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I work for one of those delusional retail companies that think they can hire just anybody and turn them into stellar customer service people if they just give them enough of that magic-bullet customer service "training". What's worse, is that this company subscribes to the disastrously illogical model that treats coworkers and other departments as "customers". This means that even the programming guys (me) and the maintenance men have to be subjected to it.

I've seen this many times, at many different companies. My interpretation of the essence of what this kind of training tries to convey is this:
The ABC's of Customer Service

Give the customer what they want, whether it is reasonable, or even possible, or not

Repress your opinions and feelings, and even the truth if necessary

Open yourself to the customer's feelings

Validate the customer's preconceived notions

Enthusiasm! (Whether you feel it or not)

Leave your self at home - you don't count, only the customer does.

This is not the way to good customer service, and even if it was, no self-respecting person would put up with it. If you don't already know how to be nice to people, and how to provide value to your company through your dealings with people, then this kind of training won't help you. All it will do is set your value in yourself at odds with your customer. Every customer becomes an intrusion, a drain on your time, energy, and self-esteem.

To be fair, this particular indoctrination session did include, ever so briefly, a small piece of Stephen Covey's "7 Habits of Highly Effective People", and this is where I go off on a tangent that actually fits the theme of this blog.

If you want to advance yourself, there's certain core skills that are necessary. You can survive without them, and most people do, but you cannot advance without them. You have to be able to accomplish the things you want to do, and you have to be able to work with other people to accomplish additional goals. But the internal successes have to come first. They cannot be created externally and given to you. Without them, the external successes cannot be achieved through any list of random techniques designed to make you a success with the snap of your fingers.

"7 Habits" is not one of those touchy-feely piece of crap self-help books out there full of random techniques and clever sayings and false self-esteem. It's a book of principles. I'm big on principles, and these are correct principles. It's not automatic. It demands a lot of work. It doesn't say a lot about how to do the work, it just provides a direction for that work to follow.

Advancement is hard work, and it takes everything you've got, both mentally and physically. Especially mentally. And it takes integrity - not just honesty, but the kind of integrity where everything you do and say and think fits together as a unified whole and serves the one common purpose of your life. This book gives you a starting point for that, but it can only get you so far. The rest is up to you. Get there, and you won't need any self-destroying "customer service training." Dealing with other people, including customers, in a productive way will just be part of who you are - what you are.


best thing I ever heard, don't remember where
Hire for customer service
Train for skill.
The other way around just doesn't work.

Posted by thordora at Wednesday, June 08, 2005 10:37 AM


That's a good, concise way to put it. I think you can abstact out from customer service to any ability and skill you want: Hire for aptitude, train for skill. You can't train somebody in something they don't already have an aptitude for.

Posted by kylben at Wednesday, June 08, 2005 11:35 AM

I enjoyed the article, good piece.

Posted by Brian at Wednesday, June 08, 2005 01:30 PM

Thanks, Brian.

Posted by kylben at Wednesday, June 08, 2005 01:33 PM

I absolutely agree with your take on the Seven Habits. Covey isn't the greatest writer, but he's absolutely right on the principles for human florishing. (He was obviously dictating to a secretary who knew how to reproduce things verbatim, but couldn't edit for good grammar. I found that a stumbling point.)

Does anybody argue with his priorities? Independence first, then interdependence, followed by meditation - or concentration if you prefer - on how to refine you technique.

Of course, "sharpening the saw" could be interpreted as simply spending time doing other important things, like recreating or spending time with your family.

Somebody should develop the sawyer metaphor into an allegory or myth.

Posted by Old Whig at Wednesday, June 08, 2005 09:30 PM

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