Ensuring that a company's employees are performing their absolute best is a constant challenge for those working in Human Resources. Therefore, it is frequently necessary to find new ways to educate and motivate employees about how best to serve their customers via employee training programs. Since the company for which this employee training program will be designed for is a small retail company, there are certain areas that must be focused on more than if the company were larger, or in another business besides retail. With this in mind, the primary method of customer training service within the company will be a combination of multiple styles, including presentation, discussion, role playing, simulation, as well as some on-the-job training.
A combination of multiple training styles is necessary because it shows employees that versatility is crucial, especially when the company they work for is a small retail establishment. Presentation and discussion will help to facilitate communication between employees and the company, role playing will allow employees to put themselves into the role of consumers to determine how best to deal with potentially tricky customer-service situations, and job training will help to give the employees the hands-on experience that is necessary for the continued prosperity of the company.
First, it is necessary to perform a needs assessment for this customer service training plan. To do this, it is necessary to prove that this training will have a profound impact on the company, which should be relatively easy to prove. The first reason why this customer service training would expose deficiencies within the company is because it would demonstrate which employees need improvement. This might seem like an obvious reason, but using a concrete, verifiable rubric for testing certain employee attributes goes a long way to finding weaknesses within employees and correcting them. The second reason this needs assessment would expose any performance deficiencies is because this particular employee customer service training would focus largely on communication, and would, thus, allow employees to voice concerns or problems they have that might be affecting performance. The third reason has to do with the actual methods used in the training. In particular, the use of an end-of-training exam (which will be explained later) will provide concrete and verifiable evidence of performance deficiencies in specific areas, which is useful for correcting minor issues in performance. The fourth reason is simply that it will be a good judge of employee willpower and enthusiasm. Employees who are visibly tired or annoyed during the training will be easy to spot, and allows the company to focus on them, or whatever issues they may be having that are adversely affecting the company. The fifth and final reason is that this would provide customers with a way to provide feedback to the company in regards to customer service, which is the surest way to detect and rectify any customer service deficiencies within the company. This is another measure that will be included within the training, and will provide for a give and take between customers and employees as part of the training. The methods used for this employee customer service training must target specific areas.
Most importantly, this customer service training would have to focus primarily on interactions; specifically, interactions between both the frontline employees and the customers, and the employees with the company. With small operations such as this one, communication is key. With that in mind, one of the core tenants of the employee training would focus entirely on communication. The training for this particular area would involve the employees studying a brief training pamphlet giving them the basics of communication with employees, and would then have the employees pretend to be customers to one another so that they may learn the ins and outs of customer interaction. This test would be effective because communication is one of the most important aspects of customer service, and reinforcing this importance to the company's employees is crucial for long-term development and prosperity of the company. This section of the training would also have some of the higher management of the company come to the store and have a face-to-face talk with each and every employee in order to both practice communication with them and to stress the importance of communication. This will also help to ease employees into communicating with the company. Once an employee has a face-to-face talk with a higher-level employee (something many employees are understandably anxious of), talking regularly with managers and the like will not seem like as big a deal, since they will have already gone through this training. This helps to facilitate inter-company communication, which is effective, especially in areas like settling disputes, or informing employees of minor policy changes within the company.
Another aspect that will comprise this customer service training is a little more boring. This section will involve knowing company policy, and will involve employees performing a study-session and subsequent exam. This will ensure that employees understand some of the more intricate rules within the company, many of which might seem trivial or unnecessary, but that are, in fact, important for the continued well-being of the company. For example, employees must understand that saying or doing certain things for each and every customer is necessary for retail outlets, especially smaller ones, since it forms a bond between the consumer and company that will ensure their continued business. This sort of training would also build work ethic in employees, and show them that unpleasantries such as this on-the-job training are realities of the retail world. It would also level the playing field, so to speak, since many of the employees within this company are either low-paid, low in skills, or both, so this training would be especially useful. In fact, studies show that employees who are either lower in skills or in pay generally receive less training than other employees (Machin & Wilkinson, 1995). This means that the company's employees would have a decided advantage over competitors, since, statistically speaking, other small retail outlets will not have the same amount of training for its employees as this company.
