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Friday, January 12, 2018

The Unexpected - Shake it up, move it out

Photo courtesy of Gratisograhpy

Workplace training comes in all shapes and forms.  We moved from strictly in-class room, to computer e-learning, to blended learning.  The one word that also seems to go along with many of training initiatives is the description BORING. 

The PowerPoint is ready, with title and presenter name, the workbooks are on the desk, sometimes with the entire 80 slide deck.  YIKES!  It is the workforce learning routine.  Even the beginning is routine: an ice breaker starts the class – ask your neighbor some ‘get to know you’ question where you are not sure you are clever enough or witty enough to be the room.   The presenter gives a dissertation on their credentials, and then away you go to slide number 2…blah….

What if we in workforce training pushed the envelope and went for the unexpected?  I have been doing this for a while, and I was taught a formula to create a class.  But I am finding the formulas don’t work as much today.   The current employee learner expects the unexpected, or at least hope for it, because it the nature of life. 

I also know the classes I have taught, and have attended, which I enjoyed the most is where I pushed for the unexpected.  You would be amazed what a game of hot potato will do to a classroom training.  Yes, the hot potato game you played as a kid.  You would be amazed what happens when you push people to do role plays/improv (whatever you want to call it), when they don’t want to do it.  Magic happens! 

So wear your traditional suit and create your beautiful PowerPoint decks.  But before you get started, show the participants your big blue unexpected pair of clown shoes, and plan for something amazing!

Stacey Oliver-Knappe is a customer service guru, speaker, and business anthology author of “Compassion@Work: Creating Workplaces that Engage the Human Spirit.” For information, contact 407-495-0846 or For information on The Secret to Customer Service Excellence™ training programs, go to Follow on Twitter: @CSGurus

Friday, December 29, 2017

Viva la Resistance! The Resistant Participant

I was teaching The Secret to Customer Service Excellence for a client and had this exchange with a participant.   For context, this client worked with families dealing with end of life issues.

Me: “I encourage you to not use the word ‘Unfortunate.’ It implies that you are not in control, so it gives your power away as a representative and a company.”

Participant: “But we have to use the word ‘unfortunate.’”

Me: “There is no word you have to use in customer service.  Especially using ‘unfortunate’ in your line of business, as the entire situation is unfortunate and difficult.  You saying it doesn’t help.”

Participant: “But it does.”

Me: “How do you know?”

Participant: “I just know it.”

This went on for a few more minutes, and then for the sake of the class, we had to move on.

This is the classic resistant participant.   This participant wasn’t rude or insubordinate.  She was resistant to the idea that I was presenting.   It isn’t uncommon in a customer service class for there to be a few employees who are ingrained with habit and tradition, and believe the class is for others in the room and not them. They are not open to the idea there could be a different, and possibly easier, method to help their customers. 

Why does this happen?  The root of this type of resistant participant typically is from a lack of consistent feedback on their current performance.  It is difficult and costly to put in place a quality assurance or mystery shopping programs that monitors an employee frequently enough to give them a true picture if they are tanking, are average, or excelling.  I get that. 

However, if an employee doesn’t receive critical feedback often, say at least two times a month, they are developing a skewed self-view of their performance.   They are not encouraged to seek or embrace change because they believe they are doing well enough.   The key phrase with my participant in this exchange was when she said, “I just know.” 

Do you really want to run your business based mostly on employees’ self-evaluations?  I didn’t think so, and I am happy to help.   

The Gurus’ Solutions

1.  The Easy Fix - Start a simple peer quality assurance program. 

Don’t overthink this.  It can be simply one agent gets 15 minutes to double-jack with another agent and offer the classic, “What went well” and “What could be better next time.”   They need to take notes and give it to the supervisor afterwards so they take the task seriously. Operationally, decide what makes sense for frequency.  

This can also happen in hospitality face-to-face customer situations, especially when it is slow.   Have servers or front desk folks partner with the one of them waiting on the guest and the other observing.   The same type of feedback is offered, “What went well,” and “What could be better next time.”

Result:  You create a continuous improvement culture that is not always dependent on leadership or a quality program.   Every employee is on the quality team and giving feedback.  How great is that?!

2. Less Easy, but Critical – Increase the number of mystery shops for face-to-face or call monitors.  

I know this is a bite to the budget, but the return on investment is worth it.  If you are relying only on social media to gather data, then you are letting others determine what your level of service is.  Social media engagements tell you, organizationally, what you can get away with as a service minimum.    You should set your bar, it should be high, and you should verify it is happening, not your customers.

Result:  You are controlling and setting your standards of excellence by monitoring employee service behaviors.   Employees are on their best performance more frequently, as they know the possible shop or monitoring could happen more frequently.  

3. Take it to the Next Level – Check their product or service knowledge more often.  

Most of the time service recovery situations occur because an employee gave incorrect information.   Organizations are running so fast forward, many times they forget it is important to consistently review current information.  This can be done through paper quizzes, in one-on-ones, team meetings, and there are electronic ways to do this too. 

Result:  You create the most intelligent service workforce in your industry.   You also create a learning culture, one that incorrect answers are not accepted.  However, you support employees to gain the necessary knowledge to perform the job to the best of their ability. 

Back to our Story…

Would these strategies have helped with my resistant participant?  I believe yes, for this person. If she had a better vision of her current performance, she might have been open to other ideas.   People come in to class resistant for all sorts of reasons, but my experience shows the most resistant are those who don’t realize I have been brought in to help them individually improve. 

As always, if we at The Customer Service Gurus can help, we are at your service.  Visit us at or write us at   

Wishing you a fantastic and successful 2018!