to watch a short segment at a time. My courses on LinkedIn Learning are split into short modules that are each three to five minutes long. Here's how it works:

  1. Watch one 3-5 minute video.

  2. Ask participants to complete the application exercise from the video.

  3. Give feedback and discuss progress.

We can apply this right now to de-escalation training. The first skill is recognizing our own natural instinct to argue with an upset customer or try to get away from them. 

Start by watching this short video.

Next, spend a day serving customers and recognize when you experience the same fight or flight instinct the barista in the training video experienced. Here are some common symptoms:

  • Flushed face

  • Increased heart rate

  • Shortness of breath

  • Muscle tension

  • Sweating

  • Tunnel vision

Finally, reflect on what you learned from recognizing the fight or flight instinct. Were you able to accept the challenge of helping an angry customer feel better?

This technique of watching just one short segment at a time is called microlearning. You can learn more from this guide.

Step Three: Blend Video with Other Mediums

Most training, including video and face-to-face, works best when you blend it with other training mediums. These include team meetings, one-on-one coaching conversations, self-paced activities, and on-the-job application.

We can use the de-escalation training as an example. Here's one way you might approach it that combines multiple training mediums:

  1. Team Meeting: Discuss specific situations where customers get angry.

  2. Video: Assign this video on recognizing the fight or flight instinct.

  3. On-the-Job: Ask employees to note when they experience the instinct.

  4. One-on-One: Give each employee individual feedback.

  5. Team Meeting: Discuss successes and challenges at the next team meeting.

There's a good chance you're already holding team and one-on-one meetings with your employees, so this approach involves very little additional work. And it also happens to be a highly effective way to build new skills.

Conclusion

To get the most out of training, we need to shift from a content consumption mindset to a performance improvement mindset.

You can do that right now. This post contains a practical example where you can improve your ability to recognize the flight or fight instinct and make a better decision when you're confronted by an angry customer.


Fix Your Training with This Simple Model

A training manager recently called me to talk about empowerment.

She explained employees often worked in silos, and didn't reach out to collaborate with other teams. When there was an issue that required inter-departmental work, employees would just dump it on their supervisor.

The training manager had been tasked with finding an external trainer to help. She found me after watching one of my training courses on Lynda.com.

Unfortunately, I quickly discovered the team wasn't ready for training. This is really a common situation—leaders send their employees to training too early, and they don't get the results they want.

Here's how I determined that from a short conversation, and here's how it can be fixed.

Group of professionals attending a training class.

Where Traditional Training Falls Short

You may have had a big bowl of candy once the dust settled on Halloween. 

It's a big temptation. You know you aren't supposed to eat the candy, but it's right there. Staring at you. Tempting you. I’m not going to lie—I ate way too much candy.

The knowledge that you shouldn't eat the candy can be gained by training. But it's your environment, i.e. the candy bowl in plain site, that tempts you to eat some anyway. The solution is to change the environment. Remove the candy bowl and you will eat less candy.

The customer service team in the training manager's company faced a similar environmental challenge. 

Whenever employees would bring a challenge to their supervisor, the supervisor would simply take on the challenge. She never spent time showing employees how to handle these issues. After awhile, employees embraced the inevitable and just dumped work on their supervisor whenever they could, knowing that's what would happen anyway.

I walked through this with the training manager. She laughed a bit and admitted the last time they had brought in an external trainer, the training had been well-received by it didn't stick. 

The supervisor had always been too busy to help her team develop their new skills.

Here's the takeaway that applies to all of us: if you want training to stick, you must first adjust the environment and get leaders fully plugged in.

The 70-20-10 Model

There's a model that can help you address this issue. 

It's called the 70-20-10 rule. The concept was first developed based on research from the Center for Creative Leadership that showed leaders developed their skills from a variety of sources:

  • 70 percent of their skills came from challenging assignments

  • 20 percent were learned from a boss or mentor

  • 10 percent came from formal training.

Two caveats here:

  • The word "rule" implies it's hard and fast science, but it's really more of a guide.

  • While originally derived from leadership training, it's a good model to follow for other training topics.

So let's apply this to the customer service team that needs to collaborate with other departments:

Even if we sent them to a terrific training program, two factors would quickly override anything they learned. The boss (~20 percent of learning) would continue taking challenging assignments (~70 percent of learning) off their plate. Game over.

