Do Your Employees Need Customer Service Training?

If you go to the doctor with a headache, do you demand a particular treatment before she examines you? Of course not! Well then, why do managers send their employees for customer service training — before they know what the problem is?

Another common mistake is to bring in a motivational speaker to talk to staff that has to fight dysfunctional work processes day after day. It’s like putting a band-aid on a cancer. Even the best employees can’t do their jobs if the job itself is an obstacle course!

A company I worked with recently –let’s call it Ultra Widgets Distributors — had big problems with customer service. Mark, the manager, had been hearing a lot of complaints from customers. Customer records had disappeared from the system, simple inquiries went unanswered, and sometimes orders were shipped to the wrong address. Julie, who handled customer service, was just making too many mistakes. Mark had already spoken to her about it and she blamed their database. Mark replied that there wouldn’t be anything wrong because they’d just had this super new software installed for their customer database.

He thought Julie needed customer service training. One thing you could say about Mark was that he was willing to invest in training his people. He’d recently sent the whole sales force to an expensive motivational seminar. They’d done a big trade show recently that brought in hundreds of leads, yet they wrote very little new business — the sales people just didn’t follow up. He hoped the inspiring seminar would fire up the troops.

I began my detective work by asking Julie what she did in a typical day. She showed me her customer database and the problem was immediately obvious. Instead of one file per customer there were several, forcing Julie to hunt and click between multiple screens. Customers became irate when they had to make numerous phone calls to resolve the same issue, then were given the wrong information. While Julie tried to help one customer, four other calls would go to voice mail.

As I watched Julie work, I gleaned some important clues. Martin’s Widgets Shoppe wanted to know when their red widgets would arrive. Martin was annoyed because Ultra Widgets had shipped him blue widgets by mistake. She looked at his order history, and couldn’t find any record that he’d even placed an order. Julie said his records must be in the old database. He’d heard this before, and finally, Martin threatened to take his business elsewhere.

The next phone call was from a prospect who wanted the Deluxe Widget spec sheet e-mailed to him. But Julie would have to fax it because product spec sheets were not on the computer network. The fax was way down the hall and there were 2 people waiting to use it. Everyone had to send their own faxes now, since the last round of cuts in support staff. But Julie couldn’t stand and wait — she had to get back and handle the phones. It was the next day before she finally got that fax out. Julie heard about that from Mark, too. Seemed like she couldn’t do anything right.

I interviewed a couple other employees, then reported to Mark that cleaning up the customer database would solve most of their problems. He mentioned that, after installing the new database software a few months earlier, Deluxe Widgets had talked to several consultants about migrating the customer records from the old system into the new. They didn’t want to spend several thousand dollars for an expert. They were thrilled when they found a kid who offered to do the job for only $500. The result? A significant amount of customer information had simply disappeared. About those trade show leads that went nowhere…Many of their phone numbers didn’t make it into the new system. Mark expected the sales force to get the information out of the old system — but it was no longer on the network, so they couldn’t dial in from the road.

I also recommended scanning the spec sheets into the computer so Julie didn’t have to walk over to the fax machine, then wait to use it. If Julie was set up to e-mail the spec sheets, she wouldn’t have to leave her desk – and fewer incoming calls would go to voice mail. Now that’s customer service!

Key points:

  • Don’t be penny-wise and pound foolish with your customer database. If you’re getting price quotes for moving your customer database move to a new system, and most of them are between $5,000 and $10,000 — you can’t afford the vendor who offers to do it for $500.
  • Don’t buy another fax machine – if you still have important information that doesn’t exist digitally, either have it typed in or scanned so it can be sent via e-mail. Folks, it’s too late in the day for me to start telling you all the reasons faxing is inefficient!
  • If your employee’s workday is an obstacle course, listen to them, then bring in an expert to help diagnose, then correct the problems.
  • Customer service training is great — if that’s what your people need. But to really fix the problem, you must first identify it, and that means doing some detective work. The answers you uncover may surprise you.

Copyright 2002

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