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You say you give great customer service

Do you have a staff education program?

Two questions to start your reading. Does your store give great customer service? Does your business have an ongoing staff education program?

These two questions are tied to each other; whatever your answer is to one of them should also be your answer to the other one. Let’s take a look at the combination.

If your answer to the second question is “no”, then we have to wonder how you are able to give great customer service without your having taught the appropriate components of customer service to your sales people, office staff and delivery people.

Great customer service requires involvement by everyone within your store; the sales people, the delivery staff, everyone who has the potential to come in contact with a customer. Essentially, everyone that works in your business.

If you want to have a “yes” to the first question, getting to “yes” on the second question is a detailed, but simple process. Perhaps the hardest part will be getting buy-in from everyone working for you.

Getting past that point, the result was that every employee, part time and full time attended and participated in the staff education program.
We call this a staff education program. Notice that we do not refer to it as training as training is telling people what to do. Education recognizes that you hired your employees because of their intelligence and now you are expecting them to use that intelligence to take care of your customers.

You begin by creating a list of what you want to teach your employees. Of course you include how to sell the initial item as well as making the add-on sale. You would include how to answer the telephone, handle a special order for a customer, and anything that will make your store operate better, requiring less immediate and direct instructions by you or your managers to the staff.

The experience of this retailer is that the education program should be a format similar to school with a class being one hour in length. The best time of day is before or after hours so that there is no interruption to the class. Holding the class bi-weekly was found to be the best frequency, hence the list that was just mentioned is going to have 26 classes of which each can have multiple topics.

Each of our classes had a main topic which consumed the majority of the class time. There was usually a second topic which dealt with some operational procedure within the store.

As an example, the main topic would be introducing a new line of lamps that had been added to the product offering. During this part of the class we would look at the various types, shapes and colors that were chosen to be added to the stock offering. The manufacturer’s catalog would also be discussed so that everyone would know of other lamps that could be special ordered for a customer.

The minor topic for the evening would be a review of how a special order was to be written by a salesperson and how our process included making a personal call to the customer to tell them the lamp had arrive, and finally a review of where special order merchandise was kept so that it was not mistakenly put on the sales floor.

Each class should have a written outline that is given to each employee at the beginning of the class. This illustrates that the class is not an informal session with the teach talking off the top of their head and that an effort has been made to respect the time that each person puts into the class.

The outline keeps the class on topic and on time. At the end of the class, each employee was given a written ten question test. The questions were written in a manner that required an answer of two to three sentences. As with all classes, employees were reminded that one of the questions deal with the minor topic. The other nine dealt with the major topic with the caveat that one of the nine questions was not discussed during the class.

This trick question, as it became known as, required each employee to see out the teacher of the question to discuss the question. The teacher kept track of which employees sought them out as doing so was considered to be a part of the test. Experience showed that as an employee spoke to the teacher about this question, they would most often ask the teacher about other components of the class session.
Our class, which was held on a Thursday evening, required that the completed class be handed into the office by close of business on Saturday evening.

While we are mentioning the teacher, our store did not have a one teacher for the class. Instead, every employee was required to teach multiple classes over the course of the year. As we had the chart in the office outlining what was to be contained in each of the 26 classes, employees selected which weeks they would be responsible for. With the first few months of classes being taught by the owner, everyone was able to experience the format of the class and test.

When the employees began to engage in the teaching, they were required to bring their class material to the owner one week before the class for approval. There was to be no last minute putting together a class by anyone as we knew this was too important to handle in a nonchalant manner.

With everyone having experienced the work behind teaching a class, it elevated the level of class by each employee as they learned to respect the effort and time put forth by their fellow employees.
The test was graded, corrections noted, and tracked in a notebook that would remind you of what your elementary school teach utilized.

Anyone scoring 9 or 10 answers correctly received a reward which most often was a gift card at a nearby diner or coffee shop. Getting employees engaged does not have to be an expensive proposition.
Because all of the employees had a semi-annual job review, a part of the review was their score on the previous 13 class tests. Failing to complete and hand in a test was very much frowned on as we felt it demonstrated a lack of respect for their fellow employees. It also showed that this employee was not a team player.

The cost of the class was minimal; one hour of wages for everyone in the business, and the cost of the rewards for the correct completion of the test.

The reward to the business was immeasurable. Does your business give great customer service? The answer was a resounding yes because the investment was being made in all of the staff.

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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.
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