Now imagine what would happen if we could adjust the environment and got the supervisor to buy-in to some new behaviors. Here's how that might fit into the 70-20-10 model.

  • 70 percent: Employees are asked to work through challenges.

  • 20 percent: The supervisor coaches employees through challenges.

  • 10 percent: Employees are given training on internal customer service.

In this scenario, the training and the environment (daily work + boss) are all aligned.

Take Action

Think about the areas where you want your employees to develop. Take a moment to consider how each aspect of the 70-20-10 model fits in:

  • 70 percent: What challenges present learning opportunities?

  • 20 percent: How can you guide them as their leader?

  • 10 percent: What helpful skills can employees learn in training?


How to Know When Your Employees Need Training

Employee training has some big problems.

It's a big expense. There's the cost of hiring a trainer and developing the materials. You have to pay employees to attend. Many companies have to run overtime to backfill shifts while staff attends a class.

That investment might be worthwhile if the training worked. It often doesn't.

There are many reasons why training doesn't stick. Managers are often too busy to prepare employees for training or coach them through implementing new skills afterwards. The training itself may be poorly designed. Or employees may not be fully bought in.

Training is also overprescribed. 

There are many situations where another solution is more appropriate. My own analysis suggests that training only accounts for one percent of customer service employees' performance.

The best solution to all of this is to train employees when they need to be trained and not train them when training isn't an appropriate solution.

Here's how to know.

The Three Issues Training Can Fix

Training can only fix three types of issues:

  • Knowledge: the employee lacks sufficient knowledge.

  • Skill: the employee lacks sufficient skill.

  • Ability: the employee lacks sufficient ability.

So the only time that training is an effective solution is when employees have gaps in one or more of these areas. 

Some people ask me about the distinction between skill and ability. Skill is the technique involved while ability is a combination of natural talent and skill.

Imagine a warehouse worker lifting products onto a shelf. Skill is the technique the worker uses to lift products safely. Ability is how much the worker can actually lift. The worker can lift heavier weights through training, though there's a limit to how high that weight can go due to the worker's natural ability. 

Here are some issues that can't be fixed by training:

  • Lack of standard procedure or process

  • Poor policies

  • Broken procedures

  • Insufficient equipment

  • Poor attitude

 

Test Your Knowledge

Here are three training requests I have actually received. Read each request and determine whether you think training might be an appropriate solution. The answers are in the video below.

Scenario 1: A small department is having a hard time working together because two senior employees create an uncomfortable work environment. Will team building training fix the problem?

Scenario 2: Employees don’t know how to use the organization’s new computer system. Will computer training fix the problem?

Scenario 3: Employees can’t keep up with their workload due to a staffing shortage. Will time management training fix the problem?

Watch this short training video to learn the answers. You'll get to see a group of people from a live train-the-trainer class discussing each scenario before I finally reveal the answers.

More Resources

The short video was from my online course, How to Design and Deliver Training Programs. The course is available on Lynda.com and LinkedIn Learning. You can get a 30-day Lynda trial here.

You may also want to explore alternatives to training. Here's a handy seven-step action plan.

Finally, check out one of the classic training books, Telling Ain't Trainingby Harold Stolovitch and Erica Keeps. This book has been one of my go-to resources for many years.

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 Amazon.com and affiliated sites.


How to Make Time For Training

I'm a bit behind on listening to podcasts.

For instance, I've just finished episode 91 of Crack the Customer Code, a wonderful podcast hosted by Adam Toporek and Jeannie Walters. The current episode is #255.

Ironically, the title of episode 91 is "How to Find Time for Training."

One of the topics Adam and Jeannie discussed was restaurants and retailers like Chipotle and Starbucks that shut down the entire operation to conduct employee training. 

As Adam points out in the episode, "That's great for a reset," but shutting down the entire business for training is more of a statement than a long-term solution. And many smaller businesses may find it too economically difficult to close down completely.

Trying to train employees while the business continues to run can be an exercise in creative scheduling and challenging logistics.

It's difficult, but not impossible. Here's what you can do.

Step 1: Focus on What You Need

Many leaders mistakenly believe the challenge is figuring out how long the training should be, who should deliver the training, and when can it be scheduled.