Simulation will be another core component of this employee customer service training. Specifically, this simulation training will focus on face-to-face encounters with customers, and the ways employees can continually improve the customer's experience with them. This section of the employee training will also include the role-playing section of the training, as employees pretend to be customers in various situations, and the other employee must find solutions for the customer's various problems. For the simulation, employees will be paired up with one another, and be given different situations employees commonly find themselves in during their line of work. For example, an employee might be told to simulate an irate customer, and the other employee must find ways to defuse the situation in accordance with company policy. Afterward, their performance will be evaluated, and their roles switched, so that each employee will know exactly how to deal with the most difficult of customer service encounters.
The final part of this employee customer service training will involve on-the-job training. This means that employees will be actively coached while they are working, although the company must not be too overbearing in this regard, lest the employee feel like they have no freedom. That issue aside, on-the-job training is regarded as a favorable and, perhaps more importantly, economical solution to increasing both employee performance and morale. A study showed that on-the-job training can be expensive, since it requires the resources of several individuals while using the company's paid time, while also costing potential customers, but that the payoff is well worth it "...the division of the costs and returns to specific training has important effects on turnover: the greater is workers' share of costs and returns, the lower are quits and the higher are dismissals. Division of the returns to training can be used to minimize inefficient turnover" (Frazis & Loewenstein, 2007, p. 10). This means that, most of the time, on-the-job training provides a high initial time and money investment that, eventually pays itself off.
One area that continues to be a challenge, especially in retail fields, is employee motivation. This can be problematic, because studies repeatedly show that motivated employees are much more productive in all types of work than those who are not motivated (Lindner, 1998). Thus, the key to motivating employees to attend the training session is simple: provide incentive. In a study of employees, the three most important factors for motivation were, in order, that the work or task was interesting, being reimbursed somehow, and receiving appreciation of the work they did (Lindner, 1998). While compensating employees for attending a training course could be a bad idea, the other two factors, incentive and appreciation, can be provided. The incentive would come in the form of one day additional vacation for attending the training, with an additional day provided if the employees performs exceedingly well during the exam portion of the training. the second measure take to motivate employees to attend the training is to monitor employees throughout the training and offer both advice and praise in response to employee performance. This measure can also be taken to the business itself. That is to say, offering employees praise for when they do well is generally a win/win for all parties involved, since it motivates employees, which makes them feel better, and makes them work harder, which, in turn, assists the company in the long run.
Another part of the training will involve the employees completing a survey about the training they attended. This survey will ask questions about specific parts of the training, such as the exam portion and face-to-face portions, as well as questions about how the employee felt at certain points throughout the training. The survey would also offer employees a chance to offer recommendations for changes that should be made to the employee customer service training program so that it may improve in the future. This would also let employees know that their opinions are valued within the company, and that there is no such thing as an issue too small that should not be brought to the attention of the company. This survey would also, of course, allow the company to tailor the training to employee-specific needs. If, for example, employees feel like a portion of the training is not necessary, it can easily be changed, if necessary. This means that this employee training plan is, to an extent, fluid and able to be changed by employees, so no measures for this training are entirely set in stone, although it should be noted that it would take a large number of employee complaints via the surveys to warrant a significant change in the employee customer service training.
The training will, of course, not be pleasant, but if it were, then it would not be fulfilling its intended purpose. While many people question the need for customer service training, there is really nothing more important to a business than its customers, and this training helps to reinforce the customer-employee relationship therein to ensure customer loyalty. This is especially true for smaller retail outlets such as this company. The customer service training would focus, as mentioned, on communication, and employees will use this communication to make customers happy and ensure a mutual relationship between customer, employee, and company, so that all three parties are ultimately happy.
Frazis, H., & Loewenstein, M. A. (2007). On-the-job Training (Vol. 2). Now Publishers Inc. 10
Lindner, J. R. (1998). Understanding employee motivation. Journal of Extension, 36(3), 1-8.
Machin, S., & Wilkinson, D. (1995). Employee training: unequal access and economic performance (No. 1). Institute for Public Policy.