Positive seller or shop assistant portrait in supermarket store
ATD Blog

Beyond “Tell Them to Be Nice”: Make Learning Part of National Customer Service Week

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

National Customer Service Week 2018 runs October 1-5—it is an event started by the International Customer Service Association (ICSA) in 1984 and proclaimed an annual event the first week of October in the United States via Presidential Proclamation in 1992. This week and next, ATD is offering this two-part series to support you in planning for it and making training an integral part of your organization’s service framework.

You may know this story of a letter to the editor of a newspaper. In short, the newspaper reported that a local government agency would be committing resources to training on customer service. It was expected to be expensive for the agency and time-consuming for the staff. A resident wrote the editor that he had the solution at a mere fraction of the cost: "Tell them to be nice." As good as that advice is, is it enough? Even when service providers are doing all the "right things," there can be a lot of displeased customers because service behaviors are only one part of the equation—service strategies and service systems are equally critical. Maybe this is why National Customer Service Week, taking place next week, was established!

What do you have planned for National Customer Service Week?

Certainly, you may be reaching out to let customers know you value them. You may also be recognizing employees’ efforts at “Exceeding expectations! Every customer, every time!”—the event’s 2018 theme set by ICSA. But, how about truly supporting employees in their customer service efforts—developing their service skills and enhancing their service effectiveness by providing valued and meaningful training opportunities around service behaviors, strategies, and systems? Wouldn’t that be an appreciated addition to thank-you notes, donuts in the breakroom, and service-oriented awards and contests?

With the event so close, you may be looking for ideas and inspiration—or for a turnkey solution. If the former, let the following inspire your thinking. Ask yourself what programs you have, or you can repurpose from existing resources, that will:

  • Elicit specific techniques to manage challenging customers and situations.
  • Prepare participants to respond to conflict.
  • Explore the current service environment to identify improvement opportunities.
  • Shift employees' perspectives to that of their customers.
  • Provide practice using a structured process to manage any service interaction.
  • Lead participants to identify customers' pain points and mitigate them.
  • Guide participants to create mistake-proof techniques to avoid customer frustration.

However, if you are feeling panicked and need a ready-made solution to deploy next week, an answer awaits you at the end of this post. And, it accomplishes all of the above.

Whichever approach you choose, here are some tips I would like to share from my Insights article, “What Makes Training Great?” These two recommendations will help focus your efforts to design your training events: Get real and be relevant.

Get Real

Determine your organization's service culture reality. There may be a framed poster in the lobby citing service as a core value, but is that being demonstrated? If not, why not? And, if it is, how often and by whom?


Just because it is on a wall, website, or company brochure doesn't mean it is in the culture of your organization. Without a true understanding of the service realities and challenges your employees face—and getting real about them in your training design—many participants will likely label your workshop as flavor-of-the-month training and disconnect.

In the most challenging of service environments, you might even consider opening a program with a few direct questions that will shake up the status quo, place the issues on the table, and engage your participants, such as:

  • Why isn't service a priority here?
  • What indicators lead you to believe that leadership doesn't value service?
  • Are you truly doing all you can to provide exceptional service? Why not?

Be Relevant

To be effective, training must be relevant. No one wants to have their time wasted. In my Insights article, “ Make the Most of Limited Training Time,” I shared techniques that do just that. Complement the techniques with these strategies for building relevance into your workshop designs:

Align Content With Organizational Needs
An event dedicated to service behaviors may be logical when employees deal extensively with angry customers, have little experience as service providers, or have limited authority to revise existing service strategies, whereas service strategy training can complement an organizational commitment to service—an environment in which employees are empowered to make inexpensive improvements to existing strategies and a sustained approach to continuous service improvement will be supported. Finally, service systems training will align well with organizations that place a significant priority on service, where leadership is open to making big-picture changes in how things are done, and time will be allocated—post-training—to continue the process mapping, business re-engineering, and process improvement work begun during training.


