Thursday, February 15, 2007

Does Customer Service Training Work?

In today’s edition of TODAY (the newspaper), there’s an article on customer service. I believe it is part of a regular column by Liang Dingzi called Serve Us Right.

In today’s story, the writer narrated two cases of poor customer service. The first was from a hotel and the second, from a bank. From the first she concluded with this cardinal rule of customer service; “When in doubt, decide in the customer’s favour“, and from the second; “Never make an issue of doing the customer a favour“.

This article got me pondering. Certainly in the hotel and banking industry, the frontline staff have gone through extensive training in customer service. So whilst the article makes interesting reading for a layman like me, it wouldn’t be teaching those people to whom her story is directed anything they don’t already know.

I am reminded of an interesting post by a blogger called Victor who narrated his somewhat unpleasant encounter with a bank officer at a reputable bank. He then contrasted this with a much happier encounter with a hawker. Comparing these two service providers, the former, the bank officer is probably much better educated and have attended numerous hours of customer service training. Yet, in the words of this blogger, “JY (the bank officer), looks like you could learn something from Helen, the coffee lady. She only sold me a cup of tea that cost a mere 60 cents and yet she took pride in providing good service. On the other hand, you know that my dealings with your bank run into several hundred thousand dollars and are worth several thousand dollars in annual earnings to your bank, part of which pays your salary.”

So what conclusion can we draw from these two articles? My own conclusion is that what we have here is not a problem of knowledge or skill. What we have is what my children like to call, AP, or Attitude Problem.

Can such an attitude problem be addressed by sending the staff for more customer service training? I very much doubt so. Unlike lack of knowledge or skill, poor attitude is much more complex a problem, and its causes don’t always lie with the individual. It is influenced by a variety of factors like work environment and culture, staff relations, staff welfare, work overload and so on, and often points back to the individual’s boss. Hence, the boss who simply sends his staff for training without taking a good hard look at himself, is like the man who lost a coin in a dark alley and searched for it under a lamp post.

And the results are all around for us to see.

Related posts:
1) Interesting Encounters with Rude Cashiers
2) Consciously Rude


zen said...

In my former working place, though the organisation was big, but it was miserly in spending on training. They got hold of the training dept executives to do in-house training for the staff. These training officers had already their routine jobs to contend with, taking on extra work loads made them more frustrating. As a result, they simply cut corners by just go through the lessions in their wouldn't-care-less way. So training was like no training at all. Eventually the problem was resolved when management finally called in outside professional consultants to do the job.

Las montañas said...

came here from IML.

You are absolutely right! THE source of these problems most of the time lies with the management, the boss(es).

Because it is a large establishment (eg: a bank), procedures are in place (in fact, very kiasu ones and very defensive ones) so much so that the CSO are bonded by their hands. They are not like the hawker who deal with low value products like a cup of coffee! You spill coffee? no problem, give you another cup. You claim that the coffee is too sweet? no problem, do another cup for you..etc

Sleepless in Singapore said...

Besides procedures, I believe there is the more imp. issue of commitment. The hawker is also the owner of the biz. She does not need to attend any customer service to know that unhappy customers will simply take their biz elsewhere. The demoralized employee, on the other hand, may even be thinking. "Serves them (the bosses) right. I won't be here for long anyway."

Victor said...

Sleepless, thanks for citing my article on the bank's appalling service.

I feel that establishments sometimes underestimate the power of blogging as an effective tool for airing grievances. It's almost as good as writing to the press. The best part is that your article can never be rejected for publication. Word of mouth works very well through blogs too, as you have demonstrated here.

As regards to LM's comment above, I can understand that large establishments like banks have to abide by more rules and regulations as compared to small business concerns. Therefore we cannot expect that our request will always be acceded to. However, my main gripe in that case was that the human touch and the quality of service delivery, both of which makes up the full customer experience, seemed to be sorely lacking in the officer concerned. (Sleepless summed it up very well - attitude problem.) In this very competitive business environment, if the customer does not feel that his business valued, he simply takes his business elsewhere, regardless whether it is a home loan or a cup of coffee.

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