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Jeff Toister

Customer Care

How to Prepare Your Team for Customer Service Training

Fours steps to capture all phases of the learning process

Published: Wednesday, November 18, 2015 - 10:52

You’re ready to send your team to customer service training. The big question is whether your team is ready. Chances are, they’re not.

A 2010 McKinsey & Co. survey revealed that approximately 75 percent of training programs failed to measurably improve business performance. A lack of preparation is one of the biggest culprits.

Why employees are uninspired

I frequently volunteer to facilitate an open-enrollment customer service class for nonprofit organizations. Anyone can sign up, and I never know who will be there until the day of the class. As participants arrive, I like to ask them why they signed up for the training. Here are the top three reasons:
1. They were told to be there.
2. The class looked interesting.
3. The class gave them credit toward a certificate program.

That’s a pretty uninspiring list. Unfortunately, most of the employees who come to customer service training aren’t really sure why they’re there. My experience in the corporate world suggests this is pretty much the norm.

Very rarely does someone attend because he’s trying to solve a specific problem. It’s unusual for someone to read the course description and work out exactly what she hopes to learn.

An article published in TD magazine during 2005 by Jack Zenger, Joe Folkman, and Robert Sherwin estimated that preparation accounted for 26 percent of learning, while the learning event accounted for only 24 percent (50% of learning came from follow up). In other words, the work you do to get ready for training is more important that the training itself. However, the authors estimated that companies typically spent just 10 percent their training time, money, and resources on the preparation phase.

How to prepare employees

A simple action plan can help you maximize learning by ensuring that nothing slips through the cracks. My go-to planning tool is the one-page Workshop Planner.

Here’s a short video that explains how to use this work sheet. I’ve also provided more detailed instructions below. The planning process should take no more than one hour.

Step 1: Identify your purpose
It’s important for employees to know why they’re attending training. That’s pretty hard to explain if you can’t clearly articulate this yourself. Start by answering these three questions:
1. What are the expected outcomes?
2. What is the existing performance?
3. What are the cause(s) for the gap?

Enter the answers in the boxes at the top of the work sheet:

Now it’s gut-check time. Do you really need customer service training?

Training is typically responsible for just 1 percent of performance. I can think of at least six ways to improve customer service without training. You should schedule training only if you really need it.

Step 2: Identify pre-training actions
The bottom two-thirds of the following work sheet is laid out in a grid. Use this to create a list of action items for participants, their supervisor(s), and the trainer.

Start by thinking about what participants need to do to prepare for the training.

At a minimum, employees should be able to answer three questions:
1. What’s the training about?
2. How will this class help me do my job?
3. How can I apply what I’ve learned back on the job?

Next, determine what the employees’ supervisor(s) needs to do to make sure that happens. Typical actions include announcing the training to employees and coaching them to ensure they can answer the three questions.

Finally, determine what the trainer needs to do to help the supervisor(s) prepare employees. My clients typically ask me to provide them with a class description they can share.

Step 3: Identify training actions
Now it’s time to set a few expectations for employees while attending the training event. These are typically few. Examples include:
• Being fully present and engaged
• Making appropriate scheduling arrangements

Next, move down the column to decide what the employees’ supervisor(s) need to do to ensure that happens. For example, supervisors often need to make scheduling adjustments to maintain operational coverage while employees participate in training.

Finally, decide what the trainer needs to do to support this.

Step 4: Identify follow-up actions
Don’t wait until the training is over to decide how employees should implement what they’ve learned. Create a plan now to make sure it happens.

Start by deciding what employees should specifically do to implement their new skills. Then, decide what the supervisor(s) should do to ensure it happens. Here are a few examples from recent training classes:
• Call a team meeting to ask employees how they applied what they learned.
• Coach employees one-on-one to see if they’re using their new skills.
• Survey employees to identify which skills they’ve tried.

Finally, determine what support the employees’ supervisor(s) need from the trainer. With my clients, I typically hold a follow-up meeting 30 days after the training to check in with leaders and see what help they need to sustain their progress.

First published Nov. 10, 2015, on the Toister Performance Solutions blog.


About The Author

Jeff Toister’s picture

Jeff Toister

Jeff Toister, president of Toister Performance Solutions, is a consultant who helps customer service teams unlock their hidden potential. He is also a nationally recognized employee training expert and a sought after speaker with more than 20 years of experience. He’s the author ofthe book Service Failure: The Real Reasons Why Employees Struggle with Customer Service and What You Can Do About It (AMACOM, 2012). He's also authored several customer service training videos on lynda.com including Customer Service Fundamentals, Managing a Customer Service Team, and Using Customer Surveys to Improve Service.