Impact Learning Systems


Name: Peggy Carlaw

Bio: Peggy Carlaw is the founder of Impact Learning Systems, a leading training company specializing in improving communications between front-line employees and customers. Peggy is co-author of several books published by McGraw-Hill, including Managing and Motivating Contact Center Employees and The Big Book of Customer Service Training Games.

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    Customer Loyalty: Starring the Sales Team

    April 25th, 2013

    Marquee Customer Loyalty: Starring the Sales TeamWhen think­ing about who in the orga­ni­za­tion has the biggest role in cre­at­ing loyal cus­tomers, we typ­i­cally think of the after-sale ser­vice and sup­port teams. But the sales team has a crit­i­cal role to play as well.

    In fact, recent research shows that of four dri­vers of cus­tomer loy­alty (com­pany and brand impact, prod­uct and ser­vice deliv­ery, value-to-price ratio, and sales expe­ri­ence), 53% is related to the sales experience.

    What are some of the key com­po­nents of the sales expe­ri­ence that will drive cus­tomer loyalty?

    The sales rep offers unique, valu­able per­spec­tives on the market

    Your sales team needs to be well versed in your tar­geted indus­tries, not just in your prod­uct line, if they’re to cre­ate loyal cus­tomers. Ideas to help them get there? Start a book club: Sub­scribe to indus­try jour­nals, assign per­ti­nent arti­cles, and dis­cuss. Hold a brown bag lunch and invite cus­tomers in to talk about indus­try trends. Send a rep to an indus­try trade show and have that edu­cate the rest of the team.

    The sales rep helps nav­i­gate alternatives

    In order to help cus­tomers nav­i­gate alter­na­tives, sales reps need to know how to uncover cus­tomers’ unique prob­lems and needs. Reps need to thor­oughly under­stand what each cus­tomer wants to fix, accom­plish, or avoid, so that they can rec­om­mend appro­pri­ate solu­tions and present the pros and cons of each alter­na­tive. In-depth sales train­ing pro­vides reps with the tools they need to uncover the customer’s issues and help the cus­tomer nav­i­gate alter­na­tive solutions.

    The sales rep helps avoid poten­tial land mines

    Employee reten­tion is key here. Sales reps with tenure can help cus­tomers nav­i­gate poten­tial land mines because they’ve seen other cus­tomers weather sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tions. Pay­ing a com­pet­i­tive salary, pro­vid­ing pos­i­tive coach­ing and sup­port, and rec­og­niz­ing achievements—both small and large—will all go a long way toward retain­ing sales reps over the long term.

    The sales rep edu­cates on new issues and outcomes

    Loyal cus­tomers look to their sales rep for new infor­ma­tion, either on indus­try issues or on prod­ucts and ser­vices that will improve their busi­ness. Make it easy for your sales team to keep cus­tomers up to date. Cre­ate email tem­plates and attach­ments that reps can eas­ily cus­tomize for each cus­tomer. Cre­ate peri­odic webi­nars that your sales team can invite cus­tomer to for con­tin­u­ing edu­ca­tion. Cre­ate pod­casts with cus­tomers who are solv­ing com­mon prob­lems in unique ways. Part­ner with your mar­ket­ing depart­ment to help cre­ate addi­tional ideas on how to con­tin­u­ally reach out to cus­tomers with new, per­ti­nent information.

    The sup­plier is easy to buy from

    Some com­pa­nies are start­ing to mea­sure cus­tomer effort—how easy or dif­fi­cult it is to do busi­ness with the com­pany. Think about it. Loyal cus­tomers are repeat cus­tomers. How likely are you to be a repeat cus­tomer if you have to wade through an impos­si­ble phone tree only to be cut off, if the sales rep doesn’t return your call, if emails aren’t answered promptly, if quotes are incom­plete or inac­cu­rate, if billing is incor­rect? The eas­ier it is to buy, the more likely cus­tomers are to buy again.

