Dr. Elliott B. Jaffa


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The Customer Service Dilemma: Train your Employees for Customer Obsession

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If I could recommend one subject to be taught beginning in elementary school and continuing the rest of our lives, it would be customer service training. For most of us, our first lesson in customer service was when our parents taught us the "magic" words "please" and "thank you." Lesson number two was learning the phrase, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

What exactly is exceptional customer service? It's the WOWing of the customer--doing whatever you can to make the customer feel good about doing business with you. No matter how good any organization's customer service may be, it could always be better. You can turn customer service into customer obsession.

For example, while dining out, your server brings your entrée and asks, "How's everything?" How much better would it be if the server asked, "Is there anything I can do or bring that would make your meal more enjoyable this evening?" The second question says your server sincerely cares about you. This caring attitude is the goal of customer obsession.

If you don't give your employees good customer service training, it could cost you money. Not only do unhappy customers stop purchasing from you, they enjoy telling others about their poor experiences.

Unfortunately, customer service training is not a priority in most businesses. Although the classified ads of our newspapers are full of customer service positions, few are filled by formally testing applicants' customer service skills, such as having them to respond to real life scenarios. After the applicant is hired, there is minimal training. Employees are rarely taught to "think like a customer." Few organizations stress the idea that it is the customer who pays employees' salaries and that customer satisfaction is the single most important ingredient to the organization's success.

Ask yourself and your employees to respond to these customer comments: "This is the third time I've called for information. No one ever returns my calls." "Your prices are much too high." "You obviously don't value my business. I'm going elsewhere."

What are the basic customer service skills to teach? Listening, empathizing, thinking, negotiating and problem solving. You may be saying to yourself, "I can't even teach these skills to my senior managers, let alone my customer service representatives." This is the very reason everyone in the organization must have training. Many managers think giving a pep talk, sending employees to a seminar or showing an off-the-shelf video is sufficient. At a minimum, a full day of structured customer service training with quarterly follow-ups should be customized to your organization's needs.

Scrutinize your organization's customer service training program. Is it effective?

Every employee can be taught to:

  • Listen. All it takes is two ears and a pen to take notes.
  • Smile even when you're talking on the telephone. A small cosmetic mirror on the wall or your desk helps reinforce this behavior.
  • Make eye contact. If a customer complains, ask, "What would make you happy?" Most customers simply want an apology and others are satisfied with much less than you might need to offer.
  • Treat each customer as if he or she were the only customer. Create a feeling of WOW with each customer.

You'll take pride when customers call or write to tell you how well they were treated by your employees. Keep a log documenting each success. This success log is your feedback system indicating that you care about your customers. With continuous quantifiable feedback and regular training, employees can improve customer satisfaction and the organization will become customer obsessed.

Is the customer always right? No. But the customer is always the customer. As customers become more and more demanding, the choice is yours: Train your employees to become customer obsessed and thrive or simply do what you must to survive.

Dr. Elliott B. Jaffa
(703) 931-0040