Have you ever felt like you knew more about a product or service than the employee?
It happens all the time, especially in service areas — selling, helping, comparing, recommending and serving.
Companies train employees how to work, but not how to understand the customer.
What are they trying to do? Why are they doing it like that? What pressures do they have (that the employee is not seeing)? Do they need help?
I would train employees by applying the same techniques we use in our service design workshops — roleplaying, service safaris — to new hires.
Call it method training (instead of method acting).
This is how I would train new employees at __________:
a home improvement store.
Employee helps a local nonprofit fix a household issue for a community resident. Broken water heater, bad light switch, new garden. Home improvement store comps the materials (and provides guidance), but the employee figures out the solution.
Employee places a valuable belonging in checked luggage and flies a 2-stop route through (let’s say) Houston and Dulles. Or employee must fly with a 10-pound flour baby. Or employee must eat, use the bathroom and buy the latest issue of Yachting magazine during a 25-minute layover at Midway.
a grocery store.
Employee gets a budget, number of family members, a theme and a time limit. Buy the ingredients, cook the meal and serve it at a local soup kitchen.
a children’s museum.
Employee helps a local child care center take fifteen 4-year-olds to the museum. No further explanation needed.
a tourism board.
2 new employees are dropped off at the airport, given a brochure with 4 attractions in it, $45 dollars cash and must take a selfie at each attraction within 3 hours — but the brochure is in Polish.
Professors work at the campus bookstore for a week (9 to 5, 30-minute lunch) with a name tag that reads ‘Rooster’ or ‘Raven’, must attend a sporting event and place an awkward phone call to his / her parents to ask for money.
The local child care center brings the kids to the restaurant after their field trip to the children’s museum. 1 employee and 5 kids per table.
Funny? Crazy? A logistical and legal nightmare? Maybe.
An empathic way to train employees to not just work, but understand what customers are actually trying to do when they fly, visit or eat? Absolutely.
Now, where is that waiter.
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