Achieving competitive edge is a fundamental aspect in both profit and non-profit making organisations. Howard (259) posits that competitive advantage can be attained through various strategies such as integration of new technology among others. However, maintaining competitive advantage is challenging due to high competition. In addition to new technology, customer service is another element that an organisation can take into account in its pursuit for competitive advantage.
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Ally (25) is of the opinion that defining customer service is challenging due to increased customer sophistication. Customer service comprises a number of activities such as nurturing a courteous workforce, providing customers with the right, diverse, and high quality products, developing an appealing, comfortable, and efficient atmosphere, and developing the workforces’ knowledge and skills. Consequently, customer service can broadly fall into three main facets, which include quality, atmosphere, and salespeople.
Despite its importance, a substantial number of organisations have not sufficiently integrated the concept of customer service. Laff is of the opinion that more and more “customers are dismayed by poor shopping experiences and organisations are keenly aware of their continued failure to meet minimum customer service expectations” (18).
Moreover, a survey conducted by Novations shows that approximately 64% of human resource managers are cognisant of the need for organisations to invest in customer relations training. In the light of the gap with regard to customer satisfaction, this paper intends to evaluate how customer service can be improved by incorporating customer service training in an organisation’s human resource development strategy.
Rationale/purpose for customer service training
Carman (10) defines customer service training to include the planned and organised activities whose objective is to improve the employees’ competencies [skills, attitude, and knowledge] on how to provide customers optimal service. Maul (3) asserts that customer service has been transformed from being a supplementary function to a fundamental business factor. One of the factors that have motivated this transformation is the high rate at which the market is becoming customer-centric.
Consequently, it is imperative for organisations to ensure that their customer service representatives are not only aware of the firm’s brand culture, but also conversant with the most effective strategy to adopt in order to deliver on the brand promise. Organisations cannot ignore to serve their customers well considering the high rate of competition. Moreover, the likelihood of an organisation achieving its financial and non-financial goals is dependent on the level of customer satisfaction developed.
According to Kamin (34), organisations that will survive and progress into the future should be focusing on how to make customer service their priority. Shajahan (36) is of the opinion that nurturing a service culture is paramount in an organisation’s effort to improve its competitive edge. Currently, businesses are experiencing a major transformation with regard to customer expectations, which are constantly changing (Craig 54). Noe (25) asserts that customers are increasingly becoming knowledgeable and intelligent, and thus, they expect excellent service, or rather value for their money. Investing in customer service training is one of the facets through which an organisation can enhance the quality of services offered. Through training, an organisation is in a position to adjust its operations to market changes. In summary, one can assert that the rationale for customer service training is to attain long-term success.
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Importance of customer service training
The relationship between customers and revenue sustainability in organisations cannot be overemphasised. Consequently, it is essential for organisations to ensure that their workforce is competent in order to stimulate revenue growth. One of the ways through which this goal can be achieved is by undertaking sufficient customer service training. The training should not solely be about being nice to customers. However, it is important to ensure effective interaction with customers and make them feel valued. The likelihood of developing return purchase behaviour amongst employees is dependent on an organisation’s sales personnel competence on how to offer optimal customer services. This aspect culminates in improvement in the level of customer experience. Pollit (563) posits that customer service training stimulates revenue growth both directly and indirectly. For example, customers that receive optimal level of service are in a better position to refer their friends and relatives to a particular store, thus increasing an organisation’s volume of sales revenue.
In the course of their operation, firms cannot rule out the likelihood of experiencing a crisis due to product related issues. However, an organisation can maintain customers even during such events through optimal customer service. Therefore, customer service training is critical in an organisation’s effort to achieve long-term growth in sales revenue.
Development of customer focused employees
Customer service training contributes towards the development of a sense of customer focus amongst employees. Customer service training should not solely be focused on frontline employees or individuals in the marketing department. However, a firm’s management team should make sure that employees are trained to ensure that all their actions are focused towards meeting the customers’ needs. Thus, customer service training assists an organisation in ensuring that the customer service training is provided as an organisational wide activity. Consequently, employees are in a position to put their personal interests behind and serve customers effectively. A customer-focused employee is capable of providing customers with effective and high quality services that go beyond the customers’ expectations. This aspect improves the likelihood of creating lifelong customers (Maul 1).
Improvement of the company’s brand image
According to Lunden (142), customer service training contributes towards the development of a vibrant organisational culture that enhances development of a strong brand image. Integrating efficient customer service training aids an organisation in managing its customers as assets. This move leads to the development of positive perceived value regarding an organisation and its products. Training employees on how to serve customers is thus fundamental in managing brand longevity and maintenance of standard quality of service.
Practical aspects of customer service training
According to Joby (7), customer service-training program is aimed at creating a sustainable customer-centric culture. This goal is only achievable if employees are equipped adequately on how to exceed the customers’ expectations consistently. Consequently, it is fundamental for organisations to formulate a comprehensive customer service-training program. A customer service-training program comprises a number of issues as outlined below.
Conducting a need analysis
This analysis entails evaluating the training needs of an organisation with reference to customer service. The need analysis process can be achieved via a number of processes, which include in-field visits, face to face discussions, and evaluating other relevant collateral material (Lee 6).
