Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Simple Truths of a Complex Customer Experience

Customer service; it's external, internal, and based on personal perception and expectation. It's consistently changing experiences and interactions that are influenced by age, culture, current environment, and mood. Simply put: customer service is complex.

So how do you design effective procedures for your employees and develop a solid training program that satisfies such a wide variety of people and ever-changing factors? Though challenging, customer service training is vitally important for the success, sustainability, and profitability of your business unit, product, or service and it should be regarded as a top priority. In this blog we'll discuss the challenges of training for such seemingly unpredictable circumstances and why a company should focus on this crucial area of "soft-skills" development.

While attempting to find an engaging image for this post, I had an eye-opening discovery on the perceptions of customer service. I Googled the key words "royalty-free customer service images" and the first 100-200 images generated by my search were of a single person having a phone conversation on a wireless headpiece. While they appeared to be very friendly, smiley people, it occurred to me that a very important element was missing in the picture; the customer. 

This sample of pictures didn't properly illustrate that customer service involves an interaction between two or more people. The images would have left you thinking that good customer service simply requires a good looking twenty-something and hands-free technology; a laughable proposition. If it were that simple I would venture to say that the world of commerce would be overflowing with exceptional customer service and that the unemployment rate of our twenty-somethings would be nonexistent. So what is missing from this picture? There are companies that are known for their service. What sets them apart from the rest?

Let's start by reflecting on our own customer service experiences. Don't be surprised if some of the worst ones come to mind first. This is pretty normal. Often we are most affected by those negative experiences which seem to conflict strongly with our own expectations and these memories can be stronger. The good experiences don't upset our emotions as much as the bad ones do, and our complacency and satisfaction can actually make these positive experiences more difficult to recall. 

Think about certain businesses you frequent or a certain department within your company that you enjoy working closely with on projects. Perhaps it's the mechanic you bring your car to whenever there's an issue, the local bakery that you frequent to grab a pastry and a coffee, or the barber/beautician who is the only person you would trust with your unruly do. What is it about that particular product or service that keeps you coming back? Chances are it's multiple things and when all is said and done, it's the fact that you leave that experience feeling respected, satisfied, and quite possibly in a better mood than you were in before you went in. 

In order for someone to label their entire interaction or transaction excellent it should be positive from beginning to end; including the greeting, service throughout, closing of the sale, and any necessary follow-up.This is why it is important for any customer service training program to have a comprehensive training model. A successful customer service procedure cannot simply focus on a single aspect of the process. A talented training developer and facilitator focuses on providing a program that prepares the trainee for a comprehensive experience. 

Training for the bigger picture means that the approach must go deeper than providing canned responses. Trainees need to understand the mission and values of their employer, be knowledgeable about their product and/or service, and aware of the expectations that their audience (the customer) has for them. The purpose of customer service training is to provide the trainee with a good idea of what "full" service is and should be. The challenge is that "full" service is an evolving principle. The diagram below gives a good illustration of how drastically customer service communication has changed in a relatively short period of time.

Borrowed from:
This image helps us to consider customer service expectations from a generational perspective. You have one segment of the population that still remembers a world in which anything you bought or sold was done locally. Transactions were personal and face-to-face. This was even true in the workplace, where if you didn't understand a concept or a task you asked a supervisor or individual with more experience than yourself for insight and advice. 

Now a large segment of the population is more familiar and comfortable with ordering what they need online, turning to chat services when confronted with an issue, and may very well reference Google or Wikipedia before asking advice from another person in the office. Commerce today is set up in such a way that our younger generation can research, buy, return (if needed), and review a product or service without interacting directly with another person at any point throughout the process. 

Customer service interactions in the digital age can be drastically different, but the importance of a quality personal interaction is not extinct by any means. We are an inherently social species that will always desire to be received in a friendly manner and valued as a customer. All of the social media and time-saving tools in the world will not change this simple, yet fundamental fact.

Furthermore, quality customer service training is not exclusive to the hospitality industry. In fact, it's not even exclusive to an external focus. Quality service is just as important internally. A company that pretends to be one thing to it's customers, but does not practice the same values within is not fooling anyone. It truly is as simple as the saying, "Practice what you preach." 

This is why an expert training professional who can design and develop a custom training solution is worth their weight in gold. A seasoned professional can assess a current culture, their goals, and their audience and develop a program that will benefit multiple divisions. Setting service expectations is a major shift that requires deliberate and careful planning.

Our team is currently working with a client on a major visitor experience initiative. The challenges are diverse; the client is striving to engage multiple generations and cultures, overcome some public misconceptions, and continue to keep pace with their own extraordinary growth. While fast-paced growth can create some challenge, it is also a great source of motivation. We are already beginning to see the fruits of our efforts presenting themselves in the internal interest and excitement for the new training program. The team is encouraged by their growth and excited about cultivating even greater success.

Do you see service related challenges in your own personal or professional environment? If you do, our team of expert trainers would love to hear about your experience and provide you with some useful tools and insights in our April edition of the Insider. 

As an added bonus, the first four readers to either share a customer service experience or ask our training experts a question on the topic in the comments below will not only receive helpful feedback, but a Starbucks gift card as well! Share with us how the evolution of customer service into the digital age or generational variations in service expectations have affected your work or consumer experience. Our team is in the business of exceptional service and we want to hear from our readers about how we can help.

Do you have a question or concern and don't want to leave a comment? We'd love to hear from you! Just email or call (949.336.6444).


  1. The misconceptions are in the plan itself. Prior to 1970 customer care was far greater then at any time since. As a young man there were life qualities all service personal were expected to define in performing their daily tasks. Presenting an item might require a different presentation to older customer, therefore respecting that element and gaining understanding of it were part and parcel of ones job task.
    ...It might today be listed as "sensitive" whereas prior to the 1970's "Sensitive" was a requirement. Today we focus on packaging at a low price, back then the focus was centered on quality at a fair price. Here again "sensitive" is mis-read. Certainly most older customers are fully aware of these differences and low prices and packaging lead to mistrust.
    ...As less is required of a service attendant, the attendant will be less inclined to known and understand the product and the needs of the customer. The relationship of cost of these products are lost in today's climate. Price is computerized, understanding of an item quality, is written right on the packaging.
    ...Through progress, we have eliminated the very steps of the sale that today you seek to find.

    1. Thank you, Edward! We appreciate you sharing your perspective on the evolution of customer service as you've seen it through the decades. We'll be happy to send you a gift card so that you can enjoy a cup of coffee on us! Please email your address to