Improving Customer Service

Issue # 12 of 70 

John T. Self, Ph.D.
By: Dr. John T. Self

Competitive Edge Training

How many of us have been involved in training that was not being absorbed by our trainees? This is an important issue because of Business 101. When information is not absorbed, training must be defined as an expense. When training is effective it becomes an investment that actually saves money by lowering turnover and reducing recruitment and training dollars. It further pays dividends by increasing sales and building customer loyalty. But the path to effective training is not always obvious.

Training is accomplished in two phases. The first phase, basic training, enables employees to adequately know their products, systems and procedures. After this initial training, they should be able to "get the job done". Hardly breathtaking, but essential to reach the next plateau. After all, even Top Guns started in a trainer.

Unfortunately many companies stop at the basic training phase. Some do this because that is simply the end of training process. Others have good intentions of continuing training, but stop either because of laziness or when short term budgets must be met. This sets up Rhetorical Question #1 that asks: Have we not learned the values of long term thinking yet?

The second phase, Competitive Edge Training, increases the octane level of training. Many companies believe that this level is too expensive. After all, the products are being sold and customer service is being delivered. But the long term ramifications of adequate or mediocre service is ignored, although it remains. The most obvious shortcoming is that employees become order takers, not builders of customer loyalty.

Points to achieve Competitive Edge Training:

Raise the basic training bar. Chances are it is set too low and not delivering "adequate" training. Most of us tend to set standards for our employees far below what we would set for ourselves and even further below what our employees are capable of.. Attrition in basic training will increase, but it identifies problem employees before they represent the company and complaint letters start coming in.

Hire only employees who have the potential and drive to be Competitive Edge employees. All employees should be aiming and capable of going beyond the basic level. Anyone content to stay on the basic level lowers the service level of the entire company. Management must not be comfortable with adequate levels of performance. After all, why should anyone increase their level of performance if their current level is acceptable? We all need a coach.

Know your employees. What percentage are in the Basic and Competitive Edge levels? Lower the first and raise the second.

Get beyond the mechanics of product knowledge, options available, pricing, value and benefits of the product or service. Ensure that "soft" skills are taught including Attitude-(when in doubt, find it out. Customers want action and results), and Customer awareness that goes beyond simply knowing your customer into being able to anticipate needs and questions, not merely reacting to them.

Rhetorical question # 2: "Why should people go out and pay money for bad service when they can stay home and get bad service for free?"

One of our readers, Baron Hick, posed a very insightful question: "When you walk into a service business, what are the first things you see, touch, smell, and hear that stirs a positive or negative emotion about that business?"

John T. Self is a lecturer at The Collins School of Hospitality Management at California State Polytechnic University (Cal Poly Pomona). Prior to entering academia, Dr. Self spent fifteen years in the restaurant industry. While in the corporate world, he worked for several chains including Chili's and Steak and Ale, and as vice president of a regional restaurant chain overseeing six restaurants with sales of over twenty million dollars. He has also owned three independent restaurants, including a comedy club.
Dr. Self has also been involved in the development of international hospitality programs. While at Golden Gate University, he started the partnership with Dalian University of Technology in Dalian, China and is continuing in that involvement at Cal Poly.

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Text © Dr. John T. Self, 1997,1998. Part of the original Sideroad.