Create Custom Scenarios for Role Plays
During your needs analysis, inquire about the types of challenging situations that employees encounter in delivering customer service. Drawing from that information and then fictionalizing it, draft scenarios to use as a learning lab during your training. They can be integrated as case studies, role plays, match-a-strategy activities (where participants connect program tools or techniques to specific situations), and so on.

Share Industry-Specific Stories and Challenges
Sharing examples that are directly applicable to participants instantly builds in relevance. Planning a large-scale rollout will likely mean creating multiple sets of scenarios tailored to each participant subset of the organization. Engineers, marketing specialists, sales staff, and security personnel will not all relate to the same situations even when employed by the same organization. Give your participants as many points as possible to identify with the workshop content.

As you go into next week, and possibly dedicate time this week to making a case for implementing service-based training, here is the bottom line: Employees empowered to, trained to, and supported in their efforts to improve their service behaviors and service delivery strategies can affect significant positive change on the customer experience. And, organizations committed to examining and re-engineering their service systems can achieve incredible outcomes, related to both the customer experience and to profitability. Let next week’s National Customer Service Week event serve as a kickoff for your organization’s emphasis on service and providing support training all year—not just for a week!

And, finally, getting back to where we started—next week and your potential need for a turnkey solution—if this all sounds great, but time has gotten away from you, consider relying on Customer Service Training, one of a dozen titles in the bestselling ATD Workshop Series. Its three complete customer service workshops are applicable to any industry and any employee, whether they deliver service to external customers or internal ones (such as co-workers). The three agendas collectively address service behaviors, service strategies, and service systems and provide a comprehensive solution complete with downloadable facilitator guides, participant handouts, and visual aids.

Come back next week for Part Two!

Editor’s Note: This post is based on content in Customer Service Training by ATD facilitator Kimberly Devlin, CPLP. Her most recent book is Same Training, Half the Time.

To learn more from Kimberly, join her in one of the ATD courses she facilitates:

About the Author

With her combined passions for effective communication and relevant workplace learning, Kimberly's focus is always on providing direct, complete, and compelling deliverables.  In the training room, her focus is on supporting each learner in meeting their specific learning goals.  She achieves this, in part, through engaging and interactive learning that is purpose-driven, enjoyable, and immediately applicable as well as sharing real-world examples and stories.  As a seasoned employee and organizational development professional with a Masters Degree from the University of Miami, she was among the first in the industry to attain ATD’s CPLP certification and has authored Same Training - Half the Time, and two titles in ATD's best-selling Trainers Workshop series: Customer Service Training and Facilitation Skills Training.  Kimberly’s experience extends to city, county, and state government agencies as well as Fortune 500 firms in the US, South America, and Asia.  She has been a contributor to the ATD community both locally and nationally for many years, serving on boards, presenting conference sessions at ICE and ALC, and also volunteering time for ATD initiatives.  You may have seen her in T&D -- now, come learn with her!  Kimberly facilitates ATD's Instructional Design Certificate,  Training Certificate, Essentials of Staying Centered Through Conflict, Fundamentals of Training Design, Training Certificate Plus, Introduction to Training, and Master Instructional Designer Program.

Sign In to Post a Comment
I'm looking for the downloadable FACILITATOR GUIDE document that is supposed to be part of this article.
Hi Edwin! The downloadable resources accompany the purchase of the book this article came from, and are accessible here:
On a personal note, I hope you are doing wonderfully!
Sorry! Something went wrong on our end. Please try again later.
Sorry! Something went wrong on our end. Please try again later.
I totally agree Kimberly in that many believe that "being nice" or assuming our front line staff inherently have mastered customer services skills can be a real gap. The need for training in this area is just as important (I argue more so) as what some might consider more hard/concrete skills in a job. During Customer Service week, let's continue to value our customers, but not forget to value our staff - perhaps by supporting their own development in customer service effectiveness.
Well said, Cindy. Setting high expectations of staff without providing support for reaching those expectations puts employees in a tough spot.
Sorry! Something went wrong on our end. Please try again later.
Sorry! Something went wrong on our end. Please try again later.
Sorry! Something went wrong on our end. Please try again later.