The Top 10 Training Topics for Customer Focus
These ideas will help you create the most important element for business success: customer loyalty
Published: Sunday, March 6, 2005 - 11:01
Training is profoundly strategic. It’s a process aimed at improving the single most important resource in the organization: people. Nothing affects customer loyalty more than the behaviors and competencies of employees.
Training is the most effective way to communicate the correct behaviors and competencies that will keep customers coming back. At its core, training is very straightforward: Figure out what competencies are required for personnel to effectively serve their customers, and take action to address gaps in competency. The challenge comes in trying to build a system that will deliver. With good intentions, organizations often build unwieldy systems that are both confusing and doomed to failure. That’s why training process must be carefully designed, with an eye toward relevance, simplicity and customer expectations.
Let’s start with an understanding of the starting point for training, which is competency. Competence is the ability to apply knowledge and skills in a job situation. In other words, it’s the condition that enables someone to successfully drive customer loyalty. There are countless topics on which employees can be trained, but resources for training are finite. Organizations must choose the critical few training topics that drive customer focus and the organization’s long-term success. The 10 most critical training topics companies should select are as follows:
The organization’s mission and strategy. The mission is an organization’s core reason for existence: serving its customers. Employees need to understand this fact in no uncertain terms. The message needs to come from the highest levels of the organization to reinforce its credibility.
How to present a professional appearance and attitude. Professionalism is an attribute that has become rare. How many times have you been put off by the appearance and attitude of someone by whom you were supposed to be served? It’s an almost daily occurrence. Disgusting and disinterested employees are among the biggest liabilities that an organization can possess.
Handling customer complaints. Even in the best organizations, customers sometimes complain. The fact that customers complain isn’t nearly as important as how the organization deals with the complaints. All employees who have even the most remote chance of receiving a customer complaint should receive training that lets them know how to record the complaint, what kind of details to capture, where the complaint should go after being recorded and how to empathize with the customer in an appropriate manner. Customers get irate with employees who don’t know how to handle their complaints. This kind of ignorance only makes a bad situation much worse. On the other hand, employees who are trained in handling complaints can diffuse potential disasters and build customer loyalty.
Effective communication. Communication is one of the weakest competencies within organizations. It’s also a weakness that has an enormous affect on customer loyalty and satisfaction. When employees can’t communicate clearly, problems are bound to happen: customer requirements are lost, messages are muddled, information is misinterpreted and people inevitably get angry. It’s categorically impossible to breed customer loyalty when employees can’t communicate effectively.
Time management. Failure to manage time means that customers won’t be served. Organizations rarely provide guidance on how employees can best use their time. Much to the contrary, organizations tend to build bureaucracies, ensuring that employees will fail to use their time effectively. Some of the keys to time management include planning each day in advance, prioritization of tasks, avoidance of activities that distract from priorities, meetings that are brief and timely, and information provided at the point of use. Nonwork-related temptations, such as unlimited Internet surfing and chatting with friends on the telephone, should be controlled. A little bit of oversight usually goes a long way.
Root cause analysis. The ability to investigate a problem and identify its root cause is critical to customer loyalty. After all, most customers are willing to endure occasional problems if the organization aggressively attacks their causes and prevents recurrence. Inability to address the root cause guarantees customer dissatisfaction.
Everyone in the organization should receive training on problem solving, root cause analysis and the use of simple analytical tools that will enable them to solve problems. After receiving training, employees need the opportunity to practice. Effective root cause analysis is a skill that rarely comes naturally.
Safety. Customers should care if employees are safe because a lack of safety delays processes, causes defects and drives up costs. Ultimately, a lack of safety will doom the organization. Training employees to work in a safe manner may not ensure customer loyalty, but a lack of safety will certainly negatively affect it over the long term.
Business ethics. Remember all those fundamentals that everyone was taught in kindergarten? Well, not everybody learned them. I’m talking about: “don’t lie,” “don’t cheat,” “don’t steal” and “play nice.” These principles can be lumped into a category called business ethics. Over the last couple of decades, the notion of ethics has seemed quaint and outmoded to some organizations. Their attitude seems to be, “We’re here to succeed, and we’re going to do anything it takes to be No. 1.” Never mind if that results in unethical and sometimes illegal behavior.
Unethical behavior can destroy an organization. Reputable customers don’t want to associate with organizations that bend rules and violate accepted standards of conduct. Training of employees should include specific guidelines on ethical practices, with lots of examples that people can relate to. Then it’s up to top management to model ethical behavior in their day-to-day activities. Years of ethics training can be undone in a matter of minutes when organizational members see that their leaders don’t practice what they preach.
How to propose improvement ideas. Organizations are full of creative people. They’re always discovering new and improved ways of doing things. You don’t even have to ask people to find improvements; they’ll generally do it on their own. The organization should to provide a way to communicate and standardize improvements. One person with an excellent method is nice, but when that excellent method has been adopted by everyone, it has enormous implications. Suggestion systems are one way to formally solicit people’s ideas for improvement (for information on suggestion systems, refer to The Continual Improvement Process: From Strategy to the Bottom Line, (Paton Press LLC, 2003). A simple open-door policy can also be a tool for organizational members to communicate their ideas to leadership. Whatever the method, train employees to seek improvements and how to communicate them once they’re found. And make sure they think about improvements from the perspective of their customers.
