David Kinney, owner and CEO of API Global Transportation in Sacramento, Calif., and treasurer of the GCLA.
Book clubs aren’t just for discussing fiction, catching up on the latest gossip and sipping fine wine. David Kinney
, owner and CEO of API Global Transportation
in Sacramento, Calif., and treasurer of the GCLA
, realizes the potential business books have to transform customer service strategies.
He’s taken the idea of reading and discussing as a group and turned it into a way to get employees involved in their own continuing education as customer service representatives.
Chapter One: Origins
Kinney first read The Social Styles Handbook by Larry Wilson while working as a financial advisor. The book helped him realize an important truth: Customers buy from people they like and trust.
“It takes a bit of work to get to know someone over the phone, but once you have a format to recognize where people are coming from, you can generally understand how to adjust your sales style to help them feel more comfortable and increase the likelihood they’ll buy from you,” he says.
He selected Wilson’s book for his customer service book club to help give his sales team a different perspective on interacting with clients. The Handbook helps readers understand the different personality styles of the people they are dealing with on the other end of the phone, and teaches them how to adjust to customer needs. This includes topics such as word choice and the pace at which representatives speak to customers.
The group, which included five employees, met once a week on Fridays around noon for an hour to discuss the book chapter by chapter, with Kinney leading the discussion.
“We’d go around the room and people would say ‘these are the things that resonated with me out of this particular chapter.’ Then, we’d have some discussions around that issue,” Kinney says. The open discussion format helped him learn about the kind of topics that affected them. With a master’s degree in psychology, Kinney often looks for advice and feedback from his employees. “I want to help them understand they are a part of something greater than the position they hold and they contribute on a higher level.”
The goal of the book discussion was to help the staff understand the way they treated each other in the office would affect how they would treat customers. Kinney wanted to make sure everyone understood the importance of respecting one another. “If we yell, scream, belittle and treat each other poorly, then that’s exactly how we are going to turn around and treat our customers,” he says.
Chapter Two: Life Long Learners
To make sure the group was applying what they were learning through their reading, Kinney would assign “homework.” Employees would go home and try to categorize their spouse or significant other according to the examples given in the text, then come back and tell the group why each person fit that specific category.
“They learned that when they are having a conflict with someone, it’s probably because there is a large difference in social styles,” Kinney says. In another exercise, he asked the members of the group to describe the person they had the most conflict with. “It allowed them to see the more they work to understand where a person is coming from, the better they can adjust their selling style.”
At first, there were mixed reactions from the participants. Some were resistant or afraid, but others really loved the concept of learning this way and participated as best they could. “I can’t force them to learn. They have to decide they want to get better,” Kinney says. “Every single day, we can all get a little bit better at what we do. If it doesn’t come from me, it’s not going to come from somebody else.”
Kinney says owners must first understand they do not have a monopoly on good ideas.
“Your staff, the people who are closest to the work, probably know more about how to do the job than you do,” he says. “So much of this is believing your staff is really important; that you’re part of a team.” By participating in group training such as this, other ground transportation companies can create a feeling of camaraderie and an expectation of the ability to improve. Learning is a positive thing, and if an owner wants this kind of culture to be a part of their organization, activities such as a book club might be worth a pitch to your staff.
The use of an outside source raises awareness of the legitimacy of what you are trying to teach when it comes to customer service policies. Employees will feel confident such tactics work if they see these points being brought up by experts in the field.
Chapter Three: But Does It Work?
Kinney can tell his customer service representatives are actively attempting to use the new knowledge they’ve acquired to get along with customers. He thinks it has helped build an awareness that the people on the other end of the phone are coming from a certain perspective and it’s part of their job to understand that and adjust to it.
“When you do that, relationships are built, people come back again and it will result in a higher close ratio,” he explains. While some companies forgo elaborate training regimens due to cost, Kinney has no doubt you receive a larger return on your investment when you consistently try to improve.
Interested in incorporating a book club into your training program? Kinney has some advice: “Find an external resource that supports your company values or an issue you’re trying to communicate inside the company, and make sure the owner participates and leads it, otherwise you won’t get very far.”