    The sup­plier has wide­spread sup­port across the organization

    Depend­ing on what you sell, after-sale ser­vice and sup­port may be more impor­tant than the prod­uct itself. After all, what good is a highly tech­ni­cal piece of diag­nos­tic or pro­duc­tion equip­ment if you can’t receive timely repair when there is a tech­ni­cal issue or defect? In order to build loy­alty, it’s impor­tant that the sales team pro­vide a proper hand-off to ser­vice and sup­port so that the cus­tomer feels secure in know­ing that any post-sale issues will be addressed in a timely fashion.

    April is cus­tomer loy­alty month. Use these tips to engage your sales team in the process of cre­at­ing loyal cus­tomers. Your com­pany will ben­e­fit, and so will your sales team as they enjoy repeat busi­ness and refer­rals from happy, sat­is­fied customers.


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    Does First Call Resolution Lead to Customer Loyalty?

    April 16th, 2013

    FCR2 Does First Call Resolution Lead to Customer Loyalty?It’s long been thought that first call res­o­lu­tion is one of the main dri­vers of cus­tomer sat­is­fac­tion. SQM’s pio­neer­ing research found that for every 1% improve­ment in first call res­o­lu­tion (FCR), there’s a cor­re­spond­ing 1% increase in cus­tomer sat­is­fac­tion. Stud­ies done by Cus­tomer Rela­tion­ship Met­rics reveal that cus­tomer sat­is­fac­tion rat­ings will be 5–10% lower when a sec­ond call is made for the same issue. And it’s log­i­cal that the more sat­is­fied cus­tomers are, the more loyal they’ll be.

    The Busi­ness Case for First Call Resolution

    Not only does it appear that first call res­o­lu­tion improves cus­tomer sat­is­fac­tion, improv­ing FCR also reduces the cost of oper­a­tions. So there’s def­i­nitely a busi­ness case for improv­ing first call res­o­lu­tion, and as a result, many com­pa­nies are invest­ing heav­ily in both ana­lyt­ics soft­ware and cus­tomer ser­vice train­ing to mea­sure and improve FCR. In fact an ICMI poll reported that in 2008, a lit­tle over half of call cen­ters tracked FCR and by 2011, two out of three cen­ters track FCR. But is focus­ing pri­mar­ily on first call res­o­lu­tion suf­fi­cient to secure cus­tomer loy­alty?

    First Call Res­o­lu­tion and Cus­tomer Loyalty

    Prob­a­bly not. What if you have to wait on hold with unap­peal­ing music for 20 min­utes before speak­ing with an agent? What if your call is routed to a poorly trained rep who takes longer than needed to resolve your issue, putting you on hold every few min­utes to con­fer with a super­vi­sor? What if your issue is resolved, but the rep­re­sen­ta­tive is rude?

    A Case for the Bal­anced Scorecard

    Bob Thomp­son of Cus­tomer­Think wrote an excel­lent post about how Scot­tish­Power uses a bal­anced score­card to drive cus­tomer ser­vice excel­lence rather than focus­ing on a sin­gle met­ric like first call res­o­lu­tion. ScottishPower’s score­card includes:

    • Short IVR sur­veys ask­ing cus­tomers for their expe­ri­ence on the call
    • A Cus­tomer Con­tact Res­o­lu­tion metric
    • A reten­tion score to deter­mine the like­li­hood the cus­tomer will leave within 5 weeks
    • Aver­age han­dle time
    • Cross-selling per­for­mance

    Other customer-focused met­rics that might be included in a bal­anced score­card include:

    • Aver­age time on hold (callers don’t like wait­ing on hold)
    • Appro­pri­ate esca­la­tions (those that will help the call be resolved quicker)
    • Call qual­ity scores (assum­ing your mon­i­tor­ing form includes customer-focused metrics)
    • Employee sat­is­fac­tion (happy employ­ees pro­vide bet­ter service)
    • Employee turnover (employ­ees with more expe­ri­ence pro­vide bet­ter service)

    While first call res­o­lu­tion is a key met­ric that is impor­tant to focus on in order to improve cus­tomer sat­is­fac­tion and reduce costs, improv­ing FCR alone is may not be suf­fi­cient to increase cus­tomer loy­alty. If you want to focus on improv­ing cus­tomer loy­alty, ask a group of loyal cus­tomers what is most impor­tant to them and where they think you need to improve. Then orga­nize your met­rics around those issues and seek improve­ment there.


