Outside Consultant: With Limited Time and Expertise on Customer Service Training, How Can We Improve Staff Performance?

This “Outside Consultant” column by Mike Porter, EdD, a faculty member in the Marketing Department at Opus College of Business, ran in the Star Tribune on Aug. 30, 2021.

Every organization that relies on actual human interaction faces the challenge of employee engagement with customers. Whether on the phone, in person, or even over video chat – your customer’s experience depends on more than the expertise of staff, but also attitude and presence.

According to Paul Omodt, my co-founder of Frame Changers, LLC, which specializes in helping organizations of all sizes improve customer experience, “We find many employees minimize their importance in the customer journey, and that can be foundational in how they interact with your customers.” He suggests encouraging leaders to emphasize with all employees who might engage with patrons to make customer service an important and rewarded contribution.

“It’s the street sweeper at Disney who sees a guest looking at a map and takes time to give directions,” Omodt says. “It seems like a simple thing to tell employees to focus on customer experience, but it’s not like flipping a switch.” He encourages regular discussions with all staff about customer service – just a few minutes a week to hold focus.

Omodt also stresses the importance of personal presence. “Much of our training aims to make employees aware of how customers perceive them, and provide tools to polish that image,” Omodt says. He suggests that many of these things, like eye contact and tone of voice, may not be elements of themselves employees have ever considered.

For employees, simply becoming conscious of customer perceptions of the service experience begins an opportunity to improve. Then management needs to keep reminding of the importance and value the organization places on supporting customers.

In addition, try to “catch people doing something right” as often as possible. Too often, front-line managers call out when behavior misses the standard. Real improvement comes from giving praise for excellence or even just progress – as close to the action as possible. If possible, providing that positive feedback in ways that show others that rewards are within reach also pays dividends.

While a reward system could be formalized (i.e., scheduled “awards” for customer service at team and/or broader employee meetings), the randomness of being acknowledged or otherwise rewarded through impromptu actions often generates longer lasting impact.

Mike Porter, EdD, is a faculty member in the Marketing Department at the University of St. Thomas Opus College of Business.