Customer Service Training Should Help New Staff Start Right
Effectively orienting your new employees and providing customer service training can pay big dividends in staff retention, employee commitment, company culture and customer satisfaction. It simply pays to begin customer service training right away.
Staff members who receive proper customer serving training and welcomed at the beginning of their careers will feel good about their choice of employer, fit in more quickly with peers and colleagues and readily contribute new ideas.
Properly oriented employees will also speak well about your organization to their family and friends. They will represent you more confidently with customers, business partners and suppliers.
But poor customer service training of new employees can cost you dearly.
Those who don’t start right don’t tend to stay long, either. High staff turnover means you must recruit, hire, orient and train new staff all over again.
Staff turnover also takes a high toll on the morale of those who remain behind. When people leave your organization, those who remain inevitably wonder if they should seek new employment, too. A solid orientation and customer service training program can reduce turnover.
While many managers agree that orientation and customer service training are important, very few invest the time and attention necessary to make sure it’s done right and consistently. Now is a good time to review your staff orientation and customer service training program to be sure your new staff “start right.”
Here are some guidelines to doing it right:
Effective customer service training and orientation are gradual and should not end after the second day on the job. The initial induction of employees during the first few days is important. But it is even more important to make sure new employees fit in and feel comfortable over the long term. This can mean six weeks of orientation and customer service training for a factory worker, or up to six months for new members of a senior management team.
A time for everything, everything in its time.
New employees arrive with basic questions that must be answered quickly: “What is the dress code? Where are the tools for my job? How does the telephone system work? When do people eat, meet and get paid?”
After the initial induction period, your employee’s questions will change and mature: “How am I being appraised? Why is the system set up this way? How can I (safely) suggest changes? Who can I see for guidance, approval and support?”
Don’t try to answer all possible questions in the least possible time. Stretch out the process to cover the first weeks or months on the job. This lets new staff understand essential information more gradually – and thus more completely. When customer service training is consistent and thorough, everyone benefits.
An extended orientation and customer service training program also reassures new employees. Newcomers are under great pressure to perform and adapt. Your extended customer service training and orientation program shows you understand their situation, you care about their adjustment and you will continue to show interest and support over time.
Involve everyone in the customer service training and orientation process.
New employees are not the only ones affected by the design and quality of your orientation and customer service training program. Other groups are influenced during this important period as well: peers, bosses, junior staff, senior managers, customers, suppliers and even the new hire’s family back home.
Each group has different questions and concerns about the new employee. You can address their concerns by giving these groups an active role in the overall orientation and customer service training program. Buddy systems, lunch meetings, panel discussions, site visits, family days – these methods and other activities can involve diverse groups of individuals in the overall orientation process.
The reputation of your human resources and training departments are also at stake. If orientation and customer service training are well planned and conducted, these departments will be seen by new employees as a valuable resource for addressing their future concerns. On the other hand, poor staff orientation and customer service training sends an early message that these “people departments” are ineffective or out-of-touch.
A well-designed customer service training and orientation program should accomplish seven major objectives:
1. Create comfort and rapport.
Newcomers want to feel a sense of acceptance and belonging inside their new organization. You can accelerate this process by creating abundant opportunities for new hires to interact with peers, managers, direct reports, colleagues from other departments, customers and suppliers.
Diversify the time and nature of these meetings. Coffee breaks, meal times and after-hours get-togethers are all good choices for informal conversations. Include new hires in formal gatherings as well: customer visits, focus groups and even department or management meetings.
Send your new employees on short assignments to visit other divisions and departments. Spending a week, a day or even an afternoon in a different part of the business will do wonders to build rapport and understanding for the new hires throughout your organization. It can also greatly enhance customer service training.
2. Introduce the company culture through orientation and customer service training.
New staff usually want to fit in with accepted norms and values. “How do things really work around here? What importance do people attach to style, dress, presentation? Is punctuality important? Do meetings start on time? Are long hours the exception or expected?”
Understanding the company culture only comes over time, through formal presentations, informal dialogue and a lot of personal experience. What gets said “officially” is compared with what gets said “confidentially” during lunch, after hours and between colleagues in the washroom.
Extend your positive influence beyond the formal presentations. Create a buddy system or mentor program to match your most successful and enthusiastic staff with your incoming employees.
But don’t expect your enthusiastic staff to stay that way if their mentor role becomes a burden. Give the mentor relationship real support: pay for lunches, allow time in the work schedule for mentoring conversations, include mentoring in your annual staff appraisal and show genuine appreciation to your chosen mentors with tokens of reward, recognition and respect.