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    Successful CRM Implementation Requires Software Plus Skills

    March 19th, 2013

    CRM Image Successful CRM Implementation Requires Software Plus SkillsMany orga­ni­za­tions imple­ment a new CRM (Cus­tomer Rela­tion­ship Man­age­ment) sys­tem hop­ing to make dra­matic improve­ments in sales as well as to improve the cus­tomer expe­ri­ence. While a new sys­tem can cer­tainly help, many com­pa­nies find that a CRM sys­tem alone isn’t suf­fi­cient to meet these goals.

    How effec­tive is a new CRM implementation?

    Unfor­tu­nately, many CRM ini­tia­tives fail to reach the goals out­lined above. For­rester con­ducted research on the effec­tive­ness of CRM soft­ware and found that 47% of busi­nesses sur­veyed felt the func­tion­al­ity didn’t match what they were promised by the ven­dor. They sur­veyed this same group to under­stand the prob­lems that were encoun­tered. They found that while 30 to 40 per­cent of the prob­lems were due to the prod­uct, the major­ity of the prob­lems were related to the company’s employ­ees, the inter­nal processes, and the strat­egy for exe­cut­ing the imple­men­ta­tion. William Band, For­rester Vice Pres­i­dent and Ana­lyst says, “We found a lot of peo­ple acknowl­edg­ing that they didn’t have the skills that they needed to imple­ment the solution.”

    Soft­ware imple­men­ta­tion is not enough

    Even with a suc­cess­ful imple­men­ta­tion, many com­pa­nies find that their goals are still not achieved. Employ­ees may know how to use the soft­ware and have addi­tional infor­ma­tion at their fin­ger­tips, but what if the sales team doesn’t have the skills needed to close sales? Will new soft­ware help them sell bet­ter? Will cus­tomer ser­vice reps have the skills to pro­vide ser­vice? Not as a result of pur­chas­ing new software.

    Suc­cess = soft­ware + skills

    Accord­ing to Band, author of Forrester’s The Future of CRM in 2013, what’s required to improve sales, ser­vice, and the customer's expe­ri­ence is, “…a bal­ance of human and sys­tems sup­port…” To max­i­mize your sig­nif­i­cant invest­ment in a CRM imple­men­ta­tion, you need to pair the func­tion­al­ity of the sys­tem with improved cus­tomer ser­vice and sales skills. As part of your plan­ning process, develop a train­ing sched­ule to launch fol­low­ing soft­ware imple­men­ta­tion. In addi­tion to train­ing your direct sales staff, invest in tele­sales train­ing and cus­tomer ser­vice train­ing so that all your customer-facing rep­re­sen­ta­tives are equipped with the right skills to max­i­mize the new, robust infor­ma­tion they’ll have at their fingertips.

    Imag­ine what your employ­ees could do with top of the line soft­ware AND best-in-class train­ing. Imple­ment one with­out the other, and meet­ing your orig­i­nal pur­chase objec­tives becomes difficult.


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    Using Call Center Sales Training to Help Your Team Upsell (Without Losing Your Team in the Process)

    February 28th, 2013

    upsell callcenter Using Call Center Sales Training to Help Your Team Upsell (Without Losing Your Team in the Process)Call cen­ters can be profit mak­ers or losers, depend­ing on how they’re run and the type of com­pany they’re used for. Com­monly, call cen­ters are focused on cus­tomer ser­vice and used to help cus­tomers solve prob­lems or find solu­tions – which may be great for the brand and prod­uct, but this sin­gu­lar pur­pose can turn a call cen­ter into a money pit for the company’s bot­tom line. A pop­u­lar solu­tion is sim­ply to com­bine the call cen­ter into a “cus­tomer service/sales cen­ter,” mean­ing – just have the reps upsell and we’ll start to make money.

    Sounds sim­ple, right?

    In the­ory, yes. How­ever, in prac­tice, com­pa­nies that attempt to con­vert their cus­tomer ser­vice teams into a sales force, with­out the proper call cen­ter sales train­ing, may soon be sur­prised to see another num­ber as part of their met­rics: turnover rates.

