Should Customer Service Be Taught?

I read an article the other day saying that customer service classes should be taught along with business classes. Do you agree? Can customer service be taught?

Answer

Jessica Groopman (Researcher, The Altimeter Group)
That's an interesting question. I think it's important for employees or prospective businesspeople to be prompted on basic customer service best practices, but I'm not sure it's worth devoting an entire semester or course to it. For business majors, perhaps. But is it really so complicated?

I like Michael's idea for a class that directly relates customer service to the bottom line. That- I think- is where it becomes less intuitive. In the meantime, here are a few customer service tidbits that have served me well:

1.) Treat people as you'd like to be treated.

2.) Listen and act. Feedback from your customer (positive or negative) is always valuable. Listen!

3.) The customer is always right (and even when they're not, better to treat it like they are)

3.) Believe in what you're doing. Passion is always evident. It's also contagious. Believe in what you're doing and the customer is more likely to as well.
33 Additional Answers
Jessi LaCosta (Brand Leadership Specialist, Executive Coach, BlueRio Strategies)
Probably the logical answer would be that an entire semester may not be cost efficient. Yet. I believe that it is a very worthwhile concept and can be taught within other courses. For instance, in an interpersonal communications course - skills for handling conflict and approaching situations with authenticity, compassion, critical thinking and respect can be learned and are helpful in all areas of business.
Larry Marley
I believe in a business class, being introduced to the basic concepts of interacting with a customer, especially how to respond under pressure is valuable. One day of role playing could emphasize how easy it is to escalate a problem by not having the tools to control the conversation.
Ultimately, as a future manger of people who interact with your customers, you will be responsible for the satisfaction and retention of both the customer, and the front line employee.
The real training is with the employee. Up to 40 hours of online tutorials followed by a couple days of workshops and role playing. Then consistent follow up and encouragement.

I have implemented formal customer skills training in two field service organizations and the results are note worthy. We saw improved levels of customer satisfaction, and fewer complaints as expected, and front line personnel reported less stress when dealing with customers. An unexpected benefit of customer skills training was reduced call times and reduced return calls as a result of improved communication with the customer. I strongly believe customer skills training should be mandatory for all personnel who have contact with the customer.
Sam Smilie
Can customer service be taught? Absolutely. The question is whether this subject rightfully belongs on the college level. It certainly must be taught by businesses in their ongoing employee improvement initiatives. I don't think that it is an option, but rather an imperative, especially in today's business environment and the current economy.

Now, how can this be instituted at the university level. While it is an important aspect of business environments, it would be difficult to devote an entire semester to it. If the university were on the quarter system, yes, there are a few left, then possibly a quarter could be used for a class in customer service. However, for the normal semester system, customer service could be included in general business classes, possibly two or three weeks of the class. As any business manager can tell you, customers stay with companies based on the service they receive, since in most industries they can get the same, or similar products elsewhere. So, the success or failure of the company has as much to do with the way the company treats its customers as the product it offers.
Tim Deuitch (Senior Consultant, Strategic Enhancement Group Inc.)
The answer is yes! Just ask Disney, Nordstrom's and other classic customer-centric companies. Being outstanding at customer service requires the alignment of all facets of an organization, but sometimes people suggest that its actually just good hiring or management or processes that make the real difference vs. relevant teaching/training. For those still in school, the 'teaching' comes across as common sense and can help us discern the type of organization we prefer to work, buy, or engage with. The reality is that most of us don't inherently know the effect of treating people in an average way vs. a way that differentiates for the better. We know how we want to be treated but not how our own behavior can effect others. It's always helpful to teach the science as well as the behaviors to help people understand the impact they can make - and then prepare them to find organizations that reinforce them with the right processes, examples, and leadership.

David Kordek
Maybe the best way for me to state my experiences and beliefs from years of experience on this subject?

