A Customer Service Training Technique That's Easy as 1, 2, 3

Great service comes from great training.

Great service comes from great training.

Training customer service employees doesn’t have to be too difficult or time-consuming.

I recently wrote a post that demonstrated how performance checklists can be used to quickly create highly effective training programs. This post is about a three step technique you can use to deliver training to your employees.

It’s call the Tell, Show, Do Technique

This technique may be the oldest technique in the book. That’s probably because it’s highly effective. You don’t need an advanced degree in adult learning to use it and it’s perfect for one-on-one training.

Here’s how the Tell, Show, Do Technique works:


Step 1: Tell the trainee what they should do and why. 

Imagine you’re training a new employee on the proper way to greet customers. The trainer should start by explaining the proper greeting. The trainer should also explain why this is important to good service, such as describing how a good greeting creates a positive first impression.

A lot of training fails because the trainer stops here and never completes steps two and three. They just tell and tell.

There are three problems with relying on telling alone.

  1. Most people don’t learn best by listening.
  2. It doesn’t require learner engagement, which makes memorization difficult.
  3. You never get confirmation that the learner as actually learned anything.

As Harold Stolyvitch pointed out in his outstanding book on employee training, Telling Ain’t Training.


Step 2: Show the trainee how to do it properly.

Most people are visually dominant learners. That means seeing an example is an extremely important part of the learning process.

Even for those that aren't visually dominant, an example can show them what success should look like.

If you’re training someone on how to greet customers, you might demonstrate the proper greeting. It’s best if you can do it with a real customer, but you can just give a demonstration if that’s not feasible.


Step 3: Have the trainee do it

We don’t really know whether someone has learned something until we see them do it.

This makes step three critical. The learning process isn’t complete until the trainee can demonstrate the expected performance.

If you’re training someone on how to greet customers, this is when you ask them to demonstrate the proper greeting. Ideally, they can do this by greeting real customers, but you can also role-play if that’s not feasible.

You might be asking what happens if they don’t do it correctly. This is a real possibility since we all struggle a bit when we try something out for the first time. 

A good trainer will provide coaching and feedback to help the trainee understand what needs to be improved and then have them do it again. This process should be repeated until the trainee can demonstrate the desired performance correctly.

The Fastest, Simplest Way to Train New Hires


New hire training time is unproductive time.

The new hire doesn’t yet have the skills to do their job. Someone else must take time away from their day-to-day responsibilities to train the new person. 

That puts you at least two people down at a time when you hired an extra person because you needed extra help.

It can be tempting to cut corners and provide too little training. This can be dangerous.

I recently wrote a blog post describing what happens when new customer service employees aren’t fully trained. It told the story of Jesse, a new employee in a bagel shop who felt lost because she didn’t get enough training before being asked to serve customers.

Some companies overcorrect and provide too much training. This can be wasteful.

One of the services my company provides is helping clients develop effective new hire training programs. I’ve helped clients reduce new hire training time by as much as 50 percent with no decrease in performance. 

The secret is creating a laser focus on giving new hires the specific skills they need to succeed at their jobs. Any topic that didn’t help them do their job was eliminated.

So, you don’t want to cut corners on training. You also don’t want to waste time and money. And, you’re not an expert in adult learning theory. What do you do? 

You need a performance checklist.


The Magic of Performance Checklists

Most training programs are doomed to fail. That’s because the emphasis is placed on what the trainer will tell the trainee. 

The result is a lot of aimless wandering and blah blah blah.

An effective training program focuses instead on what the trainee needs to do. The trainer creates clear objectives and then works backwards to figure out how to help the trainee accomplish those goals.

The easiest way to capture this is by creating a performance checklist.

A performance checklist describes a set of actions that a trainee must successfully complete to do their jobs correctly. The trainee isn’t fully trained until they complete each item on the list.

The best part is you should already have one. 

Think about the performance standards you have in place for your employees now. Chances are, there’s already a checklist of some kind involved. 

Here are some examples:

  • Mystery shopper checklist
  • Call quality monitoring form
  • Service standards checklist
  • Performance evaluation
  • Standard operating procedure checklist

Whatever you use to describe good performance, that’s your target. Get your new hire to perform at that level and they’re trained.

Now, all you need is a little bit of planning to make it happen.


Creating Your Training Plan

Once you’ve identified the performance checklist that will guide your training, you’ll need a plan to get there.

This involves breaking down the checklist into specific steps or lessons. By virtue of being a checklist, this may already be done for you.

Let’s say you want to train a new server in a restaurant. Your handy list of guest service standards (a.k.a. performance checklist) doubles as a lesson plan.

  • Lesson #1: Greet guests
  • Lesson #2: Suggest a specific drink
  • Etc.

The key is the new hire must demonstrate good performance to complete each lesson.

So, to complete lesson #1, your new server must demonstrate the ability to greet guests in a warm and friendly manner. You don’t focus on lesson #2 until lesson #1 is complete.

It may seem a bit simplistic, but that’s the idea. Breaking down training like this makes training easier for the new hire. That, in turn, makes good performance easier.

Getting your new hire to deliver good performance quickly is the ultimate goal.

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.


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.


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.



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


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?

The (business) road less traveled

Today was a gorgeous day in San Diego, so I went for a hike at Mission Trails.There must have been 50 to 100 people on the trail up to the top of Cowles Mountain. When I reached the top I kept going along a ridge to nearby Pyles Peak. There wasn't a single person on the trail to Pyles, but I was rewarded with better vistas, more vibrant plant life, and more active wildlife. Hiking alone on this part of the trail, I realized a few things about what sets the best companies and employees apart from the rest of the pack.
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