Everyone is “trained.” Or at least, everyone thinks they’re trained.

Many managers and trainers present employees with a series of situations and pre-packaged solutions to those problems. Some people might call that training, but I call it troubleshooting.

True training isn’t a routine, and it’s not a standardized set of questions and answers. True training invests employees with the ability to empathize and connect with customers on a genuine level. It allows employees to actually solve the individual problems of their customers, rather than burdening them with technicalities.

It’s the same reason you’re supposed to hire employees based on their work ethic and personableness, rather than a learnable skillset: At some point, the skillset runs out, and all you’re left with is a grouch who can’t sell. “Troubleshoot-training” an employee is akin to loading a computer with stock information; sometimes, the answers are right, but they’re always robotic, and often, they’re not genuinely applicable.

Here’s an example: A woman walks into a health food restaurant – the kind that touts its use of organic, sustainable, locally-sourced, good-for-you food. The woman is on a particular diet during which she cannot have any added sugars: no syrup, no stevia, nada. She spots an item on the menu that looks like it might be compliant with her diet and asks the server if it includes any added sweeteners, adding that she knows the restaurant often uses coconut sugar but that she cannot eat that on her current meal plan.

The server nods knowingly and speaks over the customer, but rather than answering the question (“Is there coconut sugar in this dish?”), he begins a rehearsed spiel about the benefits of coconut sugar and its place on the glycemic index in relation to other sweeteners.

The customer smiles and waits for the server to finish. Then, she says, “Yes, but I can’t have coconut sugar. Is there coconut sugar in this dish?”

The server pauses, stumped. This wasn’t in her troubleshoot training. She stutters, then begins to reiterate her trained knowledge about coconut sugar. Eventually, the customer finds out there is, in fact, coconut sugar in the dish.

This is a perfect example of troubleshooting rather than training. The restaurant manager anticipated questions about sugar and supplied his employees with stock answers to those questions. He probably even congratulated himself on training his employees.

The problem is that he didn’t train them. So many employers try to anticipate problems and provide their employees with answers, rather than putting in the hard work to shape their actual outlook. The result is that employees regurgitate stock answers or conclusions, rather than actually paying attention to the customer before them. The result? Unhappy customers who feel either ignored or patronized.

You don’t have to try to train your employees to be the experts. They don’t need to know all the facts about every product you sell or dish you make. If they do, they’ll be so busy rehashing facts that they’ll never answer the real question that a customer poses. If the employees only know the technical answer, they’ll never truly answer the question.

Train your employees to recognize that every customer is unique. Train them to understand that every question is valid. Train them to connect to customers in genuine, personable ways. It may take more time and a lot more training, but in the end, the results are worthwhile.

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