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8 Tips to Teach Employees to Love and Respect Customers - HRDQ

8 Tips to Teach Employees to Love and Respect Customers

Have you ever heard the phrase "the customer is always right"? There's been a lot of discussion of this attitude in recent years and how it has been abused by certain groups of people looking to exploit businesses for everything they can get. Conversely, espousing good customer service, solving problems, and generally respecting customers as human beings can be an excellent boon to any company.

If you're looking to train your employees in the fine art of customer service, you need to emphasize love and respect. Here are eight pathways you can use to reach this lofty goal.

1: Determine Who Gets Focus

The first step to this process is recognizing that not all employees need the same training and reinforcement.

Front-line workers, customer service reps, sales teams, and other directly customer-facing employees get the most focus. The people who directly interact with customers need to do so with grace and respect, even when faced with disrespect. The last thing a company needs is a reputation for "punching back," no matter how deserved it may be.

Training Service Staff

There is an argument to be made that "the customer is always right" is a toxic attitude, and sure, between its abuse and it being taken too far, sometimes it is overdone. However, the core principles of treating one another with respect are still valuable.

Executives, upper management, and other decision-makers should also receive some focus on this kind of training. All too often, especially in large companies, it doesn't matter how respectful the front-line workers are; the management makes fundamentally disrespectful decisions to their audience. You see this time and again whenever a company makes a decision that prioritizes profits over retention, customer service, or product quality.  

Plenty of employees may not need much training in this field. Back-end developers, custodial staff, and other workers who generally do not interact with customers do not need dedicated customer service training. Forcing such training on them can breed resentment as it wastes their time.  

The exact scope of this and the lines drawn between employee groups will vary depending on the company. For example, developers might benefit from training to work more respectful customer interactions into their design or better respect customer time.  

2: Emphasize Emotional Intelligence

For years, there has been a dichotomy between emotions and critical thinking, with many viewing them as opposite sides of the coin. How can an emotional decision be a rational one? The truth is, emotions are a critical part of cognition and trying to ignore them leads many down the wrong path.

In recent years, there has been a push towards greater emotional intelligence. Emphasizing emotional intelligence allows employees, most critically the decision-makers and the people in direct customer-relations roles, to better regulate their reactions to novel situations.

Take, for example, a negative customer interaction. How often have you seen a viral social media post about a company that goes off on a customer? Sometimes it's because the customer was wrong, lying, or otherwise trying to exploit the company, and the manager had enough. Other times, the customer points out valid problems with the business, and the manager reaches a breaking point.

Both of these scenarios are negative. A business that gains a reputation for outbursts becomes known for those outbursts and not for their core product or customer service.  

Training in emotional intelligence is the first step to minimizing these outbursts or the risk thereof. What is emotional intelligence?

Smiling at Customer

Emotional intelligence is a person's ability to recognize, understand, and reason with their emotions and the emotions of others. It's a combination of empathy, sympathy, and self-control, among other factors. It's about:

  • Recognizing emotions as they happen. Being able to perceive and understand emotions in yourself and others.
  • Applying cognitive oversight to those emotions. Understanding how emotions react and how to interact with them.
  • Understanding emotions and what they can mean. In particular, recognizing the causes that trigger the emotions and cutting to the heart of the issue.
  • Managing your own emotions to avoid the emotional feedback loop that can exacerbate problems and inhibit resolution.

The first step towards training emotional intelligence is developing a baseline. This baseline can get developed with an assessment such as EISA, the Emotional Intelligence Skills Assessment. Taking this assessment sets a starting point from which an employee can be trained according to their needs, after which they can retake the assessment and recognize their improvement.

3: Enforce Standards of Business Etiquette

While emotional intelligence is a strong foundation and a good fallback, it is not enough on its own. This step is where further training can come into play. For example, training with a business etiquette course lets you establish a baseline of behavior for anyone in a customer-facing position.

Business Etiquette Standards

Business etiquette is a powerful set of rules that help regulate and guide behavior, both between employees and customers, and when problems arise between employees. It helps establish a framework for solving problems, rather than letting emotions and independent decision-making rule the day. It also helps propagate a standard of action and conduct for everyone, so no one is given unfair treatment or operates under different rules.

4: Understand and Adapt to Different Standards

In the modern working world, people from as many as five different generations are employed and working together while serving customers from those same generations. As mentioned above, there is an ongoing shift in attitudes between generations. Some behaviors seen as respectful for one generation may be seen as disrespectful for another. Different ages have different priorities and different focuses on their behavior.

"Finding employees with strong adaptability skills will not only help your customer success rate, but it will also help you find strong leaders. In fact, according to the Center for Creative Leadership, the ability to adapt or develop was cited as the No. 1 most cited success factor for North American managers." – G2.

