Saturday, July 18, 2009

The elements of great training: Customer Service

Training is one part customer service, one part business, one part education and one part entertainment. The next four posts will be about the four legs of the training "table".

Customer Service

One Greene Means Go Consulting offering is a course on tips and tricks for great training, developed over 10-plus years of experience. Toward the beginning of that course is a discussion of the need to remember that customer service is at the heart of what we do as trainers. To that end, I'll be referring to customers, not clients, for that's what your stakeholders are.

Great training and great customer service have mutual commonalities. Whether you're looking for a car, the perfect rib roast or a new custom-made suit, you don't need someone to sell it to you so much as you want a person with the appropriate expertise to pay attention to your needs and help you make the right purchase. So it is with training.

Step one is to listen. What does the customer want? Where are their pain points? What needs can we meet? If your training vendor tells you about what they can offer before they ask what you need and want, end the conversation right there. They're selling, not helping you buy. It's about facilitating customer service, and assisting the client in making the right decisions to invest in the right training offerings.

Step two is to investigate whether the customer's expectations for training are in line with the intended service. Bad training outcomes almost always involve a disconnect of delivery expectations between what the customer thought they were getting and what was ultimately offered. Which learning objects? How much detail? Who is the audience? What are the prerequisites? How will success be measured?

Step three is proper planning. Make sure everyone is in agreement that the preparation will take seven or eight hours or three or four days, as needed. Confirm how many users will be present, and how long their presence is necessary. Oh, they should probably be invited beforehand. Which software and hardware? Does a server need to be built? Is the room or phone line reserved yet? Did you print the curriculum? No, I thought YOU were! Let's check on all of that.

Step four is to pay attention. A good trainer is aware of each user's presence and their particular strengths and challenges. A great trainer keeps each user engaged and moving forward at their own comfortable pace. Almost all of the critical cues are non-verbal. Facial expressions, body language, angle of gaze and other key signals as to how happy, unhappy, lost, bored or anxious the users are at any given point are constantly being broadcast. Training requires paying attention to what you're saying, your own pace and the material you're covering, along with constantly checking out what's happening with each person in your customer audience - all the time, all day long. Oh yes, and answering questions along the way. That part comes next. It's not as easy as it looks, but it's well worth it.

Step five is to check in each step of the way with the users / students who are receiving training. "How are we doing so far? Any questions?" Then, wait for the answers. Give them a chance to ponder. Unlike television or radio, in training delivery, silence can be ok. Student questions are the horn section of a training symphony: they help make it all worth listening to.

One of the most instructive classes I ever attended as a student (I won't divulge the location nor the name of the trainer) was marked by a singularly strange anecdote. A student in the training asked a question of the instructor. The instructor looked at them, paused, and continued on with his material. A bit later on, another student asked a different question. Again, the instructor looked at the questioner, said nothing, and moved on. Finally, I asked a question. This time, the instructor had an answer. "I don't answer questions." "Pardon me?", I asked. "I said I don't answer questions", he responded, without a hint of irony. And he didn't. He didn't feel that responding to questions was part of his job description. He was there to deliver a set of material, and get to the end of the curriculum, period. Interactivity wasn't included in the training fee. Today, years later, that still stands as the worst training I've ever attended, but it was also the most educational. It illustrated in a stark, rather brutal way how the centrality of questions and answers inform the entire training process. Greene Means Go Consulting answers questions. In fact, if you don't ask questions, that could be a problem right there.

The checking back process is continuous, and extends all the way through past the end of the actual sessions. Did we deliver on your expectations? Follow up needed? Next phases?

These are all part of the customer service routine. Greene Means Go Consulting knows about this, but you'd be surprised how many training vendors don't.

Talk to Greene Means Go Consulting about your questions, your expectations, your needs and your wants. It's all part of the discussion, and underpins the whole notion of customer service.

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