Why We Need Customer Service Reminders

You can solve a lot of problems just by listening to your customers.

A few years ago, I followed up with Sue Thompson, the Associate Director of Transportation and Parking at Oregon Health and Science University. Her team had just attended my Delivering Next Level Service course, and I wanted to see how things were going. 

Thompson is very diligent about following up with her team after training to support the concepts they learned. However, she told me that her hectic schedule made it difficult to touch base with each employee as often as she’d like to.

This conversation spurred the creation of my Customer Service Tip of the Week email. Each weekly email contains a single customer service tip that’s based on my training class. 

 

Why We Need Reminders

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Most of us had a combination locker in high school.

Back then, you could open the locker in a matter of seconds. You knew the combination so well it was practically burned into your muscle memory.

It would likely be a different story if you stood in front of that locker today. Most of us wouldn’t be able to open our old locker even if the combination was exactly the same.

That’s because we store most information on a use it or lose it basis. Frequent use and repetition makes that knowledge easily accessible. Infrequent use causes the information to slip farther and farther back in our memories.

Customer service reminders can help keep fundamental concepts top of mind.

 

How to Use the Weekly Tips

Sue Thompson has all of her employees subscribe to the free weekly tips. This supplements the frequent one-on-one and team check-ins that she and her leadership team do with the department.

I wanted to find out how other people use the tips, so I reached out to a few other subscribers. Here are a few examples:

Gina, a Customer Care Director, uses the tips to generate discussion topics for her daily team huddle meetings. She often forwards the tips to her team when sharing reminders about a particular topic.

Mark Berlin, Guest Services Director at the USS Midway Museum, connects the tips to specific customer service challenges. This reminds employees about ways they can use them to resolve problems.

Lupe Zepeda, Customer Service Manager at CSA Travel Protection, uses the tips for ideas that can improve customer satisfaction. For example, her team stocked up on branded note cards after reading this tip on the power of handwritten notes. 

Jeremy Watkin, Director of Customer Service at Phone.com, forwards tips to his team when they address a specific issue or concept he wants to reinforce. 

Watkin told me he finds the reminders are personally helpful too:

With tips such as this, I find that even if I’ve heard them a thousand times, they help tune my mind and remind me of the behaviors necessary to deliver awesome service to our customers at Phone.com.

 

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How to work faster with less knowledge

Employees can have a hard time memorizing data and often forget important information.

Employees can have a hard time memorizing data and often forget important information.

My last blog post shared four ways that memorization can hurt employee performance. Now, I’d like to share a few solutions for overcoming this obstacle.

The trick is to allow employees to rapidly access vital information without having to memorize it. There’s an amusing anecdote about Albert Einstein that illustrates this point. I don’t even know if this story is true, but I like it just the same.

According to the story, a colleague once asked Einstein for his phone number. Einstein surprised his colleague by reaching for a telephone directory and looking it up. The colleague asked, “You don’t even know your own phone number?” To which Einstein famously responded, “Why should I memorize something that I can look up in a book?”

We can modernize this quote a little bit, but the principle still stands:

Never memorize something that you can easily look up.

I recently discovered a great example of how to do this while walking my dog on San Diego’s Harbor Island. We came across a strange contraption and I wanted to know more about it.

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There was a small sign on the side that briefly described the contraption and then provided a QR code for additional information. With a click of my smart phone I was able to access a wealth of knowledge.

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Scanning the QR code takes you to a website that explains all about this experimental wind turbine.

This allowed me to satisfy my curiosity. It also allowed me to retain the information without having to memorize it. All I had to do was scan the QR code again to quickly re-access the information. 

QR codes are a great method of quickly connecting people to information so they don’t have to memorize it. Here are some examples of places where a QR code might be helpful:

  • On a piece of equipment to allow a repair technician to access a repair manual. 
  • On a product display to allow a customer service rep (or a customer) to access more product information. 
  • On a bulletin board to allow employees to access more information about an announcement.

You can get even more ideas for QR codes from Larry Straining’s book, 111 Creative Ways to use QR codes.

QR codes aren’t the only way to help employees avoid memorization. Here are a few other ways you can give employees access to the right information at the right time.

 

Signs

Sometimes instructions are so simple you just need a sign. I once helped a client solve a security problem by suggesting a small sign above the intercom they used to screen visitors to a secure office. Employees weren’t following the proper procedure because used it infrequently and often forgot. The sign made it easy to do things correctly.

