Service With a Smile

Customer service training is one of the smartest investments a company can make.

By Margery Weinstein

The phone representative is gratingly polite but ultimately ineffective. The clerk at a store doesn’t know the inventory, pointing you toward merchandise that doesn’t exist. The hotel front desk staff makes you feel like you’re inconveniencing them when you call. As the old saying goes, good help is hard to find. But with more refined training programs, nurturing employees who can deliver stellar customer service is getting a little easier. Here is how several of our Training Top 125 companies make sure their employees provide service with a smile—and make customers smile in return.

Customer Service as a Core Value

Rather than think of customer service as an isolated program, consider it an ongoing process that begins on the employee’s first day. That is the approach used by Quicken Loans, where customer service is a permanent component of the corporate culture. “Quicken Loans’ culture is built on core values, or ‘ISMs,’ that every team member is encouraged to conduct themselves by every day. One key ISM is serving ‘every client, every time, no exceptions, no excuses,’” says the Quicken Loans Training team. “Our ISM Assurance team, which more than doubled in size in 2012, ensures team members have the skills needed to uphold this ISM by providing ongoing coaching and positive enforcement when team members are speaking with clients. The key to training top bankers is reinforcing their skills and letting them know we care by not only highlighting the things they do RIGHT, but providing constructive criticism when they fall short on delivering excellent client service.”

In addition, the company takes the insights of its customers to heart, using their thoughts on the service it provides to improve. “Client feedback provides us great insight into areas where we can improve,” the Training team notes. “Any time we receive feedback from one of our clients, we analyze the type of comments we receive for trends that then can be solved.”

Measuring Service Success

Along with a comprehensive training program, customer service that exceeds customer expectations requires hearty assessment. “To increase our overall performance, we must be able to identify the improvement opportunities available, as well as the successes we have achieved,” says Jonathan Jones, manager of organizational development, U.S. Security Associates, Inc. “Measurement is foundational to our goal setting and organizational accomplishment. However, rather than generalizing our measurement approach, our system allows us to fine-tune our operations at a more granular level. To accomplish this, we utilize multiple measurement approaches to determine a comprehensive understanding of the effectiveness of our customer service training.”

U.S. Security Associates uses formal evaluation assessments and employee self-report questionnaires to measure employee learning and ensure the effectiveness of customer service training initiatives. To gain a client-based perspective, the company utilizes detailed customer feedback surveys that specifically address its level of customer service satisfaction. As more of an indirect measurement, the primary metrics the company correlates with customer service training include client retention, additional service requests by current clients, and client referrals.

“Finally, our standard requirement is to conduct client meetings on a weekly basis. We use an online formal evaluation system that is networked with our internal systems that each manager is required to complete at the conclusion of his or her client meetings,” says Jones. “The client meetings and evaluation process are designed to measure how well our customer service and performance is meeting our clients’ ever-changing needs.”

Progressive Casualty Insurance Company also takes measurement of customer service acumen seriously. “Internally, we measure the effectiveness of our training through quality compliance measures, as well as customer feedback through several surveys,” explains Kathleen McGauley, senior manager of training for personal lines. She notes that not all projects have measurable results directly tied to external customer satisfaction or increased sales, given there are so many factors that influence these measures. But, she notes, “we do have training initiatives with specific goals, whether internal/external customer related, sales conversion, cross-selling, or process quality.”

Superior Service Mentors

Sometimes the best way to learn customer service excellence is to follow the example of those who already have achieved it. That is one of the approaches taken by global architecture, design, planning, and consulting firm Gensler. “The most recent program we are deploying is a mentoring-coaching program for future client relationship leaders that matches next-up leaders with established relationship leaders,” says Principal/Firmwide Director of Talent Development Janine Pesci. “Also, we regularly deliver thought leadership programs exclusively for Gensler clients that present research or trends, and we are creating a leadership program focused specifically on how we serve clients in our emerging markets.”

Gensler’s client-centered approach extends to the way the firm engages with employees when conducting training focused on clients. “Our ultimate goal is to develop client leaders. To that end, we create training programs we hope move people outside of their comfort zone and into their learning zone. We create environments that allow for learners to both learn and to teach,” says Pesci. “This means creating programs that are highly interactive and grounded in real project work, often with role-playing or group brainstorms that apply different perspectives to real client problems.”

Gensler has taken the service learning process to the next level via the use of videos. “One exercise that’s been successful is doing video interviews with our clients around key challenges and opportunities they face,” Pesci explains. “We share those videos with ‘brain trust’ groups of people who work with clients in similar and different industries, and take the ideas and solutions they develop right back to the client. In the course of that learning, our clients get something of value they weren’t necessarily expecting.”

