More businesses than ever are finding this the right time to invest in customer service training as we head into the post- (or, I should say, nearly post-) pandemic era. And they’re right to want to do so: Business can’t count much longer on customers cutting it slack due to the Covid-related supply chain and employee disruptions they’ve seen so vividly in the headlines. Customers are going to go back, full force, to expecting the levels of courtesy, polish, and emotional alignment they expected pre-pandemic in customer service from businesses across the board.
If you’re looking to polish your customer service as we move into this new era, let me spell out where to put your focus. I’m a customer service consultant, trainer, and creator of custom eLearning programs for my clients, who span a variety of industries, including technology, retail, automotive, healthcare (the patient experience), hospitality, banking, financial services and fintech, and B2B. And across the board, there are three disciplines I’m finding essential that they focus on in the present-day landscape.
1. Offer customer service training that teaches “situational empathy.”
A confusing thing about the pandemic and its accompanying disruptions—healthwise and economy-wise—is that the distribution of some of its effects have been highly uneven. And when a business’s customer base includes those whom it’s fallen on hardest (even if things are, haltingly, finally getting better), a whopping dose of situational empathy is essential if you want to connect, and truly serve, these customers.
But can empathy even be trained for? The answer is a resounding yes—and no.
There is one kind of empathy that’s basically unchangeable, and untrain-for-able. This is empathy as a personality trait, what psychologists call “dispositional empathy.” Like other personality traits, it’s by and large set in place as part of an adult’s makeup by the time we reach our mid-twenties. (Yes, there are exceptions to this rule.)
But much more happily, the more useful strain of empathy in customer service, what psychologists call “situational empathy,” can be trained for and enhanced in its delivery via the type of “customer service empathy training” that I both recommend and offer.
2. Offer training for customer service recovery (working with upset customers): Train employees to work successfully with upset, angry, frustrated, and disappointed customers—ultimately turning them into advocates and ambassadors for your business.
Even in good times, learning service recovery– how to successfully work with upset, irritated, angry, disappointed customers–is a master skill of customer service. With the added stressors of the Covid and post-Covid landscape, learning and rehearsing service recovery—before a customer is breathing down your neck or yelling over the phone or on the Zoom call—is absolutely essential. Every great customer-focused company has its own service recovery framework: Marriott’s spells LEARN; Starbucks’, adorably, spells LATTE.
My own customer service framework, which I train on and teach to my customer service consulting clients as well, spells MAMA. And my promise to you is that if you learn it and rehearse it ahead of time, you won’t feel the urge to curl up on the floor in a fetal position crying “Mama! Help me!” the next time a confrontational customer is out for your head.
(For a printable/emailable version of the MAMA Customer Service Recovery Framework, please send an email to [email protected])
3. Offer customer service training to employees in resisting a posture of defensiveness.
When an employee takes umbrage and acts defensively in response to a perceived slight from a customer, it doesn’t bode well for the direction the conversation is going to take from that point, and it’s likely to be catastrophic, in the long run, for the success of your business.
Why do employees act defensively—even when it has such a deadly potential cost to a business’s success?
Employees use defensive language and defensive responses because of what they’ve seen modeled growing up (as kids, they may have grown up watching one parent react to the other with defensive and accusatory retorts) and how they’ve learned to react in their personal lives growing up (it was habitual for all of us, when a sibling accused us of something such as breaking a toy, to snap back with, “I did not!”)
To break defensive habits, employees need to be told and shown what’s expected of them, as adults, at work. In my customer service training workshops, we work on replacing defensive words and phrases with non-inflammatory alternatives, accomplishing this through information, modeling and role-playing. Beyond that, you can take the approach that I do when working with customer service consulting clients: I help them to develop their own “language lexicon” with discouraged phrases and phrases that can be used as substitutes.
In addition to deciding the topics on which to focus your customer service training efforts, you’re going to need to decide the channels/platforms to use to deliver that training. In years past, I would say that in-person training was the gold standard. Today, while I’m certainly still a fan of that approach, particularly as a way to kick off a customer service initiative, I think the new gold standard is a custom-created eLearning product, for taking from that kickoff-point onward. Why? Because it can be learned from asynchronously: module by module or binged a la Netflix. Because it lends itself to testing to ensure that every learner is grasping the material. Because it can offer opportunities for certification at the end of the course. And because it can exist at your organization beyond only the current employees, to be used for future hires as well, and for incorporation into onboarding in the future as well—long after, as we used to have to say around here, Elvis-style, “Your trainer has left the building.”