    The truth is that sim­ply ask­ing call cen­ter employ­ees to upsell, cross-sell, or “add on that war­ranty” dur­ing their con­ver­sa­tions with dis­grun­tled or con­fused cus­tomers callers is not as sim­ple as it sounds. Sell­ing requires a new par­a­digm shift and atti­tude, and it’s likely that the major­ity of cus­tomer ser­vice rep­re­sen­ta­tives never received proper call cen­ter sales train­ing instruc­tion dur­ing their ini­tial train­ing, nor were they under the impres­sion dur­ing the job hir­ing process that they were also expected to be sales­peo­ple. Call cen­ters that attempt to force quick sales train­ing into the job duties may see staff losses as high as 25%. If this story sounds famil­iar to you and your man­age­ment staff, what are you to do?

    Call Cen­ter Sales Train­ing that Takes the Pres­sure off of Sales

    Call cen­ter sales train­ing requires more than ful­fill­ing requests and pitch­ing an addi­tional prod­uct or ser­vice to the cus­tomer. A blan­ket approach – upselling and cross-selling – dur­ing the call may not only jeop­ar­dize your staff and their job sat­is­fac­tion, but it will likely make your cus­tomers even more dis­grun­tled (thus obvi­at­ing any gains made by hav­ing cus­tomer ser­vice reps avail­able for ques­tions). One of the keys, there­fore, in call cen­ter sales train­ing is to teach your staff to truly lis­ten to the cus­tomers’ needs; sim­ply ask­ing your reps to “sell, sell, sell” may drive away the cus­tomer if it’s not in response to what the cus­tomer needs at the moment. A more effec­tive call cen­ter sales train­ing approach focuses on lis­ten­ing closely to the customer’s needs, con­sid­ers ways to add value for the cus­tomer – by pro­vid­ing addi­tional infor­ma­tion about the prod­uct, for exam­ple – and then sug­gests com­ple­men­tary prod­ucts or ser­vices if it truly will ben­e­fit the cus­tomer. The point is that upselling and cross-selling becomes a part of the ser­vice process, not the goal of the call.

    Call Cen­ter Sales Train­ing Should Give Your Staff Confidence

    A sec­ond and cru­cial com­po­nent to call cen­ter sales train­ing involves boost­ing your staff’s self-assurance with tele­phone sales. An impor­tant fac­tor in learn­ing to sell involves gain­ing con­fi­dence and posi­tions sales as a nat­ural exten­sion of the cus­tomer ser­vice role. Proper call cen­ter sales train­ing is not sim­ply “train­ing”; it’s an entire learn­ing process that will not only help reps have a new atti­tude toward sales, but it will help them use skills to over­come buyer resis­tance in a way that is not overly pushy. When your staff has con­fi­dence in their sell­ing abil­ity, they will feel informed about the sales process, feel more eager to sell, and most impor­tantly, be able to increase the customer’s sat­is­fac­tion because the upselling or cross-selling is done appro­pri­ately and knowledgeably.

    Turn Your Call Cen­ters into Prof­itable Sales Cen­ters – With­out Los­ing Your Staff or Customers

    If you are ready to con­vert your call cen­ter into one that offers cus­tomer ser­vice and sales, make sure that you don’t lose any of your staff – or cus­tomers – in the process. Ask­ing your staff to upsell and cross-sell requires spe­cial­ized call cen­ter sales train­ing that will result in new­found skills and con­fi­dence for your staff, and ide­ally, more sat­is­fied cus­tomers who feel lis­tened to and that they ben­e­fited from addi­tional exper­tise and prod­uct offer­ings. Cus­tomer ser­vice reps can be won­der­ful sales peo­ple, and your call cen­ter can be prof­itable – all it takes is the right cus­tomer ser­vice train­ing approach.



    How Branding Influences Customer Loyalty

    February 7th, 2013

    brand1 How Branding Influences Customer LoyaltyThe Super Bowl com­mer­cials are still a recent mem­ory, and as is the case lately, the blogs, news cov­er­age, and social media world all have a lot to say about the best, the worst, and the fun­ni­est spots. How­ever, it’s worth remem­ber­ing that when mil­lions of dol­lars are spent on merely sec­onds of broad­cast space, peo­ple aren’t, nec­es­sar­ily, watch­ing the com­mer­cials look­ing at the products.

