Train Your Customer Service Reps to Create MAGIC-al Customer Service Experiences

by Diane Berenbaum and Jean Marie Johnson

  • “I can help you with that right now.”

This is the type of MAGIC® response, from a trained customer service representative, that translates into a great service experience; the type of response that Makes A Great Impression on every Customer™.

This type of exceptional interaction between the customer and a service representative can make customers feel special; it can strengthen the relationship, build loyalty and ultimately increase sales.

While organizations tout that they offer this type of great service, there are significant disconnects between these proclamations and actual customer experiences. More often than not, customers hear tragic, relationship breaking statements from reps, “We can't do that…”  that make customers feel frustrated and angry.

The Training Gap

At the heart of this profound discrepancy is the absence of making ongoing investments in the effective training and development of customer service reps.

Exceptional customer service reps are a priceless asset to any organization. Their contributions are rooted in a sense of purpose and commitment, which begins with training. In contrast, many reps perform based upon compliance, a limited sense of meaningful contribution and mediocre training.

But, how do you reduce this gap? We've laid out five guidelines here for you to follow when creating your training program that will help you create MAGIC-al customer service experiences every time.

1.  Create the Context

We often hear managers give directions to their training departments that sound like this, “Our reps don't seem to care. We need to tell them what to say on the phone so they don't sound so rude.” Or, more benignly, “Teach them to be polite; that the customer is always right.”

While these statements are often well-intentioned, they completely miss the bigger picture. The delivery of great service begins with a set of shared values around what it means to deliver magical service. Once these values and behaviors are positioned front and center, development and accountability can follow.

For example, the employees in a large food service company used the acronym of “RESPECT” to highlight their commitment to outstanding service:

  • Rigorous attention to detail
  • Effective communication
  • Seamless deliveries
  • Professionalism
  • Efficiency
  • Courtesy
  • Trustworthiness
The simplicity and clarity of this focus helps to drive their moment-to-moment behaviors that create their customer experiences.

2. Define and Train to a Standard; A Common Language for Your Organization

Once you identify the behaviors aligned with your values, you can develop a standard to be used in training based on these behaviors. This standard provides a common language and discipline that creates a unique cultural identity.

3. Design Customer Service Training Focused on Attitudes and Behaviors

Focus your training content on three key themes: mind-set, relationship and accountability to develop and empower reps to delight customers.

