Educating For Better Service

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When a company looks for customer service representatives, they usually look for someone with a winning personality.  They hire smiles.  It makes sense, because customer service reps have to like people and be friendly and approachable.  They have to be comfortable talking to a wide variety of customers, whether in person, over the phone or online. 

This is all well and good, but customer service representatives need to be more than friendly.  Customer service reps are problem solvers.  They have to be able to access a great deal of information, often from computer or digital sources, and then analyze the information in the context of the company’s policy and procedures.  That takes some basic skills and some advanced analytical skills.  An article from suggests that for U.S. employers, the ability to find those with even the most basic skills like reading and math may be difficult.

A study conducted by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development found that on a series of tests that measured proficiency in reading, technology, problem solving and other basic skills, the United States ranked at the end of the line.  Japan, Finland, the Netherlands, Sweden and Norway all beat out the U.S.   The study measured both young people and adults.  The study didn’t measure higher-level skills.  The skills measured were basic to today’s workplace.

What is the future of customer service with a workforce unable to function and communicate on a basic level or below?  Customer service representative jobs are usually at the lower end of the pay scale, attracting a wide range of people from all education levels and backgrounds.  In order to succeed at customer service, companies have to train employees on their policies, procedures, computer systems and processes.  Instead of costly classroom training with a live instructor, employees take the training more often over the internet in webinars and self-directed videos.  There are manuals and work instructions that have to be read, understood and then implemented.  A new employee can’t be successful if he or she can’t read well enough to comprehend and then apply the knowledge to the job.  Customer service suffers, customers become frustrated, and employees get discouraged and quit.

The article asks the question--if Americans are so dumb, why is this country and its working citizens so rich?  It doesn’t have much to do with the educational system.  America is still the land of opportunity.  Despite its faults, people still come to the United States for a better life.  Foreign workers and students flock to the U.S., bringing their knowledge and technical expertise, becoming part of the U.S. workforce.  They also bring their strong work ethic and determination to succeed.

The Washington Times reported what many parents and educators already know.  The U.S. education system is slipping in the world rankings.  In some states, less than 50 percent of children are passing the basic required tests for reading, writing and math.  More of the funding for education goes to education for wealthier students—those who can afford to attend private schools and expensive colleges and universities.  This contributes to the widening gap in economic status and real learning.  The future of a skilled customer service workforce, which so many companies depend on, lies in bridging the gap and educating all students to meet or exceed requirements so they can meet and exceed customer expectations.

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