Can you Train People For Customer Service??

I was in a workshop last week with several hospital Admitting managers and professionals. The discussion was on how we hire the perfect individual for the admitting area. One member of our group said they have to have innate customer service mentality, you cannot train for it.  My response was really? I tried to explore this with the group and they did not want to see any other point of view.

In the interests of the exercise I let it go. I then asked others I met at the conference and in my circle of colleagues and the results were mixed. Many say you cannot train for the position and others say resoundingly, “Oh yes you can.” I tend to agree with the latter group.

Perhaps, what you can’t train for are some of the personalities that contribute to the enjoyment of a career in customer service. But just having the right attitude will not deliver the outcome we seek.

I believe that some people are better suited for Customer Service than others, just by nature of their personality.  According to research at Kansas State they exhibit traits like:

–   Extroversion                      – Stability
–   Conscientiousness        – Agreeability
–   Openness

I would add empathy to this list. That is the ability to understand what the other is feeling without getting lost in the feeling yourself. While these traits will make you happier with your career choice in customer service, and while they may be difficult to train for, I am not sure that this is all you need for success in the career.

I started my career in Customer Service. Of the reps in our call center, there were some that were very outgoing and agreeable and some that really didn’t like the customers at all and would mock them when not on the phone with them. Some of these reps were even acknowledged favorably by customers.

These reps were trained on how to interact with customers. For example, an article at the Customer Service Zone, lists 59 skills that will help the customer service interaction. Skills like:

– Acknowledge the Customers needs          – Attentive listening   – Ability to Apologize
– Arranging Follow up                                       – Expediting                – Making Expert Recommendations
– Not taking the bait                                           – Asking questions   – Using Telephone Silence

Recently in an article in the Harvard Business Review “Stop Trying to Delight Your Customers,” July – August 20101 the authors point out that customers really don’t need to be delighted. They want to have their issues resolved quickly, efficiently, and easily. They also talk about how a UK Based mortgage company trained their CSR’s (Customer Service Reps) to listen for clues to the caller’s personality type. Once identified, they could tailor their reactions appropriately. This strategy reduced repeat calls by near 40%. The last several skills are all trainable including the emotional connections from the UK based Mortgage Company. Not only are they trainable, they are helpful to the success of the customer interaction.  

As a personality type, I sit towards the middle of the Introversion vs. Extroversion scale. Yet when the task requires it I can turn on the extroversion to move the relationship forward. I have learned (from Dale Carnegie) how to ask questions to start a conversation for example.

So in answer to the question, Can you train for Customer Service? I have to say absolutely.
Are there personalities that help? Yes.
What makes the difference; training or personality?
My guess is that you, as readers, all have your own views? What say you?

Take Good Care.


  1. Hi John,

    What an interesting commentary and question. Of course as someone who specializes in personality characteristics, this one certainly had my attention.

    Can you train for Customer Service?


    Can you train anyone for Customer Service?

    Probably not.

    Can you train most people to demonstrate good Customer Service Skills?


    Like any skill, Customer Service skills can be taught to any individual willing to learn them. How well they might perform these skills is going to vary greatly based on both my intelligence (i.e. Do I really understand the problem?) and my Emotional Intelligence (EQ) including empathy, desire to help, etc. Lastly, my personality also plays a role, not in my ability to be trained, but in how natural this task is for me. For some people, this will be like falling off a log… easy and quick. For others, they may learn the skill but not be able to apply it without giving it a lot of thought.

    I would think that the best CSR’s would be those with natural empathy and a desire to help others. But that does not mean that all people with empathy and a desire to help others will be good CSR’s either.

    Thanks for a thought provoking article.


  2. Thanks Dave,

    I think most managers will find themselves in the same space you do. Just like there are some people that are naturally really good at sales they have some inherent characteristics of relating to others. just because you can relate to others does not mean you can sell.

  3. Hi John,
    Can you train for Customer Service? I have to say absolutely.
    Are there personalities that help? Yes.
    What makes the difference; training or personality?
    Neither, I think the difference lies in hiring for values. Zappos CEO developed 10 core values that Zappos is willing to “hire and fire on”.
    One of Deutsche Bank’s values is:
    “We are committed to a result-oriented culture.”
    My experience with them reflects that. Their CSReps are often surprisingly straightforward and to the point. It fits with their culture and makes me a happy customer.
    When I consult a hardware store associate, for example, I would not welcome a candid response, but am looking for someone who wants to serve and help.

  4. Thanks Anna,

    Great points on hiring for values. That is one of those things that while it can be hard to see it makes a big difference.

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