This approach neglects one key decision: what training do you actually need?

My analysis suggests that training often addresses just one percent of the problem's root cause! Why worry about how long the training should be if it's such a small part of the issue?

Imagine you wanted to help your team do a better job of serving angry customers. Here are just a few contributing factors that have nothing to do with training:

  • Can you use voice of customer feedback to improve common problems?
  • Do customers have access to self-help solutions to simple issues?
  • Are employees empowered to resolve typical complaints?

Training won't address any of those.

Now, imagine you first implemented some solutions. You reduced product defects, beefed up self-help, and empowered employees with better policies and procedures to serve their customers.

You might still need training, but now you'd need a lot less.

A client once asked me to conduct training to help its call center employees sound more friendly over the phone. I did some research and spent just a little time talking to the employees. It turned out the call center was severely understaffed several times during the week and wait times expanded up to 30 minutes.

The employees sounded curt because they were in a hurry to get to the next customer!

I was able to help the client solve the problem just be reconfiguring the schedule so staffing levels better matched call volume. This solution eliminated much of the wait time and employees were more relaxed.

The employees suddenly sounded a lot friendlier and we didn't do any training at all.

 

Step 2: Embrace the 70-20-10 Rule

When most people think of training, they imagine a formal class such as a live workshop or an e-learning program.

The 70-20-10 rule, based on research from the Center for Creative Leadership, tells us this just scratches the surface of how our employees learn.

  • 70 percent of learning comes from challenging assignments
  • 20 percent of learning comes from a boss or mentor
  • 10 percent of learning comes from formal training

The rule was originally intended as a rough guideline for leadership training. It can easily be adapted to other training topics such as customer service.

Look at those percentages again. They tell us that generally speaking, roughly 90 percent of training (70: challenging assignments + 20: boss or mentor) is already happening to some degree. You just need a way to guide it.

For example:

70 percent: Challenging Assignments

  • Engage employees to solve problems
  • Have employees conduct self-reviews and peer-reviews
  • Encourage employees to share best practice solutions to difficult issues

20 percent: Boss or Mentor

  • Hold short, weekly team meetings (many use my weekly tips for agenda topics)
  • Give employees one-on-one feedback

10 percent: Formal Training

You can save time by leveraging video in many cases. Here's one example where you can use video to reduce training time by 75 percent!

I've also assembled these simple training plans to help you blend experience, mentorship, and formal training into an effective training program takes less than one hour per week.

 

Conclusion

A lack of time isn't a great excuse for not training your employees.

You can make training work if you do it efficiently. Ditch the old content-heavy, classroom-only training model and adopt a new approach that puts the focus where it belongs: getting results!


Simple Training Plan: Preventing Customer Anger

Over the past two months, I posted a couple of training plans that customer service leaders can use to train their teams.

The idea was to provide a low-cost alternative to hiring an expensive customer service trainer. These plans are designed to be cost-effective and easy to use.

The first was called Serving Upset Customers 101, which focused on helping customer service reps learn the basics of defusing an angry or upset customer.

The second was called Serving Upset Customers: Eliminating Repeat Service Failures. This training plan showed customer service teams how to learn from angry customers to avoid repeated issues.

This training plan is the third in the three-part series. 

It's called Serving Upset Customers: Preventing Customer Anger. The best way to handle an upset customer is to prevent that customer from getting upset in the first place.

Give it a try and send me your feedback to let me know how it goes.

Overview: Preventing Customer Anger

Participants will be able to do the following at the end of this training:

  • Create personal connections to avoid angry customers
  • Alert customers before they encounter unpleasant surprises
  • Avoid specific words that can trigger customer anger
  • Use the pre-emptive acknowledgement technique

This course is the third in a three part series:

  • Part 1: Serving Upset Customers 101
  • Part 2: Serving Upset Customers, Eliminating Repeat Service Failures
  • Part 3: Serving Upset Customers, Preventing Customer Anger

Resources Required:

  • Worksheet: Workshop Planning Tool, cost: $0
  • Training Video: Working with Upset Customers. You'll need a Lynda.com or LinkedIn Premium subscription for each participant. Subscriptions start at $19.99 per person, per month and discounts are available for teams of 5 or more. A 30-day Lynda.com trial is available here.
  • Exercise Files: The Working with Upset Customers training video comes with a set of downloadable exercise files to help implement concepts from the course.

