One of the root causes of customer satisfaction problems is the skills of the people on the front line, dealing with customers. One of the techniques to ensure that customers are well served, is to ensure that there is a method to regularly check the skills of the front line staff and a training program to maintain the right mix and level of skills. The concept is called a Skills Inventory.

Why is a Skills Inventory important?

A go-to-market plan includes a mixture of front line employees. Some may be in direct sales, some may provide services,  some may interface with business partners (dealers, franchisers, distributors, agents, retail stores, etc that ultimately deal with the customer) and some may be in support functions of various types. Most managers do head count planning to determine how many of each type of job role is needed. It’s a delicate balance. A further refinement of this planning process is the planning of skill levels within each of the job types. Not everyone needs to have exactly the same skills. Some may know one product better than others. Some may be able to provide one kind of service but not others and some people will be specialists in billing but not in technical issues. Management needs to assess how many staff and the right skill levels take remedial action if the right skills are not in place to sell, service and support customers.

What is a Skill Inventory exactly?

Every person is a bundle of skills. If an organization has 10 products or services that it sells, it is possible that a sales representative, service or support person might know all of them. But if there are hundreds of products, in different categories, then it may make sense to have people skilled in specialties. For example, a retail store many have someone who is a specialist in appliances but not furniture or toys. A skills inventory attempts to categorize who has what skills. The skills levels for each area are aggregated and management reviews the skills in place, in total, per store, per branch office, and then in aggregate for regions, areas, countries or groupings of countries. Then management can determine what the optimal skill level is and measure the current status against the optimal level. Education and training can be planned to fill gaps.

How to do a Skills Inventory:

1. What is a skill? Probably one of the most difficult activities is to define what skill is and which ones to measure and track. It could be a product, it could be a category of products, it could be a service, or knowledge of a process (eg billing). The skill definitions could also include soft skills such as the ability to make presentations, or lead teams. Language skills are also important if the organization deals with customers in different languages. Customer Satisfaction professionals can help here because they see the feedback from customers and what  customers value and where the organization is failing to meet customer expectations. Which of these issues can be addressed with increased skills?

2.Who assesses the skill level? Skills inventories can be accomplished through management assessments of their staffs and a spreadsheet can be filled in and then aggregated up the management team. Or it could be done in conjunction with employees where they discuss their skills with their manager and agree.

3.When should a skill inventory be done? A time frame should be developed to perform the skills inventory. Maybe it is a year beginning activity. Or the inventory could be conducted in the fall, aggregated, and used to plan the next year’s education or training programs. Pick a time. Get managers to produce their reports by a specific date and report to their management team. Then start aggregating up the management chain.

4. Data Analysis. Once the skills inventory is completed, it can be summarized by product, by service, by process, by branch, or department, by area, region, country and grouping of countries, if necessary. Analysis of which area seems to be more successful than others can be done and correlations between who has the best business results and what the skill mix of those units are. From this data, optimum levels of skills can be determined

5. Fill the gaps. Once an optimal skill mix is determined, and the skills inventory is completed, management needs to review the level of skills and plan remedial action to increase those skills that are missing. This could take the form of education courses, on the job training, mentoring, management supervision, etc.

How to get started:

1. Assign ownership for the Skills Inventory program. Often Human Resources is assigned to own the program in aggregate but each grouping of front line staff, sales, marketing, services and support, should  have someone assigned if the organization is large enough.

2. Define skill groups for each of the jobs: job related skills, soft skills, language skills, etc. Ensure skills related to customer satisfaction issues are included in the skill list.

3. Define a time to gather the skill levels. Make it a project. Define a start and end date to do the assessments and gather the data.

4. Announce the program to those affected, managers or management and staff, if the staff are participating.

5. Monitor compliance (ensure everyone is engaged and providing their skill list)

6. Gather the data and aggregate and analyze by slicing and dicing the data in various ways.

7. Report the results to management, highlighting gaps and lessons learned and proposed action plans.

8. Ensure actions are taken (education, training, etc) and communicated to lower level management and staff.

9. Watch for customer satisfaction improvements to correlate to the improved skill levels.

10. Repeat, at least, annually.

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Adele Berenstein

Adele Berenstein is an Experienced Customer Satisfaction Executive, recently retired from a Large Global IT Organization after a long productive management career including Sales, Marketing, Services, teaching and education center management and most recently, 19 years in customer satisfaction management. She turned around divisions with customer satisfaction problems, implemented measurable improvements and management systems, and implemented programs to prevent problems from ever affecting customers.

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