Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Customer Service training, and other useless things.

*Small apologies on this post.  I could have sworn I hit publish before I logged out yesterday.  Looks like I was mistaken.

Before I dive into this week's entry, allow me to bring everybody more or less back up to speed.  First and foremost, for anyone who doesn't already know, I passed my CompTIA 220-801 with flying colors on my first attempt, and I'm currently studying for the 220-802, which I plan to take within the next couple of weeks.  Once that's complete, I will have completed the CompTIA A+ certification, and will be one step closer to a meaningful career.

Between the test, an early Thanksgiving with the in-laws, studying, and some other really good stuff on the home front, I've missed a few blog entries, but I should be back on track for a little while now.  I've got enough material to last for several more weeks, and by then I should be done with phase one (doesn't it sound more exciting when I say "phase one" than just "step one?") and have an awful lot of other things to talk about as well.

In the meantime, I thought I'd take a break from my regularly scheduled studies to talk about Customer Service, and Customer Service Training.  I know that seems like a boring topic, and it is, but I promise to make it fun.  Well, that was a bald faced lie*, but I do promise to make it more fun than the last customer service training video I had to watch.

Here's the short version:

Customer Service - absolutely critical

Customer Service Training - almost completely useless

If you've never worked in a customer service centric job, you may not be aware, but there is an entire industry that revolves around selling customer service training to other companies.  Sometimes it's DVD's that are sold for hundreds, sometimes even thousands, of dollars.  Sometimes it's complex training programs with mountains of pre-made materials, videos, fancy PowerPoint presentations and "certified" training consultants. (I put "certified" in quotes because they're usually fake certifications.  Like getting 'certified' to run the grill at McDonald's.  It's only counts as a certification while you're working at McDonald's.)

The company I work for just went whole-hog and bought into a massive online training system where they are able to send all of their existing training materials to a 3rd party who will put them online, and generate a system of pseudo random assessment tests to make sure people watch the videos while logged into the site with their unique login.  It probably cost many thousands of dollars, not including the ongoing costs, to offer the exact same training videos through a website; and for what?

The big ugly secret of the industry, is that it's almost a complete waste of time.  Everybody needs some basic customer service training at some point, and there's probably something to be said for refreshing if you have a major job change, but that's about it.  Mandatory refreshers every year for hundreds of employees is a waste of time and resources, and I'll tell you why.

Think of the best customer service you've ever received.  Do you really think that person learned how to treat people from a DVD?  Do you think that they were rude and thoughtless and horrible servers until they watched The Guest?  I think it's more likely they had decent parents, decent teachers, and maybe a coach or boss who helped them along the way.

Now, think of the worst service you've ever had.  Not the girl at the plaid pantry with blue hair and a neck tattoo who didn't speak.  Sure, she was bad, and she should probably be near the front of the line when we finally get around to launching useless people off the planet in rockets, but she wasn't the worst.  If you've had to wait for a store clerk at Wal*Mart to finish a cell phone conversation before helping you, you're probably getting warmer, but still not there.  I'm talking about the service that was not only directly insulting, but so bad you felt degraded for having attempted to do business with a company that would hire such people.  (I'm looking at you, Capitol Toyota)

Do you think a 2-hour seminar on customer service is going to make them suddenly wonderful people to deal with?  Oh sure, if it's a really great training program they might be marginally better for a few hours after they walk out the door, maybe even for a couple of days.  But that's about it.

The truth is that the attitude a person brings with them is the only thing that really counts.

That's all pretty rotten news for employers, and equally rotten news for an entire cottage industry if HR professionals ever figure it out, but it's great news for you and me.  The reality today is that service of one kind or another is a part of virtually every job.  With millions of people looking for work every day, being able to show a desire to serve others well, is one of the most valuable job skills in the world.  Excellent service is often what makes one business fail while another succeeds.  Sure, there's the freaks of the business world who start from nothing, providue dubious quality and charge too much, but some end up as titans of industry..... *cough*....Microsoft...*cough..... .....cough*....Starbucks... . ..*cough hack cough*.. .Apple.... *cough*.......

Likewise, you occasionally find a business that succeeds despite a mountain of issues because they had an idea that was just plain better than anybody else's idea.  You can recognize these companies, because they get ripped off pretty much right away.  (Dyson Vacuums, Gary Fong Light Sphere)

However, for the vast majority, it comes down to treating people better than everyone else.  Wal*Mart may be a running joke at this point, but the reason they succeeded in the first place was that once upon a time, they new how to treat their customers.  In a marketplace filled with perspective employees, the ability to serve others well can set you apart, and get you into a better career.

*Footnote for etymology geeks: "bald faced lie" and "bold faced lie" are both correct, and both mean the same thing, even though the literal definitions of bald and bold are completely unrelated.