Without question, hiring the right employees for customer-facing roles (and by “right” I mean “those with the most potential to turn out right”) improves your odds of providing exceptional customer service, day in and day out.
Unfortunately, though, extent to which these promising employees will grow (or shrink!) in their time with your company remains an open question, no matter how carefully they were hired. (For a free copy of my “WETCO” customer service hiring framework – Warmth, Empathy, Teamwork, Conscientiousness, and Optimism email me – firstname.lastname@example.org – and I’ll hook you up. )
And sometimes, sadly, they will fall short. This can be a momentary blip or represent an emerging pattern. Either way, here are the most likely reasons I see in my work as a customer service consultant, trainer, and training designer.
1. Fear of reprimand for doing the wrong thing, even when their actions were motivated by a heart that is firmly in the right place.
2. A feeling that management isn’t interested in front-line employee contributions and insights (for how we innovation and improve as a company), viewing such employees instead as merely “slot fillers.”
3. Lack of good and recent customer service training.
4. The frustration of being in an understaffed and/or under-resourced environment, and/or struggles with inefficient systems that make even the most straightforward tasks difficult to accomplish.
5. Personal struggles having nothing to do with work.
The solution to each of these (except #5) is inherent in the problem, as follows:
To combat the fear of reprimand for doing the wrong thing,” make it clear that employee efforts—including the times they went out on a limb–will always be supported, regardless of outcome, as long as their efforts were intended to be in the customer’s interest. Consider making a practice, in fact, of celebrating your biggest screw-ups, the times you strove to do something in favor of a customer and the whole thing went sideways nonetheless.
For the feeling that management isn’t interested in the contributions of customer-facing employees (outside of their “slot-filling” work), well, are you? If not, you’re missing out. Some of the greatest, most sustainably growing companies embrace and systematically harvest the ideas of employees at all levels for innovation and process improvement. (For an extraordinary example here, consider USAA, the insurance and financial services giant, which owns over 900 patents that are based on the suggestions of its employees, mostly non-technical employees, in fact. My article on USAA’s innovation efforts can be found here.)
For “lack of good and recent customer service training,” well, you could give me a shout, or reach out to any of the other reputable firms and practitioners in customer service training. Consider, if you do, engaging a training designer to create a custom eLearning product that represents the essentials of customer service paired with the philosophy, history, branding and aspirations of your company and can be used asynchronously by employees (i.e., flexibly, on their own schedule) and that allows enough interactivity that it can be used for certification and future on boarding.
And so forth.
Now let’s look at the last item, “personal issues having nothing to do with work.” That’s a hard one. One of my favorite insights on this comes from Calvin Banks, at the time the head of training at the triple Five Star (Forbes Travel Guide-rating) Broadmoor in Colorado Springs:
“Always look at each employee as a whole person, never as a ‘position,’ or ‘position-filler,’ says their director of training. When you think of an individual as a whole person, you’re not thinking of them as a server, you’re thinking of them as ‘Jimmy.’ Human beings, including Jimmy, have things that happen in their life. They have kids, they go on vacation, they have up days, down days, aspirations, desires, frustrations, good things and bad things that are happening in their lives. If we understand the whole person, then when Jimmy comes to work and seems not the same, we can sit down, talk with him, and see how we can help.”
Embracing this viewpoint is admittedly a tall order when you’re face to face with the pressures of running a business and answering to all of your stakeholders. But the loyalty it engenders, not only in the one employee in distress but in all of the others who witness your support, will reap dividends for years to come.