Training & Development: Improving Communication and Listening Skills
Table of Contents
The training model consists of few essential components. It needs an assessment, design, and development of training module as well as its implementation and evaluation of the training. This paper will focus on developing a program for Customer Service training. The main aim of this project is to improve the communication and listening skills because there are competencies, which are essential for effective interacting with customers.
The first step is creating of a list of basic analysis questions. To do this, the design team needs to meet with all stakeholders (Delvin, 2015). The main aim of these meetings is to determine expectations and concerns related to outcomes. This is a question-based process. Stakeholders normally have to answer to nine questions, for example, “When will you be satisfied with the outcomes of training?”; “Could you describe the success?”; “Why does the company need training course?”; “What makes requirements to customer services so different that the company needs new training course?”; “What kind of data one has to incorporate in the course?”, “Do we need a new training program at all?”; “Could we cover this material using other methods?”; “What is the budget?”; “What is the buy-in?”.
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The designer team conducts face-to-face interviews with stakeholders to collect answers to the list of questions presented above. Then it organizes focus group to gather content data. This group includes customer services representatives (CSRs) as well as other employees that could help to determine what kind of competencies CSRs need to possess in order to deliver excellent service. The designer team also studies complaints and support situations to indentify main issues. As the result of content analysis process, the team concludes that the training course should cover such competencies as active listening, clear communication, negotiation, and persuasion.
After completing a basic analysis, the designer team determines the objectives for the training course and offers stakeholders to review them and give a feedback. The team changes the objectives if it is necessary. The next steps are choosing of a delivery method, selecting of activities, and determining the methods of evaluation.
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The duration of the training is about 30 minutes, so the program includes only two activities. Each of them lasts for about 15 minutes. The objective of the first activity is improving communication as well as negotiation and persuasion skills. One asks the students to look at their notes for 60 seconds without moving or saying something. This allows reaching an awkward silence in a room. Then the trainer asks them how they felt during this quietness. One also offers the students to imagine how they would feel if the trainer was explaining his actions. For example, how they would feel if the instructor said that he/she was searching something in the notes. “Would be the silence so awkward in this case?” the instructor may ask. This example demonstrates how customers feel when CSRs do something without explanation his/her actions. The trainer also explains the students that providing of short narrative allows dealing with customers’ concerns and creating a contact with them to make people more relaxed (Salomonson, Aberg, & Allwood, 2012). The instructor provides few examples of how representatives of different professions can use this approach in communicating with customers. The first one is a team, which changes the oil in the car. The second example is a dentist putting sharp instruments in a patient’s mouth. The trainer asks students to imagine how they would feel without hearing any explanations in these situations. Then he asks them where they need to give explanations in their work. The last question gets a discussion in a group of three or four. It lasts for three-five minutes. After that, the instructor asks someone from each group to tell about main points of their discussions.
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The objective of the second activity is to develop listening skills. First, the trainer explains that strong listening ability is very important in customer service, especially when the customer is upset, stressed or angry (Salomonson et al., 2012). Then he/her asks students to discuss responses to some of his/her statements (for example, “I need another job,” “I believe that we could improve our financial performance if we changed our follow up”). Each discussion lasts for three minutes. In the end of both conversations, students review responses of each pair and make group discussions. In the end of activity, the trainer makes a summary. He/she says that some responses reflected feelings, the others had an aim to clarify something or state facts. The kind of responses depends on a situation. The trainer stresses that the main idea is that listening is a work. To be a good listener, the person should be completely engaged in a moment. This ability requires practice, but it can greatly improve customer service.
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In the end of these two activities, the trainer makes a short summary about the importance of constant development of listening and communication skills. To check the effectiveness of the training session, the instructor asks few questions. First, students need to tell why it is important to explain to customers what you do. Second, the trainer asks them to give examples from work where they can apply this method. Third, the supervisor asks to respond to his/her statements (For example, “I do not know how to turn on this product”, “Your new product is much better that the old ones”). Both activities of this training program are very practical. The trainer should encourage students to continue to improve these skills in their work. Particularly, he/she recommends them to explain their actions as well as listen actively to customers and respond to their statements, especially when clients are angry and worried (Salomonson et al., 2012). The advantage of this training program is that one can present these activities both together and separately. If the trainer chooses to offer activities on different days, the training session will last for about fifteen minutes.
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The most important components of the development phase are creation of materials and pilot testing. The following training program needs only charts reflecting the main ideas of activities. As for pilot testing, the designer team organizes the training session for CSRs. The participants of this testing should carefully evaluate the work of the trainer and leave the feedback in the end. In particular, individuals should say what they liked the most and which points were not logical or clear. The designer team reviews the opinions of participants of the pilot session. If the recommendations are reasonable, the developers make changes. However, the success of the training greatly depends on a supervisor and his/her skills. In particular, the trainer should have excellent communication and listening capabilities. The instructor should be able to evaluate the needs of the audience and respond to them. Besides, he/she should set a contact with students and be ready to make instant adjustments if necessary. The pilot testing allows seeing all these details about the trainer and giving him/her useful recommendations about the ways of improving his/her work.