Time Required: <1 hour per week for 3 weeks.

 

Pre-Work: Do This Before You Begin

You can boost the impact of any training program by properly preparing. Here are two simple assignments you should do before starting the training.

Assignment #1: Create a training plan. Use the Workshop Planning Tool to create a training plan:

  • Identify your goal for the training.
  • Determine what needs to be done to prepare for success.
  • Decide how the training will be run.
  • Create a plan to sustain your progress.

 

Assignment #2: Announce the Training. Tell your team what to expect by announcing the training via a team meeting, one-on-one conversation, email, or some other form of communication. Make sure you address three things:

  • Tell participants what the training is about.
  • Explain why the training is important.
  • Share how you expect participants to use the training in their daily work.

 

Training Plan: Eliminating Repeat Service Failures

This plan is divided into three lessons that each take place one week apart.

Pre-Work:

Ask participants to watch the short training video, Creating Personal Relationships (2m 29s), before attending the first meeting. This video is part of the Working with Upset Customers course.

 

Week 1: Kick-off. 

Call a 30 minute team meeting to kick off the training program. Hold it in-person if possible, or via Skype or web-conference if your team is remote. 

  1. Review the purpose and goals for this course.
  2. Re-cap results from previous training programs (if applicable)
  3. Discuss ways that personal relationships can prevent customer anger.
  4. Assign training videos and activities for the next meeting.

 

Assignments for next week:

  • Exercise: Experiment with rapport-building techniques to create personal connections with customers.
  • Watch video: Avoiding Unpleasant Surprises (2m 51s).
  • Exercise: Download the Expectation Management Worksheet exercise file. Use it to identify situations where you can help customers avoid unpleasant surprises.

 

Week 2: Avoiding Unpleasant Surprises

Call a 30 minute team meeting to check-in on the training program. Hold it in-person if possible, or via Skype or web-conference if your team is remote.

  1. Discuss the results of the using rapport-building techniques exercise.
  2. Discuss the results of the avoiding unpleasant surprises exercise.
  3. Assign training videos and activities for the next meeting.

 

Assignments for next week:

 

Week 3: Preventing Customer Anger

Call a 30 minute team meeting to check-in on the training program. Hold it in-person if possible, or via Skype or web-conference if your team is remote.

  1. Discuss the results of the Pre-Emptive Acknowledgement Technique exercise.
  2. Brainstorm common trigger words and more effective replacements.
  3. Discuss ways to sustain the learning and solutions from this course.

Simple Training Plan: Eliminating Repeat Service Failures

A few weeks ago I posted a simple training plan that customer service leaders can use to train their teams.

It was called Serving Upset Customers 101. The focus was training customer service reps to respond effectively when serving an angry or upset customer.

This training plan is a sequel. It's called Serving Upset Customers: Eliminating Repeat Service Failures. It focuses on actions you can take after serving an upset customer to ensure the same issue doesn't happen again. 

Give it a try and send me your feedback to let me know how it goes.

Overview: Eliminating Repeat Service Failures

Participants will be able to do the following at the end of this training:

  • Preserve long-term customer relationships
  • Identify the root cause of chronic service problems
  • Share customer feedback with appropriate leaders

This course is the second in a three part series:

  • Part 1: Serving Upset Customers 101
  • Part 2: Serving Upset Customers, Eliminating Repeat Service Failures
  • Part 3: Service Upset Customers, Preventing Customer Anger

Resources Required:

  • Worksheet: Workshop Planning Tool, cost: $0
  • Training Video: Working with Upset Customers. You'll need a Lynda.com or LinkedIn Premium subscription for each participant. Subscriptions start at $19.99 per person, per month and discounts are available for teams of 5 or more. A 30-day Lynda.com trial is available here.
  • Exercise Files: The Working with Upset Customers training video comes with a set of downloadable exercise files to help implement concepts from the course.

Time Required: <1 hour per week for 3 weeks.

 

Pre-Work: Do This Before You Begin

You can boost the impact of any training program by properly preparing. Here are two simple assignments you should do before starting the training.