Document control. This may seem like an unusual training topic to drive customer focus. However, document control has a huge affect on customer loyalty. It’s an invisible process to most customers, but they’re directly affected by its effectiveness. Think about how many errors result from someone having the wrong specification, requirements, order or instruction. Having the correct information is nothing more than document control. All employees should receive training on the organization’s process for document control, including how documents can be revised, who approves revisions, where the current versions of documents are located and what to do with obsolete documents.
These 10 topics are by no means the only training issues that affect the customer. Depending on the nature of your organization, there may be others. Put yourself in the shoes of your customer and think about the kinds of training you would expect organizational members to have. Even better, ask a few customers about the kind of training they would like to see you provide your people. Their input might surprise you. Keep the training focused on issues that affect the customer and you can never go very far off course.
For more information on team training, check out Quality Digest’s Knowledge Guide, “Eight Steps to Team Problem Solving.”
About The Author
Craig Cochran is a project manager with Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute. Cochran is the author of The Seven Lessons: Management Tools for Success; Problem Solving in Plain English; ISO 9001 in Plain English; Customer Satisfaction: Tools, Techniques, and Formulas for Success; The Continual Improvement Process: From Strategy to the Bottom Line; and Becoming a Customer-Focused Organization, all available from Paton Professional. His most recent book is ISO 9001:2015 in Plain English, also available from Paton Professional.
Training Sessions that offer you the results you want
This is a partial listing of the training sessions we have available. You can request a flyer on any of these sessions. You may also call 276-4769 and discuss your training needs, to no cost, with any of our team and we can customize a unique session that exactly fits your needs.
Management and Supervisory Training
- Coaching Strategies that Work
- Effective Delegation Strategies
- Discipline and Handling Work Performance Problems (click to view video)
- Dealing with Problem Employees
- Hiring and Firing
- Interviewing Skills for Managers
- Legal Aspects of Management
- Making Performance Appraisals Effective
- Managing Change and Freefall for Managers
- Managing for Improved Work Performance
- Managerial and Supervisory Communication
- Gen X and Y: A Briefing for Managers
- Managing for Productivity
- Managing Meetings that Work
- Practical Strategies for Motivating Employees [beyond the raise?]
- Succeeding as a New Supervisor
- Teams That Work and Strategies for Managers Managing Them
- The Leadership Series and Executive Development for Managers
- The People Game: Maximizing Your Payroll Dollars
- Results-oriented Management
- Time Management: Gaining 4 Hours a Week
- Sex Harassment: How To Avoid a $7.1 Million Dollar Mistake
- Preventing EEO and ADA Problems
Communications and Negotiations
- Communicating for Results
- Conflict Resolution Skills That Work
- Client and Witness Interviewing
- Effective Business Writing
- Influencing without Authority
- Negotiation Skills for Softies
- Voice Training
- Persuading, Influencing and Convincing
- Playing to Win/Win: Negotiation Strategies that Work
- Presenting with Style: Effective Public Speaking
- Surviving Media Interviews
Sales, Marketing, and Customer Relations
- Closing the Sale and Overcoming Objections
- Cold Calls: Warming Them Up
- Double Your Revenue: Marketing Strategies
- Fundraising: Winning Hearts and Money
- Guerrilla Marketing
- Happy Problems: Skills for Turning Around Problems and Problem Customers
- High-Performance Selling
- Persuasion: Sales Techniques for Non-Salespeople
- Turning Browsers Into Customers
- Winning Customers: Sales Skills for Customer Service Professionals
- Presenting Your Company Professionally: Telephone Skills
- Business and Customer Etiquette
- CARE: Customers Are Really Everything
- Dealing With Difficult People
Professional and Organizational Development
- Board of Directors’ Training
- The Memory Work-out: effective, no-gimmick memory training for remembering names and information
- Diversity: Cross-Cultural Strategies That Work
- Humor in the Workplace
- Increasing, Assessing and Maintaining Motivation and Professional Energy
- Balancing Personal and Professional Life
- Professional Resume Writing
- The Milky Way Diet: Emotional, Attitudinal and Behavioral Strategies for Making Weight Loss Easier
- Taking the Edge Off Stress: Stress Management and Relaxation
- Team-Building That Works
- Career Planning
- Creating Breakthroughs: Changing Your Relationship Patterns
- Handling Criticism Diplomatically
- Individualized Career Planning
- Interviewing and Job Hunting Skills
- Personal Goal-Setting
- Creativity Tools
- The Structure of Magic: NLP and Creativity
Board of Directors
- Board Member Development and Conflict Resolution
- Board of Directors’ Training
- Streamlining Board Meetings
- 2005 and beyond: A Real World Business Plan
- Strategic Planning
Secretarial and Administrative Specialties
- Business and Customer Etiquette
- Image: Communicating Professionalism
- Professional Development for Secretaries and Administrative Staff
- Receptionist Training
- Telephone Etiquette
Stress & Time Management (click to view video)
- Juggling: Successfully Managing Multiple Demands
- Managing Change, Conflict & Stress
- Motivation In a Down Economy
- Stress, Burnout and Renewal
- Getting Unburied and Time Management
- Deck the Halls and Not your Boss: Time and Stress Management
- Taking the Edge Off: Stress Management When You Only Have 30 Seconds
- Real-time Stress Management
(This is not a complete list. Please ask if a desired topic is not on this list.)