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Besides, the designer prepares series of additional activities, which one could use in case if the audience does not respond well to the exercises offered above. The length of each activity is about 15 minutes. Their aims are the same. Particularly, they are to help to improve communication skills. In addition, one 15-30 minute training session is not enough for significant improvements, so one could use the materials for CSRs with weaker skills.
One of the activities could cover the topic of good manners. First, the supervisor presents the theme of the routine and then asks students to work in pairs to discuss the influence of the words “please” and “thank you” on setting the tone of customer interaction. Then the instructor asks the audience to say something as if they talk to a client. They should say the phrase two times. The first variant should have polite words, and the second one should be without any of them. There is also a performance of this task in pairs, and it lasts for about three minutes. The instructor carefully listens to what students say. When the time is over, he/she asks them how such words as “please” and “thank you” set the tone of conversation with a customer. Students should answer that polite words reflect the degree of professionalism and make the communication positive (Gibson, 2012). After that, the supervisor asks four-five pairs to demonstrate their examples of using these words in work-related situations. The next step is group discussion of importance of using them. The supervisor should ask students whether they say “please” and “thank you” during their working day. If they say “no”, the trainer should ask them how they are going to introduce polite words in their communication with customers. Students respond to the last question in pairs. The discussion should last for about five minutes. In the end of the routine, the supervisor asks few pairs to share their ideas. For example, students could start with “Thank you for your call” in the end of phone conversations. Someone from the group should note the ideas of implementing polite words into communication. In the end of the training session, one will return these notes to students.
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The second additional activity is using smile in communicating with customers. The supervisor introduces the topic by asking students about their attitude to the phrase of Louis Armstrong: “Smile and the whole world smiles with you.” The right answer is that smile is useful in most of cases. Then the instructor asks students to work in pairs looking at faces of each other. One of partners should smile and observe what occurs. Over one minute, the trainer should ask whether they received a smile in return. The expected response is that most of the group members smiled to their partners back. This happens because humans normally mirror body language of each other unconsciously. Then the supervisor asks students to work in pairs again and create two lists. The first one should include the reasons why smile is appropriate in their work. The second list should contain the cases when smile is not appropriate. Students have about three minutes for completing their lists. The supervisor should walk around the classroom to hear their responses. For example, students can say smile is appropriate because it can enhance the customer’s day or improve interaction with him/her (Turnali, 2014). However, one should avoid smile in sad situations.
Implementation and Evaluation
After completing pilot testing, making all necessary adjustments and producing materials, one recommends the training course for implementation. In the end of each training, there is a performance of an evaluation. Trainers and managers need them for checking the effectiveness of the program and making changes if necessary (Hodell, 2016). For example, students can demonstrate how they respond to difficult customers or how they avoid silence during communicating with clients. Besides, there are cases when one performs the evaluation after the training. For example, designer team can check the changes six month after the beginning of the course. Trainers and students should say whether it has improved the ability of their company to respond to customers’ needs.
In conclusion, the training model includes five phases, such as analysis, design, development, implementation, and evaluation. The first one includes analysis of groups’ needs. It revealed that the group requires the training addressing the customer service; particularly, individuals need the improvement of their listening and communication skills. The second phase includes the range of different training options. Overall, the paper contains four variants of instructions. Each of them lasts for about fifteen minutes, so one could use them either together or separately. In particular, there is a recommendation to apply the activity that covers the importance of avoiding silence during interacting with customers. Another recommended activity is about the impact of appropriate responses to a client’s words. It develops listening skills of individuals. If the group does not respond well to these activities, there are also two additional ones about the importance of smile and polite words in communicating with customers. The third phase is development. It includes pilot session and creating charts for activities. One could effectively use the first for checking how well potential students react to training ideas. The fourth part is implementation. It starts when one completes the performance of all the materials and program’s adjustments. The last phase is evaluation. In fact, the supervisor makes constant evaluation during training and in the end of it. Besides, there is also an appraisal six month after the training. The indicator of the program’s effectiveness rises regarding to customers’ satisfaction. Overall, the training is very practical. The focus is on gaining communicative and listening skills. The main requirement for the supervisor is to encourage students to practice their capabilities. He does not give any theoretical recommendations about communication and listening. The training does not have any additional materials. The supervisor only uses charts to visualize the topic of activities and distributes students’ notes in the end of training sessions.