Assignment #1: Create a training plan. Use the Workshop Planning Tool to create a training plan:

  • Identify your goal for the training.
  • Determine what needs to be done to prepare for success.
  • Decide how the training will be run.
  • Create a plan to sustain your progress.

 

Assignment #2: Announce the Training. Tell your team what to expect by announcing the training via a team meeting, one-on-one conversation, email, or some other form of communication. Make sure you address three things:

  • Tell participants what the training is about.
  • Explain why the training is important.
  • Share how you expect participants to use the training in their daily work.

 

Training Plan: Eliminating Repeat Service Failures

This plan is divided into three lessons that each take place one week apart.

Pre-Work: Ask participants to watch the short training video, Preserving The Relationship (3m 10s), before attending the first meeting.

 

Week 1: Kick-off. 

Call a 30 minute team meeting to kick off the training program. Hold it in-person if possible, or via Skype or web-conference if your team is remote. 

  1. Review the purpose and goals for this course.
  2. Re-cap results from Serving Upset Customers 101 (if applicable)
  3. Discuss ways to preserve the relationship with an angry customer.
  4. Assign training videos and activities for the next meeting.

 

Assignments for next week:

  • Exercise: Follow-up with an angry customer to preserve the relationship.
  • Watch video: Conducting an After Action Review (3m 24s).
  • Exercise: Download the After Action Review worksheet exercise file. Use it to evaluate a recent experience with an upset customer.

 

Week 2: After Action Reviews

Call a 30 minute team meeting to check-in on the training program. Hold it in-person if possible, or via Skype or web-conference if your team is remote.

  1. Discuss the results of the following-up with angry customers exercise.
  2. Discuss the results of the after action review exercise.
  3. Assign training videos and activities for the next meeting.

 

Assignments for next week:

 

Week 3: Finding Room for Improvement

Call a 30 minute team meeting to check-in on the training program. Hold it in-person if possible, or via Skype or web-conference if your team is remote.

  1. Discuss the top customer complaints and identify the most common.
  2. Brainstorm solutions to some of the most common problems.
  3. Discuss ways to sustain the learning and solutions from this course.

Simple Training Plan: Serving Upset Customers 101

I often get calls from customer service leaders who want to do some training for their team, but face a few challenges:

  • Budgets are limited.
  • It's an operational nightmare to get everyone scheduled into a class.
  • A single workshop won't produce sustainable results.

That's why I'm experimenting with a series of training plans that take a novel approach. They're inexpensive, easy to implement, and they produce lasting change.

Best of all, you can implement them without hiring an expensive consultant or trainer like me. The first topic is my most requested: Serving Upset Customers 101.

If it works and I find that people are using it, I'll make more training plans. (Side question: Leave a comment or contact me and tell me what topics would you like to see.)

Overview: Serving Upset Customers 101

Participants will be able to do the following at the end of this training:

  • Recognize natural instincts that make it difficult to serve angry customers
  • Listen to upset customers with empathy
  • Retain more customers by neutralizing negative emotions

The course is designed to minimize disruption of normal work schedules:

  • Short weekly team meetings
  • Individual, self-paced assignments between meetings

This course is the first in a three part series:

  • Part 2: Serving Upset Customers, Eliminating Repeat Service Failures
  • Part 3: Serving Upset Customers, Preventing Customer Anger

Resources Required:

  • Worksheet: Workshop Planning Tool, cost: $0
  • Training Video: Working with Upset Customers. You'll need a Lynda.com or LinkedIn Premium subscription for each participant. Subscriptions for Lynda.com start at $19.99 per person, per month, and discounts are available for teams of 5 or more. (You'll get access to the ENTIRE library, which is a huge bonus.)
  • Exercise Files: The Working with Upset Customers training video comes with a set of downloadable exercise files to help implement concepts from the course. You can access the files once you login.

Time Required: <1 hour per week for 4 weeks.

 

Pre-Work: Do This Before You Begin

You can boost the impact of any training program by properly preparing. Here are two simple assignments you should do before starting the training.

Assignment #1: Create a training plan. Use the Workshop Planning Tool to create a training plan:

  • Identify your goal for the training.
  • Determine what needs to be done to prepare for success.
  • Create a plan to sustain your progress.

