World-class training Featured

8:00pm EDT September 25, 2008

Acommon misconception is that the only way to get better people is to pay more than everyone else. There are many great examples of world-class companies who do not necessarily pay better than their competitors. In fact, employees at Disney, Starbucks and Nordstrom are hired from the same labor pool every other organization uses and are paid the going rates. The real reason why the customer service is so good at a company like Disney is how well they are transformed into Walt Disney cast members during training.

Remember: In most cases, the most recently hired, least-trained, lowest-paid employee deals with the customers the most. What determines the consistency of delivering the experience is the quality of the systems and training that every new and existing employee goes through.

Inadequate training is definitely the biggest underlying reason for the inconsistency and scarcity of great customer service. Companies skimp on training because it costs money. But companies that invest in customer service by training their employees reap great financial benefits.

Why are you trusting a $100,000 client with $100 worth of training?

There are two types of training when it comes to training new employees: hard and soft. Hard training focuses on the basic functions of the daily job while soft training focuses on customer-specific issues, such as dealing with an upset client or acquiring customer intelligence. Stop and examine your own training for new employees and notice the percentage of your hard versus soft training.

More than 90 percent of businesses spend less than 10 percent of their training on soft methods. It is the soft training that allows front-line employees to deliver personalized service, which creates a memorable experience, emotional brand capital and, ultimately, repeat business. If you do the math on your own training and find that your business dedicates just 10 hours of new employee training to soft skills, then that means you are trusting that a $10 an hour front-line employee can consistently satisfy one of your $100,000 customers with a mere $100 worth of true customer service preparation.

To be a world-class customer service organization, your training should include the following:

  • A company orientation that covers company policy and the company’s history

  • The functional components of the specific job

  • The operational procedures of the job

  • All technical training, including product knowledge, use of equipment/tools, software and other technology, and scope of services

  • Experiential training on soft skills, especially how to create relationships and personalize encounters, how to prevent customers from feeling like transactions, and customer recovery techniques

  • On-the-job shadowing

  • Testing and certification, including extensive testing on experiential skills

Map the customer’s experience journey

Identify all the significant points of interaction — called stages — that your customers may have with your company and get your employees involved in helping create what those stages should look like. You then break each stage down into four individual components:

  1. Service defects: all the things that can ruin the customer’s experience at this stage

  2. Operational standards: all the tasks or jobs for each stage

  3. Experiential standards: the actions that will create an exceptional experience

  4. Above-and-beyond opportunities: common situations that front-line employees should recognize and prepare for in order to make a customer’s day.

Once you have your final version of service defects, standards and above-and-beyond opportunities, you can create a training manual that all new employees get trained and tested on during their first two weeks with your company.

Action plan

It is imperative for companies to ensure that every employee truly understands what the organization’s customer experience promise is. The customer experience promise is what the organization is supposed to deliver to customers, consistently, at every stage of their interaction.

Organizations need to make sure their customer experience promise is structured in such a way that all employees learn, understand and execute it.

JOHN R. DIJULIUS is the best-selling author of “What’s The Secret? To Providing a World-Class Customer Experience.” (Wiley, May 2008). He is also president of The DiJulius Group, a firm specializing in giving companies a superior competitive advantage by helping them differentiate on delivering an experience and making price irrelevant. Reach him at