Customise the training program
The training program should be designed in a way that enhances its relevance. Prior to implementation of the customer-training program, it is important for the HR manager to evaluate the strengths and opportunities of the program. The customer service-training program should focus on diverse customer service competencies. Some of the issues that should be taken into account include understanding the customers and their needs coupled with their expectations. Furthermore, it is imperative for the training program to take into account customer service attitudes and experience. In a bid to train employees on customer service successfully, it is essential for HR managers to formulate a team charter. The charter should guide the organisation in all its customer service training processes.
Measuring the customer service impact
Upon implementing the customer service-training program, the HR should evaluate whether the program is effective in enhancing the organisation’s competitiveness. One of the issues that the HR manager should consider entails determining whether the program has contributed towards any value addition in the organisation. Determining the return on investment is one of the strategies that HR managers can adopt in evaluating the impact of the training program. Other methods that can be integrated include conducting customer satisfaction surveys and team cohesion indicators.
Establishing a successful customer service training program
Customer service-training program outlines the extent to which an organisation intends to serve its customers and the practical aspects associated. Some of the steps that should be taken into account are highlighted herein.
Setting the stage
The first step in customer service training entails conducting a need analysis. An organisation’s human resource management team should identify possible gaps in its service delivery. This identification will give the management team an insight on the most effective strategy to adopt. Moreover, the organisation’s management team should ensure that it has the right workforce. Consequently, it is imperative for the HR managers to ensure that the organisation only recruits individuals who will fit with the company’s policies with regard to customer service and organisational culture.
The process of establishing a customer service-training program should be inclusive. Therefore, representatives from all the firm’s departments should be involved at the planning stage. This move will give the HR manager an insight on how employees perceive the company as a brand. As a result, the HR manager will be in a position to understand the most effective strategy to adopt in order to refine the organisation’s positioning statement, determine the target audience and their profiles, and the training materials to integrate.
Design to fit
The second step entails determining the nature and format of the customer service training to adopt. An organisation can decide to adopt one-time training program for all its employees. This new program would later be integrated in new employee orientations. Alternatively, an organisation can choose to integrate the customer service training as a continuous program in its employee training and development processes. Such a program will ensure that new employees are slowly integrated into the company’s customer service culture. Moreover, the employees will become informed adequately on the best customer service practices.
The training program should be designed in such a way that the employees’ personalities are aligned with the company culture. Maul (2) asserts that this goal can be achieved by formulating a set of principles, which the employees should adhere to during their operations. Some of these principles should relate to the company’s service values, motto, and its credo. Developing such a degree of fit will contribute towards delivering a superior customer experience.
Customer service-training programs should also integrate effective technologies. Some of the technologies that should be integrated entail the technologies that will assist the HR manager in analysing the customer service calls. Such a technology will aid the HR manager in determining whether the customer service representatives are adequately responding to issues raised by customers. The HR manager should use the findings obtained from such technologies in training the customer service representatives on how to deal with specific issues raised by customers.
Moreover, it is fundamental for HR managers to integrate an effective internal communication system by implementing an online information centre for the customer service representatives. This aspect will improve the effectiveness with which the organisation undertakes customer service training. For example, the HR manager will be in a position to communicate relevant issues on customer training to employees who may be dispersed within the organisations. Therefore, using technology will assist the organisation in uniting the customer service team, which culminates in ensuring that all the customer service representatives are within the same page (Maul 3).
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Focus on emotional connections
The service-training program should be designed in such a way that it integrates the employees’ personalities. Employees should be trained on how to establish a strong connection with customers. Emotional connection will ensure that customer service representatives offer a human touch to customers. Such a connection should be established between business-to-business and business-to-customer relationships.
Empower the employees
Considering the rate at which the market is becoming customer-driven, it is important for organisations to ensure that their employees achieve customer centricity. Consequently, it is vital for HR managers to ensure that their customer service representatives are empowered to assist customers. One of the strategies that can be adopted entails ensuring that employees have sufficient tools to address the customers’ needs. Empowering the reps will promote the effectiveness with which customer issues are addressed without having to escalate them to the top management. This move will play a critical role in promoting the company image amongst the employees (Miller 33).
Current issues associated with customer service training
Customer service training is facing a myriad of issues. One of the sources of these issues relate to customer expectations, which are constantly changing. Moreover, customers expect to get answers on various issues right away. Consequently, employees should be equipped with sufficient knowledge to address issues that emerge almost immediately. However, some situations cannot be addressed immediately, and thus they have to be referred to the relevant parties. Failure to address the customers’ issues may lead to some employees becoming irritated. Therefore, in the quest to achieve competitive advantage with regard to the provision of quality customer service, it is imperative for organisations to ensure that their customer service training is aligned to changes in customer expectations.
Customers constitute an important component in the operations of organisations. Consequently, it is imperative for organisations to ensure that optimal and high quality services are provided to customers. One of the ways through which this goal can be achieved is by integrating a comprehensive customer service-training program in the human resource development program. This paper has highlighted the importance of customer service training in promoting long-term success in organisations. The training program should cover the entire organisation, and thus it should not only be focused on frontline customer representatives, but all employees.
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