Making Training Effective

<i>“It’s all to do with the training: you can do a lot if you’re properly trained”.  – Queen Elizabeth II</i>

We all know that customer service is a constant and hence keeping the standards up to the mark is extremely essential if you wish to please your customers. Like every aspect in business, this too is susceptible to errors, lapses and drop in the required levels at which it should function.  Customer service staff must be aware of the standards expected of them and as a company it is your responsibility to provide them with the right tools, training and making training effective enough to serve the purpose for which it is intended. A customer focused company will be inclined to continually ensure training for its staff so that the staff keeps customers at the heart of whatever they do. Raise the bar of service with training and make training effective if you want your customers to leave happy each time they interact with your company.

Training for the sake of it will not raise the efficiency and capability of your customer service staff. This will reflect in the kind of responses, resolutions and even general interactions that customers have with them.  Making training effective begins with first ensuring a thorough understanding of the customer’s needs and expectations and where your company is falling short.  An alignment of customer needs with the current level of service will provide a measure, which can be used to understand the kind, extent and periodicity of training required for the customer service representatives in order to bring them up to the level of service being demanded by customers.  Making training effective is also necessary to raise the skill levels of the staff – each person within the team could have different training needs and identifying these needs will help put together pertinent and skill reinforcing training programs. These training programs can be developed in-house or seeking the help of a professional agency who could customize the programs to suit the required need.

Whatever method you decide to implement to run training programs, making training effective must be a prime concern.  Going about the training schedule and plan systematically will ensure that training is not only effective but also interesting for the participants.

  • Get feedback first, from customers. It could be an informal kind of exercise wherein your company asks a set of its loyal and long standing customers of what they anticipate and expect to receive as service. You could also put up a feedback page or section on your company website, social media sites and or sending a short questionnaire to customers to check with them on their most recent interactions and whether they have improved from the past. Of course, a more extensive survey schedule must be maintained and could be run either by a team within the company or by hiring an external vendor.
  • Simultaneously gather data internally of your employees’ current knowledge, skills and talent levels. Ask their supervisors to make an assessment and also get the employees to list out what they believe to be their strengths and in which areas they seek to improve through training. Managers and supervisors must also keep a close watch on how each employee interacts with customers and make a note of what they believe requires improvement and which behaviours can be used as examples of great service. Weaving these needs and observations into the training programs will ensure that you are making training effective for the service staff and for your customers.
  • Make training needs a part of the appraisal form. Employees make a self-assessment of their training requirements in this portion and the advantage is that they remain aware of their improvement areas and will take ownership to receive the pertinent training to do away with these shortcomings since failure to do so would affect their salary increases and chances of moving up the vertical corporate ladder. Also the training department would have a ready list of the training needs based on which they can put together the training schedule.
  • The next logical step would be to put together and roll-out the training methods and programs. For making training effective ensure that the programs are participative and interactive. Participants learn and retain a lot better when they are equal contributors to a program. They can also demonstrate their skills and capabilities during the program and learn from the contributions of their team mates.  The program coordinator also is able to assess the value being derived through the program and must also provide a feedback form at the end of the program that would help to understand how much the participants have gained and use the suggestions to improve the program further.
  • To ensure that participants have gained from the training programs, assign them a mentor or as in some companies ‘a buddy’. This mentor or buddy will help the employee to use the learning from the program or programs attended in the most effective and efficient manner and also monitor the progress the staff member is making.  These mentors also check with the employee to know whether they found the techniques and methods used in the training program useful from a practical standpoint and what can be done to change that.
  • Training is not a one-time exercise. It must be consistent and on-going to keep it effective. Provide feedback to your staff on their performance, ask them to comment on what has changed since the training and then use the observations and comments for the next round of training programs. Of course the periodic customer feedback will also help to understand how successful these programs have been and what needs to change.
  • Every performance appraisal is also a time for setting expectations – the company’s from the employees and what the employee expects from the company. Doing this in a structured manner brings about a well-rounded balance since everything is documented. Well-written material is always helpful to track progress and performance of the staff.

To know whether your customer service has improved, closely monitor the number of complaints, the kinds of queries and responses provided, the number of first call resolutions and the turn-around time on each individual channel. Your customers will begin to see improvements if training has been effective and will be more than willing to let you know. Happy customers would translate to improved sales and profits which in turn would mean that your customer service staff is doing whatever is required to keep your customers at the centre of what they do. It would mean that the training you provided is working – helping them to listen, be empathetic and taking spot decisions to alleviate the problems a customer may have.

However, every business will have its share of lapses leading to unhappy customers.  Making training effective also means your customer service staff are able to deal adeptly with stressful situations and customers who are irate and displeased.  If the customer service staff is adequately and effectively trained, they would be able to deal with these situations in a composed, professional and controlled manner.  They should be skilled at the art of transforming a frowning and disgruntled customer into a happy brand evangelist.

Every business – big or small and irrespective of industry must pay close attention and invest in training its employees particularly those handling customers.  There are a number of training programs – communication skills, negotiation and conflict handling, telephone etiquette, social media handling, dealing with irate customers and a host of others. As a company it would be sensible to make training effective especially since your business depends on it.

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