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What is the real value of service education?

Richard Whiteley’s blog post – ‘Six reasons why ‘customer centricity’ initiatives fail’ – highlights how often initiatives fail due to inadequate education.

He wrote: “While mindset matters, great service needs great skillsets too… Proper training is required”

This stirred up memories of my early experiences working in a retail company.

Most new frontline staff joined the company with a very positive mindset and uplifting attitude – but as they regularly encountered situations they were not prepared for, their enthusiasm started fading.

They got stressed and frustrated when they were caught unprepared and uneducated in new situations. Confidence levels dipped.  It was hard to ‘feel good’ about a job when they didn’t know how to do it well.

I vividly remember one particular young lady I hired and trained – let’s call her May.  She did not have any prior retail experience and seemed very quiet and shy. My colleagues didn’t think she would last more than a few weeks. But I felt she was more like a rough gem waiting to be polished – and I believed the right education would help.

However, when May was in my product and service training class, I wondered if I had made a mistake in recruiting her after all. I asked her if she thought she was a good fit for a frontline position in a retail outlet. She was not sure herself. She told me she just desperately needed the job for financial reasons. She was then sent to an outlet where further training would be done on-the-job with the store manager.

When I walked into this outlet two months later, I wasn’t expecting to see her there.

Yet, there she was – attending to customers, speaking confidently, demonstrating products, etc. There was no semblance of what I remembered her to be. The store manager told me he was very pleased with May’s performance – sales had gone up and customers regularly complimented her.

I congratulated May and reminded her of our last meeting. She shared how her store manager had played a big role in coaching her, developing her skills and appreciating her achievements. She said she had been well-educated, and the more she learned the more assured and confident she felt. She even sent notes of appreciation to everyone who had trained her, sharing how their attention and support helped her discover an aptitude she didn’t think she had – to be of service to others.

Many such examples remind me daily of the uplifting value of service education. It is myopic to view training and education as ‘nice-to-have’ or a cost-center with no clear Return on Investment. Of course it is important to measure and ensure a strong ROI, but the benefits of continuous education, and the value of developing life-long learners in your organization, are beyond mere financial calculations.

How do you ensure continuous service learning and improvement in your organization?

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