    The Super Bowl com­mer­cials are more about the brand and the feel­ing the brand con­veys. Funny? Clever? Risqué? Sen­ti­men­tal? Whether or not the actual adver­tise­ment results in more sales for the prod­uct, the mas­ter­minds behind the Super Bowl com­mer­cials are attempt­ing to leave audi­ences with an impres­sion about the brand. Namely, the com­pa­nies are ulti­mately after cus­tomer loy­alty through the brand’s “feel­ing” or hip­ness or rel­e­vance. The bot­tom line is that com­pa­nies would not spend mil­lions of dol­lars for a 30 sec­ond spot if the spots didn’t have any last­ing rel­e­vance on the brand.

    How brands influ­ence cus­tomer loy­alty is a ques­tion worth exploring—at the Super Bowl and beyond. A Fast Com­pany arti­cle by Richard S. Lev­ick, enti­tled “3 Ways to Bring your Company’s Core Val­ues to Cus­tomer Ser­vice” explores this very rela­tion­ship between cus­tomer loy­alty and a company’s brand. In par­tic­u­lar, Lev­ick looks at air­line brands and how suc­cess­ful air­lines, such as South­west and Jet Blue, improve cus­tomer sat­is­fac­tion when employ­ees enrich the brand through their own­er­ship of it as it applies to cus­tomer interactions.

    Cus­tomer loy­alty 101: Mar­ket­ing depart­ment, meet the cus­tomer ser­vice team

    We’re all aware (painfully, maybe) that in an era of non­stop social media post­ings, YouTube videos, and blogs, cus­tomers can imme­di­ately post a gripe or bad cus­tomer expe­ri­ence online for all the world to see. Mar­ket­ing depart­ments may cringe when cus­tomers take the brand by the reins and are in charge of the mes­sage, but it’s the real­ity in today’s hyper-connected world. It’s there­fore notable to see how com­pa­nies, such as South­west Air­lines, have used their brand to influ­ence their cus­tomer ser­vice train­ing ideas and enhance cus­tomer loyalty.

    For exam­ple, South­west Air­lines has deter­mined that a passenger’s fly­ing expe­ri­ence should be reflec­tive of Southwest’s brand: warm, approach­able, and fun. The pop­u­lar South­west blog even con­tains cus­tomer sto­ries (Luv Let­ters) to brag about the airline's supe­rior cus­tomer loy­alty. For South­west, the mar­ket­ing department’s brand plat­form is tightly ingrained into how cus­tomer ser­vice train­ing is con­ducted and how cus­tomer loy­alty develops.

    If you are look­ing to enhance cus­tomer loy­alty, work­ing in tan­dem with the mar­ket­ing department’s brand­ing efforts can indeed make a dif­fer­ence; it’s worth tak­ing note of a few cus­tomer ser­vice train­ing ideas that will help influ­ence how your brand can become a tool for your employ­ees’ behavior.

    Brands are not sep­a­rate from employees.

    Levick’s arti­cle ref­er­ences an often-overlooked tool in cus­tomer ser­vice train­ing: Use the brand. Do employ­ees under­stand what the brand is about? Are they able to give the brand life through their inter­ac­tions with cus­tomers? There must be con­sis­tency with what the brand stands for and how employ­ees act; the brand can be a pow­er­ful engager for cus­tomer loy­alty if employ­ees under­stand what their brand means and how it should trans­late to a customer’s experience.

    Brands are not a script.

    Imag­ine if you’re attempt­ing to train your cus­tomer ser­vice rep­re­sen­ta­tives by only giv­ing them a rote script to go by; they are not given the rea­son­ing behind the script’s mes­sage or given lat­i­tude to devi­ate from the script in any way. Do you think a cus­tomer is going to have a pos­i­tive expe­ri­ence with your cus­tomer ser­vice team? Chances are, no. The cus­tomer will prob­a­bly feel that the expe­ri­ence is robotic and impersonal.

