One day, a long, long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away from the training industry, I picked up the phone and called my credit card company to speak with a customer service representative about one of the charges on my bill. The conversation started with a lazy, lackluster greeting from the rep, as if I were imposing or interrupting something. As I discussed the erroneous charge and approached how to resolve my issue, things only became worse. I didn’t feel that the rep was acknowledging any of my questions or respecting my time. There was a lot of dead air, when I didn’t know what the rep was doing, and when he did return with a few answers, they were unfriendly, curt and dismissive. I was clearly inconveniencing him.

As my frustration grew, I thought to myself, “If this is what I have to endure for a few simple answers, I might as well cancel this card now.”

So, I told him exactly that: “If this is what customer service is like, perhaps I’ll just cancel the card altogether.”

In the back of my head, I thought, “This might snap him to his senses or, at least, nudge him to escalate the call to a better rep.”

He then said, “OK, I’ll cancel your card.” Within 10 seconds, he informed me that my last statement would be in the mail.

I hung up and thought to myself, “What the heck just happened?”

What happened was he just cost that credit card company thousands of dollars of revenue, because he was having a bad day or was ill-equipped to handle a customer demand. Whatever the reason, from a customer perspective, he didn’t demonstrate the empathy, courtesy and concern I came to expect from a complete stranger in his position.

I thought to myself, “Does this company know how powerful these customer reps are?” As the faces, voices and gatekeepers of the organization, they can make, save or break accounts with a few of the right or wrong words.

While this example is an extreme case of bad behavior that cost a company quite a bit of money, I also thought, “What about all the smaller missteps that happen thousands of times a day with thousands of customers all over the world?” These mistakes aren’t the big ones where they screw up the call entirely but all the times they chisel away at and erode customer loyalty. These instances occur when just a little more empathy and courtesy could have tipped the scales and avoided a negative impact or cancellation or when a few more polite words could have driven up satisfaction, commitment and spending.

Even back then, before I worked in the training industry, I thought to myself, “What a wonderful opportunity to move the needle just a little.” How amazing the results would be for these companies if they just made their reps a little better at what they do – if they just improved their soft skills a fraction, it could mean a whopping impact to the bottom line. Sounds like a training opportunity, doesn’t it?

Fast forward two or more decades and a Ph.D. later, and I find myself doing some actual case studies for some great companies to prove (or disprove) my hypothesis about how training can impact the bottom line. Guess what? These big corporations always knew these rep behaviors were important, but they didn’t know how important, because they rarely measured the impact and ROI of their customer service training programs. Let me tell you briefly about one of those studies, which I conducted recently at Verizon.

The training we evaluated was a customer service training where representatives attended a half-day program to develop their soft skills and improve the customer experience. To measure and isolate the impact of the training, we tracked a group of trained employees and a group of untrained employees (the control group) over eight months, measuring their levels of improvement after training. We looked for improvement in metrics like these:

  • Repeat calls (where the rep doesn’t resolve an issue the first time, so the customer needs to call back).
  • Customer satisfaction scores (after call survey).
  • Disconnects (where customers decide they want to stop their service).

The final results showed that repeat calls decreased by 2%, satisfaction increased by 4% and disconnects decreased by 1%. All these monetized benefits of the training, compared to cost of the training, meant an ROI for the program of 224%.

I share this example as one of many. We all might know soft skills are important, and our instincts are telling us they can have a profound impact on the bottom line, but without studies like this one, we can’t actually prove it and show how great the impact is. By putting some rigor around research and measuring the impact of training, we can all stop speculating, like I did on that customer service call, and start putting real numbers in front of real business leaders to demonstrate how much happier they can make their customers and how much more money they can make with the right training. Perhaps if I had called a trained employee all those years ago, I might still be spending money on that card today.