  • Embrace a Service Mind-Set: Can your reps say, “We're all about service” and really mean it? This statement could only come from a deeply-rooted commitment; a mind-set of contribution. And, like it or not, it is a choice. You cannot demand it or command it. But, you can encourage it.
  • Imagine introducing this concept at the very start of your training program: “Every person you communicate with is your customer—whether they are internal or external to the organization.”
  • Every associate in every department is indeed a customer, whether they work in Human Resources or in the adjacent cubicle. When reps broaden their thinking in this way, suddenly, everyone “counts.”
  • A corollary concept is that, “Every communication makes an impression.”  To illustrate just how many impressions reps make in a day, a simple tally can be taken that includes: People I interact with, calls I take, calls I make, e-mails I initiate, e-mails I respond to, and voice mails I leave.  If a rep has 245 interactions daily, this translates to 1,225 weekly, 4,900 monthly and 58,800 annually. That is a tremendous number of opportunities to make an impression; an impression that increases customer loyalty, or turns off customers and sends them racing to another supplier!
  • Cultivate Relationships with Customers: Training that focuses on getting the task done puts the cart before the horse. Attending to the human side of service is the first imperative of a person-to-person interaction. Reps need the skills to engage with customers—internally and externally—in a way that builds relationships. These skills go far beyond being courteous and nice. They are about making a connection with the customer, as well as earning the right to take control of an interaction—gracefully.
  • Behaviors that focus on relationships include the words, tone and visual impact of the first few seconds of an interaction—the greeting. They also include a laser-sharp focus on developing listening skills and the expression of empathy—the ability to identify and acknowledge how a customer experiences a situation.  Simply put, how the customer feels.
  • By allowing time for associates to practice the critical first moments of an interaction—the greeting and the initial response to customers—you are helping them to replace old behaviors with new behaviors that express your service values. These behavioral changes take time, practice and support.
  • For example, imagine that a customer fumes, “You made a mistake on my statement again!  What's wrong with you people?”
  • A rep might respond from habit saying, “What's your account number? I'll see what's going on.”
  • A magical, trained rep with a commitment to service might respond, “Mr. Jones, I can understand why you'd be upset about your statement. I would be happy to help you. May I ask you a few questions first so that I can better research this matter?”
  • In this example, the customer is likely to perceive the sincerity of this response, and feel secure that he is interacting with someone who wants to help him. He then relaxes as he and the rep work toward resolution. The few mindful moments the rep takes to connect with the customer's experience and to reassure him of his ability to help, is what focusing on the relationship is all about.  
  • You may get some pushback from reps that tend to focus on the task without paying attention to the human dimension. This narrow focus may resolve the issue in the short-term, but may ultimately erode the relationship.  Focusing on the relationship first actually shortens interactions—customers are far more likely to “let go” when they feel they are working with a caring, confident professional.  
  • Focus on Accountability: Accountability refers to communicating professionally while choosing to do everything you can to address the customer's need. This happens by focusing on what you can control and what you can influence.
  • A rep can control every response and action he takes in an interaction with a customer. These choices, in turn, influence the customer's responses, and his perception of the service experience. Exercising choice is no small matter.
  • A training focus on accountability begins with the essentials such as exercises on active listening, asking appropriate questions, being proactive with solutions or options and following up as agreed. It also focuses on developing your reps' ability to use customer-focused communication instead of barrier-focused communication. In other words, seeing the situation from the customer's perspective and using language to demonstrate what can be done, rather than the reasons something cannot be done.
  • Accountability also means being able to step up to the plate when mistakes or oversights happen. While all customers want their service providers to be accountable to their needs, dissatisfied customers want much more. They want explanations about the causes of the situation, assurances that their concerns will be corrected and apologies when appropriate.

4. Ensure Training is Engaging and Participatory

Typical “tell” training, with right and wrong answers, results in half-hearted compliance. It fails to engage the hearts and minds of reps.

On the other hand, interpersonal skills training that is both interactive and inclusive results in a rich learning experience and greater commitment. Authentic dialogue and realistic scenarios will encourage your reps' receptivity and willingness to adopt new skills.

5. Sustain the Service Culture

Service training needs a commitment of time and support to sustain results. Companies who implement call quality programs after customer service training significantly improved both customer satisfaction ranging from 4% to 10% and call quality ranging from 6% to 15%, according to the 2006 Ascent Group Call Quality Practices study.

To sustain an exceptional service culture and to get these types of satisfaction improvements, you must provide coaching, feedback and support. The reality is that a quality program without effective coaching may quickly become a watchdog patrol.

Effective coaching models the “relationship first” principle, while setting, and upholding, performance standards. It is rooted in respect for customer service reps and supports their contribution to the customer experience. And it does not stop there. When you model desired behavior, reinforce skills, and address systemic barriers to exceptional service, you will pave the way to helping your organization deliver sustainable, truly magical service.

MAGIC-al Training Yields Exceptional Results

Service training programs that are aligned with your organization's values and fully supported by coaching and modeling, clearly demonstrate your commitment to your customers and your employees.  Not only will your employees look forward to their next call, they will approach each customer with a smile, knowing that they can make each contact MAGIC.

And, soon, your organization's service levels and customer satisfaction measures will rise and shine above the rest.
Diane Berenbaum is a long-time contributor and former editor of the MAGIC Service Newsletter. She has more than twenty-five years of experience as a consultant, coach, and facilitator. Diane is the co-author of How to Talk to Customers: Create a Great Impression Every Time with MAGIC® .

Jean Marie Johnson is a Communico facilitator and has helped clients with their MAGIC initiatives. And for over 20 years she has specialized in cultivating the customer experience as a key competitive advantage.
Before and After
Before and After
Just one "tragic" contact can influence your customers' perception of your company (and their buying decisions). Listen to the difference MAGIC® can make.