Q&A with Rosanne D’Ausilio, Ph.D.: Training World-Class Service Reps

Apr 01, 2007 9:30 PM  By

Rosanne D’Ausilio, Ph. D., is an industrial psychologist and president of Human Technologies Global. She will present “The Five Ws of World-Class Customer Service” on April 30 during this year’s NCOF.

Why is customer service so important to a merchant’s success? When customers were asked, “How important was your overall call experience in shaping your image of the company?” 92% of respondents said it was “important,” according to a Benchmarkportal.com study by Purdue University’s Center for Customer-Driven Quality.

In today’s competitive environment, there is little difference among products or services. Let’s say that I am looking for a side-by-side refrigerator. Aside from a few bells and whistles, they are all basically the same. I am either going to pick a company with brand recognition that I think will be around for a while, or if I am looking on the Internet and all factors are equal but one site has a phone number, I am going to pick that site. And if a company does have a phone number but the options are entirely automated, I may get impatient and hang up — and then the company has lost a sale. What distinguishes one company from another is its relationship with the customer — customer service. And who has that awesome responsibility? Usually it’s the front-line customer service representatives.

What typically stands in the way of good customer service? Sometimes management proclaims to believe in customer service, but their feet go in another direction when they focus strictly on costs. Companies look at their budget dollars and don’t realize the impact of poor customer service on their bottom line. Management and accounting often watch labor costs closely, but they forget that losing a customer costs a great deal of money. And it’s the customer service representative who often has the power to get or lose a customer.

What role does technology play in customer service training? It’s necessary to have the right hardware and software for the processes to go smoothly — for example, for orders to flow from screen to screen. But many companies see technology as Nirvana, when it’s actually a tool that supports the people, not the other way around. Machines alone don’t create relationships — people do. That’s why customer service training is most important.

Good customer service training is about communication; proactive listening; establishing rapport; developing relationships with people; diffusing customers’ distress, anger, fear, or frustration; and then moving a customer to a productive interaction.

What is the “human side” of the business, and why is it important to pay attention to this? Great customer service includes people, process, and technology. The “people” aspect gets dropped out more often than not. In the future we may use virtual agents and other technological advances, but we will never have virtual customers. And customers will still have needs for human interaction. Yes, some of them will be happy to use self-service and voice response units for the simple things, such as a change of address. However, when and if it gets complicated or complex, we all want to speak to a human, who can understand fear, frustration, and anger and resolve complicated problems.

How can you provide first-class customer service if you’re on a shoestring budget? Taking care of people doesn’t have to cost a lot of money. Yes, initial training dollars need to be spent, and ongoing training is a great way to reinforce the retention of employees, customers, and the training itself. It usually costs about $7,500 to hire and train an employee, including hardware, software, and soft skills. But great customer service is an attitude that should be supported by management. Management should provide and follow through on ongoing training and treat the CSRs with respect.

What other steps can companies take to improve customer service? We always suggest a needs assessment, in which an independent organization interviews everyone from the CEO on down to take the pulse of the organization. Employees are more likely to provide an independent company with authentic feedback about what works, what doesn’t, etc. Then you can design a training program that addresses each of these issues or challenges. Ask employees what they need; ask customers what their experience is and how it could be kicked up a notch.

A question I get asked a lot is “Why should I train someone if they’re just going to leave to go to the XYZ Company?” I say, “That’s the wrong question. The real question is, ‘What if you don’t train them and they stay?’”