Dazzle ’em! Featured

9:44am EDT July 22, 2002

Karan Froom is convinced now, but she couldn’t say the same when she first joined CoreComm as manager of customer operations training last April.

“I’m one of those big skeptics,” Froom admits. “When I came here and they said, ‘We dazzle our customers,’ I said, ‘Yeah, right.’”

Before long, however, Froom began seeing examples of the company’s customer service mantra at its offices in Worthington.

“One customer bought pizza two days in a row for our call center based on the representative he worked with,” Froom says. “That’s truly a dazzled customer.”

In another instance, a representative went above the call of duty when a customer called on a Saturday to report her voice mail was not working.

“Her husband was terminally ill and she didn’t want to leave the house because she was afraid to miss messages,” Froom says of the customer, who knew getting repairs on a Saturday might prove difficult. “This rep went out and bought an answering machine for the customer and dropped it off.”

Froom continues to see such examples since the company developed a training program she implements to make sure all employees understand the concept.

“As we figured out, in order to make it in the competitive world of local access and telecommunications, we really had to hang our hat on customer service — not ordinary customer service, but extraordinary customer service,” says Patty Flynt, CoreComm’s president.

Specifically, the company wanted employees to be able to “dazzle” customers.

“We realized what was missing from our training was the actual definition of ‘dazzle,’” Flynt says. “We realized we knew what it meant to dazzle a customer — or the management-type person did: When you hang up the phone, the customer is grinning.”

The problem: Did employees really understand what that meant?

Froom, along with two business analysts in the company and a trainer in CoreComm’s Chicago office, brainstormed the concept for the company’s training, which would focus on the four Cs of selecting a diamond: color, cut, clarity and carat.

Color is the flair and theatrics — the style — customer service representatives use when interacting with customers. Cut is how thoroughly and quickly the representative moves through the call. Clarity symbolizes the content of the call, or the knowledge and information shared. Carat denotes the results, or how the customer feels as a result of the call.

Training classes, then, emphasize those points and tell employees, for instance, how to interact with different types of people or how to handle various situations by using examples from employees’ experiences.

After seeing the success of the program, Flynt expanded it from customer operations throughout the entire company. Quality management principles have been added, and this year CoreComm implemented a program to reward employees for utilizing the training concepts and applying them to internal and external customer issues.

To make its internal training program work, CoreComm:

Chooses the right trainer.

“It’s important to get someone who actually has an education background or who has experience doing training,” Flynt says. “The temptation is to get someone who knows your subject matter best. Just because they have the knowledge doesn’t mean they have the ability to teach what they know.”

Before she started with CoreComm, Froom had 10 years experience in training at companies such as Cardinal Health and CompuServe.

Offers a well-rounded education.

CoreComm supplements inside training with outside expertise, Flynt says.

“We send people to various seminars that are targeted, maybe, toward the Internet or conflict in the workplace,” she says, adding that the company also brings experts in to provide training sometimes.

Recognizes employees’ learning styles.

“Some learn interactively, some via lecture, some by demonstrating — seeing is believing,” Flynt says.

Froom provides variation in her classes. She’ll allow group and individual participation, use an overhead projector to illustrate points and have employees work in pairs.

Monitors progress.

“We actually send a trainer in our sales organization out on sales calls to see how the associates perform,” Flynt says. “He gets introduced as another sales executive. He’ll listen. Then at lunch or in the car on the way back, he’ll give feedback.”

For customer service representatives answering telephone inquiries, employees have a four-week training class that’s a combination of in-classroom training and the opportunity to sit next to an experienced representative to hear the call and response. Then supervisors tape conversations of the new employees and sit down with them privately to coach them through what they’ve done right and what needs improvement.

Is responsive.

CoreComm adds topics to classes as employees bring up issues they do not understand. Responsiveness can also be as simple as altering the class: In the first “dazzle” classes, employees requested handouts, so sessions from that point on included information employees could take back to their desks for review.

Is patient.

As CoreComm grows, Flynt says, it continually faces the challenge of finding a balance between getting employees in the door and productive as quickly as possible vs. giving them enough time to be properly trained so they feel comfortable in their positions.

“We, from our experience, realize you cannot sit someone down for six weeks, do extensive training, then send them out to do a call. They forget what they learned in week one. You try to get them to a point where they can do the first level of the job, then layer the next thing on,” she says.

“I’m a believer that every person wants to come to work and do a good job,” Flynt says. “If they fail, maybe it’s because we haven’t given them the tools.”

Joan Slattery Wall (jwall@sbnnet.com) is associate editor of SBN Columbus.