Train Your Supervisors to be On-the-Job Customer Service Coaches

It was a Saturday morning. I was waiting in line in a department store to pay for the items I wished to purchase.

It was time. I was the next person to be served.

Having nothing better to do, I took a “cashier’s eye” view of the cash register screen. It was the words on the left half of the screen that captured my attention. Written in large letters, for the cashier to see, were the words:




“Okay, I’ve got it,”  I thought to myself. “This department store wants every customer to be warmly greeted (I added in the ‘warmly’, but I assume that the greeting should be warm), smiled at and thanked for their business as they leave.”

It was now my turn to be served. The moment of truth had arrived. Would I be greeted, smiled at, and then thanked?

In short, the answer was…no. I got a cold, no eye contact thank you after I paid. That was it. No greeting, no smile. No recognition of me as a person.

So, what’s the issue here? Given that the words are printed in big letters on the screen to remind the employee, why was I not given the basic customer experience that the company wanted me to have?

More specifically, what do companies have to do to have employees consistently demonstrate simple service behaviours? After all, greet, smile and thank is not rocket science!

The short answer is that we are often trying to create new service habits among our service employees. These habits don’t miraculously take root among all employees after customer service training, pronouncements by management or words printed on cash registers or walls.

Rather, there needs to be on-the-job reinforcement. Service employees need to be coached to change their old habits, and to adopt new ones.

This is where supervisors play an important role.

Just imagine that you were the cashier serving me. You had just given me the experience that I have just described.  Let’s say that your supervisor’s name is John.

Just when the queue goes quiet and you are about to relax, John strolls over to your register. “Hey, I noticed how you were serving the customers. How do you want them to feel when they leave your cash register?”

You answer, “Uh…happy?”

John continues, “Good answer. That’s why we have Greet, Smile, and Thank as our way of working at the cash register. That makes customers feel good…I notice that you get a bit busy in the transaction – and forget to do this”.

The mini-coaching session goes on for a little longer.

This might take just 2-3 minutes. And, by the end of the service coaching session, the supervisor has signalled to you the importance of making “Greet, Smile and Thank” a service habit.

Back to reality.

It’s my guess is that this is not happening in this department store. The supervisors are busy doing other things. They are not coaching their service employees. Nor are they recognising and reinforcing employees when they engage in the Greet, Smile and Thank behaviours.

That is, they are not playing their critically important role of on-the-job service coaches.

And, without this coaching reinforcement, service behaviours and habits that you want your customer service people to demonstrate will eventually be forgotten – because nobody is watching, nobody is coaching and nobody seems to care.

The message is simple. If you want your service employees to deliver a certain style of customer service, it’s important that you train your supervisors to be on-the-job service improvement coaches. As a part of this, the supervisors need to develop a mind-set that it’s their role to create service winners in their departments, person by person.

And, yes, this means that supervisors need to develop a different set of habits and some new skills…a great subject for another blog post!

Until next time.

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