A potential customer walks into your office. Her name is Jane and she has decided to move her kids out of the city to a more rural environment and to be closer to her family. She has a home-based business selling products over the Internet and needs to be connected to her business at all times. Her oldest son graduates from high school next year and plans to attend a college about four hours away. She has communication needs and she has come to you.
There were numerous things that should have happened to enhance Jane’s experience at your office so that you were the obvious provider of choice. Everything likely went well if your company had given its employees customer service and sales training. When it comes to turning the Jane’s of the world into customers, training is critical. Here are some things you should think about as you plan for an effective training program.
What are the objectives? Ask your employees about the skills development they need and then ask supervisors for the same input as it pertains to their employees. Also ask supervisors about skills they need to help their staff improve. Don’t forget to ask management what skills they think your company needs and that they themselves need. Ask customers where your employees need to improve in the area of sales and service.
Is learning fun at your company? Most employees have been through training barely able to keep their eyes open because the presenter did nothing but talk and advance through the PowerPoint slide. People learn and retain information better when they’re actively involved in the learning process. The trainer should incorporate interactive exercises into the training to help the participants internalize the information. The exercises should reinforce the skills the participants are expected to learn.
What does the trainer know about your company? Many of the employees who work for your company have several years of experience. Your company’s products and customers are different from other providers. If a trainer brought in from the outside is to effectively help your employees improve, he or she must understand your company and the challenges it faces. Does the trainer talk with you in advance to understand your objectives? Does he interview staff to learn the challenges they face doing their jobs?
What happens after training? Many of your employees have been doing their jobs for a number of years with the skills they have. One day of skill development may not have significant impact on years of doing it another way. Does the trainer offer to do refresher sessions to help reinforce the new skills? How will your company reinforce the skills taught in training? How will the company coach employees as they use those new skills?
Repetition works. Training your employees once every year or two on customer service and sales skills will not give them complete confidence and knowledge to be effective. Establish monthly meetings to review skills. Selling may or may not be a new role for your customer service representatives, but regardless of one’s skill level, there is always room for improvement.
Practice, practice, practice… A critical part of becoming comfortable with new skills is putting them to practice. Role playing is an important tool in taking the new skill or behavior into a real-world environment. Practicing skills in a safe environment with coworkers will improve your staff’s confidence and effectiveness when dealing with customers.
Evaluate your training program. Evaluating your training program is no different than evaluating your other processes. Donald Kirkpatrick is a leader in assessing training programs and he has identified four areas to evaluate.
- Evaluate employee reaction. Have each employee complete a simple survey at the end of training. Ask them to rate the facilitator, the content, group involvement, audio-visual aids, handouts and location. Ask if the training will help them perform their jobs better. Ask them what they liked most and least about the program.
- Evaluate learning. There are three things that facilitators can teach: knowledge, skills and attitude. To determine what employees learned from the training, ask them to answer the following questions. What knowledge did you gain from training? What skills did you learn? Did you experience a change in attitude when it comes to providing service to our customers?
- Evaluate behavior. What happens when employees leave the classroom? To measure the effectiveness of the training on improving a behavior, interview supervisors and management that interact with those employees. Ask employees if they feel they’re doing anything different in their job as a result of the training. To measure long-term impact, interview employees and supervisors over a six-month period to see if the new skills have permanently impacted behavior.
- Evaluate results. This is the most difficult area to measure, so be sure the objectives you started with were clearly defined and measurable. If you have a goal to increase sales by 5 percent, plan to track sales during the months prior to training so you can see any gains when you measure again for a number of months after training. If your goal is to improve the customer-service skills of your employees, you must survey customers in advance of training to establish a bench mark for customer service. Then you must survey customers again after training.
The people at your company who provide service and sell your products are critical to improving customer loyalty and increasing revenue. How much of an investment have you made in the last 12 months to provide them with the skills and tools they need to persuade your customers they should buy from you instead of your competition?
David Saxby is president of Measure-X, a Phoenix, Ariz.-based measurement, training and recognition company that specializes in customer service and sales skills training for utilities.