Customer Service Training or Service Education. What’s the Difference?

Many companies provide customer service training for some or all of their employees. But later the leaders of these companies ask me why everyone in the organization hasn't embraced a true understanding of and commitment to deliver service excellence.

To address this gap and answer this question, we must understand the difference between customer service training and actionable service education. Training provides specific steps, answers, and procedures to use in specific situations, while education offers a framework for creating value, developing new solutions, and building a stronger service culture.

Let's start with customer service training. First, consider the word "training." Training implies teaching someone what to do, like an action or particular skill to use at a certain time. We can train pilots how to handle certain flight situations, or workers how to handle sharp objects safely. We can even train our pets to perform new tricks.

So when you know exactly what a situation will require and what the outcome should be, then training can be entirely appropriate.

But what happens when someone who has been trained in customer service encounters to a new situation she hasn't been trained for? She might not know how to handle it appropriately, and fall back on her trained response in a scripted and robotic manner. This leads to poor service performance for the customer, which is exactly what we want to avoid.

In unpredictable customer service situations (which happen all the time), service leaders must enable employees to think and come up with the best ways to respond. Training provides for precise reaction, but it doesn't prepare for analysis, understanding, new ideas, and then appropriate action. Customer service training is a great starting point, but it isn't the full solution when you want to provide superior service all the time, across your entire organization.

To build a consistent, top-notch customer service culture, you must embrace actionable service education as an essential foundation.

Education means going beyond mere service training, encouraging employees to think about a situation and the people they service, creating and collaborating to choose the best course of action, and then implementing together to deliver an excellent service experience. Education is also an ongoing process: the learning must continue with best practices and new examples always being shared.

Customer service education means remembering that customer service is always viewed and evaluated through the eyes of the customer (or the internal colleague), so you first must understand what that customer (or colleague) really cares about.

As your team members better understand the expectations, needs, and wants of a person in a particular situation, then they can apply the principles of customer service instead of just reacting with the policies and procedures they were trained to follow.

Customer service education is the foundation of a stronger service culture, where people ask open-ended questions with curiosity and concern for others. They can include the following:

  • What does this person I am serving truly want, need, and value?
  • How do the principles of service excellence apply in this situation?
  • What actions can I take? What new ideas can I suggest?
  • What can I learn and share with others to provide even better service in the future?

This type of customer service culture requires thinking, and not merely following. It requires leaders who enable the organization to respond, and not merely react.

Are you looking to create a culture of superior service? Provide ongoing customer service education for everyone in your entire organization, and you are on the path to building the service culture you need.

Ron Kaufman is an educator and motivational customer service keynote speaker, author of the New York Times Bestseller Uplifting Service-The Proven Path, and founder and chairman of UP! Your Service, a global service training and consulting company.