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Geeks: Train And Handle With Care
by John Tschohl

Technology has become the cornerstone of many businesses during the past decade. The amazing number of e-commerce businesses gives testimony to the advantages technology provides in courting and keeping customers from throughout the world. There is no doubting that the people behind that technology—affectionately referred to as geeks and techies—are intelligent. They do, however, in many cases require extra care when training them in soft skills.

These techies are whizzes at handling the technology necessary to keep your business running smoothly but many of them are sadly lacking in soft interpersonal skills. Most techies are much more comfortable dealing with things than they are dealing with people. You must handle this group of employees with great care and give them the tools they need to communicate—with coworkers and customers alike. By doing so, you will be maximizing the productivity and effectiveness of this talented group of employees.

That means you must institute a training program that changes people’s behaviors. By doing so, you will increase the effectiveness of your employees—and your training dollars. A study by the Consortium for Research on Emotional Intelligence in Organizations at Rutgers University found that more than $9.5 billion a year is wasted on ineffective training. Put another way, American workers get nothing in return for one in every five dollars spent annually on company training and development.

“Too much emphasis is placed on increasing knowledge,” Dr. Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence and co-chair of the consortium told a writer for Incentive magazine. “That’s important, but companies can get a far better return on training investments by putting more focus on people skills.”

In another study, this one conducted by Development Dimensions International, a human resources consulting firm based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, responding organizations cited interpersonal skills as the second most important concern in training programs. (Dealing with change was cited as the key goal.) That’s not surprising. The inability to communicate effectively with others can be frustrating and can hinder personal and professional development.

If you do not take the time and make the investment to train your techies in the soft interpersonal communication skills, you are doing your organization—and your employees—a great disservice. It can be as difficult for techies to master these skills as it would be for someone like me to learn technical skills. This group is extremely intelligent but, if they can’t effectively communicate their ideas and concerns with other employees in your organization, you are not tapping their full potential.

Techies often feel a bit like outsiders in an organization. You must bring them in to the fold and give them the skills they need to feel as though they are valued members of the team. I’m not saying this will be easy, but it will be well worth every cent you spend on training.

It is important that you are patient in these efforts. Remember: You don’t change a lifetime of behaviors overnight. It takes time to build skills. When designing or purchasing a training program, don’t try to cram too much information into each session. According to recent research, when you learn a new physical skill, it takes six hours to store the memory permanently in your brain. If that storage process is interrupted by learning another new skill, the first lesson could be erased.

“We’ve shown that time itself is a very powerful component of learning,” Dr. Henry H. Holcomb, a psychiatrist who headed the Johns Hopkins University group that studies how people remember, said in a 1998 article in Science. “It is not enough to simply practice something. You have to allow time to pass for the brain to encode the new skills.” He recommends teaching one task, then waiting five to six hours before presenting a new task.

Interpersonal soft skills are a key element in customer service. You must train your employees—all of them—to communicate effectively. Give them the skills they need to perform their jobs well and to help you distinguish your business from your competitors with exceptional customer service.

Focus your training efforts on developing the interpersonal skills of your techies so that their ability and comfort level in dealing with directly with your customers becomes a valuable component of your company’s service.

Copyright John Tschohl. All Rights Reserved.

John Tschohl is an international service strategist and speaker. Described by Time and Entrepreneur magazines as a customer service guru, he has written several books on customer service, including Ca$hing In: Make More Money, Get a Promotion Love Your Job; e-Service, and Achieving Excellence Through Customer Service. He currently is working on a book about service recovery. John also has developed more than 26 customer service training programs that have been distributed and presented throughout the world.

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