Can Great Customer Service Be Taught? …To Anyone?

It’s customer service week!!!

Last year I participated in a #PeopleSkills Tweet Chat.  At one point in our chat we were debating if Customer Service could be taught.

I KNOW that it can! As a high school student I worked a retail job after school.  I’ve always cared about people so I was polite and helpful but I’m not sure that I was remarkable.  In hindsight, I am also very thankful that this first experience was in a small town where we all knew each other – as I result I never dealt with an angry customer.

Right after graduating from high school I went to work for the Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation in a little tourism town that almost completely shuts down in the winter.  (Imagine closing stores, smearing white wax on the windows and covering everything inside with sheets.)

Each spring college students would descend on this little town, move into dorms, wash windows, shake out dusty sheets, destroy the cobwebs, put out new merchandise, open café’s and get ready for a big summer.

The first summer I worked there, each employee was given a checklist that listed every tourist attraction in the area.  We were expected to go to each location and play tourist.  The goal was to learn where everything was, to experience what our customers were going to experience and to prepare us to provide directions and information about the entire area to anyone that asked.  Our checklist had to be signed by employees at that location and turned in when it was completed.  (A brilliant and simple strategy that I highly recommend!)

Customer ServiceThe second summer I worked in that town, the Foundation hired someone from the North Dakota Tourism Department to provide an additional 8 hours of training for us.  During those hours we were given opportunities to consider situations that I had never faced.  Specifically:  The Angry Customer! During the class we had the opportunity to view an angry customer from a couple of perspectives.

  • First through the eyes of the frontline employee.  (Yikes –  That customer was so nasty we were all taking the employee’s side!)
  • Then through the customer’s eyes.  (What a reality check to see what had happened in his day.  Can you imagine losing a loved one, and then trying to deal with anything else?  …Let alone a long list of things that would irritate anyone?)

Immediately I felt like a light bulb had been turned on:  I’m not sure I’d ever considered what the customer’s day was like.  I’m pretty sure I would have been humiliated and embarrassed if I had to deal with an angry customer in front of others and would have taken it personally, and I’m 100% sure I would have been clueless about how to turn a bad situation into a good one.

As odd as it might sound, I left the training anxious for the opportunity to work with an angry customer! …Just a few days later I got my wish:  I was working the front desk of the hotel and received a call from a woman that had made reservations for a very special vacation.  She had just received her confirmation in the mail and it was all wrong.  She was speaking fast, talking loud, at times sounding rather harsh and at times choking back tears. So I took the HEAT:

  1. I HEARD her – She was trying to recreate a special vacation from that past and needed to have specific rooms reserved in our smallest hotel.  From her perspective not getting those rooms would ruin the entire vacation.
  2. I EMPATHIZED with her – I understood.  If I were planning something that special, I would want those rooms too!
  3. I APOLOGIZED – On behalf of my company for our mistake.
  4. I TOOK ACTION – I gave her my name.  I gave her my contact number.  I asked for a little time to look into everything and I promised to call her back within an hour.

By the time we hung up the phone the angry tearful woman that made the call was calm and appreciative for my efforts. When I called her back with the good news that we were able to get the right rooms for her on the nights she needed them, she was thrilled!  (And every cell in my body was dancing!)

Here’s what I know to be true:


Having that training at such a young age transformed my thinking, my behavior and my career.

What are your thoughts?

Please share!  

  • Do you believe that nearly anyone can learn great customer service?
  • What’s your customer service story?  

If you are looking for a great place to start grow the customer service in your organization, below is a picture of books that have influenced my customer service journey.  


President, Giana Consulting

Chery Gegelman is an adventurer that loves to learn. ...Deep conversations, books, travel, and daily living are all food for growth.

As a speaker, facilitator and workshop leader she creates energizing environments that reflect God's grace, tear down walls, help people to consider new perspectives, and inspire change.

Chery is the Founder of Giana Consulting and Conversation Safari's, listed as a Great Leadership Speaker by Inc., writes a recognized leadership blog and has co-authored two leadership books.

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4 thoughts on “Can Great Customer Service Be Taught? …To Anyone?

  1. I loved learning through your story! I know that I have been that nightmare customer.

    Just last week my phone rang in the middle of the night here on my USA line. I picked it up which was a choice. The credit card company fraud dept wanted to confirm a charge on our card – but wouldn’t talk to me because my husband was the primary card holder (even though I made the charge!) I was really frustrated and told the guy that we gave the card company permission to talk to me about all financial matters. He did his best to search for the approval but could not find it and I was 1) tired 2) just up from a sound sleep 3) annoyed that our approval was lost. He remained calm, respectful and somehow he magically maintained authentic warmth in his voice. I believe it was partly because of who he is and likely because of his training that he did not buy into my fire but stayed customer-focused to the best of his ability.

    I’m with you – training matters! Look forward to your follow up posts!

    • Alli – Thank you for sharing! I think we’ve all had those days when we’ve been the challenging customer to deal with. It is such a gift to work with a professional that can see past our frustration and offers solutions with grace and dignity.