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The 10 Myths of Customer Service in L&D

Bob Little 

June 1, 2018

As L&D professionals, we’re often asked to pay more attention to “what customers want,” and to smile politely while we deliver it.

But, as many of us know, what people say they want isn’t always what’s best for them, for their development, or for their organizations’ longer-term success.

Here, we look at 10 of the most common customer service myths – and why, when it comes to learning, the customer isn’t always right!

1. “Give Customers What They Want”

Customers often don’t know what they want until they see it. And, when they’re unable to imagine innovative solutions to their L&D needs, they tend to ask for the existing proposition, only cheaper and delivered faster.

This is why L&D sometimes finds it difficult to get its internal customers to reduce their preference for classroom-delivered training courses, or to take a more creative approach to L&D provision.

The digital learning strategist, Tim Drewitt, comments, “In the corporate L&D world, there are often two conflicting voices.

Stakeholders base their wants on what they already know, while learners base theirs on the realities they face. L&D professionals should listen to both sets of wants and reconcile the differences – often through recommending a different solution to that envisaged by the stakeholder.”

2. “The Customer Is Always Right”

There will always be customers who try to take advantage of any situation. From a business strategy viewpoint, you focus on encouraging the customers that your organization wants, and discouraging those it doesn’t. The same principle applies to L&D.

“As L&D professionals get better at partnering with the business, it should get easier to challenge what the internal customer is thinking,” says Drewitt.

3. “Always Delight Your Customers and Exceed Their Expectations”

Management gurus, such as Tom Peters, often urge organizations to continually “wow” their customers. But raising customers’ expectations in this way inevitably leads to disappointment when the next “wow” isn’t forthcoming.

In fact, customers often prefer consistency to unexpected surprises, so L&D shouldn’t beat itself up with the need to constantly “up the ante.”

4. “Always Provide the Best Quality Service”

Organizations generally invest in the level of service quality that’s in keeping with their market positioning. L&D should follow a similar path.

“Today’s learners have realistic, pragmatic expectations about the learning they receive. They want content that’s ‘good enough,’ not something that’s been over-engineered,” comments Drewitt. “They prefer something that gets them where they want to be without too much fuss.”

5. “Empower Your Workers”

The assumption here is that empowerment programs will always result in highly motivated staff, better customer service, and improved profits.

But poor performance isn’t always caused by a lack of awareness, or a “bad attitude” among the workers. It can often result from their roles being poorly defined, or from unclear procedures. Poor service can usually be traced to poor management, not to unhelpful frontline staff.

L&D should, therefore, define its activities in terms of delivering what the organization needs – not what’s always been delivered, to the same people, in the same way.

6. “Reduce the Number of Complaints”

Look at it this way: customers who complain are trying to help your organization to perform better. If they can’t complain directly to you, you’ll likely lose their custom. But an effective complaints-handling procedure can provide you with valuable feedback – and an opportunity to win back the customer.

In the same way, L&D should encourage adverse feedback. It can enable you to fine-tune your performance and your offering, and to generate the learning that will really benefit your organization.

As Tim Drewitt says, “If social learning channels are opened up to learners, L&D will soon be responding to feedback about its programs. Embracing feedback in an appropriate way should help raise the L&D department’s standing in the business’s eyes.”

7. “Introduce a Loyalty Card”

Loyalty cards are about quantity, not quality. The L&D equivalent is a leaderboard for learners who’ve completed the most learning materials, regardless of their relevance to the learner or to the organization. Building loyalty should be about having the best learning materials and customer care strategies, and not about scoring points.

“Surveys show that learners aren’t necessarily motivated to learn through gamified solutions, although game-based learning has its place,” observes Drewitt.

“L&D professionals should focus on ensuring that learners can positively respond to the net promoter score question. This is used in other walks of life to show loyalty through having the customer recommend them – the provider – to others.”

8. “Customer Service Means Smiling at Customers and Wishing Them a Nice Day”

Good manners cost nothing, of course. But, although the definition of good customer service varies from place to place, it’s never about just offering platitudes.

It requires you to respond appropriately to each situation as it arises, and the level of service that you offer will depend on whether your organization (or department) is perceived as a “quality” or an “economy” provider. For example, a known “least cost” supplier would be unwise to try to offer a “best quality” service.

9. “You Must Please All of the People All of the Time”

Some customers will never generate substantial profits, so don’t use valuable resources trying to please them. Instead, as an organization or L&D department, identify your “prime customer” market segments and aim to maximize their enjoyment of your product or service.

10. “Service Improvement Is Operational and Tactical”

There will always be “day-to-day” learning that you need to provide. But, remember that each L&D department is unique in its market. You can build on this by being a leader, not a follower, and by aligning your activities with your organization’s strategic goals as well as its operational needs.

Richard Lowe, Director of Hewlett Rand, says, “L&D professionals can add value by using consultative skills to identify and improve people performance, rather than sticking with the ‘status quo.’

“The key is for L&D professionals to be solutions consultants, not passive providers.

“Don’t simply design stuff that’s being requested. Diagnose what’s going on, before delivering a workable L&D solution.”

How do you define customer service in your organization? Are there any customer service myths that we’ve missed from our list? Share your thoughts in the Comments section, below.

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One comment on “The 10 Myths of Customer Service in L&D”:

  1. Keith Walker wrote:

    Great pragmatic article. Sometimes you get sick of the hot air around this subject.