Monday, March 12, 2012

The Value of Demotivators

Once there was a corporate trainer that was asked to develop a series of training sessions for a call center that by nature of the business, was required to regularly deal with extremely difficult customers. The primary customers were mostly individual citizens who had been kicked in the teeth by life. They were injured, off work, and not happy. The call center employees suffered from low morale, minimum wage salaries, and a difficult work environment. And the trainer was tasked with injecting the group with a more positive energy and a stronger, more effective approach to customer service.

What was the trainer to do? Could he tell them the customers wouldn't be difficult anymore? Of course not. Could he raise their salaries to make it worth their while? Also, no. Perhaps he could fill them with tales of inspiring customer service! Unfortunately such tales were becoming more difficult to find. It was then that the trainer realized one of the most important rules and most common mistakes in training. He was not training call center employees any more than you train sales employees, or drivers, or any other type of "employee".

He was training people.

People who went home each night and faced their own customer service frustrations with phone companies, cable monopolies, or the grocery store cashier. People who were probably not going home very satisfied if they had spent the day yelling at customers, escalating arguments into a verbal form of a Looney Tunes conflict where each side just keeps bringing out a bigger gun.

And once he realized who he was actually training, the content of his training changed drastically and the results improved dramatically.

Rather than the standard opening pitch on how to become the new improved customer service representative 2.0, he appealed to the staff's personal frustrations on how THEY felt when they called a less than sympathetic "care representative" when their cable or home internet acted up.

Through humor, he found the common denominator that everyone shared, the realization that in far too many modern day environments customer service had been tossed out the proverbial window. Rather than showing them motivational "Successories" posters, he shared the more tongue-in-cheek "Demotivators". These were the common man's response to their everyday frustrations. Like Dilbert books and other similar comical statements on the working world these provided a common voice that every one of the staff needed to have for their own frustrations. And from those building blocks he was able to help them see their own contributions to those frustrations as they "vented" daily and failed to appreciate the life situations of their own customers.

From that position of new understanding and new-found empathy, the staff, these people, were able to find a common bond with those customers and develop the desire to learn new tools through the more traditional training elements to meet their needs more effectively. The trainer spoke of the satisfaction that can come from being the one person in their customer's day that might be able to, even for a moment, improve their quality of life. Solving a problem, demonstrating respect, even having a sympathetic ear - these didn't only take care of the primary customer, raising the quality of the call center and therefore the company. They also improved the quality of life for the employee allowing them to leave each day with a greater sense of purpose and job satisfaction.

I have experienced so many training sessions and seminars that become a simple walk through a text book or a step by step "how to" answer a phone properly, how to use correct body language when selling, etc etc. But if you don't first create in your audience a reason to learn, even the secrets of the universe can be lost in the midst of an overheated training room, clinking water glasses, and cheap hard candies. Humor, empathy, a step into their personal lives or even allowing them a peek into your own... these can be powerful tools that are often overlooked to help open their minds and even their hearts to wanting to learn all the other essentials. Use these tools, step outside the box, and never forget that you are NOT training employees. You are training people.

As a final note, what are Demotivators? You can find them at and in the right hands, despite their very sarcastic overtones, they can be very powerful at creating a common bond between trainers and trainees. Here's a few of my favorites...


Lighthouse Mediation said...

That's a really interesting article. I actually just posted something similar Titled Negotiating with the Cell Phone Compnay.

Ivy Roberts
Seattle Based Mediator

Cheyserr de la Cruz said...

A very interesting article. Dealing with the difficult customers can start with understanding the difficulties. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

Irene said...

Great story! Though the other side of the coin is that now these poor people work more for the same amount of money. I feel sorry for them. Seems that they were fooled into whitewashing that fence with delight, if you know what I mean.

Ian said...

Irene, thanks for your input. Unfortunately after seeing the effect that poor compensation and treatment from upper management was having on so many employees, I took on the role of employee advocate, fighting for them to receive fair benefits, salaries, and working conditions. This lead to my being laid off myself and with the turnover as high as it is, there are none of the original employees still there. Very unfortunate situation and sad that companies like that exist.
Again, thanks for your comments!