3. Showcase the “Big Picture” during customer service training
You must help new staff find honest answers to all of the following questions:
“Where has this company been? Where is it today? Where are we heading tomorrow? Who are our customers? What do they say about us? Who are our major competitors? What is our market position?
“What is our current focus? Are we expanding operations, going regional and launching new technologies? Or are we trimming costs, stabilizing product lines and streamlining operations?”
You can orient new staff to these “big picture” issues with a well-designed presentation included in customer service training. Using multi-media, highlight your history and present status, future targets, goals and directions. Share humble beginnings, detail greatest achievements.
Show excitement for future direction, but be candid about company weaknesses, too. Talk openly about difficulties and challenges in the market. Keep your “big picture” presentation lively and up-to-date.
In large organizations, very senior managers are often the best authorities to share insights on the future of the business. But these same managers may frequently be out of town or involved in handling current situations. They are not always available when you want them to participate in a new staff orientation and customer service training session.
You can solve this problem by capturing them on video as they discuss the opportunities and challenges facing your organization. Then use the video in your program and bring the managers back “live” at a later date for panel discussions, question-and-answer sessions or informal “meet the manager” conversations.
4. Explain job responsibilities and rewards.
Clearly define your expectations from the beginning. Ensure new staff are well versed in their responsibilities and corresponding levels of authority during orientation and customer service training.
Demonstrate and thoroughly explain your approach to staff appraisal. Show new staff the actual appraisal system and illustrate how good performance will be measured, assessed and rewarded.
Point to the career paths of those who have come before to illustrate advancement possibilities and potential.
5. Handle administrative matters.
There will always be detailed procedures to follow and paperwork or online procedures to complete: employment agreements, insurance policies, benefits packages, charitable contribution forms, locker allocation, issuing passwords, uniform distribution – the list goes on and on.
While these are important, resist the temptation to “get it all over with” in one long (and very boring) session.
Instead, spread those administrative tasks over several short sessions in the first few weeks. Hours spent filling out forms on the first day at work is not the way to inspire enthusiasm about the dynamic nature of your organization!
6. Provide reality checks.
Make sure your orientation and customer service training program is not a fantasy tour of what you wish the company would be.
If your program shows only the bright side of the business and the happy side of daily work, don’t be surprised if new employees are shell-shocked after two or three weeks on the job.
Be open and candid about the pressures and realities of your company, your team, your customers, your industry and your competition.
One large regional firm developed an extensive orientation program along the following theme: “You will know more about the problems of this organization than the people who have worked here for years!”
This novel approach creates new staff who understand the realities and are ready to work – and work hard – to help their company succeed.
7. Gain full participation.
Give everyone a role to play in new employee orientation and customer service training. Involve peers and colleagues in your mentor programs and buddy teams; engage top managers in talks and panel discussions; give junior staff a stake as hosts and guides in cross-department visits.
Invite the new staff’s family members to a special “Meet the Company Day” and take photographs at the event. Later, send the best photos back to their homes with a copy of your company’s newsletter – and a handwritten note from you to the entire family.
Most important of all, gain full participation from the new employees themselves. Resist the temptation to project all the information in a one-way stream from the company to the new staff. Have your newcomers explore the company, research the competition, meet the customers – and then generate their own good questions for you and your colleagues to answer during orientation and customer service training.
Finally, get your new employees involved in welcoming the next batch of incoming staff at orientation and customer service training. This ensures that your orientation program stays fresh and relevant. It can become a watershed event, making your new staff feel like company veterans: experienced, involved and useful. This brings your customer service training full circle.
Key Learning Point To Improve Customer Service Training
The time, money and human resources you dedicate to new employee orientation and customer service training can be one of your best long-term corporate investments. Make sure your program is thoughtfully designed, carefully delivered, continuously upgraded and improved.
Action Steps To Improve Customer Service Training
Gather a cross-functional team of recent hires, seasoned employees and key managers. Do a complete review of every aspect of your existing new staff orientation and customer service training program.
How does your current program measure up? What is being done well? What is engaging, motivating and effective? Is anything boring, tedious or out-of-date? What else could be included? What should be taken out?
Revise your customer service training program and conduct a trial run. Ask the participants for suggestions to make your program even better. Keep adapting, keep improving. Keep it up!
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Copyright, Ron Kaufman. Used with permission. Ron Kaufman is the world’s leading educator and motivator for upgrading customer service and uplifting service culture. He is author of the bestselling “UP! Your Service” books and founder of UP! Your Service. To enjoy more customer service training and service culture articles, visit UpYourService.com.
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