Assignment #2: Announce the Training. Tell your team what to expect by announcing the training via a team meeting, one-on-one conversation, email, or some other form of communication. Make sure you address three things:

  • Tell participants what the training is about.
  • Explain why the training is important.
  • Share how you expect participants to use the training in their daily work.

 

Training Plan: Serving Upset Customers

This plan is divided into four lessons that each take place one week apart.

Week 1: Kick-off. Call a 30 minute team meeting to kick off the training program. Hold it in-person if possible, or via Skype or web-conference if your team is remote. 

  1. Review the purpose and goals for this course.
  2. Discuss situations where customers get angry.
  3. Assign training videos and activities for the next meeting.

Participant assignments for next week:

  • Watch video: Tending to Emotional Needs (4m 58s).
  • Watch video: Understanding Our Natural Instincts (4m 21s).
  • Exercise: Download the Fight or Flight Symptoms Checklist exercise file (you'll need to be logged in to access this). Use it to identify one situation where you experience the Fight or Flight instinct while serving a customer.

 

Week 2: Recognizing Our Instincts. Call a 30 minute team meeting to check-in on the training program. Hold it in-person if possible, or via Skype or web-conference if your team is remote.

  1. Discuss the importance of tending to customers' emotional needs.
  2. Discuss situations where we experienced the Fight or Flight Instinct.
  3. Assign training videos and activities for the next meeting.

Participant assignments for next week:

  • Watch video: Listening With Empathy (4 m 25s).
  • Complete the Empathy Worksheet from the Exercise Files.
  • Apply the LAURA technique (from the video) when serving an angry customer.

 

Week 3: Empathizing With Customers. Call a 30 minute team meeting to check-in on the training program. Hold it in-person if possible, or via Skype or web-conference if your team is remote.

  1. Discuss situations where participants used the LAURA technique to express empathy.
  2. Revisit list of situations where customers get angry (from Week 1). Discuss the root cause of each one.
  3. Assign training videos and activities for the next meeting.

Participant assignments for next week:

 

Week 4: Conclusion. Call a 30 minute team meeting to check-in on the training program. Hold it in-person if possible, or via Skype or web-conference if your team is remote.

  1. Discuss situations where participants helped a customer become right. 
  2. Discuss situations where participants used the acknowledge and refocus technique.
  3. Discuss appropriate actions if a customer becomes abusive.
  4. Discuss ways to sustain the learning.

Why Your Team Needs Customer Service Refresher Training

Quite frankly, I used to think annual refresher training was worthless.

Conducting these workshops was part of my job years ago when I was the Director of Training for Ace Parking, a parking management company. The training was a requirement written into the management contract for many of our locations.

My first impression was the training was done just to make our clients feel good. (In parking, the clients are the companies that actually own the parking facilities such as hotels, office buildings, stadiums, airports, and stand-alone parking garages and hire a management company like Ace.)

After all, what good could a once annual training do?

I quickly noticed something important. The parking managers who readily scheduled the training with me had higher customer service levels than the few managers who didn't do the annual refresher.

Was it because of the training? 

The real answer was it was because of the training and everything else those managers did throughout the year to elevate service at their locations. The annual refresher was part of a larger system.

Here's why you really need annual refresher training for your team, when you should do it, and how you can get it done.

Why You Need Refresher Training

Let's start with a quick definition. Annual refresher training typically has these qualities:

  • Short duration (my typical program is two hours)
  • Focus on fundamental customer service skills
  • May introduce a new concept or two

So why should your employees attend? Three reasons:

First, it helps your team re-focus on the basics. It's easy to get caught up in day-to-day work. People might even develop some bad habits. Refresher training gets everyone back on the same page.

Second, it sets the stage for the year or season ahead. This is a perfect time to introduce a new customer service initiative. You can also help employees make a connection between customer service and your strategic plan.

Third, it's fun. Good refresher training should be something employees look forward to. I've had many managers position this training as recognition for employees. (It should never be seen as a punishment for poor service.)

Back to my experience at Ace Parking. I quickly learned that managers whose employees were great at service were eager to schedule refresher training for all of these reasons. 

They also saw the training as an integral part of everything they did to support a service culture on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis. That was the real secret -- the refresher training was just one piece of the whole puzzle.

