If there’s one thing all customer service workshops have in common, in my experience, it’s the big picture stuff: why customer service is important, the costs and benefits, the organizational philosophy around customer service.  And the basic skills that customer service providers need, like active listening, courteous communication, anticipation of needs, managing non-verbal behavior, etc.

All that is certainly important.  But what front line employees also need are the nuts and bolts of specific techniques for specific situations.  Here are a couple of examples:

1.  Telephone silence: When someone is very upset on the phone, they may talk incessantly.  Say absolutely nothing, not even “uh huh”.  Eventually the customer will stop and say, “Are you there?” and this will allow you an opening to respond.

2.  Distraction: Designed to break the anger cycle by getting customers to shift their attention away from their anger and toward a physical object.  For example, “If you’ll take a look at the computer screen (swivel the screen toward the customer) you’ll see that we have your policy expiration date as November 6th”.

3.  Questioning instead of stating: Questions can be used to soften a statement or command.  Instead of saying “Do this online” you can say, “Did you know that this can be done online now?”

The next step after giving class participants these kinds of practical techniques is to have them apply the techniques to realistic workplace scenarios.  Make sure the workplace scenarios are written for your workplace, and deal with the very types of challenges your service providers are faced with on a regular basis.  Nothing is a bigger waste of time than using generic scenarios that are written for another organization in another industry and address different challenges.

Some people say that you can’t just teach customer service providers how to deal with specific situations because you can’t cover everything that could possibly come up—so you have to teach them to think in ways that allow them to solve any problem on their own.  I agree to a certain point, but I think in order to teach them how to think critically you have to work with real scenarios.  Then they learn to adapt the techniques for those scenarios to fit others.

What do you think?  Customer service trainers out there, what has worked for you?

1 Comment

  1. Back in the 80s I took and then taught a KASET course on customer service. Awesome course!!!

    Those practical keys were the essence of the course. I like your “silence” one and the “distraction” idea. Neither of those were in the course but they do work.

    Questions are always the way to engage the other person. There are other ways to open that door as well, but they are harder to do with someone you do not know at all and may never see again.

    A couple of the ideas I remember from the course I taught include several techniques for saying “no’. Today, it’s just not at all acceptable to say no, but, when working with customers (and managers… or employees… or children and spouses), “no” is still valid, at times. The two techniques?

    — I’ll give it a final try to see if we can find a way to do that. Are you willing to let me try and get back to you with the answer. I’ll call you by {set a time}.
    * If the answer really still is “no”, the call back consists of, “I tried again for you. Here’s the answer I got: {answer} I’m sorry it’s not the answer you wanted, where do you want to go from here?”
    * Usually, people give up at this point and live with the “no”. If they won’t, they probably have to tackle something larger like writing to an executive, politician, or getting a lawyer. Regardless, at this point the next step is theirs — accept our decision or take higher action.
    * Usually, customers thank you for taking the time to look for and work for their preferred solution, even if it doesn’t work out the way they wanted it to.

    — “However,” — This is a great tool for shifting the focus away from the “no” by pointing out reasons or factors in the decision. “However, most people understand that our policy is there to protect their rights, their credit ratings, and their privacy.” “However, you might like to know that we our standard is set this way so that we can server all of customers to a very high standard all the time.”

    “However..”, is a difficult skill to learn. It takes practices. It’s so much easier to blurt out “NO” than to look for ways to make a refusal more acceptable.

    In either case, we have to learn to accept the realitly that “no” is valid. It protects us as individuals and our organizations. The challenge is making it acceptable to our customers who see it differently and have very valid if different perspectives.

    You’re right, Anna, much customer service is about the reason for its existence and not about the practical actions of the person. Performance is about action… “doing”.

    P.S., while you’re considering customer service, consider the problem of how an employee tells his or her superior(s) “no” I won’t do that. It might be that the course is illegal or unethical, it might be that it is unwise (though who decides what’s wise and what is not, can be a challenging discussion), or it might be that the proposed action is invasive of the employee’s rights (if such things exist any more.)