The Top 10 Customer Service Training Essentials

Photo by Samuel Zeller on Unsplash

As a customer service trainer and training designer, I’ve determined which fundamental principles customer service training needs to convey, whether the setting is a workshop, half-day or all day training, or via a keynote speaking format.  Here are the ten top principles that I suggest be part of most every type of customer service training you engage in.

1. The employee’s purpose in your organization: the purpose of your new employee’s employment; the reason they will be asked in the course of their employment to undertake various functions. This is essential. Without understanding the overall goal of your company, employees can never give you the full effort of which they are capable, and they won’t be fully happy as human beings.

For example, the purpose of employment at Mayo Clinic is to serve the needs of the patient, which is succinctly spelled out in the healthcare institution’s motto,

“The needs of the patient come first.”

If a newly arriving Mayo employee understands this mantra, then their daily tasks will be more meaningful and make more sense to them, and they’ll also begin to understand when it may make sense to deviate from those tasks in favor of something unexpected that patient care may call for.

Even more succinctly, Lincoln Military Housing states its purpose as

“Every Mission Starts at Home.”

In just five words, this purpose, once it’s conveyed to arriving employees, has the power to breathe life into the details of what could otherwise feel like a checklist-driven day.  Employees aren’t just workers going about their jobs; they are part of the nation’s readiness mission.

2. The importance of 100% customer retention, of never losing a customer. Every individual customer is irreplaceable; once they’re gone, they leave a hole in our company’s future, although, if an employee hears Marketing yammer on about market share, they may get a different impression. The #1 directive that every customer-facing employee needs to learn is to succeed with every customer–and to call in reinforcements if the relationship seems, at any point, to be going south.

3. The power of serving even unexpressed needs and wishes, desires that a customer may not have voiced for a variety of reasons. This principle, which I call anticipatory customer service, is a key opportunity for an employee to elevate the customer experience for the benefit of the customer, who may not have expressed what they’re actually in need of, due to shyness, a fear of being a bother, or a lack of understanding of your offerings.  Going beyond serving what has been asked for to serving what the customer is truly looking for is one of the quickest and most effective ways to convince a customer that your company is their company.

4. The importance of using your empowerment in the organization to creatively assist customers.  Speaking to a new employee, let them know they’ve been hired for more than their labor. Customers, and your company, will only get the most out of an employee’s presence at the company if that employee knows to rise to the occasion in creative ways that nobody sitting “backstage” in an office or boardroom could really conceive of. As legendary hotelier Herve Humler puts it,

“Empowerment isn’t an add-on; it’s your job to be empowered.”

5. The importance of timeliness: A good job done late is defective. Furthermore, it’s the customer who defines “late,” based on their expectations for your industry and from what you have led them to believe.

6. Language essentials, because how you say (or write) something is as important as what you say. 

 Every new employee needs to be trained on a variety of issues relating to language: 

 • Words and phrases to avoid, and words and phrases to use in their place:

There are many words and phrases that are likely to make a customer uncomfortable or to get their hackles up.  In a complete customer service consulting initiative, I will work with a client to create a “language lexicon” spelling these out. Even if you don’t go to this extent, be sure to give new employees some guidance in this area.

Here are just two examples:


“You owe $_______,”

when letting someone know what their bill is (because it sounds accusatory).

Instead, say it more gently, along the lines of:

“Our records are showing a balance of $_____.”


“Just one?”

when seating someone in a restaurant (because it sounds like you think they’re a friendless loser).

Instead, say,

“Will anyone be joining you?”

(Or, better, I’d argue, just proceed to seat them. If they do have a friend coming, they’ll let you know.)

Avoid responding with

“No problem”

when a customer thanks you for your efforts on their behalf.

Instead, try one of the following responses:

“You’re welcome.”

“Thank YOU.”

“I’m happy I could help.”

“My pleasure.”

• Principles of language use, including

  • Making sure to use a customer’s name (within reason).
  • Always having the last word” in a conversation with a customer, whether on the phone or in person (Customer says, “thank you”; you say, “you’re welcome,” they add on a “Have a great day”; you respond to that one as well. And so forth.

