I may be naive, but I don’t experience many occasions where customer-facing employees go out of their way to provide poor service.
Sometimes it appears that the employee is having a bad day and, as a customer, you’re unfortunate enough to be on the receiving end of their indifference. These are the occasions when challenging that behaviour might be all it takes to make the employee recognise that, from a customer perspective, this isn’t great service. If that doesn’t work then by all means submit a complaint or write a negative review.
However, there do seem to be situations which suggest that employees are simply unaware that what they are offering is very likely to be construed as poor service - let’s say that the employee is demonstrating an obvious case of CSB - Customer Service Blindness. So how, as learning and development professionals, can we offer a cure for this?
First of all we’re unlikely to remedy any kind of behavioural blindness by simply drawing attention to what constitutes more appropriate behaviour. You can’t simply say to somebody “These are the skills you need for good customer service” or “This is what good customer service looks like”. The behavioural blindness prevents the trainee from recognising the detail of their existing behaviour, so no ‘gap analysis’ can happen. The experience of good, or bad, Customer Service is heavily invested with emotion and any approach to Customer Service Training that doesn’t engage with the emotions of the trainees will significantly miss the mark.
Successful experiential learning interventions are designed in exactly the same way as successful Customer Service interventions - they powerfully engage the client physically, cognitively and emotionally.
Depending on the scale and nature of the customer service training needed you could deliver a dedicated workshop such as the Working with a Customer Focus Workshop from RSVP Design. This would give you workshop materials that would enable you to work with learners to use their own experience of being both customers and suppliers, and develop their ability to see things from the customers perspective, so that they can begin to identify improvements to their own personal, team, and organisational approaches to great customer service. This is a highly structured intervention that will allow a consistent offering to multiple groups, whilst still retaining the physical, cognitive and emotional engagement necessary for real change.
Alternatively, and particularly if a broader approach to behavioural change is needed, there are several tools in the RSVP Design portfolio that offer powerful Customer Service learning experiences.
Chainlink creates a situation where every participant is simultaneously both a customer and a supplier, allowing for an in depth discussion around expectations about what will be delivered by people in these roles. This discussion offers material that supports an examination of expectation and reality in the ‘real-world’ and how your organisation measures up to each.
Simbols allows the facilitator to create an engaging laboratory where participants need to adapt their language and behaviour to allow others to understand and work with them. This will happen on multiple occasions during the exercise so that each individual has repeated opportunities to think about how they are communicating, and how they could refine this to give recipients a better route to understanding. It’s an exercise that may be of particular value in workplaces where there are strong, internal customer-supplier relationships.
Helium Stick is a simple, short and often hilarious introduction to how teams respond to apparently simple requests, and the frustration of “not being able to get it right”. It’s a great icebreaker in that it opens the door to discussions, and further experiences around an individuals’ customer service responsibility when working in a team based environment.
If you’re working at management level (often where the worst Customer Service Blindness exists) then offering a big, powerful and emotionally loaded exercise such as Top Priority will certainly challenge the best of groups. This exercise puts participants into a multi-team, multi-task working environment where success in responding to customer requirements is the measure of performance. The level of interdependence built into the set-up develops an acute consciousness of how whole organisations need to have customer service built into strategy, structure and culture.
Customer Service Training is one of those topics that is ideally suited to an experiential learning approach - the taught content can be relatively simple, and perhaps the knowledge is already there, but it is the individual emotional and behavioural responses that might need to be considered or surfaced, and alternatives explored in a safe rehearsal space!
Dr. Geoff Cox