Building personal relationships Featured

7:00pm EDT December 26, 2009

When Jerry Campbell thinks of prime examples of customer service, he can’t stop the famed Cheers’ lyrics, “Where everybody knows your name,” from running through his head.

“If you go into your favorite restaurant on Friday night, and you walk in, and they know who you are, you feel good,” says Campbell, chairman, president and CEO of HomeBanc N.A. “That’s the experience we try to create.”

When Campbell founded the bank in 2007, he instituted a company philosophy revolving around personal service. Features include personal bankers, meaning no teller lines, and a Sunset Commitment, which guarantees an employee will get back to you before the day ends.

But in order to have a successful customer service program, you need to be able to train employees in the aspects of delivering that service, says Campbell, who has about 100 employees.

Smart Business spoke with Campbell about how to develop a customer service training program for employees.

Commit to training your employees in customer service. If you don’t have any customers, you don’t have anything. We always say that nothing happens until there’s a sale, i.e., a customer. But I think to have a successful customer service program, it starts with the training of your staff. We have about 40 hours of classroom training for all of our staff who deal with customers.

We train our people to be close to our customers (and to be) relationship-oriented.

Determine the best training for your employees. You have to figure out what business you’re in. Are you in a sales business, a service business, a technical assistance business or what?

If you’re in a service business, you need to do service techniques all the way from how to answer the phone, stand up and introduce yourself, give your card to someone, all of those things.

I’m sure you’ve gone into a business where someone doesn’t stand up, they don’t introduce themselves, they don’t give you a card, and in some cases, they might even act like you’re a disruption of their process for whatever they’re doing.

Our training is sort of equally divided between sales and technical issues like compliance and regulations and so forth. We’ve gone to a lot of online training for some of the items, some of which we get through the regulators and some we buy from third parties. Then we have classroom training, which is more sales-oriented, specific to our business and our products and how we operate.

So I think it’s a function of you’ve got to decide what business you’re in and what are your niches. Then, how do you train for that.

Show employees what you mean. You almost have to switch roles and get your employee to stand in the shoes of the customer. If you look at it as if you were looking in the mirror, that you’re delivering services to yourself, what is it that you like and expect as a customer?

We all make choices every day from where to send our dry cleaning to where to have a fast-food lunch or whatever, and it’s usually related to our expectation of customer satisfaction. So that’s how we focus our training. We do a lot of sort of classroom case modeling where we have one of the persons be a customer and one be an employee, and we sometimes film that and play it back.

You can learn a lot about watching yourself and listening to yourself. We try to get our employees to be in the role of being a customer.

The other thing is the classroom sessions cannot be too long. People lose their concentration rather quickly. We don’t think the class can be more than an hour.

We also think it needs to be fun, there’s got to be some fun element in it. Some of the role-playing, we even encourage some of our employees to be difficult customers and sometimes that’s pretty humorous.

Use your own employees to train others. We’ve found that some of our best trainers are our people who have been very successful, and we have them teach others what they know and what they’ve learned. They’re actually, in many cases, better teachers than bringing in outside, third-party teachers.

The No. 1 criteria (for trainers) would be attitude. No. 2 would obviously be experience and knowledge of the subject. But if you don’t have the right attitude, it doesn’t work.

They say attitude is a little word that makes a big difference. I believe that’s true in life. If people are infectious or enthused about what they do, then they tend to transmit that to others. If they don’t like what they’re doing, they also transmit that to others.

Offer training in different forms to allow flexibility. The actual classroom classes are during the workday, the Internet Web classes are after hours at people’s leisure, and it’s a combination of those two together that constitutes our training.

On a regular quarterly basis we can schedule classroom training, but let’s say a new employee came to work a week following the classroom training, we couldn’t do another classroom training for one employee because it would be cost-prohibitive. So if we could take that one employee online for whatever specific class it was, you can do them as a one off. It’s much more efficient and that employee doesn’t have to wait three months to receive vital training.

With the Internet training, some people like to do it on their own time, in the evenings, on weekends or whenever they choose. There’s some advantage to that because sometimes it’s difficult for people to be away at training an hour or two at a time.

How to reach: HomeBanc N.A., (813) 228-8300 or www.homebanc.com