There is customer service and then there is customer relations. Once again, I state catagorically, 'you must HAVE the mindset, characture and patience' to be able to interact with angry customers, not take it personally and to be able to, at the very least, calm the customer and cool the situation until proper action can be taken one way or the other in an attempt to resolve the dispute.

I agree that the finer points of customer service can and should be taught. I agree that it should be taught to EVERYONE who even remotely interacts with customers, no matter what their position is with the Company. However, to state outright, 'I can take anyone and teach them to be a fantastic (and COMPLETE) customer service representative is BUNK!
David Filwood (Principal Consultant, TeleSoft Systems)
From a Call Center perspective - it is a huge mistake to assume that everyone can be taught – or can benefit from Customer Service Training. That is simply not the case.

The key to delivering great Customer Service in the Call Center is hiring the right people to begin with.

Typically there are 3 grades of Agents found in a Contact Center: (Above Average), (Average), and (Below Average).

(Above Average) Agents seem to have “The Right Stuff” that pushes them to succeed & a natural compatibility with the duties of the position. They work hard - exceed expectations - do more than asked - achieve high quality consistent results – receive above average Customer Satisfaction Ratings - can always be counted upon - need little direction - and work extremely well with everyone.

(Average) Agents perform their duties adequately enough “to get by” - but no better. They are the partially competent. Generally they’re strong from a Typing Speed & Accuracy and Windows Literacy standpoint - but are missing a key ingredient or two from a Soft Skills/Customer Empathy/Job Fit standpoint.

(Below Average) Agents are the people who just don’t fit somehow – and who don’t deliver value when it comes to the kind of service customers expect. Sometimes they’re good people in the wrong jobs. They need extra coaching, training & supervision just to achieve below average results. Often they cause unnecessary conflict. (Below Average) Agents have the Lowest Training Pass Rates, Highest Levels of Absenteeism, Lowest Levels of Productivity, Poorest Performance & Customer Satisfaction Ratings, and they generally have a Negative Impact on Call Center Team Morale. They represent the real problems in a Contact Center workforce.

While (Average) & (Below Average) Agents may seem fully qualified at the Interview Stage – they’re a Poor Job Fit – the cost of hiring them is enormous – with little value add to an organization– and a negative impact on Service Levels, Customer Satisfaction, Sales Results, and Brand Reputation.

There is an ROI to be had when investing in Customer Service Training for (Above Average) and (Average) Agents.

However - Customer Service Training for (Below Average) Agents only results in higher recruiting/hiring/training costs – higher turnover - lowered productivity - and a decrease in Service Levels and Brand Reputation.

Taking someone who's lacking in the Personality/Job-Fit/Communications/Customer Empathy/Soft Skills - and investing in Customer Service Training for them - in an attempt to make them into a professional Customer Service Representative is just investing dollars chasing dimes – and not a wise long-term business or customer care strategy.

