Close your eyes and think about the most recent positive experience you had as a customer. Dig into your memory about that experience. I am willing to guess — with a fair amount of confidence — that the interaction involved a confident, caring employee who understood the challenge you were facing and worked with you to find a solution that exceeded your expectations. It doesn’t take a CX expert to make that prediction as great employees are typically the foundation upon which memorable, positive customer experiences are built.
If you’re nodding in agreement and thinking such employees are the result of either a great training regimen or just natural skill, you’re not wrong, but not fully right either. The most successful employees score really well across three fundamental dimensions: knowledge, habits, and skills. Each of those is important in its own way. Knowledge is what one knows or can know. Skill is what one does or can do. Habit is what makes one better at an existing skill, or at acquiring a new skill. Having said that, a single development approach to improve a person across all three dimensions is unlikely to be successful. Instead, getting back to basics and focusing on training, coaching and mentoring can nurture CX and the brand-customer relationship:
-Training is a great method to create strong foundational understanding. What purpose does our retail presence serve? Why is it important to serve customers across many channels? What’s the process to follow while processing a customer’s claim? What is the checklist of things to be examined while taking a product return request? These answers are all a 101 course for employees. It’s impossible to serve customers exceptionally without knowing these foundational details. That’s exactly what training does. Regardless of an employee’s background, a good training regimen helps all employees get on the same page with respect to their knowledge of the company, the business, the customer, their team, and their specific role in the company. This clarity gives employees the confidence to take the first step every morning. Effective training is often best delivered in chunks at regular intervals, a.k.a modules or certification — allowing employees to digest information, formulate questions, and then open discussion for dynamic conversation that allows people to share experiences or highlight sticking points. The quality of a training regimen is somewhat straightforward to assess, since the propagation of knowledge can be assessed reliably. The Kirkpatrick Model is a great resource to evaluate the quality and effectiveness of a training regimen.
-Coaching, on the other hand, is a developmental method that is aimed at cultivating sustainable habits for the long term. Unlike training, coaching is less about knowing and more about doing. It takes the fundamental training to a deeper level. For example, role-playing is a critical part of coaching, like how to teach employees to guide conversations with customers; to know how to end conversations with positive messages. What does empathetic customer service look and sound like? What are ways to acknowledge customer needs in reassuring ways? Coaching is always hands-on, deeply contextual, experiential and cannot be scaled as quickly as a typical training regimen. Coaching is also more freestyle (or adaptive) since the same habit might need to be applied differently based on the context, and is most often more productive when performed in smaller, tightly-knit groups. Clear communication is a great habit, but it’s applied differently during a legal negotiation than during a customer success conversation. Coaching is also not always on a predictable timeframe, since the same habit might take longer or shorter to cultivate in different people.The quality of coaching is harder to assess when compared with that of a training regimen, and where habits are often qualitative and can have different kinds of impact on each person. Coaching is the phase of employee skill-building that is most suitable to identify and develop individual employees on skills like empathy, negotiation, first-principles thinking, and clear communication.
-Finally that brings us to the third method, mentoring. Mentoring should be more widely adopted but requires ongoing commitment and willingness between team member and leader. By nature, it is very contextual and has no set course of delivery and often comes in short, but highly valuable, bursts. Mentoring happens in the moment, when mentor and mentee are open to sharing knowledge regarding a specific challenge that neither training nor coaching can be applied to. It involves a constant stream of discovery, often interacting with a more mature practitioner who has real world experience that lends itself informally. While coaching aims to deliver a certain incremental value each time through a series of regular and disciplined interactions. Mentoring on the other hand is much less regular and the recipient often receives substantial value in each interaction. Mentoring lends itself more naturally to developmental projects like grooming leaders from amongst employees or cultivating entrepreneurial thinking amongst leaders. Measuring the success of mentoring in an individual is more qualitative than quantitative in most cases.
Each of the methods has a time and place where it’s most effective. Applying the right method to the right context will better arm employees to handle customer asks and challenges with greater patience, grace, and understanding of desired outcomes.
Do you have any personal experiences with this framework? Do you have a fourth approach that has worked for you? Let me know in the comments section below!