Customer service: Is another training programme the answer?

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As a service nation we all know the importance of customer service - it has been drummed into us that the customer is always right. However, knowing this and actually behaving in a way that serves the customer beautifully seems to be something that we are incapable of doing.[1]

This poor service costs. According to research by New Voice Media[2], it is estimated that poor customer service costs American companies an eye watering  $41 billion a year.

Irate customers armed with a smartphone can drive share prices down and unseat CEOs; and the solution to this is a knee-jerk reaction that there is a need for more/some customer service training. If we can only make our people better at customer service then we will have delighted customers. And herein lies the problem. Customer service training is not the magic pill; it is rather part of the solution.

Organisations that ‘get’ customer service understand that to have great customer service they first need to treat their people and colleagues as they would their customers. They embody the principles of servant leadership[3].

Principles that are making a comeback in 21st century leadership theories are ones that can be seen in the widely-lauded Zappos culture[4], and in Apple’s move from Jobs to Cook[5], and ones that, if you get wrong, can cause huge headaches, as with HCL Technologies in Bangalore.[6]

This combination of setting the organisation up to deliver great internal customer service, together with fantastic front line customer service training (see figure 1 below), is what we should all advocate.

Figure 1: NKD Learning’s model of hosting intelligence

Organisations that are willing to make customer service a thought-through process, both internally and externally, are happy to focus on all aspects of what it takes to deliver. They are no longer content to spend money on a programme of development that merely scratches the surface, but rather they want to create a truly customer-centric organisation. 

For the best organisations, this means looking at the type of people they recruit; the manner in which employees are empowered to make decisions; the culture of leadership at all levels and how people are held to account in living them.

These organisations invest in their people. We have all heard of the improvements that Team GB cycling team made for the Olympics[7]; nothing was left to chance, from the food to the team pillows. It is this laser focus that organisations need to apply to customer service if they truly want to be better than the competition and delight an ever more demanding internal and external customer.

There are huge commercial advantages to be gained, so the next time you look at developing your people, look at these aspects:

  1. Where is this development going to take place? Is your only criterion that the room is big enough?
  2. How are you going to invite them to the session? Or are you just telling them to go?
  3. Is the experience of development one that role models customer service? Or have you just wasted your money and your people’s time?

For us at NKD Learning it boils down to this: Do you treat your people in the same way that you want them to treat your customers? If you have this in your head and heart when you are next speaking with your people, you won't go far wrong.


[1] The latest UK Customer Satisfaction Index (UKCSI), which surveys nearly 10,000 consumers, reveals that satisfaction has continued to fall leaving people more unhappy with their customer experience in 2014 than they were in January 2011

[3] Robert K. Greenleaf in “The Servant as Leader” 1970

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