Top performing Call Centers drive their Revenue & Performance through superior hiring tactics. We help employers gain better insight & more accurate predictions as to which applicants from a pool of Candidates would perform up to, or beyond their established standards. You can find out about a Free Trial of SPAS Call Center Agent Pre-Employment Screening Software at http://www.telesoftsystems.ca/64201.html
Lee Tomlinson (Customer Service Expert at WAYMISH , WAYMISH)
Yes, yes, yes! As we prove time and again in our WAYMISH seminars, customer service is a learned skill. True it is most easily developed by those who are naturally and innately motivated to take care of others. But anyone who learns how much money can be made and how much saved by offering amazing customer service, can when motivated by personal benefit, learn how to provide their customers with terrific service. The late, great Peter Drucker said that all successful businesses are great at two things: Getting and Keeping customers. Isn't it amazing, when you consider that 'keeping' customers is often largely the result of how a company treats its customers, that few if any business schools actually teach the art and science of customer service??? How can a business school that claims to send students into the world prepared for business success, NOT teach them one of the TWO primary skills needed to KEEP clients, the principles of great customer service? It's crazy! Of course it can and should be taught!
Giorgio Bolognesi
Like in every business, your customers are your more precious good. For this, you must yourself be taken cure of they and above all you must put yours business to their service. With the information that you offer, your objective is that one to resolve some problem to your customers, even if only in a specific and limited within. With the specific intention to only contribute to increase to the information and the acquaintance of your customers, in ethical and corrected way you will be able to construct a business of happening. And it does not import what. You do not have necessarily to teach most advanced techniques of meditation in order to carry improvement in the life of your customers! Enough a hobby only taught with competence and generosity in order to carry value! In yours business it is important to know itself to take cure of your customers also when they are unsatisfied of your products, when they are complained of something that does not work or when they have need of aid. Indeed, above all in those cases. If to contact with yours costumer service , these had to be felt dealt incorrectly, in abrupt way or that they think offensive, at least 95% will not acquire never more nothing from you. Moreover, always second statistics, 90% of the unsatisfied customers are a lost customer in order always. But not enough. Everyone of they in average reports of its bad experience to 9 persons. However, to the time of Internet, if these customers accidentally have a blog, they participate to a forum or to a newsgroup, this information can arrive to a much greater number of ears, with consequent damages to yours business.
David Mace (Chief Paradigm Shifter, Valé)
If you don't teach customer service then you might as well not teach anything. You might not fail or close the doors, but you will never maximize revenue and profit until everyone in your organization understands how to delight the customer. And remember, teaching doesn't just mean pulling employees off the line and putting them in classrooms. It is something you do through your actions, interactions and words on the front lines with your employees, real time. Take a train-the-trainer approach and make sure your skills are up to par so you can teach your staff. http://littlebigadguys.com
David Kordek
The fine point of customer service can be explained, however, a person has to have the ability to provide true customer service from within. One must have patience enough to 'allow a tempered customer to vent before speaking or cutting them off which adds fuel to an already hot fire.' Then, one must show compassion for the situation and clearly explain what one can do to assist the customer.

I do agree with Mike. I've been in automotive for 41 years, 27 years in management with automotive manufacturers, heavily engaged in customer service/consumer relations & legalities. One thing I've noticed and made sure I did not become part of the statistic? Once most reach management, they disengage themselves from having to deal with customers at all. The best way to teach customer service is 'work ethic example!'
Hania Whitfield (Email and Social Media Marketing Consultant, Whitfield Consulting)
David, you are so right! I train customer service and operations and I have always reminded owners and managers that you can train anyone someone how to properly sell, but you can't train personality. Always hire a person who connects well with people. You can pick that up in the first couple of minutes of an interview.Then, yes, you absolutely must train everyone in customer service! No new hire should be allowed on the floor without it.

I was lucky enough to have been trained well in my early retail career and the difference it made in my sales ability and customer relationships was huge. Later, as I began to manage, customer service training of my staff was every bit as essential as product education and procedure adherence. Too often new-hires get baptism under fire and sales suffer every time.

I agree with those who commented in regard to handling complaints. Most angry customers will become your most loyal once they understand you are there to serve their needs. They just normally expect neglect and abuse, so are thrilled to be properly served. Staff MUST be trained to handle complaints properly - as big a part of customer service as any other. And the training should be ongoing...
Henry Motyka (Business Analyst/Project Manager, PricewaterhouseCoopers)
Yes. For 15 years, I managed a financial software support group in a Big 4 firm. I completely turned the group around by creating my own recruiting program, developing a dynamic training program, mentoring, and starting a management development program.

The main thing I did was to teach and to emphasize customer service. That means talking nicely and attentively to the customer, listening to their problem, breaking down what they say into the real problem, solving the problem, and making sure the customer is satisfied.

It is very important for everyone involved in customer service to be able to break down what a customer says into the basic problem and solve it. All of the extra talk has to be eliminated as a factor in solving the problem. That doesn't mean that the extra talk should be ignored, but sometimes it gets in the way of problem solving.

