We find it interesting how you can gather a group of retailers and ask how many believe they give great customer service. The result is usually an unanimous ‘yes’. Follow this question with, ‘how many of you have an ongoing education program for all of your employees?’ and the resulting response is almost the opposite. How do you give great customer service if you are not teaching it?
The editor asked for an article that would be a valuable tool for a business as the New Year begins. The decision was an easy one to make; the best investment you can make in your business for the New Year is to create and maintain an ongoing staff education program.
Creating one for your business can be rewarding when you follow this 7 step process.
1.Begin by writing yourself a ‘letter’ staring why you are doing this and what you expect to get from it. Make no apology as you write for expecting your business to operate flawlessly and that you want each and every one of your customers to have a wonderful experience. An experience in which they begin to become strong and vocal advocates of your business to their friends, neighbors and coworkers.
2. Speak with those individuals within your business that will support your endeavor. Explain what you plan to do and ask for their support and encouragement of their fellow employees.
When you schedule your first class, do so with the intention of being consistent with the day and time of the class. As we would be requiring every employee to participate, we found that a weekday evening, after hours, worked best. The class should be no longer than 60 minutes.
3. Create a schedule that would outline the next six months of classes and what you want to accomplish in each class. Post this so that all of your employees can see it. This is done so they understand you have put a lot of time and effort into the classes; they are not just a last minute throw together in which you are talking about whatever comes to mind.
4. For each class create a written guideline. It does not need to be any longer than one page. Adding your logo and other branding emblems on the document helps to make it look ‘official’.
During the hour, the majority of the time should be spent on a topic that is either sales or product oriented. The remaining time should be spent in, or reviewing, the guidelines you have created for your business. This would include job descriptions (the what to do), job specifications (the how to do), policies (rules for ourselves) and procedures (how to do things for customers). Notice that there is no mention of a customer service policy. This is because as you notice the customer service policy by most any retailer, it is instead a thinly veiled set of rules for the customers.
5. With each class, there should be a written test which is given to each employee. The test is an assessment of their ability to retain what has been taught. The test in our business was 10 questions with 9 of the questions relating the bulk of the class and the last question relevant to the remainder of the class.
Staff had 48 hours to complete the test and hand it in to the teacher for grading. Those that completed 9 or 10 correctly received a small gift card to another independent business as a reward.
6. Speaking of the teacher, this is not a responsibility that should remain with the owner or manager of the business. Instead, after completing a couple of months of classes, the assignment of teacher should be passed around to include everyone.
This is done so for several reasons. One is that it helps everyone to see, firsthand, the importance and effort necessary for creating a class. It also requires each employee to develop multiple areas within the business in which they are a leading expert.
With the schedule mentioned in step 3, have employees sign up for the classes they are going to teach. Require them to share with you, a couple of months in advance, what they have researched and prepared for their class.
7. As the class continues through the year, you will find the opportunity and need to develop new topics for the business as well as wanting to take certain topics to a higher level of competency or include new information about the products or services you are offering.
Some people believe that seven is a lucky number. Without discussing the superstition of this belief, we can assure that following these seven steps can make a big difference in your business for next year.
Research shows multiple reasons for this. From studies conducted by the American Management Association to those from the Harvard School of Business, many things from productivity to profitability and employee retention, all show sizable improvement because a business made a commitment to an ongoing staff education program. It has worked for others, and it can work for you.
This article is copyrighted by Tom Shay and Profits Plus Solutions, who can be reached at: PO Box 1577, St. Petersburg, Fl. 33731. Phone 727-464-2182. It may be printed for an individual to read, but not duplicated or distributed without expressed written consent of the copyright owner.