Banbury Charlbury Business Community Eynsham Business Network Carterton Chamber of Commerce Watlington Business Association Monument Park Chalgrove Bicester and District Chamber of Commerce Kidlington Wake Up To Woodstock Thame First The Henley Business Partnership Goring Business Network Wallingford in Business Didcot Abingdon Wantage and District Chamber of Commerce Faringdon Chamber of Commerce Chipping Norton Witney Members Oxford City & Suburbs Burford Chamber of Trade Shrivenham Neighbours
Customer Service Training for Young People:

OTCN Ltd has successfully pioneered a ‘customer service training for young people’ programme with Wallingford School.

A boost for a crucial business sector
The motivation for the project was that customer service is a key factor in the success of the small independent retail businesses that are the lifeblood of our market towns. Getting staff trained once they start work is known to be something that is done much less than it should be (due to time, budget and transport issues). This scheme tackles the problem in a different way, by giving young people who might take this career route (or work in a shop part time during their studies) the customer service training while at school.

Wallingford winners team

From an interactive workshop into town
It worked like this:
  • Training specialists from The Learning Ladder introduced the idea at an assembly for Year 10 students (the year was chosen by the school but this could work equally well for year 9 or 11)
  • The school identified potential candidates
  • Students attended a 1 day or 2 half days seminar (a mix of tutor input, discussion, exercises and role play) with a certificate for those who reached the required standard
  • They were then split into groups and were given an observation project which involved them going into their town, studying customer service in action and then reporting back
  • A panel of business people from the town observed their presentations and chose the top three who were rewarded with vouchers collected from town businesses.
Wallingford panel

The young people enjoyed the programme; it proved to be a good way to engage business people with the school and benefited the town by encouraging the next generation of shoppers (and staff) in to take a look at how it works. Wallingford School students Victoria Hillier and Megan Park, who were part of the winning team in 2009, said: "We are really pleased to have won; we had a great time and really learnt a lot. It made us realise how important good customer service skills are."

A business view
Sarah Heaps, Department Manager Customer Services at Waitrose in Wallingford who was one of the panel of judges in 2009, says: "Customer service is something we are passionate about in Waitrose so it was with great enthusiasm we volunteered to be one of the local businesses that judged the final presentations. All groups impressed the panel with their knowledge of customer service, how they had applied this to the local area and the maturity and professionalism with which they presented their findings. A massive well done to all of the students who took part in the project."

Project co-ordinator, Karyn Buck, says: "The idea of the project is to give students a grounding in customer service skills before they get into the workplace. It gives them something extra they can offer to potential employers and means a shop, hospitality venue or other business that takes them on knows that they’ve already been though a course. The project has been welcomed by the school, the students and local businesspeople and OTCN is keen to roll it out."

A "really worthwhile" venture for the school
Feedback from the school for the pilot programme has been excellent, so much so that it has run the programme for a second year. The lead teacher on the programme said: "Our students thoroughly enjoyed the experience. They all felt that the training would be really helpful when applying for either part time or full time work and they could prove they had been trained with their certificate. Putting together the presentation was challenging but working as a team was a positive experience and they supported each other well. They automatically judge the level of customer service when they shop in different areas now and find themselves thinking what could be improved and recognise what is good service. This was a new venture for the school but a really worthwhile one and something we will be looking to repeat next year, again with a year 10 group. Our thanks to the OTCN Ltd Team."

Sharing the cost?
The programme cost £2,400 + VAT with 40 students taking part (to include design and engagement, delivery, materials and delegate handouts, organising the panel/presentations, assessment and marking, certification and evaluation). For our pilot the cost was shared between OTCN (thanks to funding from Oxfordshire County Council) and the school. In year two, the school part-funded the project and OTCN secured funding support from South Oxfordshire District Council.

A rewarding experience
Students get a certificate to show that they have been part of the project which they can take to future employers if customer service is part of any job they apply for. The team that did the best presentation to judges won vouchers to spend in the town (see picture). In 2009, the winning team will also spend a day in Waitrose to look at how the company recruits staff with the potential to provide great customer service, and how staff are trained and follow up their customer service performance.

Wallingford winners