“The most important adage and the only adage is ‘the customer comes first’, whatever the business, the customer comes first.” (Kerry Stokes, Australian billionaire).

There is an amazing (yes, amazing) receptionist at the front-desk of the Head Office of an insurance company somewhere in Accra. I get a kick out of just observing her anytime I go to that office. She is so strict-looking with a facial expression that looks more like that of a headmistress of a village school somewhere near Hwidiem, in the Eastern Region. This lady could well be the most ‘robotic’ front-desk official in the whole country.

I am sure she is very efficient in her duties of welcoming walk-in or phone-in visitors and customers, booking appointments, directing visitors to appropriate contacts, arranging appointments for guests to meet with company staff, sorting mail, and a host of other activities. I am pretty sure of that. I have seen her at work.

I have had a couple of experiences with this particular lady, but every single time I walk away from the experience I have a feeling there is something wrong. It is not as if she does not know her job – in fact, she is VERY good at her job. I believe she has gone through hours and hours of staff training. By staff training, I mean the education of employees under normal operational conditions, including on-site training or off-site which is conducted away from the work process such as in a training centre, conference facility, etc.

Many businesses (not all) are aware of the importance of continuous education for their staff. Business leaders are aware that continuous education is an opportunity to not only improve the skills set of employees, but also communicate to the company’s vision and mission to staff.

They also know that continuous training helps to show employees newer, and more efficient, ways of doing things. I believe it is these kinds of training that this wonderful lady has been subjected to over the years. However, I am convinced that the kind of staff training this lady, and many others like her, undergo just sets them up to PROCESS customers and not to necessarily PLEASE them.

Many businesses forget that PROCESSING a customer, i.e. putting customers through prescribed steps or procedures, does not necessarily guarantee PLEASING the customer. Knowing the right steps to take a customer through while offering service forms just one part of the customer’s whole experience. To win the hearts of customers requires not just filling the right forms or documents in the right way, or serving customers as promptly as you can. It requires much more.

In-house training must be tailor-made and specific to the problems of the firm to be successful and relevant. This is why it is of great importance that training must be preceded by some level of research on the peculiar situation of the organisation or participants. Great trainers adapt their training to the peculiar circumstances of the organisation(s) or participants.

The training materials used are also of utmost importance since they will facilitate easy learning and also serve as reminders of what has been taught. It is well-known that learning is a never-ending experience and therefore a successful training must be followed by some level of after-care. Some training firms even offer a post-course technical support service and a comprehensive consultancy service.

For a training to be deemed successful, some factors must necessarily be present. These include a training provider that has expertise in the area of training required. In other words, the trainer must be competent in that area of training need.

The training must also be well-suited to the needs and expectations of the organisation and its members. No matter how well a trainer delivers, if the training does not solve a particular pertinent issue the organisation is handling, then it cannot be said to have succeeded.

It is however imperative for business leaders to note that all the above will not suffice if the customer is not placed at the centre of the training. A great training programme is one that leaves your organisation teeming with knowledgeable service people, who are ready to go above and beyond their job description to take care of customers.

This is the base on which organisations that intend to deliver Exceptional Customer Care, Always operate. No matter how well employees are trained on the features, advantages, benefits, values, etc. of a product-service offering, it will not suffice if they fail to see the customer as the reason for the training.

The importance of maintaining a customer-focused training regime is one that great businesses appreciate. Ryder Systems, a US-based company that has been delivering transportation and logistics solutions worldwide since 1933, wanted its staff to appreciate the need to make the customer central to their training. It therefore changed the name of its training organisation from Learning Centre to Customer Focus Centre. This little change went a long way in helping staff better appreciate the importance of the customer in training programmes.

At the Disney University, the corporate training centre for Disney World, quality and service are built into all the training programmes. This is the secret behind the amazing experiences customers have whenever they visit of the Disney theme parks. This means that even if the training is for accountants, technicians or back office staff, the focus is still the customer. This same phenomenon runs through many of the other well-established corporate universities in the West.

Hamburger University (for McDonalds), Heineken University (for Heineken NV) and ABN-AMRO Academy in the Netherlands (for ABN-AMRO Bank) are a few of the corporate universities where the customer ‘sits’ at the centre of all learning activities that take place. If corporate giants such as these are doing it out there in the West, what prevents organisations from doing likewise here in Ghana? I am not advocating for the setting up of huge corporate universities. These things come with huge financial injections that would be too much for many of the organisations in this part of the world. However, I am all for companies in Ghana restructuring their training systems into a more customer-centric mode.

It is important to train staff on how a job is to be done, but it is equally – if not more – important to communicate why a job is important and how it will serve the customer. This can often transform employee attitude and the quality of their work. In the corporate world, it is companies that lead in providing customer-centric training that eventually reap the benefits. Well-trained, customer-centric staff are sure to keep customers very satisfied – and that is the benefit of customer-centric training.

Credit: J. N. Halm/B&FT

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