Committing to Customer Service

Treating superior customer service as an essential commitment is yet another way to increase the satisfaction of your customers. At Vi, an operator of continuing care retirement communities and home health care, all new employees participate in a comprehensive customer service training program called Vi Service Commitment, says Vice President of Human Resources, Learning & Organizational Development Judy Whitcomb. Employees also receive a service commitment handbook (offered in four languages) and participate in developing their own commitment to service. Training is reinforced during the orientation period through classroom learning, online courses, and custom videos. Employees working in the company’s care venues receive additional training relevant to work with older adults.

In addition, Vi provides annual customer service training to all employees and offers service refresher training on professional telephone skills, managing difficult conversations, maximizing resident engagement, and resolving resident issues and concerns. “To support our strong commitment to service, managers partake in customer service training, both classroom and through our online university,” says Whitcomb. “Vi’s customer service training is reinforced through daily stand-up meetings, job aids, and employee recognition. Lastly, Vi offers internal service courses to ensure that all employees, regardless of whether they are in customer-facing roles or not, realize their role has an impact on service.”

Bill Sciortino, senior vice president, Operations, at Vi, notes that being able to replicate a consistent performance level over many years in multiple locations presents challenges that go beyond a tradition or a positive attitude. “Our Learning & Development team took the lead in creating templates and training delivery tools that made it easy for the Operations leaders to fill in the specific content and best practices that define us. We’re more confident now that employees from California to Florida are getting the same message about our workplace. Our leaders appreciate this reinforcement of expectations, and our residents have responded with increasing satisfaction scores across the board.”

James Edwartoski, executive director, Vi at Aventura, points to the company’s customer service recognition program, which he says was a direct outcome from Vi’s 2010 employee satisfaction survey. “Employees have received this program with enthusiasm, and they feel they have a much more direct impact on how employees are recognized for customer service,” he notes.

Multifaceted Customer Service Solutions

The Rollins Corporation provides its subsidiary, Orkin, with training curricula in which customer service training is not just a stand-alone topic, but is part of the fabric of almost all field training programs, both new hire and developmental. “One of the most successful customer service training programs in 2012 was the Orkin Promise, which was required training for all service employees,” says Training Director Craig Goodwin. “The Orkin Promise was a blended solution consisting of a 20-minute video-on-demand, featuring Orkin’s president and a fully scripted manager-led lesson, allowing the location manager to provide the corporate message while localizing content to meet specific service protocols.”

The Orkin Promise focuses on four areas of customer service that customers told the company have the greatest impact on their satisfaction and loyalty. These four areas are:

  1. Showing respect
  2. Accepting responsibility
  3. Delivering effective service
  4. Communicating effectively

“After viewing the video, managers then facilitate the lesson and each service employee develops a list of specific behaviors for meeting standards in each of these areas,” says Goodwin. “In creating their lists, employees identify behaviors to start and stop doing after reviewing a cross-section of tens of thousands of real customer comments about their service. Managers then ensure the behaviors are transferred to the workplace.”

Jiffy Lube International uses a similarly multifaceted approach to train employees in the art of customer service. “We incorporate customer service into every training course. We try to emphasize the customer, not the vehicle. Changing the focus has helped us change the culture at JL,” says Manager of Training and Development Kenneth Barber. “Jiffy Lube conducts thousands of mystery shops and customer phone surveys every month. The data is collected and tracked monthly, quarterly, and annually. We have seen the CSS (Customer Satisfaction Score) go up year after year since our computer-based training was introduced in late 2004. The consistent focus on customer service, the training to support customer service, and the focus on CSS numbers have been a huge plus for Jiffy Lube.”

Wequassett Resort and Golf Club likewise takes a blended approach to customer service training. Wequassett Academy and the School of Customer Intimacy have proven to be a successful training program for the resort. Blended training using lecture, role-play, situational games, and videos has helped cultivate a service-minded culture. “We teach the standards of great customer service, the special touches of personalized service, and the ‘Wequassett way’ of service,” says Director of Learning Kara Lachance. “Customer service is the common thread between every class taught on property. We incorporate service standards within each discipline and technique. Our customer service message is consistent regardless of where you work or who your manager is. We hold all employees accountable. It is the collaborative effort to teach our employees both passion for customer service, along with strong proficiency training, that has led to great success for our organization.”

QUICK TIPS

  • Measure your employees’ level of customer service via customer feedback on surveys and through the use of videos and recordings of customer-employee interactions.
  • Tap the expertise of successful customer service-oriented employees, encouraging them to mentor co-workers.
  • Make customer service a key part of your new hire training, asking all employees to make a formal commitment to providing a high level of service. Consider creating a form they have to read and sign stating their promise to exceed customer expectations as part of their employment requirements.
  • Consider a blended approach for customer service training in which classroom lessons are combined with simulations, in-person role-plays, and mystery shopper experiences.
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