It’s dark and rainy night, I am soaked and alone in a sea of strangers. I walk up the steps of an antebellum building, complete with Ionic columns from a bygone age. The beauty of the architecture is lost on me as I enter into the maelstrom of noise and chaos that is Aviation Officer’s Candidate School. This is the beginning of 3-years of the ultimate employee training, at a cost in excess of $1M, before beginning my new job as an Officer in the U.S. Navy. This training makes sense since the cost of failure is huge, well beyond the loss of life of those that may be involved in conflict. The benefit to the military and the country, in general, of this commitment to training is enormous. Likewise, every company and organization would benefit from similar training.
Few companies, of any size, have the resources necessary to provide that kind of employee training but fortunately they don’t have to. Many of you reading this are probably thinking “Of course I train my employees”, however I’m not talking about follow me around and let me show you what to do type training. What every company can and should have is have a formal, written training syllabus, the more detailed, the better.
When I took over as VP of Operations at Communications Plus, we had 10 field technicians, 3 inside customer service reps and 2 outside customer service reps. I noticed a problem when we were dispatching technicians for problems that ended up being user error. We had a 1-hour minimum charge for our technician’s time. Our customers weren’t happy when we billed 1-hour for a 10-minute service call. In response to this problem, I started training our inside customer service reps on better trouble-shooting techniques so they could identify user errors on the phone and correct them, saving us the service call. To facilitate the employee training, I created a Training Operations and Procedures Standardization manual or TOPS manual for short.
We initially started training only for my customer service reps. However, I quickly expanded the training to include my field service technicians as well. We needed to reduce the number times a technician was dispatched on a non-billable service call. However, our results were staggering and disproportionate to effort.
4 Benefits of Employee Training
- More consistent customer experience – before we initiated formal employee training the quality of our customer’s experience was dependent on which CSR answered the call. Where a more seasoned CSR might be able to help you over the phone, a less seasoned one would have to dispatch a tech. Technicians did not like going out to fix “user error” problems. Training allowed even the least experience CSR to quickly identify user errors and provide accurate instructions to the customer on how to achieve whatever it was they were attempting to do.
- Better trained customers – Yes, you read that correctly, by training my CSR’s I was also training my customers. Not just because they knew how to use their phone system and called us less (although that was true). Have you ever wondered why all the big fast food chains basically say the same thing at the drive-in window? After giving them your order, they read it back to you. Then they ask if its correct, give you a total cost (or tell you they will have it at the window) and ask you to pull up. I remember going through the drive through of a regional fast food restaurant, after giving my order the voice on the speaker said “OK”. I just sat there waiting for them to confirm my order, tell me how much it was and asking me to pull up. After a minute of silence, I finally just pulled to the window, not really knowing if they got my order right. There was a long line of cars behind mine. 1 minute a car lost, I wonder how many more orders they could have sold? How many cars saw the line and by-passed them taking their business elsewhere. as well). The CSR training included how to answer the phone, how to schedule properly, how to explain billing and warranty policies. Everyone used the same verbiage. Our customers learned what to expect and everything was more efficient.
- Compliance with Standards – One of the reasons I stress written employee training is it creates de-facto standards. Standards are an excellent, objective way to evaluate the effectiveness of your employees. When I was running Priority Moving we created such standards. I remember discussing whether or not we should keep one of our Lead Movers with the VP of Operations. He was saying things like “He’s a good guy and customers like him”. This was true of the customers where he didn’t mess up. I was able to point to the number of times he failed to meet our standards, resulting in unhappy customers. Objectively we knew he wasn’t working and we got rid of him. In my Locked On Labor blog, I discuss how holding employees accountable inspire others.
- Reduced Direct Labor cost – This actually came as a result of two different mechanisms. First, greatly reduce the number of hours we dispatched technicians but didn’t charge the client. Our techs were engaged in a higher percentage of billable activities. So our revenue went up and our direct labor as a percent of revenue went down. Secondly, since we now had objective standards I was able to hold my technicians accountable to those standards. 1-year after writing the TOPS manual I had reduced the number of technicians from 10 to 6. These were my best 6 technicians. Now, they were more efficient because of the training. We actually produced the same amount of work as the 10 we had before but much more profitably.
Next month, we will talk about how to create your training program.