Time to Fire your Training Department?

Please stop me when this sounds familiar. A customer contacts your company, it goes terribly wrong with the representative, and of course you have to “learn from your mistakes”. So naturally, it’s time to find someone or something to blame so everyone else can feel better – you call it a post-mortem and almost every time you end up blaming training or “finding opportunities to improve training”. Is there really a bad customer interaction with your employees that isn’t the fault of training? The most dizzying part is, as training is being blamed for all ills, it almost always ends with prescribing even MORE training to solve the problem that training allegedly created. This makes as much sense as a doctor prescribing Big Macs to a heart attack patient.  

I was on one of those dreaded calibration calls with an external client — you know, that conference call where you randomly listen to a phone call from a customer and critique how well the representative did. It’s basically American Idol but with zero upside for the contestants – the representative performs and a room full of judges either pats themselves on the back or tries then convicts the rep. On this particular call the representative is required to deliver some unwelcome news. It goes terribly wrong. You guessed it, before we could finish the call, we put our training program on trial, and before long there was talk of more e-learning modules to cover empathy. I remember thinking “there is no way sending this rep to an e-learning course could solve the problem.” The standard view is that customer experience will be so much better if only we put agents though more training sessions. The group think has been for years that if we could extend training and invest more in training tools, then all will be well.

Have you gone through your training program? If so, do you remember much of the content? If you have a great training program, it is delivered via e-learning or in person with role play sprinkled in, and it engages its participants. If you have a bad training program it is a snooze-fest interrupted with meaningless knowledge retention tests. Even if your program is of the former, training is still only designed to prepare your reps on the technical parts of CX — how to utilize systems, new product roll-outs, rote tasks, etc. It still fails woefully at improving what is really going to differentiate your experience – those elements are more art than science. For example, if you are in the business of telling customers ‘no’ on occasion, there is a deliberate art to doing that without denigrating your customer experience. This skill is imparted via coaching and not training. You could introduce the concept via training, but to really get proficiency at that art, an individualized coaching is paramount. You have to be involved in almost real time, with the full context of what comes naturally to the individual rep, and a real life scenario in-hand deliver feedback that is impactful and relevant. You shouldn’t actually fire your entire training department, but you should make a commitment to spend more time coaching. Here are a couple of tips to get you started:

1. Make it your goal to shorten training and increase coaching. There is a ton covered in training that ends up being a complete waste. For example, not only are the most common issues covered, but even issues that are a rarity are covered in detail. When the rep needs to utilize that knowledge 6 months later he cannot recall it. Cover all the basics, then invest the rest of your dollars in coaching. Your time to proficiency will shorten if you coach them on the job.

2. Get better at coaching. If your coaching sessions are scheduled only when your employees screw up, then you are doing it wrong. And if even you do more of this reactionary coaching in lieu of training, it will not move the needle much. The type of coaching that is impactful is forward-looking coaching or situational coaching – coaching that occurs purposefully in almost real time, tailored to the particular needs of the individual. For example, you have identified that a cause of pain for your customers exists on calls when you have to say “no.” Maybe you have cracked the code on how you can frame “no” and still have customer feel good about the interaction. On the job coaching of the individual, seconds after they just had one of these calls, is the way to go – not during next week’s coaching session. Coaching is about the future, and it’s about the individual’s needs – not the generic trends gleaned from a small sample size.

In the battle of hearts and minds of customers, the organizations that win are the ones who get the art of customer connections right. To achieve this, they will utilize coaching to create an army that is not only adept at resolving customer issues but, more importantly, delivering personalized experiences that are superior to the competition – even when they are saying “no”.