Imagine a football team that never practices before games. Eventually, without practice, even a great squad will start to show signs of weakness and the losses will pile up.
A similar problem can occur in care homes, when the various employees who make up “the team” don’t spend time honing their customer service skills through training. Just like a coach will enforce practice regimens, long term care managers must advocate training for all workers.
Of course, this means managers must be committed to customer service. From where I stand, buy-in by top management is actually one of the most important issues to tackle immediately.
Why is that? Because most of us look at education and professional development as a burden. Mention the words “mandatory training” to many employees and you will soon hear grumbles.
However, employees are more likely to embrace that training if the message comes from the manager’s office that the effort is a priority. I think one of the most effective ways to emphasise this priority is to make training mandatory for all employees – no one gets a pass to sit out.
By including all staff in training, you send the message that everyone is accountable for good service. There are countless ways to conduct customer service training and plenty of ideas to explore as part of it. Below are some broad questions to ask that I believe help strengthen the foundation of any training program:
- What topics will the training cover? (I’ll delve into some hot spots for customer service training later in this article.)
- When will you hold the training? Don’t forget to consider overnight and weekend shifts.
- How will you set up the training room?
- What training materials do you need?
- How will you reward participants who successfully complete the training?
- Will your training tie into existing service standards? If not, how will you develop those service goals?
- How will you reinforce the customer service training after the initial sessions?
A word of caution: There are plenty of opportunities to offer self-instruction, where an individual employee undergoes training by reading manuals, logging onto online exercises, or watching a video. Self-guided training is a useful tool, but don’t let it become a surrogate for classroom instruction. The classroom setting allows employees to interact with each other and discuss key issues, which enhances new skills in a way selfinstruction can’t.
Over the years, I’ve come up with a variety of training modules for care homes to use. Generally, these sessions take place in a classroom setting, where the instructor uses handouts, quizzes, and a flip-chart to promote whatever skill is on the agenda. The sessions last about 15 to 20 minutes. Here are five topics that I think any long term care manager can use to create their own training modules for employees:
1. Explaining customer service. Especially for new employees, it1s worth defining exactly what customer service is and why good service bolsters the impressions of residents, their families, and other visitors. During this the essential website for the long term care sector Friday, 04 November 2005 introductory training, make employees provide examples of good and poor customer service, perhaps based on their own experiences outside of work. A key point to emphasise is what I call “a moment of truth” – in other words, when a customer receives an impression of the care home based on an interaction with an employee. This is a crucial point to mention during training.
2. Improving telephone skills. For many customers, their first impression stems from how an employee answers the phone. During this exercise, show how proper phone etiquette, including how to answer a call and put someone on hold, can create good will early on. Prompt participants to discuss their experiences with poor phone manners when they have called a company. Have participants role-play good and bad calls to reinforce phone skills to the group; the instructor may need to create an informal script for role-players to use.
3. Learning how to actively listen to customers. Truly listening to residents, their families, and visitors is a skill steeped with nuances. During this session, introduce the term “active listening, which embodies a series of behaviours that improve listening, such as making eye contact with the customer, avoiding distractions or interruptions during the discussion, and showing patience. Ask participants to list the qualities of a good listener and how those traits contribute to active listening. Encourage participants to identify pieces of their own listening style that they could improve.
4. Enhancing customer experience in the dining room. A customer’s experience during a meal is another “moment of truth”. If customers enjoy every meal, they will help set your care home apart from the competitors. During this exercise, focus on the details that embody a great dining experience. Ask participants to recall their own memorable visits to restaurants and how those experiences apply to residents who eat in the dining room. Also prompt employees to explore why the dining experience is so important to residents. Strive for the group to come up with two or three steps that they can immediately take to improve service in the dining room.
5. Dressing for customer service success. How an employee looks during working hours creates a strong impression on residents and other customers. During this session, point out the ways appearance can influence impressions and discuss your residence’s dress code. Ask participants for examples of good appearances and what ways they might be able to improve their own dress style. You can make this training session more fun by having two volunteers dress up as frontline staff who are appropriately and inappropriately attired.
These five training ideas are just the beginning of the issues your facility can dig into for customer service training.
As you can see from the examples, customer service concerns extend to all facets of the care home. Managers who recognise this can in turn play an encouraging role in training their employees to improve customer service.
Irving L Stackpole, RRT, MEd, is president of Stackpole & Associates in Brookline, Massachusetts, USA, which provides consulting, training, and strategic planning solutions to healthcare, long-term care, and human services organisations in the U.S. and UK. He is also author of Customer Service in Assisted Living, published by AIM: The Society for Senior Living Professionals. For more information about the book, or about the services on offer by Stackpole & Associates, visit www.stackpole associates.com
This article was published in Caring Times, September, 2005