In fact, the extra talk, complaints, and everything else should be carefully listened to and responded to to keep the customer happy, but problem solving has to come first.
Meridith Elliott Powell (Coach, Speaker, Business Development Expert, MotionFirst)
Can customer service be taught? Yes. Will the lessons be implemented? That is the real question. I do believe that customer service can and should be taught, but only if the culture has been created that will support the implementation of the lesson.

Often as leaders we confuse process with sustainability. Just showing people the right way is not enough to make them do it. Most people can learn, but as leaders we have to make sure we develop a culture that supports the lessons we teach.

If you want people to 'learn' customer service, then they need to first understand why it is important to the customer, the organization and for them. They must buy-in to the belief that it matters and has value. Second, they need to be a part of the training and development of the program. People support what they help create, and teaching them customer service is far less effective than engaging them in the development of a customer service culture.
Steve Davidson (Process/workflow consultant, Steve Davidson Consulting)
I should add - it can be taught and it should be taught. The problem arises when, like so many other business procedures, it's taught badly.

Like management, though, that favorite gnawed bone of countless how-to books, workshops, courses, webinars (ugh), and newsletters, it's actually quite simple - but there's money to be made from wrapping it up in a thousand buzzwords, components, and facets, and selling it off in prepackaged chunks to people who believe that training issues can be solved by throwing money at them. There's cash to be milked from dancing around the problem gibbering about procedures, practices, processes, and exactly how to interact with customers in 1001 easy lessons (or payments, anyway).

An enormous amount can actually be learned from browsing the archives of websites which specialise in presenting examples of interactions with 'bad customers'. Reading between the lines, it's often clear that the problem was mainly with the employee not having the experience to recognise the potential problem early in the conversation and smoothly head it off at the pass.

Another example - I've worked in a variety of specialist inbound call centers. The most prominent problem I've seen with new hires is that they have no call control - and are not taught this most fundamental skill. Call times can often be halved or better just by making sure people know how to not wander off into random discussions of unrelated topics, or how to not be caught up in potential misunderstandings. It's all part of providing a good, solid, fast customer service experience.
Hania Whitfield (Email and Social Media Marketing Consultant, Whitfield Consulting)
Yes. Teaching customer service in a business class would give future business owners the advantage of establishing good practices from the very start.

Existing businesses don't have that advantage. Consider, for example, if a family does not value good table manners at home, could they send their child to etiquette class and expect them to continue practicing good manners in a home that doesn't value them.

Customer service is part of the environment. You can actually feel it when you walk into a place of business... In an existing business, the whole culture has to be re-examined. Sales practices, return policies, phone etiquette, follow up, operations, and more. So, to add to my earlier answer, yes, it should be taught - so that it can be taught to staff by example, not just in new hire training.

And i must reiterate, hire the right personality - not just the experience... Someone who already exhibits the right decorum for your specific business.
Evan Hamilton (Community Manager, UserVoice)
I think empathy and resiliance are crucial customer service skills that can't be taught (see my rant on hiring: http://ar.gy/vKy). That said, there's plenty of skills that can be taught: troubleshooting, handling stress, talking to difficult customers, grammar, useful language, etc. I wouldn't make training my basis for hiring someone, but definitely consider it a bonus.
Diane Daniels
The basic principles can be taught, but you have to have the passion for customer satisfaction and compassion to want to help others. The demeanor of a great customer service professional shows in everything they do, inside and outside the workplace.
tony DeAra (Job Seeker - Customer Support)
I believe customer service can be taught but it is an on going process requiring awareness which comes from experience and deep thought about life. It could start in preschool and move along throughout grammar and high schools as a course in kindness and awareness about each others space and the right of happiness. Kindness should be taught in school just like arithmetic and English are. I don't believe Customer Service training by itself has any value unless the student is prepared to understand it. It is not a science, it comes from within.
Michael Barbagallo (Other, Shenandoah Analytics)
Maybe not customer service but at least how customer service can effect the bottom-line. Also, any manager in the 'fast track' should spend time in CS getting to know the business' customers.