    The same prin­ci­ples that apply to core cus­tomer ser­vice train­ing ideas—listening, prob­lem solv­ing, and flexibility—apply to how your team should be trained with apply­ing the brand to cus­tomer loy­alty. If your employ­ees learn to live the brand and use the brand’s ten­ants in every deci­sion they make, chances are, they’ll have much greater suc­cess in engen­der­ing cus­tomer loy­alty than if they sim­ply think of the brand as a tagline or logo.

    Within an orga­ni­za­tion, a brand can be flex­i­ble. Finally, Lev­ick points out that within orga­ni­za­tions, the brand is not a one-size-fits-all sta­tic entity for the whole orga­ni­za­tion. In the same com­pany, dif­fer­ent depart­ments may need to apply the brand propo­si­tion dif­fer­ently to fit their goals and to help employ­ees infuse the brand into how they treat cus­tomers and project the com­pany. The impor­tant cus­tomer ser­vice train­ing idea take­away is that employ­ees need to take own­er­ship of the brand and apply it to their spe­cific depart­ment and job.

    Estab­lish­ing strong cus­tomer loy­alty is a holis­tic process

    If you are hop­ing to achieve great cus­tomer loy­alty, have blogs and social media sites rav­ing about your brand, and have employ­ees that truly “get” what your brand is about—in a way that they can apply it—the process must truly be holis­tic. When employ­ees are respected, lis­tened to, and given strong cus­tomer ser­vice skills so that they have con­fi­dence in their job, they’ll want to pro­mote your brand, and they'll work to ensure that cus­tomers come away with a pos­i­tive experience.

    The bot­tom line? It doesn’t require a multi-million dol­lar Super Bowl com­mer­cial to inspire a pos­i­tive feel­ing and cus­tomer loy­alty toward your brand. It just takes engaged employ­ees cre­at­ing con­sis­tent, com­pelling expe­ri­ences to keep cus­tomers com­ing back.


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    How Social Networking Can Improve Customer Service

    February 5th, 2013

    Social Customer Service How Social Networking Can Improve Customer ServiceWe were for­tu­nate last fall to have Rebecca Pelke, a senior mar­ket­ing stu­dent at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, as our intern.  If you're not using social media as part of your cus­tomer ser­vice strat­egy, you'll def­i­nitely want to read this post which was researched and writ­ten by Rebecca.

    Accord­ing to Nielsen, the world spends over 110 bil­lion min­utes on social net­works and blog sites each month and 80% of all active US Inter­net users are reached through social media. Social net­work­ing sites are a great way for your busi­ness to com­mu­ni­cate with cus­tomers to improve cus­tomer service.

    More and more orga­ni­za­tions are using social tech­nolo­gies for cus­tomer ser­vice by par­tic­i­pat­ing in con­ver­sa­tions with cus­tomers in order to gather and act on their feed­back. Sites like YouTube, Twit­ter, and Face­book are a way for your cus­tomers to pro­vide feed­back, make sug­ges­tions, or even com­plain about your prod­uct or ser­vice. You can use this feed­back to improve your cus­tomer ser­vice per­for­mance and fur­ther develop rela­tion­ships with your customers.

    Cus­tomers are quick to voice their dis­ap­point­ment with your level of cus­tomer ser­vice through social net­work­ing chan­nels, which can really hin­der your busi­ness if ignored. Cus­tomers are more likely to become advo­cates of your brand if they see you have taken steps to rem­edy these complaints.

    Here are some key ben­e­fits of engag­ing in social media sites:

    1. Gain repeat busi­ness. Cus­tomers feel spe­cial when you notice them and respond to them. And when cus­tomers feel spe­cial, they’re more likely to become repeat cus­tomers and tell their friends and busi­ness associates.
    2. Tar­get cus­tomers more effec­tively. These tools can be used to research con­sumer wants and needs.
    3. Deter­mine what com­peti­tors are doing. Social media pro­vides a great oppor­tu­nity to see how com­peti­tors are com­mu­ni­cat­ing and par­tic­i­pat­ing with their con­sumers and if it’s suc­cess­ful or not.
    4. Eval­u­ate per­cep­tion. With Twit­ter and sim­i­lar sites, con­sumers can tag your com­pany or even include hash­tags so it is eas­ier for you to eval­u­ate what they are say­ing about you and your com­pany and quickly improve upon it.

