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Recent surveys show around 80 percent of Australians are employed in some form of service industry, from retail and hospitality to publishing and advertising.

Active ImageBut only three out of 10 have a natural capability for customer service-based roles. Monica Higgins looks at ways to improve your company profit through staff customer service training.

What of those staff who are too busy pushing papers to give their customers a second thought; or those who can’t help but allow a bad day to affect their tone-of-voice and overall professional manner? Chances are these sub-standard levels of customer service will have a direct impact on your company’s profits.

“Customer service is paramount,” says Greg Stockwell, director of Customer Service Training Australia. “We still lag behind other countries, such as the US, when it comes to service, but we’re showing a vast improvement.”

We can attribute this progress to the fact we’re becoming more customer-service-centric. Australian business owners and managers are realising effective customer service is not only an essential provision but, more importantly, it is also equal to profit.

At the front line of improving customer service in Australia are myriad training programs designed to help staff who are not naturally gifted with the customer service ‘gene’. Depending on the size of your business and its specific requirements, the programs will vary from one-week interactive programs to one- or two-hour refresher courses.

Two academics from Central Queensland University have developed a new Customer Service Predictor (CSP) tool they are planning to roll out to Australia and the world. “The CSP is a web-based psychometric instrument that assesses intrinsic or innate personal characteristics in the subject,” says Tony Ward, one of the tool’s developers. Findings from a decade of research show good customer service skills are usually innate, so the tool will help companies to get it right from the start by only recruiting the best people for customer service roles.

The CSP tool is also a great indicator for training and retraining opportunities, Ward stresses. “As companies can’t fire someone because their innate characteristics don’t fit the profile, it can also be used as a training predictor. So this is not a negative tool, but one that will help to deliver quality staff performance.”

The tool produces an overall score and an individual profile that highlights certain weaknesses. “We offer a one- to two-hour training program that addresses areas of weakness,” says Ward. “The profile will draw attention to subtle areas of weakness that employees may be unaware of harbouring. For example, those suited to a customer service role are organised, but disorganised people may not realise that this is affecting their ability to provide good customer service.”


Customer Service Training

Active ImageCustomer service is critical in SMEs these days as it’s often the only discernable point-of-difference between companies. With such fierce marketplace competition, anything that will help to improve your bottom line profit is essential. But is forking over money for training worth it in the long-run?

Stockwell believes one of the best ways to calculate a return of investment is, put simply, communication. “People are talking a lot about KPIs [key performance indicators] these days, but what does it really mean? Talk to your customers. Ask them what you’re doing wrong, and where they think there is room for improvement. After your staff have undergone a customer service training program, monitor customer feedback again to see if there is an improvement.”

Stockwell says one of the main problems facing SMEs is customer service consistency. Many work on an 80/20 rule, where only 20 percent of the customers get 80 percent of your business. “Staff can often be indifferent when it comes to dealing with that other 80 percent of customers.” For an SME, this could mean considerable loss of revenue. If a customer feels ignored or under-serviced, they are likely to take their business elsewhere.

Another prevalent issue facing customer service-based industries is a lack of interpersonal skills, especially common in younger generations. Stockwell says with SMS and email now dictating much of life, customer service has become faceless. “On the flip side,” she adds, “you get people in the 50-plus age bracket who say things like, ‘I have been in customer service all my life and I know everything there is to know about it.’ This is another serious problem, because these people are resisting change.” Both instances are solid indicators that a training program would be a wise investment.

Refresher Course

Alexandra Yeomans, publisher of Rank Publishing, which produces business-to-business magazines, enlisted Catalyst Effect to improve the customer service ethics of her advertising sales staff. “We’ve been in the publishing industry for 30 years, and we felt it was time to give our staff a refresher course in customer service,” Yeomans says of her decision to use a training program.

Catalyst Effect offers a holistic program that covers training for staff as well as an intensive re-assessment of company customer service credos. “We consider the ways in which we can help staff to perform at the level they should be,” says Kelly Morgan, Catalyst Effect consultant. “Firstly, we consider the job descriptions and what is critical to the success factor. KPIs can be useful for monitoring skills that match the job description, but we also focus on self evaluation. Talking to employees is important, because quite often they’re aware of where they’re going wrong. Self evaluation also helps to create involvement and contribution from your team.”

Active ImageYeomans chose to make use of Catalyst Effect’s ‘Towards Awesome Service’, an interactive video training program. “For my staff, it really reinforced the idea that this is a people business,” she explains. “We discovered that the staff were giving preferential treatment to clients who invest large amounts of advertising dollars into our magazines, yet were indifferent to those who advertise with us perhaps once a year.

“Catalyst’s program encouraged our staff to consider how our business is being evaluated by clients every single time we provide a service. Perceived indifferences, such as poor phone manners and attitudes, and low contact time with clients have had a negative effect on our bottom line.

“Because the training program allowed the staff to contribute their own ideas about improving the customer service of our business, I’ve noticed a marked improvement in their morale,” says Yeomans. “Now that they know they’re part of the business, they are more motivated to sell and they’re happier to provide friendly, excellent customer service. Productivity is on the rise and so is our sales revenue.”


Online Training

Staff who are happy in their work environment will naturally perform better in their day-to-day roles. With claims for workplace bullying, discrimination and harassment steadily rising in Australia, online training programs are now available to help combat problems like these that are impeding staff performance.

CGU safety and risk services product manager, Gareth Shepherd, says where discrimination or harassment is occurring in the workplace, poor work quality, low productivity and
higher staff turnover are likely to follow.
The online courses are designed to reduce the risk of bullying in the workplace and can be integrated as an on-going reference tool for all staff.

The web-based training programs are available at www.cgu.com.au/safety

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