Michael Barbagallo
Steve Davidson (Process/workflow consultant, Steve Davidson Consulting)
It's a skill like any other. I'd expect to find it more at a technical college or outsourced adult education provider than as part of a university course, though.
Kate LaFrance (Consultant, HELP Virtual Office Support)
CS Skills MUST be taught. There is only so much that can be picked up by observation and experience - and those things register differently with different people.
Peter Owen (Consultant, Tall Oak Consultancy)
Yes you can teach someone to perform a customer service role and give them techniques on how to deal/manage customers. However, customer service needs to be part of who you are and comes with experience not only in the work place but in life in general. Those that are taught seem to come across as false unless they care about what they do and practise both in the work place and outside the work place.
Part of the teaching needs to be within the business environment that the individual would be working. Teaching within a college environment can give you the skills required however you also need to understand the business.
As others have mentioned customer service is not all about how you treat people it is about enhancing the business profile with your customers.
Heather Perigo (Commercial Customer Service Associate, TruGreen)
I think if the person already has the skill set and desire to learn it can be improved. I think someone above said people that naturally want to. But can you teach someone that is not good handling direct customer contact to do so, probably not. I agree that teaching it's importance to others is the key. Getting them to understand that certain people have the desire and patience to help and deal with customers. That everyone needs to learn how to best deal with their own internal customers as well for a business to be a success and understand that everyone has their own strengths in their role. Again, is it worth an entire semester in college? Probably not. It could be added to an interpersonal course or business course but is best left to be part of an on-going training program at a company.

Karla Robson
Customer Service absolutely needs to be taught, this is one very important aspect of any business that is almost non existant today. Businesses do so poorly mainly because they have no customer service policies and staff don't know what customer service is-hello how are you today is a good start! Most places I go your lucky if the staff talk to you at all. This is very disturbing in my business experience of 30 years. People need to be trained proffessionally how to provide customer service in any business.
Jennifer Morandi (Customer Success Manager, Virtual Density)
Customer satisfaction is just as important as any other aspect of business. We all know that already - look at all the comments above making mention of it. Can you teach it?

I don't know that compassion can be taught but you can teach the basic principles of customer service like how to listen.

Leaving the customer out of a business education is like forgetting to explain a basic profit/loss statement.
Steve Davidson (Process/workflow consultant, Steve Davidson Consulting)
Following up to Karla - not every customer wants the same thing from staff. I've heard a lot of complaints from people who think customer service staff are ignoring them, and a lot of complaints from other people who think the very same customer service staff are too clingy and intrusive.

Personally, my own preference is for sales staff who keep out of my way unless I specifically seek them out. I'm perfectly capable of making my own buying decisions and comparisons; I don't need someone half my age breathing down my neck, getting under my feet, or attempting to make guesses about what I'm thinking or might be interested in. What I do need is someone to ring up my purchases (assuming the store doesn't use automatic checkouts), and on rare occasions assist me to locate a product within their store.
Anita Sandford-Shea
I agree with AS Hania Whitfield in that Customer service is part of the environment. You can actually feel it when you walk into a place of business where the customer service staff is respected and understands their role and impact in an organization. I don't believe a whole semester would be cost effective. However, I believe there is a need for a heightened awareness so if it is implemented into another business class, then I am all for it.
Belldon Colme (Owner, Human Nature Management)
It sounds like you are asking if CS should be taught at the university level, as part of a business degree. I have strong thoughts about this.

Yes, CS most definitely can be taught. Like all pursuits, only those willing to learn and with the personal characteristics conducive to the topic will pick it up effectively.

Yes, it should be taught at the university level, where its integration into business as a whole can be explored and developed.

Yes, it certainly can fill a semester easily. In the New World of business, CS is rapidly becoming the pivotal difference between success and failure. Besides granting the time and resources to delve deeply into CS, its application, procedures, and integration throughout business construction relevant to the bottom line, students would have the freedom in the academic setting to improve upon the processes and bring the relevance of new research into the topic.

