A great train of thinking.
To train or not to train. That is not a question. It is a dividing line, between those who will strive and thrive, and those who will wilt and fade away.
There is growing evidence that investing in training is one effective avenue to develop business and to counter depressing levels of sales and revenue leakage.
There have been many lessons learnt since the onset of the GFC (Global Financial Crisis) in August 2008. Among those are:
• Price discounting is ineffective in achieving sustainable sales increases.
• Sales events have themselves been discounted in value and integrity.
• Bargain pricing has inflicted irreparable damage to many brand names.
• Reduced inventory and staff numbers have made conspicuous impacts on customer service standards.
• Customer loyalty cannot and will not be “bought” by loyalty card points.
• On-going multi-channel communications between businesses and customers are imperatives, not options. (Hello! on-line and social media.)
• The rate of change and innovations is increasing.
• “New” and “local” have become the black in marketing.
• The cornerstone for establishing, maintaining and developing relationships with existing, prospective and (yes) past customers is PERSONAL.
It is these points and more that constitute the parameters and framework within which truly effective training must be formulated, documented, implemented and supported.
CALL TO ACTION
The findings of a recent comprehensive study of some 2000 chief executives of companies and departments throughout North America, Europe and Australia by an international finance group were stark and compelling.
Some 62% of respondents nominated internal and external customer service as the primary need for training and enhancement. A total of 43% contended “corporate culture” was an area of concern and in need of improvement.
Both those factors rated higher in the priority listing than the wish and need to improve “productivity”.
On balance, upgraded customer service standards and an enhanced corporate culture will and do inevitably lead to greater cohesion, pride, self motivation and productivity.
Clearly, it is important to look closely at and respect the importance and value of the “bottom line” in preference to a single focus on the top line.
Most sobering were the conclusions of those chief executives who participated in the study. Some 71% stated it was difficult if not impossible to quantify any increases in customer satisfaction, sales, profits and productivity as a direct result of recent training activities. Some 18% believed there had been “marginal” or short-term improvements in performance standards.
Just 9% of respondents concluded that training in customer service and corporate culture effected and sustained significant enhancements. (Note: 2% did not respond). The lesson here is that the “right” training, to the “right” people by the “right” trainer, for the “right” reasons and the “right” desired outcomes is essential.
Business leaders who have decided upon and are committed to undertaking training to address the prevailing market-forces and to achieve a sustainable competitive advantage are to be applauded.
However, the findings of the study among their 2000 corporate peers are worthy of reflection.
Training in and of itself is not the answer. The keys to effective people and skills development are numerous, complex and integrated.
At a recent public event in Australia an executive from a public listed training company proudly declared his accredited and registered training group was most effective in securing government funding for the training of client company staff-members.
Subsequent detailed and specific probing about the skills of the trainers and their comprehension of the diverse aspects of service excellence and positive corporate culture revealed a disturbing and significant inadequacy in skills and knowledge.
This was another case of waste in terms of money, time and resources – soothed somewhat by the realisation that it would be government funded. As if Australia needs more government waste!
Another case study is equally enlightening. An international hotel group sought training in customer service for its high turnover, typically casual and part-time hospitality service providers.
It transpired that the female executive who initiated the approach was not qualified or experienced in Human Resources Management or training. She appeared to have little or no authority and would need to refer all matters requiring decisions to an unnamed senior executive.
The two hotel brands had no formal job specifications (which detail the human attributes necessary to fulfil differing employment duties and functions), no formalised induction procedures, little structured or scheduled and customised training programs for individuals, groups or departments, and no infrastructure to support, reinforce and complement any training undertaken.
The professional trainer who had extensive skills and experience in consulting to businesses and conducting interactive workshops on corporate culture and quality customer service was then advised he would not be paid a set professional fee. Remuneration would be a percentage of the increase in sales revenue from those hotel departments whose staff-members would be involved in the integrated and structured training schedule.
The negotiations ceased immediately.
In the first instance, the value of the professional consultant was not recognised or quantified. Secondly, how could a trainer have faith in the ability of a hotel group which was so evidently deficient? This was not training in customer service or corporate culture. Rather, it was un-abased drive to improve the sales closure skills of staff-members.
Moreover, the activities were ill-focused.
The most immediate training needs lie within the ranks of senior executives.
Corporate executives and professional external and internal training experts who seek, expect and, indeed, demand successful outcomes in their training activities, especially relating to customer service excellence, need to progressively address the following issues:
Ensure that the overriding corporate culture (both formal and informal) is understood by all people, is documented, verbalised, respected and adhered to. In essence, the corporate culture is an expression of the personality of an entity. A fun learning experience is to have team-members express the culture, of which they are part, in terms of humanoid characteristics.
It is and can be a revealing exercise.
Each company should review and refine carefully JOB DESCRIPTIONS (detailing the duties to be undertaken, the authorities to be exercised and the responsibilities which are assigned to each position).
Job descriptions should be cross-referenced to each JOB SPECIFICATION (the human attributes necessary for the performance of each position to be fulfilled).
Care must be taken in the differing phases of recruitment to recognise that fewer than 24% of adult Australians have an appropriate psychological profile to be an effective, efficient and engaging service provider.
NOTE: Promotion of the above listed factors is an excellent means to generate interest in employment by the best available recruitment prospects, who are typically keen to be involved with the best prospective employer.
A comprehensive, disciplined induction procedure develops an appreciation of the values and nature of an entity.
The first step to achieving higher planes of customer service standards is for team-members to think and state: “I understand”.
Full understanding of the interdependence of positions, departments and duties contributes to optimal outcomes of customer satisfaction and productivity.
TRAINING NEEDS ANALYSIS
It is imperative that each training experience be customised, that the training objectives be defined and shared, as well as the commitment of each participant be secured from the outset.
“Singing from the same hymn book” has a certain harmony about it.
Understanding WHY the specific training is being undertaken is an imperative prerequisite if the WHAT and the HOW are to be embraced and subsequently implemented.
Rightly or wrongly, to greater and lesser extents, each individual believes that he or she has much to contribute to the training exercise.
Everyone should be given the scope and opportunity to provide input, analysis and to give connection to the jointly determined outputs.
The initial euphoria, motivations and aspirations which flow from training programs are usually extinguished within 72 hours, three weeks or six weeks, unless benchmarks are set, monitoring processes are installed, on-going feedback is provided and regular refinements are encouraged.
External trainers, catalysts and change facilitators need to be complemented with internal project leaders, or “Concept Champions”, if you will.
The best results are achieved and maintained when someone is assigned the authority and delegated the responsibility to ensure focus, cohesion and commitment are retained.
THE EASY PART
Now for the relatively easy part...that of conducting the training. The sentiment correctly reflects the importance of planning, research, preparation and selection.
One final checklist
• Right training
• Right people
• Right trainer
• Right reasons
• Right outcomes