Training materials review, January 2009

A silo-buster’s guide to internal customer service
Format: DVD
Price: £1,299
From: Video Arts

One would be forgiven for thinking that the recession had sharpened companies’ professionalism and communication skills, but Video Arts feels there is a gap in the market for films on the subject and I think it is right. But allow me to digress to a personal anecdote before I dissect this package.

Two days before Christmas my sister received some long-awaited parcels, packed, she hoped, with the crockery suitable for catering for lunch for 12 on Christmas Day. Except they weren’t. A department store had sent her two boxes of unwrapped, hence broken, china. To its credit, the store refunded the cost of the china and £40 as a goodwill gesture. However, it was unable to find or send a replacement and we sat down on the big day to a mismatched combination that included melamine Disney plates. A customer service representative told my sister that she wasn’t surprised by her complaint and it was the sixth that morning. “We’ve got problems with packaging and despatch,” she said. “But they don’t listen to us.”

If only customer services and packaging had watched this DVD together. It tackles the notion that good internal communications will lead to better external relations – and more business. The film is set in fictitious Stratfold Conferencing, where departments such as marketing, IT and finance work in separate silos. We hear comments such as: “I’m an accountant so I don’t have customers”, and we watch a stony-faced manager learn that staff serve customers, staff serve staff and managers serve everyone.

The main story line is supplemented by three extra learning chapters on the internal customer pyramid understanding what your organisation offers and tips for breaking down silos.

This is a package with longevity. It balances warmth and instruction with serious messages about focus and professionalism. The humour comes from the characterisation, such as the excellent James Dreyfus, who plays people-phobic Greg in IT, which means that it would be suitable for all levels of staff.

Video Arts has upped the ante by including a self-study workbook and group training material ensuring this is a well-priced package with mileage.

Grasping the nettle – the diversity training handbook
Authors Phil Clements and John Jones
From Kogan Page
Price £24.95
ISBN 978-0-7494-5068-7

This book’s premise is to offer organisations an approach in their training and management of diversity. It takes a practical and measured approach to dealing with stereotyping and facilitating training. It is also forthright in tackling individual and institutional racism.

There are chapters on facilitating diversity training and managing minority ethnic staff. If I had to choose a motto to describe the authors’ attitude it would be “grasp the nettle” as they always take readers out of their comfort zones, for example to point out that some delegates will be negative about diversity training. The chapter on managing minority ethnic staff is similarly honest as it offers an insight into the authors’ study on behalf of the Communities and Local Government department. It offers examples of good practice and helpful questions on business processes such as whether internal HR processes have been subject to an Equality Impact Assessment.

Author Lynne Cooper
From Wiley
Price £15.99
ISBN 978-0-470-69757-3

Neuro linguistic programming (NLP) is like Marmite: it divides opinion as to its merits. But love or loathe it, it remains one of the most talked-about tools in coaching and I encounter many business coaches who swear by its efficacy, or at least regard an NLP qualification as an essential arrow in their quivers.

Three cheers then for the “For Dummies” outfit that has produced a lucid, practical guide to the subject.

I worried that the book would be full of gimmickry but instead I found an enthusiastic, user-friendly guide. There are icons to highlight case-study material, top tips and action plans.

Its bright and breezy approach belies the helpful advice on areas such as “Giving feedback to fuel improvement” and “Coaching for peak performance”.

There is plenty of material on motivation and achieving business goals that would be useful to a cross-section of readers, from the NLP enthusiast to the uninspired line manager.

My only reservation stems from the chapter based around the work of psychotherapist Milton Erickson. Entitled: “Inspiring and Motivating with Artfully Vague Language”, it looks at structuring and phrasing influencing statements to create a “trance state”.

Now, this does not mean that the reader will be able to persuade people that they can fly like birds, but it does mean that they could learn how to make suggestions to people without getting caught up in the details that their conscious minds will wish to analyse and discuss.

My objections are two-fold: this is too complex a subject for one chapter to cover professionally and there could be an underlying dishonesty in the approach.

Nevertheless, the other chapters are erudite and helpful and the book would be useful as a business tool or bedside read.

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