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Big Don'ts when training customer service staff

Customer service training is an art form. Whatever you've heard about principles, actual practice is the real issue, and it's often a pretty tacky effort, stultified by theory and often management culture. The problems in customer service standards can often be traced back to training and information quality. These problems are easily avoidable, and it's often a matter of what you don't train customer service staff to do.

Photo: noodlepie

Service issues

The real problems happen on the front line and just behind it. If you've ever seen the sort of mess which can be created by people that obviously don't know how to handle situations, you'll appreciate how problems can be created out of literally nothing. The results are usually horrifically over-complicated sagas of problems that happened after customer service foul-ups.

What actually happens is that theory and practice are in direct conflict. Customers don't appreciate theory much. They want their own situations dealt with, not turned into academic concepts. Complaints about customer service are almost universally about customer service staff handling of issues.

Why do people make mistakes in customer service? Half the time, it's a combination of elements:
  • Inadequate training
  • Lack of information
  • Not listening to customers
  • Bureaucratic issues
  • Cumbersome, inappropriate procedures
  • Lack of knowledge of consumer rights
That's a list of practically every area of operations in customer service. "Inadequate training", however, is usually the killer.

Common training mistakes

The training errors are very basic:
  • Training staff to turn everything into a procedural process. The fact is that all situations are different. Not everything can be done on a pro forma basis.
  • Lack of emphasis on objectivity. Customer service people are by definition problem solvers. The solutions are the issue for customers, not the procedures.
  • Lack of supervision during training. This is a real disaster waiting to happen. Staff must have backup to gain confidence and make sure they're doing things properly. Supervisors also need to be sure that they understand their roles, and most importantly when to ask for help.
  • Confusing staff with too many bureaucratic processes. It is absurd to force feed staff with procedures and not back the training up with staged practical experience.
  • Overreaction to natural mistakes made by trainees. Most supervisors and managers know how to handle things when their staff make a mistake, but many don't, and react badly to natural errors with "management by crisis". This destroys confidence and worse, makes staff lose trust. The result is a truly hideous office culture.
  • Unrealistic training methods. Some businesses "budget" their way into inadequate training schemes. Expertise can't be gained in an El Cheapo workshop environment. Training must be progressive and thorough.
Management science has a lot to answer for, not least of which is putting people in positions of responsibility without enough knowledge to do their jobs. Whether your training needs are for service desk training, financial sales or a basic customer service job, get your training right.