Learning and development (L&D) and embedding service excellence into your organisation aren’t rocket science. However, it’s surprising how many businesses still aren’t even getting the basics right whilst ignoring the ‘easy wins’ that cost little or nothing at all. This guide will help you to get your people to where you need them to be – competently and enthusiastically delivering first-class customer service.

Learning and development – keeping it individual

There are countless methods, models and metrics for the transfer of knowledge and skills. It follows, therefore, that many organisations put resource into these areas. However personal development is critical, such as acquiring the key skills of assertiveness and emotional intelligence whilst learning coping mechanisms for managing stress.

Learning should become the responsibility of the individual. It is the HR professional’s job to make available the necessary tools and support so that people will know where to go to acquire the skills and knowledge they need, whenever they need them.

There are various statistics to show how little people actually retain from classroom training. This will obviously depend on the circumstances and approach; knowledge retention is significantly improved when the facilitator uses a skilled approach that involves the learner, for example, such as by working through a practical business problem together.

It might be that organisations can reduce the amount of formal classroom L & D, reinvesting instead to ensure people’s behaviours, attitudes and habits are aligned with the business’ culture. And setting up some of the lower-cost and no cost ways to provide development.

Attitude is also the responsibility of the individual. Make this clear at interview stage and thereafter. People need to be very clear that:

  • You want them to be happy with you and do well;
  • If at any time they start to feel negative, or something is preventing them from fulfilling their commitment to you, then they must raise it immediately; and
  • You expect positive, emotionally intelligent behaviours (which, in any case, you should be identifying at selection stage).


Of course, people don’t always feel they can do this so leaders need to listen to ‘gut feel’ to pick up on any unresolved conflict and/or negative behaviours.


Mentoring is nothing new. To keep things simple, mentoring is where one person with more experience, knowledge or specialist expertise guides another. It is a wonderful, often largely untapped resource for learning and should be fully exploited where possible.

Developing skills and knowledge

Developing and honing people’s skills and passing on knowledge can be achieved through one-to-one work with a colleague or by more formal means. The important point is to avoid ‘sheep-dipping’ people through the same skills-based learning. Find out what they know and fill in the gaps.

By auditing skills against the requirements of the role, individual development plans can be created for each individual. Then it must become their responsibility to drive and complete the plan. This is very important. Of course, technology is a great help towards enabling everyone to keep on track.

Learning must be individual.  People learn in different ways and as such, learning methods and sources should vary. Some ‘low-cost’, or ’no-cost’ learning options include:

  • Reading books and journals including technical guides (in-house learning library virtual or otherwise);
  • Viewing the Intranet or internal ‘wiki’;
  • Performing Internet searches – there’s loads of free stuff out there!
  • Podcasts;
  • Webcasts;
  • eLearning;
  • Distance learning;
  • Professional factsheets;
  • Job swaps;
  • Secondments;
  • Work shadowing;
  • Projects;
  • Experiences such as competitor visits;
  • Interviewing colleagues;
  • Coaching; and
  • Mentoring


Whatever the delivery method, learning should be:

  • Appropriate to the individual;
  • Appropriate to the role;
  • Planned;
  • Discussed beforehand to agree goals and outcomes;
  • Well-executed; and
  • Reviewed and then outcomes checked both after the learning, and again later, to track the business benefits.


Embedding service excellence

As with L & D, getting service excellence ‘right’ needn’t be difficult but it does require time and focus. Whatever your organisation, there is likely to be an element of service. Today’s customer wants bigger, better, cooler, faster and more ‘wow’. And there are competitor organisations chomping at the bit to give it to them.

There is clear alignment between employee engagement and customer satisfaction.

Therefore, you need to achieve lasting results that will keep evolving, adapting and improving over time. It cannot simply be ‘trained’ in. You can design any number of customer charters you like; they will only be effective if the people delivering them care, believe, and want to do it. As with your values, embedding service is not any sort of ‘initiative’, it’s a culture thing.

It is important to have happy and engaged people providing a service on the basis that they care about the organisation and the people they are providing your service to. This is why it’s crucial to deal with the disengaged. You can show people the ‘how’ time and time again, though if they don’t care or they don’t understand the ‘why’ then you’re not going to get the required results. Ultimately, they are adults with their own values, opinions, circumstances and aspirations. It is vital for these to be aligned with yours for the relationship to work.

Once you have the right people in place, you can set about designing your service culture. It stands to reason that the people who know most about your customers are the people who serve them every day. So it follows that they should be involved from the word go. This is going to need very careful planning and super-competent facilitation and that’s where your L & D department and/or external expertise will come in. Your people on the ground are your greatest service asset, so use them!





Following a successful corporate career, Jane spent a number of years as Managing Director of a specialist recruitment company, which she co-founded. Having realised that if someone could help companies to become a great place to work, there wouldn’t be such a crisis over ‘the talent war’. In September 2001, she formed learnpurple which, in line with expansion, rebranded as Purple Cubed, early in 2013.
Jane is a published, best-selling author having written 'Purple your People: the secrets to inspired, happy, more profitable people' (Crimson) in 2001, following up with ‘It's Never OK to Kiss The Interviewer - and other secrets to surviving, thriving and high-fiving at work' (LID) in 2013. In 2014 she was chosen from over 1600 authors to contribute to '20/20 – 20 great lists by 20 outstanding business thinkers’. Her latest book ‘The People Formula: 12 steps to productive, profitable, performing business’ (Humm Publishing) was release in April 2016; answering Deloitte’s calls for a new HR playbook. Jane’s writing is practical and common sense with stories and examples that clearly show how various tools and techniques can be applied to achieve results.
In addition to writing and acting as Purple Cubed’s chairman, Jane is a non-executive director and has been instrumental in the success of several high profile employment projects. She is the current president of HR in Hospitality, a panel member of the Economist Intelligence Unit, a visiting fellow at two UK Universities and is listed as one of the top 100 most influential women in the hospitality, travel, tourism and transport sectors.