Linda Blackman, customer service technical training supervisor for Louisville Gas and Electric Company and Kentucky Utilities Company (LG&E and KU), has been with the company for over 30 years. They provide utility services for 332,000 natural gas and 425,000 electric customers in Louisville and 16 surrounding counties, as well as electricity for an additional 564,000 customers in 77 Kentucky counties and five counties across Virginia. In total, they retain roughly 1.3 million customers across more than 90 counties in multiple states.
Providing essential services for such a high volume of customers can cause a company’s customer service reputation to either sink or swim. Without structured training in place, it is oftentimes the former. However, as LG&E and KU proudly states on their website, the company has been “consistently ranked among the best companies for customer service in the United States.” How did they pull it off?
THE NEED: COMPREHENSIVE SOFT SKILLS TRAINING
Blackman has worked for the company in different capacities and departments over the course of her tenure, starting off in human resources. She then transitioned onto the natural gas side, and eventually customer service.
“A lot of what we do is transactional,” she says. “A customer may be moving and just needs to transition their services elsewhere, or stop them entirely. We know how to handle that transaction in the system to take care of the customer, but our reps needed a more structured way to communicate with them and handle those conversations.”
Many years ago, LG&E and KU happened to have an old ServiceSkills DVD on hand with instructional videos from our founder, Nancy Friedman. They began directing reps to use her tips and tricks, and found them so useful that they researched in hopes of finding more. Luckily, they hit the mother lode.
“In our experience, ServiceSkills has videos, modules, and materials covering just about any customer service topic imaginable,” says Blackman. Our course library covers everything from phone to email etiquette, what to say in a variety of phone or in-person scenarios, Zoom customer service tips, and even how to handle internal workplace conflicts between employees.
IMPLEMENTATION AND RESPONSE FROM REPS
In an effort not to overwhelm employees, LG&E and KU opted for a gradual rollout. They began by introducing new hires to a few key videos on proper customer service practices and etiquette as they came aboard. In the newest iteration of ServiceSkills training, which offers customer service training professionals access to a whole online library of videos, modules, and quizzes for employees, Blackman appreciated that she could select and assign specific modules to individual reps.
The Telephone Doctor series contains information they’ve used most, she says – in particular, they looked to our materials addressing conflict resolution that teach reps how to effectively de-escalate difficult conversations, acknowledge customer frustrations, show empathy, and provide solutions.
Friedman’s ASAP technique in the Telephone Doctor series, for example, is especially useful in these situations. The handy acronym, ASAP, stands for: Apologize, Sympathize, Accept Responsibility, and Prepare to Help. As any customer service rep knows, “for most calls, you’ll probably spend about 80% of the time addressing the customer’s feelings and 20% on the actual problem,” says Friedman.
“We relied heavily on ServiceSkills to help our employees learn how to have those harder conversations,” says Blackman.
Employees found some modules more useful than others, but they enjoyed the training overall and found it beneficial.
Amidst the havoc of the COVID-19 pandemic, the company was forced to close their office and send all employees home, and Blackman instructed reps to advance their customer service training further. Some of them even went through every module available to them in the content library.
THE COMPANY NOW
Once Blackman and LG&E and KU saw the effects of ServiceSkills on their customer service satisfaction levels, they doubled down on the investment in training and haven’t looked back. She now leads and provides scheduling for trainers who teach new skills to reps on the floor, with a focus on five primary skill sets for new hires.
As for what she finds most useful about the product, Blackman says, “The whole thing is already there and fully developed,” she says. Compared to their customer base, the company’s staff is actually quite small, and time is of the essence. Having a fully-formed, easily-accessible library of content on hand for trainers to provide reps has saved them time, money, and proven ROI.
Blackman enthusiastically recommends ServiceSkills to fellow business owners, encouraging them to sit with the material available and sort through the information to determine what would be most useful for their employees. She is particularly insistent on it as a necessity for companies with a need for soft skills training.