 

When To Conduct Refresher Training

There are a few considerations for scheduling annual refresher training.

  • Event-based: Schedule it right before a busy season or a major new initiatives.
  • Volume-based: Schedule the training for a slow period in your normal business cycle.
  • Plan-based: Scheduled at the start of your fiscal year to coincide with a new annual plan.

From a practical standpoint, you may need to juggle some schedules to make sure that work gets done while employees are attending training. Many of my clients schedule multiple sessions so they can maintain operational coverage.

 

How to Conduct Refresher Training

Start with a theme. What is the one thing you want the team to focus on for the next year? Whatever it is, make sure it's connected to your customer service vision.

Next, identify a source for the training. There are options available for all budgets.

If your company has the resources, consider bringing in a professional speaker. This can really charge up the team and show everyone you care deeply about service.

For more limited budgets, you can use training videos like my courses on lynda.com. You may have a lynda.com account already, which means there's no cost to use these videos. If you don't have an account, you can get a 10-day trial just in time for your training.

There are even good options for teams with no training budget at all.

You can also get more low and no-cost training ideas from Halelly Azulay's fabulous book, Employee Development on a Shoestring.

Finally, don't forget to prepare your team for training. Here's a handy planner to help make sure everything is ready to go.


How to Train 35,000 People Before Lunch

Training large numbers of employees is a big challenge.

Organizations have several factors working against them. There's geography, where employees are spread out over multiple locations. You need to keep people running the operation while employees are getting trained. And, the sheer number of participants involved can be daunting.

Some people thought e-learning could solve this problem. There's just one issue - it's boring. A lot of e-learning is nothing more than an amateurish voice over PowerPoint.

The future is in video. Short, engaging, and beautifully produced video. 

More than 35,000 customer service professionals have now taken my Customer Service Fundamentals video-based course on lynda.com. It's rapidly approaching 1,000,000 individual views. That many people have got to be on to something.

One promising feature is employees can complete the training much faster than a traditional class. The entire program takes less than two hours, far less than the eight hours the live version requires. There's no set-up, scheduling, or logistics to handle either. It's ready to go right now - your employees could easily start the training in the morning and finish before lunch.

Here's why this and other courses like it are the wave of the future.

The Power of Video

Video offers a number of distinct advantages over other forms of training.

It's engaging. People enjoy watching video. According to eMarketer, adults in the U.S. spend 5.5 hours per day watching video.

You want training to be engaging enough so employees enjoy the process. Here are just a few comments from people who have watched the Customer Service Fundamentals training video:

"This course has really been an eye opening in all aspects of customer service.. I enjoyed every bit of it."

"He did a great job keeping the material interesting."

"The author's positive attitude is contagious."

And, it's always good when a participant feels the training made a difference:

"I am about to start my first working day as a customer service representative and thanks to this course I feel myself more confident and equipped with essential knowledge on making my customers feel satisfied."

It's easy to access. Employees can watch the videos from their computer, their tablet, or even their smart phone. 

Lynda.com now offers a download feature where you can watch the videos offline. I'll often load a few courses on my iPad when I know I'm going to be spending a lot of time in an airplane. There's no reason for the learning to stop at 35,000 feet!

It's inexpensive. Here's a cost comparison between live training and using video. Video can cut your costs in three ways:

  • Delivery is less expensive per person.
  • Development is less expensive (if you buy pre-packaged courses).
  • You spend 50 - 75 percent less on employee wages since video-based training goes faster than a live course.

Lynda.com has also introduced an impressive array of features to improve how companies can manage video-based training.

  • Quizzes to test participants' knowledge.
  • Certificates of completion (they can be added to your LinkedIn profile!).
  • Management features like customer playlists and LMS integration.

 

Don't Forget the Special Sauce

There's one danger of using video. It's a problem called Popcorn Learning where participants just consume the training and then do nothing. (This problem exists for classroom-based and e-learning programs too.) 

You can avoid this problem by adding this secret sauce to the mix:

You can access a wide range of customer service training courses on lynda.com or explore many of their other topics such as content marketing or becoming a manager.

You'll need a lynda.com subscription to view full courses, but you can check everything out with a ten day trial.