7. How to perform service recovery: how to work with an upset customer, a customer who feels wronged. If your organization doesn’t already have a system in place for this, I suggest you train them on my AWARE sequence (Acknowledge, Widen, Agree, Resolve, Evaluate). To get you started, here’s an article about service recovery and the AWARE method.

8. The importance of matching a customer’s style and pacing 

Customers have different styles – some are “all business,” some are leisurely, some are high-energy and some are in a terrific hurry. To make this more complicated, behavior can change from day to day and even from morning to afternoon. To give great service requires you to adjust your customer service style and pacing to match this, which you can only do if your antennae are constantly up for the clues that let you know how a customer is oriented and what they are expecting.

9. The importance of warm welcomes and fond farewells:

As humans, we have a tendency to remember the beginning and ending of events So if an organization can nail the very first and very last moments of its time with a customer, it can disproportionately improve the overall impression that a customer is left with of the encounter.

A few simple pointers here on making sure this happens:

To provide a warm welcome on phone, be ready to take the call before picking up; smile when you answer, and use a greeting that includes the following four elements:

  • Your name
  • A company identification
  • Thanks for calling
  • An offer of assistance

(One example of this would be: “Thank you for calling Four Aces Inc., this is Micah; how may I help you today?,” but there are various other types of phrasing that can cover these four points equally well.)

A fond farewell, either on the telephone or in person, should include a goodbye, thanks, and, if appropriate, an invitation to return or a statement that you’re looking forward to the customer’s return visit.

(One example of this would be: “Thanks for coming in today, I hope the rest of your week is wonderful; we’re looking forward to seeing you again [or, even better, “we’re looking forward to seeing you when you come back in July.”])10. The concept that every customer resides within their own protective bubble, and you only enter that bubble with their permission. Here’s an article that covers the concept of the customer’s protective bubble and my BUBL method for addressing this correctly.

Photo by Samuel Zeller on Unsplash

A Story of Incredible, Empathetic Customer Service And Hospitality

Photo by Taylor Grote on Unsplash

I hear (and witness) some phenomenal customer service and hospitality stories as a customer service and hospitality consultant, author, and keynote speaker.

Still, of all those great customer service stories, this one story, above nearly any other, blew my mind.   It’s a story of a small but intentional act of heroic customer service and proactive hospitality. And it’s particularly lovely that it comes from a modest, extended-stay property: the Hyatt House in Herndon, Virginia.

A dog walks into a hotel lobby

Put yourself in this scene. You’re walking by the front desk at the Hyatt House (an economically priced, extended-stay hotel brand that Hyatt carved out recently from its AmeriSuites acquisition).

Out of nowhere, a dog bounds up to the hotel’s front desk, wagging his tail. You watch the desk agent lean over and toss a rolled newspaper into the dog’s mouth. The dog then walks away down the hall and the desk agent goes back to work processing paperwork for the next guest in front of him.

A colleague and a collie

Let’s let Sara Kearney, Hyatt’s Senior Vice President for Brands tell us what in the world was going on. “Turns out, Mrs. So and so [the dog’s owner] had just sold her house after 40 years and–like many of our guests at Hyatt House–is in a sort of limbo before moving into her first empty-nester. So my colleague at the front desk ( at this point in the interview I had to confirm that she said “colleague,” not “collie” ) was trying to help her maintain her routine.

The dog jogs on over from her hotel room to the front desk, gets the newspaper just like he did when he lived in the house and takes it to her every morning. Vladimir, the front desk agent in question, always saves that paper for the dog before handing out the rest of the papers to the other guests. ”

**** An extended-stay brand like Hyatt House is especially important in terms of the power of positive service. Why? Because somebody who is in an extended-stay situation is likely to be a bit out of sorts. The recently divorced. People on long job assignments away from their families. People whose houses have sold and their new home isn’t ready yet. This is a situation where the psychological realities of a customer’s life can be weighing heavily on their perception of the goods and services you are providing.  And where service—hospitality– like this can shine.