Service? Not on your…quick training menu


There was an excellent article on service in the last organ and what I liked is that it came from a very personal viewpoint and experience. As we all suffer from/enjoy service, whether we like it or not.

We have spent the last few years delivering customer service training and are astonished how easy it is for delegates to come up with their own examples of “bad service”, and then how difficult it is to come up with examples of “good service” and, when it comes down to it, both good and bad examples are down to individual people, not companies or processes.

I thought I’d probably had enough personal stories of both but, recently, I came across another.

We spend 80% of our waking hours communicating; 45% of that time listening. In school, we are taught to read and write but told to listen.

I was trying to deal with, well without naming names, let’s just call them a large British Telecoms player with football rights, as I couldn’t get a signal on my faulty box. This was a Saturday and the person in India and then the person in the UK (who I was told would not be there) both said they “understood my problem”. They didn’t and I kept telling them they didn’t (in an objective, unemotional manner, of course). They offered a visit to fix the box on Thursday but I kept telling them that, as I wanted to watch TV now, this wasn’t good enough.

“I understand what you are saying” they both said but they didn’t; they may have been hearing but they certainly weren’t listening.

They were, no doubt, sticking to the training and script they had but this wasn’t enough. Simply, if I buy a box to receive TV signals and it doesn’t do the job, something needs to happen. Telling me that I need to go five days without the service, but the good news is that I wouldn’t be charged for the down time, simply isn’t good enough. Both “listened” but neither went off their script. I was treated as a number, not a person by people who are probably treated just the same by their employers.

That isn’t service. Michael O’Leary (oh, you know him) once said “We give our customers great prices and that’s service” but had to back-track on that when he realised (well, I doubt he did) that this wasn’t service. It cost him around £18 million to put it right and, to be fair, it worked, which shows the importance of getting how you deal with your customers right.

The recent people who have been lauded for their service have been First Direct, Skipton Building Society, Prêt a Manger and Lakeland, to name but a few, and all have one thing in common: they treat their people like people and train them correctly. Correctly? Which means “empowering” (yes, I hate that, too) people to use their initiative (within boundaries). This leads to grown-up thinking by grown-up people. And dealing with people as people.

You may have seen the new “trend” (are there old trends?) for “quick learning”; LinkedIn seems to be awash with companies doing accelerated learning (though it’s not called this anymore as that’s old hat). This, it says, saves time and costs money. What they won’t tell you I that it doesn’t work.

Years ago, a building society, who shall also be nameless (now a Spanish bank), asked us if we could get the training time for the induction of regulated advisers down. We asked to what length. Less than the three months currently, was the reply, and we then started a bargaining conversation which ended up in us offering to do it in 24 hours.

They naturally looked at us with incredulous eyes. “Well,” I said (for it was me), “you can get this down to any length you want. But the point is, do you want it to work and treat your staff and your customers fairly?”.

Complaints about service are an interesting area for us now; it will impact on business, as it has always done, but the “voice of the customer” needs to be heard. And it tends to be simple: treat us like human beings, listen to us and do the basics.

Like listening, and I quote:

“It can be stated, with practically no qualification,” Ralph G. Nichols and Leonard A. Stevens write in a 1957 HBR article, “That people in general do not know how to listen. They have ears that hear very well, but seldom have they acquired the necessary aural skills which would allow those ears to be used effectively for what is called listening.”

We spend 80% of our waking hours communicating; 45% of that time listening.

Listening is interesting; in school, we are taught to read and write but told to listen. Few people have been taught how to listen. It can be taught but it can’t be taught quickly.

It’s not just about listening, of course. It’s about a myriad of skills and knowledge but mostly it’s about the attitude towards the customer, wanting to do the right thing for the right reasons in the right time. But, if nothing else, listening is a good starting point for all of this.

Which takes me right back to my recent run-in, simply, if the people would have listened to me, used some sort of initiative and shown themselves to be human, maybe I’d still be a customer. But they didn’t this time. And, as Henry Ford one pointed out: It is not the employer who pays the wages. Employers only handle the money. It is the customer who pays the wages.”

You can’t properly train this sort of approach without “un-quick” training (which I must copyright) matched with competent supervision and coaching. And they can’t supervise and coach without detailed training. You see my point.

Service and training; the two areas that will differentiate companies as we move into 2016 and beyond.

Ignore this at your peril.



About Author

Avatar photo

Training Design & Delivery of topics such as Customer Service, Note Taking, Business Writing, Presentation Skills, All Management/Team Leader areas, Sales, Sales Management, all tailored and run in-house for your personal requirements. Also, coaching and mentoring.

Leave A Reply