Various Service Employees

This has been studied by sociologists and has been codified well enough to be used as part of training in two ways. First, it can help a multigenerational workforce learn to interact, and work well with one another. Second, it can form the basis for training on how your employees should interact with customers of varying generations and what behaviors are most appropriate and well-received amongst different cohorts.

The Understanding Generational Differences course is an excellent way to build up this knowledge and training for individuals in all company positions.

5: Establish Lines of Communication for Customers

One of the most critical ways for a business to respect customers is to establish lines of communication for feedback. All too often, a business may fail to answer the phone, may not respond to emails, and may be generally difficult or impossible to reach about issues or concerns.

Communication is a crucial element of respect at all levels.  

  • Listening to customer concerns helps drive innovation and guide the development of a product.
  • Listening to customer complaints helps identify problems and solve them for everyone else.
  • Monitoring customer questions helps develop better interaction, copy, and sales information.

Listening to Customers

As part of the generational differences in customers, different lines of communication should be available. For example, older generations may prefer to discuss an issue over the phone, while younger generations prefer digital means of communication like email, text chat, or web chat services. All the while, providing a robust self-help knowledge base can help alleviate issues before they become problems.

As part of this, training the service employees on the other end of the lines of communication is essential. By the same token, avoiding outsourcing this customer service is also crucial. Outsourcing customer service may be a cost-saving measure, but it tells customers that their issues aren't worth being addressed directly and makes them feel like they aren't being listened to.

6: Don't Sacrifice Customers on the Altar of Profit

Perhaps the biggest mistake companies make today is making decisions that put profits ahead of customer satisfaction. A common complaint and a common situation is the company that makes a change – or refuses to change – because it would hurt their bottom line.

This can extend to all areas of business. Investing in a larger customer service team or more dedicated support costs money, and support is often an easy area to be tempted to outsource. Refusing to fix broken or inconvenient features (or changing features that users frequently use but don't make money) are common problems.

Making Company Changes

That is a flaw in long-term thinking and intrinsic value as much as anything. Putting profit first can make money in the short term but often results in struggling later on down the road, as the company now has a negative reputation it has to fight, which costs even more. Conversely, establishing good service and treatment of customers early on creates a solid foundation to build upon.

7: Empower Trained Employees

Giving employees the additional power necessary to be independent problem-solvers might not seem like a good idea when your goal is to maintain consistent standards across the business. It can result in cases where one customer gets better service than another due to differences in outlook and boundaries between service workers.

However, this can be trained. The first step is the training above, to teach employees when, how, and why to react in various ways, to various issues. The second step is to empower them to do so.

Empowering Trained Employees

Doing so allows you to build an independent, proactive, and effective service team, which, in turn, allows for your service to be more exemplary. Nothing frustrates a customer as much as the delay of "I have to ask my manager" to get permission to solve a problem.  

"Every company has rules, but beware of creating such a rigid structure that your employees can't deliver good service. Whenever possible, give your customer service representatives (CSR) the leeway to solve a customer's problem within the guidelines you've created. Empower them with the authority and flexibility to find creative or alternative solutions to issues when they arise, without having to get your sign-off on every little thing." - Insperity.

Empowering your employees to solve problems independently is a risky move, but proper training mitigates that risk.

8: Maintain Opportunities for Advancement

All the above tips and techniques for improving customer relations and training employees to treat customers with respect are serious investments. The courses and training cost time and money, so it becomes even more devastating when an employee leaves for greener pastures.  

While some turnover is inevitable in business, it doesn't have to be a significant problem. One of the leading reasons employees tend to leave their jobs is dissatisfaction with their growth opportunities. If you can provide ways for your employees to advance within your organization, all of the value you train into them and expenses you leverage to improve them are kept within your organization.

You can also help minimize some of this expense by optimizing your hiring process to focus on finding the independent, emotionally intelligent, problem-solver mindset candidates that will best fill a role and require a minimum of training to fit right in. Of course, optimizing your hiring process in this manner can itself be a challenging, expensive, and time-consuming endeavor.  

Maintaining Advancement Opportunities

There's simply no easy way to go from point A to point B when it comes to training your employees. You need to invest in them, analyze their position, find areas to improve and work on that improvement on a personal level. Anything else does them a disservice, which in turn does that same disservice to your customers.

Developing a workforce that maintains respect and love for the customers your company serves does not have to be an unattainable goal; you can make it a reality with the proper investment.

Do you have any questions or concerns regarding teaching your employees to respect customers? Please feel free to leave a comment down below, and we'll reply within a day or two! We make it a point to respond to every question, comment, or concern we receive and would love to assist you in any way we can. 

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About our author

Bradford R. Glaser

Brad is President and CEO of HRDQ, a publisher of soft-skills learning solutions, and HRDQ-U, an online community for learning professionals hosting webinars, workshops, and podcasts. His 35+ years of experience in adult learning and development have fostered his passion for improving the performance of organizations, teams, and individuals.