In previous parts of this series I’ve touched on the importance of manager INTENT and how understanding and acting from intent will inspire your team. And I’ve talked about the impact of empowering your teams and ways to enable them.

The next key element – one that if implemented will ensure your strategy takes hold and flourishes – is to provide “proper training.”

I recently came across an interesting post from Ben Horowitz who is currently a venture capitalist but wrote the article, “Why it’s Crucial to Train Your Employees” from the perspective of being the former Director of Product Management at Netscape. The article includes a quote from Andy Grove, former CEO of Intel, from his book “High Output Management.”

“Most managers seem to feel that training employees is a job that should be left to others. I, on the other hand, strongly believe that the manager should do it himself.” – Andy Grove

Although I might have added a “herself” in there, the point is that managers have a lot to share and a lot riding on the success of their teams so they should invest time training their people.

Three important points were made in the article….

One of the things he pointed out, and I agree with whole heartedly, is that if you don’t train your people, you have no basis for managing their performance.

Hiring for customer service attitude is important but when it comes to customer service skills and, in particular, any skills necessary to implement your customer service strategy – you better lay out your expectations and train your team for the job.

Providing good, job specific training that supports your customer service strategy not only gives everyone a common service vocabulary and lets everyone practice that which is required, it also helps retain talent.

At Netscape, for example, Mr. Horowitz found that one of the two primary reasons people quit the company was “They weren’t learning anything – the company wasn’t investing in the employees.”

Job training is an important part of any employee retention program.

Employees notice when their company makes an effort to give them something that’s going to help them do their jobs better. They notice any sort of attention and most respond with increased effort and enthusiasm. If they don’t, well, they may not be a good fit for the job.

The last point I took from the article—one that supports this key element for implementing a successful, lasting customer service strategy – was to provide proper training or beware the mess you may have on your hands if you don’t.

Let me explain what I mean with an example. I was just talking with a hi-tech client who bemoaned the challenges that come with rapid growth. She wasn’t unhappy with the growth, just the headaches that came with it. The Horowitz article mentioned the same thing. New engineers are sometimes hired and set loose to fix bugs and write new code without anyone taking time to let them know how code has been written in the past or the whys and wherefores of the architecture – which leads to (and I quote) “inconsistencies in the user experience, performance problems, and a general mess.”

The same thing can happen with service skills. We all know that the floor creates its own rules if left in a vacuum. Creativity reigns but it can be a mess with inconsistencies in the way things are handled and even the information that’s given to customers.

For me, proper training means that the training fits the initiative or job to be done and prepares the trainee in a meaningful way to do his or her job better than before the training.

At Impact proper training translates to “practice, practice, practice” especially if communication skills are involved. Don’t tell me what you’d do, let me hear what you’d say. Talk to me. Role play with me. I can hear the groans from those of you who would rather visit the dentist than role play but, let’s face it, it is the single best and safest way to build confidence. And, yes, I’m talking about monitored practice followed by immediate feedback not just getting into triads to role play and using old ineffective (but totally comfy) habits. The idea is to build conscious competence.

But there are other creative ways to deliver results that don’t always involve eLearning or a classroom.

For example, for a customer service initiative aimed at showing customers you care, which approach do you think might be a more fitting and meaningful activity for the team—to really get them ready to show they want to help customers? A dedicated trainer like the one here on the left who is ready and able to explain what to do and why it’s important using great handouts and really interesting PowerPoint slides? Or an assignment like the one pictured on the right that challenges reps to go out and do random acts of kindness… like carrying groceries for someone or donating clothing to a shelter or serving a meal at a soup kitchen.

This activity, by the way, was something a call center in Canada did as part of their new hire training. It reportedly not only had an incredible impact on the reps but it also had a very positive effect on the company’s reputation in the community. To learn more about this idea, check out my blog post on the secret value of unorthodox customer service training at Impact’s blog.

The third key element that has to be in place in order to ensure successful implementation of your customer service strategy is to “provide proper training” – training that let’s your staff know what you want, what you don’t want, how to do it, and gives ample practice to build confidence.

Here are some questions to consider:

  • What does a rep need to be able to DO to support your customer service strategy?
  • What does he or she need to KNOW?
  • Does your training address those two things?
  • What can be done differently to make it even more relevant?

MONITORING and GIVING FEEDBACK is the fourth key element and I’ll talk about best practices in the next part of this series.