Whether you own a restaurant or manage a gym, nothing is going to win over more customers than the interactions they have with your employees. Not even your advertising, amazing product, nor scrumptious food.

Customer service pays. One happy customer will rave about her experience to an average of nine other people. In a 2010 study, American Express found that customers will spend 9% more with companies that go above and beyond. On the flip side, 85% of consumers report taking their business elsewhere after a “meh” experience. Online reviews prolong the sting of one of these negative interactions, long after the grouchy employee is gone.

So, how to train your staff–new hires and above–to reach for the stars with every interaction? We’ve identified the traits to focus on as well as a simple path to implementing a rock solid plan of action.

Break Down the Key Skills That Every Customer Service Rep Needs

If your personal trainer chats with you during warm-up and remembers your kids’ names, you start the session with a smile on your face. Similarly, when you ask about the allergens in a dish at restaurant and your waiter personally checks and assures you that your dish has been specially prepared to your needs, you’re going to tip big.

The good news? Great customer service isn’t super mysterious. It comes from the same place that all of our best relationships do. As Gregory Ciotti writes for Help Scout,

R[emember] that your customers are people too, and knowing that putting in the extra effort will come back to you ten-fold should be your driving motivation to never ‘cheat’ your customers with lazy service.”

He and SurveyMonkey identify some key customer service traits:

  • Empathy & patience. Can you put yourself in your customers’ shoes and take the time to listen to their questions and/or problems?
  • Flexibility. Every customer is different and plenty of interactions are going to come as a surprise. Can you stay calm, think on your feet, and push for the right answer?
  • Communication. How well are you explaining your service or product?
  • Time management. Can you effectively handle an issue from start-to-finish without totally neglecting the other customers in line?
  • Expertise. How confident and prepared are you to explain a product or solution?
  • Positivity under pressure. Some customer service experiences are going to be stressful or unpleasant–this comes with the territory. Can you handle owning up to a mistake and remain positive in a tense situation?

Identify Customer Service Scenarios That Are Particular to Tour Business

Okay, so you’ve got the core skills down. Solicit some feedback from your front-of-house employees on frequent questions they receive from customers. Put yourself in your customer’s shoes through the full cycle of their experience in your shop.

From the phone to the company Facebook page to the stockroom, every employee role touches the customer in some way. Work on identifying your touchpoints, and don’t be afraid to ask your customers for feedback–this will help you be strategic when creating a training plan.

Create a Culture of Outstanding Service

One of the best ways to encourage a staff who loves to serve your customers is to engage your employees in the mission of your business itself. Think about it this way. If an employee is told to “sell as many women’s athletic shoes as possible,” he may try to make the sale. But there’s no larger vision there that he can feel inspired by. In contrast, try emphasizing from his first day onwards that your mission is to empower female customers to reach their athletic goals. It’ll give him a greater purpose at work. This approach puts the focus on the people, not the product.

Ron Kaufman, an educator on uplifting customer service, calls it the difference between training and education:

“Training teaches someone what actions to take in a specific situation,” he says. “Education teaches him or her how to think about service in any situation and then choose the best actions to take.”

When your employees are engaged with the bigger picture of what you do, they are more likely to treat each customer as an individual, bringing a “service mindset” to every unique interaction rather than just reciting a script.

Customize Your Customer Service Training

After considering your business’s touchpoints and organizational mission, it’s helpful to consider the ways customer service transactions can go off the rails. Your goal here is to create a system where customers receive friendly, positive, and timely responses to their needs.

From day one, enhance the general service mindset values you’re hiring for with:

  • Product training. Give your new employees plenty of time to learn your product inside and out, pairing them with a mentor if necessary. Test your hire with common questions.
  • Shadowing. Let your newbie witness one of your customer service allstars in action so she gets a good sense of how your seasoned staff communicates with customers. In this case, it’s worth doing a little bit of juggling to align work schedules.
  • Flipping the script. Now, your mentor takes on the role of shadower, observing how your hire is doing with customers and providing feedback and extra guidance when necessary.

As you implement your trainings, you can track progress by creating a matrix that works in tandem with your shift scheduling. Identify when each employee is expected to complete the stages of your training program. Be clear that the finished training sessions set up a system of “best practices” that align with your mission.

Circle Back and Encourage Team Accountability

Just as every day brings new opportunities to convert customers to your brand, focusing on customer service trainings is an ongoing process. Injecting some fun into the mix with training games can be a great way to get every employee thinking and modeling common customer scenarios, such as the way to frame a positive response to emphasize what you can do, versus what you can’t. This is also an effective method to encourage your staff to feel invested all over again in the values of your company.

Remember that your employees are on the frontlines every day–answering phones, clearing tables, and checking guests in. Their feedback about how trainings are going and what they’re hearing from customers is crucial. Encourage them to share it. Make it as streamlined as possible for staff to know how to reach you and each other by using responsive tools, such as an app for scheduling employees. When everyone knows who’s working when, opportunities to drop the ball or refer potential problems to the wrong supervisor plummet.

Take Aways

Like everything you do when you invest in employee engagement and training, taking a holistic approach to customer service is key. Model to your employees that they are there for the customers–not for your bottom line–and transmit your own excitement to serve. Even the shortest transaction is a sincere exchange between two people. Prepare your employee to know your business, product, and values and watch the starred reviews pour in.

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