    Devel­op­ing a social plan for cus­tomer ser­vice should be linked to your busi­ness goals, be focused on your cus­tomers wants and needs, clearly iden­tify the processes that will be affected, and spec­ify the infor­ma­tion and capa­bil­i­ties required.

    Social net­work­ing sites make it pos­si­ble for mil­lions of peo­ple to share expe­ri­ences, build rela­tion­ships, and develop new ways of work­ing. With a well thought-out and exe­cuted social media plan, fol­low­ers become cus­tomers, cus­tomers become loyal cus­tomers, and your busi­ness grows like never before!


    *Info­graphic via Fish­burn Hedges


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    Soft Skills Training: 3 Keys to Success

    January 22nd, 2013

    soft skills2 Soft Skills Training: 3 Keys to SuccessWhat Are Soft Skills?

    Soft skills include char­ac­ter traits like com­mon sense, empa­thy, and a pos­i­tive atti­tude, and inter­per­sonal skills like the abil­ity to com­mu­ni­cate well with peo­ple. They have more to do with who we are than what we know. The soft skills required for a cus­tomer ser­vice or sales rep­re­sen­ta­tive, for exam­ple, would be strate­gic ques­tion­ing, active lis­ten­ing, empa­thy, a pos­i­tive out­look, the abil­ity to build rap­port, and the abil­ity to remain unflus­tered in the face of chal­leng­ing customers.

    How to Improve Soft Skills

    Hard skills, or tech­ni­cal skills, can be learned and per­fected over time. So can soft skills. But even with train­ing, soft skills are more dif­fi­cult to acquire and change because they have less to do with what we know, than who we are. Think about it. Your cus­tomer ser­vice agents have been com­mu­ni­cat­ing with other peo­ple their entire lives. So attend­ing a half-day train­ing class where they’re told to care about their cus­tomers, lis­ten actively, acknowl­edge cus­tomers’ con­cerns, use pos­i­tive lan­guage, etc. may inspire them, but with­out prac­tice, they can’t be expected to change a life­time habit.

    3 Keys to Soft Skills Train­ing Success

    1. Prac­tice Online. Much of soft skills is train­ing offered online. How­ever, ask­ing employ­ees to read pages of text online and take a quiz isn’t suf­fi­cient to change behav­ior. A dif­fer­ent method­ol­ogy is required than most online learn­ing offers. Behav­ior change needs to begin dur­ing online train­ing by hav­ing employ­ees prac­tice respond­ing to sit­u­a­tions through either writ­ing or speak­ing their response.
    2. Prac­tice Dur­ing Class. While online train­ing is a great method for teach­ing hard skills, it hasn’t been proven to be suf­fi­cient by itself in chang­ing soft skill behav­ior. If you’re cur­rently pro­vid­ing your employ­ees only online train­ing, cre­ate an after-class follow-up ses­sion that allows them to prac­tice in customer-specific sit­u­a­tions. Drill-and-practice activ­i­ties, fish bowls, and one-on-one role plays give employ­ees the prac­tice they need to improve their soft skills—and the con­fi­dence that they can put their new skills into prac­tice on the job.
    3. Prac­tice After Class. Learn­ing shouldn’t stop when class is over. In fact, that’s when behav­ior really starts to change. With­out on-the-job activ­i­ties to remind employ­ees of newly learned skills, it’s easy for them to fall back into habit­ual pat­terns of com­mu­ni­ca­tion. So it’s cru­cial to pro­vide ongo­ing reminders and oppor­tu­ni­ties for employ­ees to prac­tice what they learned online, in class. Cre­ate on-the-job activ­i­ties that review and focus on one skill each day. Have super­vi­sors pro­vide one-on-coaching. Sched­ule short meet­ings or brown-bag lunches where employ­ees can share suc­cess sto­ries. Remind employ­ees to also prac­tice these skills in their rela­tion­ships out­side of work. Once employ­ees are able to con­sis­tently demon­strate basic skills, con­duct addi­tional train­ing ses­sions to help them take their soft skills to a new level.

    Telling employ­ees they need to improve their soft skills isn’t suf­fi­cient. As that famous say­ing goes:

    How do you get to Carnegie Hall?

    Prac­tice. Prac­tice. Practice!






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