 

Job Aids

A job aid is a quick-reference guide that simplifies information. Employees in the parking office of a large university hand out campus maps to visitors and use a pen to draw a suggested route. The map is a great job aid that helps both the employee and the customer! Joe Willmore’s Job Aids Basics is an excellent resource.

 

Performance Support Systems

These tools embed necessary information into the workflow. I bet you know how to use an ATM machine even though you’ve never taken an ATM machine training class. That’s because the instructions are embedded in the machine. Many software programs use this same approach by walking users through step-by-step instructions. There are even services such as WalkMe that will provide customers with step-by-step guidance to navigate through procedures on your website.

 

Knowledge bases

Wikipedia may be the ultimate knowledge base since it allows you to look up just about anything. Many companies have their own specialized knowledge base where employees can enter search terms to find product information, policies, documents, and other resources on the company intranet or website.

 

Brain power is a precious resource

There’s a limit to how much our employees’ brains can process. As with any limited resource, we want to conserve it. That means eliminating waste while allowing our employees’ brains to focus on important tasks like serving customers, solving problems, or increasing productivity.

Memorization is just one source of brain waste. Here are a few other resources to explore.

4 Ways Memorization Hurts Performance

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Employees need to know a lot of stuff. 

They must know their company’s policies, procedures, products, service standards, customer preferences, and leadership prerogatives. They must keep up with training, meetings, phone calls, hallway conversations, emails, texts, chats, postings, and signs. Today’s correct answer is tomorrow’s outdated content as employees are deluged with an endless flow of updates, bulletins, and change of plans.

Keeping it all straight requires a lot of memorization.

Unfortunately, our memories aren’t the ideal location to store the large volumes of complex information needed to do our jobs. Here are four ways that memorization can actually hurt performance.

 

#1: Memorization takes time

Memorization is a time consuming process. In his book, Creative Training Techniques, training guru Bob Pike suggests that new information typically needs to be reinforced six times for it to be retained. Pike further elaborates that knowledge retention activities must require some form of learner interaction to truly be effective.

The time consuming nature of memorization leaves many managers with a dilemma. On one hand, they can take shortcuts in their communication with employees, but this often results in employees forgetting important information. On the other hand, they can devote the time necessary to help employees memorize and retain key knowledge, but today’s busy managers rarely have this kind of time.

 

#2: Our memories don't update easily

Information changes constantly. Even if you take the time and effort to memorize important facts, you will have to repeat the process all over again when those facts change. It gets even more complicated when a team of employees must memorize new information since some people may continue working with the old information.

Frequent travelers provide an excellent glimpse into what happens when you have to regularly replace old information with new information. Road warriors often rent similar looking cars. Is it the silver Cruze or the blue Impala this week? The key information (Which rental car am I driving?) changes so frequently that its hard to keep straight. 

It’s not uncommon for business travelers to get into the wrong vehicle when hotel valets deliver several cars at once on a busy morning. 

 

#3: Memories are unreliable

Our memories are notoriously unreliable. They may fail us completely, or worse, cause us to produce the wrong answer with absolute certainty. In one experiment, researchers found that 40 percent of subjects recalled viewing footage of a terrorist attack in London even though the footage didn’t exist.

Our unreliable memories can prevent employees from being on the same page. I remember once renting a car where I used a pre-paid voucher to cover the cost of the rental. The employee who processed the rental confidently told me that I needed to turn in the voucher when I returned the car. The employee who processed my return confidently told me I should have provided the voucher when I rented the car. One of these two obviously misremembered the correct procedure, but both were absolutely certain they were right.

 

#4: Memories are use it or lose it

Facts and figures require repetition to remain easily accessible. Information we use often is easily be recalled without effort.  Information we use infrequently or haven’t needed for a long time is difficult to recall. 

An example I like to give is the high school locker combination. Most of us had a PE or book locker in high school. Back then, opening the locker took just a few seconds. We opened the locker one or more times every day so the combination was easy to recall. Today, most of us wouldn’t be able to remember the combination at all. Why? Because it has been so long since we’ve needed that information that it’s no longer readily accessible.

 

What’s the solution?

Stay tuned for my next blog post where I’ll provide some simple solutions to overcome the memorization dilemma. However, I can give you one hint now.

Overcoming the memorization obstacle requires us to rethink our objective. 

We ask employees to memorize information so they can quickly apply information to their jobs. What if there was an alternative way for employees to rapidly access this information?