Stop training what to do and try training what to think. Your customers will thank you.

red apple fruit on four pyle books

I heard this quote in a podcast recently, “We spend too much time teaching people what to do and not enough teaching them how to think,” and I couldn’t agree more when it comes to workplace training and, more specifically, how we try to improve customer service and experience. In fact, the training in most workplaces could take a page from how higher education works.

My wife is a college professor, and she regularly tells me that people just don’t seem to understand the objective of college. People are always looking at college as training in job skills—what to do—but it is really meant to teach people how to think. It’s about developing the thought processes required to complete complex projects, plan, research, put solutions together, etc. These are not job skills, they are life skills, and with them, students can do more than accounting, finance, management, or any other specific job, they have broader skills that can be applied to multiple options.

But what does this have to do with workplace training? The same way people misunderstand the objective of college is the same convoluted thinking that stands in the way of improving service and the customer experience.

You see, so many people think that all you have to do is train employees in how to smile, shake hands, and repeat a script and they will be able to deliver superior service. But this is teaching people what to do when what needs to be taught is how to think because teaching how to think is about creating mindset, and mindset gives people the ability to react in the moment to unexpected situations.

Take this example of the power of the right mindset. There is an age-old story of a child who left his favorite stuffed animal at a Ritz-Carlton hotel. When the family got home, they realized it was missing and had a distraught child on their hands. The father called the hotel about the problem and they said they would search for it. In the meantime, the father told his son that the stuffed animal was on vacation and would come home soon.

Fortunately, the hotel found the stuffed animal and sent it to the family. While this was great in its own right, there was something even greater when they opened the box. In it they found pictures of the stuffed animal on the beach and in various other vacation-like poses along with some fun “gifts” the stuffed animal brought back from vacation like sunglasses and t-shirts for everyone. It delighted the entire family and created customers for life.

Now here’s the thing. I feel certain there is no page in the Ritz-Carlton employee manual or module in their customer service training that tells employees what to do when a guest’s child leaves their favorite stuffed animal behind. Instead, Ritz-Carlton teaches a cultural mindset that says service is our focus and every guest is a VIP so take care of them like royalty. This is not only part of training but it is messaged on a regular basis. How many times have you heard Ritz-Carlton’s credo, “we are ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen”? Ritz employees hear it multiple times a day and it focuses their thinking to service and doing whatever is necessary to create customers for life.

While Ritz does teach what to do, they also teach and support how to think with regular messaging and recognition of examples of extra-mile service thinking.

So, if you feel like you are spinning your wheels training what to do, try training what to think and then supporting it with messaging and recognition. You might be surprised like the family of one lucky stuffed animal and create more customers for life to boot.

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