When’s the last time you listened to your staff answer – or talk to a client on – the phone? I don’t mean walking past and catching a few phrases here and there. I mean stopping and really, really listening. Did they address the client by name? Did they sound engaged and interested? If they had a problem, did your team member do their very best to solve it? If you answered “No”, or “I don’t know” to either question, it’s time to fix that.

Staff training is crucial in achieving two things: competent & confident employees, and happy customers. The two are inevitably intertwined with 70% of buying experiences based on how the customer feels they are being treated at the time of purchase. Quite simply: if you provide attentive, sincere and thoughtful customer service, your customers will show their appreciation with their wallets.

If you’ve heard or seen your staff do any of the following (yes, the below are real customer service stories) – it’s a sure sign it’s time for staff training.

Liz M from the U.S. called a major computer company to get help with 12 new laptops that would not power on. The Company Representative – who apparently lives to make other people question the point of existing – asked her, “What do you want me to do about it? If they don’t power on I can’t troubleshoot them, and if they aren’t powering on, it has to be something you did to them that made them not work.” Liz simply hung up the phone and called the software company directly. Though they were able to solve her problem, Liz still has nightmares about the encounter.

The lesson: Train your staff to empathise. The words, “What do you want me to do about it” should never come out of their mouths.

“It’s not our fault that you have this problem – it’s yours.” Believe it or not, this was said to Ian T by a Major Insurance Company in the UK. I liken this incident to having a scolding cup of coffee tipped on me, and then being told it’s my fault I don’t wear protective clothing.

The lesson: Train your staff to take responsibility, and give them the authority to fix it. Maybe the problem isn’t directly their fault, but if they work for your company, they have to take on the responsibility of the problem and do everything in their power to solve it.

If your staff work from a script here’s a story that should make you rethink the approach. Deborah B called a credit card company to cancel her recently deceased father’s account. This is how the conversation went:

Deborah: My father Pat passed away and I am the Executor of the Estate. I am calling to cancel his account.

Customer Service Rep: Well, I need to talk to Pat.

Deborah: Listen very carefully. He’s dead – now if you want to talk to him, you’ll have to figure out how to.

Now, I’m all about there being two sides to every story, but as far as I can see, the only way this Customer Service Rep is in the right is if they are secretly a celebrated medium, moonlighting as a telemarketer, offering Deborah the chance of a lifetime to communicate with her dead father. More than likely however, this Rep simply hasn’t been trained properly.

The Lesson: Train your staff to listen. If you can recognise when you’re being delivered a script on the phone – and I bet you can, your customers can too. Scripts are not only incredibly impersonal, but they convey rigidity, inflexibility and make your staff switch off.

If you’re anything like me, the words “I’m sorry, but that’s our policy” have the ability to raise my blood pressure like only drivers who don’t wave when I let them into my lane can. Your staff shouldn’t be saying it. No one should be saying it. Your number one policy should be doing everything you can to fix your customer’s problem. If you’ve heard your staff say these unholiest of words – it’s time for skills training.

If listening to your staff on the phone makes your skin crawl and if the words “I’m sorry, but that’s our policy” are your company’s catch-cry, consider this: it is six to seven times more expensive to acquire a new customer than it is to keep a current one, and on average, loyal customers are worth up to 10 times as much as their first purchase. If you want a successful company, you want happy customers who stick around. The first step to achieving this – invest in training your staff.

– Steph Jojart