All pros, No cons. Where is the debate?

Together, let's put the fun back into work!
Belldon Colme
belldoncolme@gmail.com
Brandon Ward (P.R Ferm , SW Designs)
I believe that custmer service is a skill that be tought. Hey my name is Brandon, and I was impressed with your page. Im new to the web site this being my first day. I wanted to know if you would be so kind, could you possibly give some good pointers, to help me achive a great sussceful page.
Adele Berenstein (Consultant and Trainer, Customer Satisfaction and Reputation Management)
There are two threads to this conversation.
1. Should customer service be taught within an organization
2. Should customer service be taught at a college or university course and would it take up a semester worth of class.

I think the answer to both these questions is Yes

Customer Service within an organization:
I agree that it would be preferable to hire people into the customer service organization with empathy, patience and excellent communication skills but that is not enough.
Here's what I think you need to teach.
1. What are the typical questions customer ask and here's what the answers are or where to find them in a data base. What are the company policies?
2. Here's how our organization captures problem records. Teach the tools needed to capture the data about the customer, their problem and the actions and resolutions taken.
3. Here's how we engage with customers at the beginning of a problem, are customer's entitled to support or do they have to have a contract first, then..ask for their name and how to contact them if disconnected, listen to the problem, rephrase the problem to ensure you understand it, ask if there are additional problems. Try to understand how the problem impacts the customer if it is not obvious. Document
4. What processes there are within the customer service organization to address problems that are unusual or need extra support.
5. Does this customer service organization provide small amounts of funds to empower the front line person to fix small customer problems quickly or do they need to escalate to another level? How is this done?
6. Does this organization capture and code the nature of the problem and the nature of the resolution for management reporting purposes?
7. Is there a rule about how long to work on a problem before escalating it to someone else?
8. What are customer service reps measured on? You need to explain that to them

I could go on and on but I think you get the drift. I applaud Larry Marley who mentions 40 hours of self training and then role playing.

College Course:
A university or college course would not address each of these topics as a call taker but as a management issue...and the need need to setup the proper processes to train new hires, provide them on going support and escalation processes.

The course would cover things like
The mission of customer service
Where customer service should report, pros and cons
Different models of customer service (entitled with a contract only, or anyone entitled)
Self Service on line versus call for support
Social Media and customer service
Managing the customer service organization
Typical measurements
How many people do you need
Getting the right skilled person to address the customer's issue
How does the rest of the organization learn about repetitive problems customer service is addressing that could be fixed at the management level.
Best Practices (hiring, recruiting, promoting, reward, recognition, etc)
so on and so on.

The orientation of the college course would be 'management' oriented rather than call taker oriented. I think the call taker orientation should be done at the organizational level.
Tom Gurda
I concur 100% - should be madatory in training schedule. I also like what Kathy Coby wrote about empathy and how it can't be taught to the degree required for great leadership - it can be helped but it needs to be an already developed portion of a Leader's EQ. A true Leader is in touch with a high EQ. Does anyone think you can teach EQ to an individual that is already leading people? I don't. I've worked with individuals at high levels that don't begin to understand what EQ is because they lack it so severely.
Mark Benson
That is an interesting question.
Peggy Carlaw (Executive VP, Impact Learning Systems)
Absolutely, customer service should be taught alongside business classes. A manager's role is to create a smoothly functioning department. We often think of customer service as serving external customers, but customer service also applies to how employees communicate within their team and across departments. Students who have excellent customer service skills will stand out for promotion, and when they become managers, they’ll be able to create a harmonious department or company that works together to provide world-class customer service and build customer loyalty.

Customer service training programs are available for college classrooms and for the corporate environment. If you don’t have the opportunity to learn about customer service in college, be sure to hire on with a company that will provide you training in these skills which are so essential to have for a successful career.
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