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The Secret Value of Unorthodox Call Center Customer Service Training Monica Postell

How does new hire train­ing hatch great cus­tomer ser­vice rep­re­sen­ta­tives? Sure, hir­ing the right peo­ple is a crit­i­cal start­ing point but, as I learned from Gra­ham Kingma of WIND Mobile, being unafraid to try some rather unortho­dox cus­tomer ser­vice train­ing can pro­duce a real bonanza of ben­e­fits. WIND Mobile, a Cana­dian start-up, is Canada's fourth mobile ser­vice provider. I just saw a video post of Kingma talk­ing about how his orga­ni­za­tion built their call cen­ter from the ground up.

As any exist­ing con­tact cen­ter man­ager will attest, there are a lot of advan­tages to start­ing from scratch — espe­cially when it comes to tech­nol­ogy — so I won't spend time on that. What I would like to men­tion are two unusual activ­i­ties that were included in the new hire ser­vice train­ing: Improv and Ran­dom Acts of Kind­ness.

The first activ­ity that caught my atten­tion was improv train­ing. WIND Mobile paid to have their cus­tomer ser­vice reps go through an SC-TV improv class.  (For those unfa­mil­iar with it. The SC in SC-TV stands for Sec­ond City, the famous improv com­edy club with homes in Chicago and Toronto, that brought us Gilda Rad­ner, Jim Belushi, Jim Carey, and a huge per­cent­age of the ongo­ing cast of Sat­ur­day Night Live. Grow­ing up in Chicago going to improv at Sec­ond City was the ulti­mate cool date night.) The new hire improv train­ing was expen­sive but the expe­ri­en­tial nature and lessons learn made it more than worth­while accord­ing to Mr. Kingma. In improv, there's no retreat from the chal­lenge of the sit­u­a­tion you're asked to por­tray — very sim­i­lar to being on the phone with a cus­tomer. In one activ­ity, every­one had to begin every­thing they said with "No." In another they began with "Yes." The expe­ri­ence made a real impres­sion because the inter­ac­tions begin­ning with "Yes" were so much eas­ier and more pleas­ant. At Impact Learn­ing Sys­tems, we agree. Our cus­tomer ser­vice train­ing takes the con­cept a bit far­ther and sug­gests that using pos­i­tive lan­guage — telling the cus­tomer what we CAN do rather than what we can­not do — makes a world of dif­fer­ence both in terms of coop­er­a­tion and, ulti­mately, cus­tomer sat­is­fac­tion. I loved the idea of hav­ing new hires do improv. In fact, I may start using ele­ments of impro­vi­sa­tion for role play­ing. What do you think?

The other fab­u­lous idea from the WIND Mobile train­ing was "Ran­dom Acts of Kind­ness." Let me describe the activ­ity and why I'd call it unortho­dox — won­der­fully unortho­dox. The idea is pretty sim­ple: the class was chal­lenged to do nice things for other peo­ple. What makes the assign­ment unortho­dox is they were set free — actu­ally told to go out­side of the call cen­ter and come up with their own ideas for deliv­er­ing ran­dom acts of kind­ness. Too often, new hire train­ing is almost entirely focused on pour­ing  prod­uct and process knowl­edge into reps' heads.  We want peo­ple to come out of train­ing ready and will­ing to help cus­tomers but how much time is spent build­ing the cog­ni­tive con­nec­tors so they rec­og­nize oppor­tu­ni­ties to think out­side the box and fig­ure out on-the-fly how to do that in every call sit­u­a­tion? We want them to be trust­wor­thy but how much trust do we show them to think for them­selves, to make good deci­sions inde­pen­dently? We want them to be proac­tive but do we give them a chance to expe­ri­ence why it's such a good idea?  What I loved about the activ­ity was that it asked the reps to think of oth­ers first, to proac­tively antic­i­pate needs, and to inten­tion­ally help. Does that sound like any­thing you'd like your cus­tomer ser­vice team to do?

With a back­ground in per­for­mance improve­ment and instruc­tional design, Mon­ica Postell works with Impact Learn­ing Sys­tems in design­ing and deploy­ing train­ing and devel­op­ment pro­grams that fos­ter real cus­tomer loyalty.
4 The Secret Value of Unorthodox Call Center Customer Service Training
Mon­ica Postell
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