Knowledge Is Key in Customer Service

Tips to ensure customer service employees can quickly and accurately provide the information and solutions your customers need.

When I stayed in a hotel a couple weeks ago, I called the front desk (via a button labeled “Immediate Response” on the phone keypad) to ask whether they could order me a cab. Instead of answering my question, the man who answered the phone responded that I should be sure to call my Uber or Lyft well ahead of when I wanted to get picked up.

“You can’t order me a cab for tomorrow morning?” I asked.

“That’s not something we do,” he responded.

“When you say ‘we,’ what do you mean?”

“I mean we at the front desk don’t do that.”

“So could someone else at this hotel do that for me?”

“If you like, I can transfer you to our bellhop station in the motor lobby.”

Instead, this employee should have immediately said something like, “Sure, let me transfer you to one of our bellhops, who will order that cab for you.”

Why did it take a long, irritating exchange to get the answer to my question and a solution to the simple need I had?

The employee appeared not to know off the bat that he had co-workers whose job was to manage luggage and arrange for cabs. Do you have front-line employees at your company who have a similar knowledge deficiency? How sure are you that an employee working in customer service can quickly and painlessly provide the information and solutions your customers need?

Training Can Help

A training session during new hire training in which the new employee is required to field common mock questions would have helped the employee who answered my call to the front desk.

What other ways have you found to educate employees so they can smoothly respond to common questions? It’s appears to be more difficult than I would have imagined to make sure that employees not only have the necessary information, but know how to respond in a way that is easy to understand and provides a solution.

When planning a gathering recently, I was told the venue would only have five chairs. The last time I was at this venue, there were multiple rows of seating. “Oh, that’s strange. Are we talking about the same place?” I inquired.

“Yes, the same place.”

“And you’re saying you only have five chairs?”


“Can more chairs be brought in?”

“Five chairs,” she repeated. “We have five chairs.”

She wouldn’t explain what happened to the venue that I remembered differently, and wouldn’t respond to my question about whether more chairs could be brought in.

In this case, I wonder if she had been trained not to vary from a script about the five-chair limitation, and if she also had been trained not to explain what had happened to the venue.

Tip: Hire Problem Solvers

I found a blog by Bonnie Monych on the Website of training vendor Insperity with some helpful tips.

Monych recommends hiring problem-solvers. In publishing, it’s not unusual to be given a writing or editing test prior to being hired, especially for entry-level positions, but even sometimes for higher-level jobs. You could do the same for customer service positions. If the applicant makes it through the first interview, the second interview could be a test of their customer service abilities or potential. You could do it in-person or over the phone or through a video call. You could ask them the three most common questions a person in their position will be asked by a customer, and with no training provided by you, see how they respond. This will give you a sense of the candidate’s natural communication competency and ability to think on the fly.

You can give them this test with the understanding that they probably will improve after being trained. This test will let you see what your trainers will be working with, and whether there is so little innate customer service ability in this individual that getting them well trained will be an uphill battle.

Tip: Empower Employees

Among other things, Monych also recommends empowering employees to solve problems on their own and to engage in active listening. One way to incentivize employees to do these things is to use open-book management in which all employees are given responsibility for tracking a business metric related to their jobs. Once a month, or more frequently, they would share the latest status of that metric. If the metric has gone in the wrong direction, they would have to explain why they think that happened. And if it improved, they would share with colleagues what they did that worked so well. Knowing they are tasked with improving the business may give employees a greater sense of ownership when a customer comes to them with a question and a need for a solution. It helps if you can offer all employees a bonus at the end of the year if the company’s financial goals have been met.

How do you carefully select, and then train, employees to provide quick and accurate answers to customer questions?