Improving Customer Service Skills
International Oil Company
By Rebecca Payne
The dispatchers are responsible for helping service station dealers who are unable to use the automated
gasoline-ordering system for whatever reason. Dealers call central dispatch to place orders according to
their gasoline needs, These dispatchers handle approximately 600 telephone calls per shift during peak
times (eight to 10 telephone calls per dispatcher, per hour). Of the total calls received, 60 percent are from
dealers needing information or order changes; the other 40 percent are from drivers needing advice or
Because most of the company’s gas stations are open 24 hours a day, delivery times are divided
into four quadrants. A dispatcher tries to schedule delivery during the specific quad requested by the dealer.
After a dispatcher calls the distribution terminal to place the order, the driver plans the delivery route to
deliver the load during the requested quad. The driver loads the tank wagon to the dealer’s product mix
The Customer Service Design and Development Committee designed and developed the training
that is the subject of this case study. The committee members were Jeanne’Connor-Green, who at the time
of this evaluation worked for the oil company and who now works for Intercom; Jim Burton, manager of
the company’s Retail Learning Center in Los Angeles; Bob DeGroot, developer, Sales training America (now Sales Training International);
Ashley Thorton, program evaluator, ROI Evaluation Services. O’Connor-Green managed the design
After only a few months on the job, it had become evident to the new central dispatch manger that dispatchers were not performing to the company’s expectations. He complained that dispatchers:
In addition to these problems, central dispatch management was complaining that there were too many gasoline pullouts and customer complaints. Because of these performance and business problems, Burton was asked to develop training for the dispatchers. He brought in two consultants, Thorton and DeGroot.
In addition to central dispatch management, both dispatchers and dealers were interviewed. During the interviews, dispatchers said they wanted support from management in handling problems and to learn how to reduce or avoid stress on the job, to stay calm during difficult telephone calls, and to voice problems and get them solved before frustration led to “blowing up.” The dealers wanted both the good and the bad news. They wanted efficient and dependable gasoline ordering and accurate information on time of delivery. They also wanted dependable, hard-working dispatchers who treated dealers with consideration and courtesy. In addition to the interviews, area dealers received a survey to measure their current satisfaction. As a result of these interviews and the survey, Thorton and DeGroot designed and developed a customer service training program.
From the training needs identified by Gaines and Garner, two business objectives were identified:
The course was designed in seven modules, with an application objective for each module:
Several learning objectives were developed for each of the seven modules, and those objectives are shown in Table 1.
Program Participants and Delivery
The training was facilitated by Burton at the Retail Learning Center in Los Angeles (at no cost to participants) and was presented over a three-week period in four-hour-long blocks. This format allowed dispatchers a chance to practice newly learned skills and then respond to any problems or issues that needed to be discussed. A variety of delivery methods were used in the training, including lecture, discussion, case studies, role plays, and games.
Models and Techniques
The effectiveness of this particular training was measured on four levels:
The evaluation plan proposed that business results would be determined by comparing company records of the numbers of pullouts and customer complaints, before and after training. A survey would also be sent to dealers to measure their satisfaction with the service they received from dispatchers, before and after training.
To determine if application objectives were being met, the participants would be observed on the job, six months after training. The application objective that dealt with stress was to be measured by comparing absenteeism records before training and six moths later.
To determine the learning results of training, three methods would be used: case studies, games,
and exercises. Case studies are a way to evaluate immediately whether specific learning objectives are
being met. Games recreate an event, so that participants can manipulate a situation without risk, then
analyze what happened. Exercises direct participants toward specific objectives and encourage high
A generic reaction questionnaire, developed by the oil company’s training department, would be used to assess reaction results. This questionnaire is used to measure all participants’ reactions to training for any course designed by the department. The advantage of having one questionnaire is that all courses may be compared with one another. In addition to the generic questionnaire, dispatchers and mangers were to be interviewed to determine their reaction to the training six months after it was completed.
Data Analysis and Results
PULLOUT RECORDS. Each pullout cost the oil company $250. Table 2 shows both the number of monthly pullouts and their cost. A reduction in the number of pullouts resulted in a savings of $354,750 during the first 11 months following training. Although the number of pullouts had shown a decreasing trend since July 1990 (see Figure 1), that decrease became even more dramatic after the training intervention in August 1991. The rise in the number of pullouts in December 1991 happened when several dispatchers went on vacation and untrained temporary employees filled in for them.
DEALER COMPLAINTS. Before training, concern about the potential effects of frequent dealer
complaints prompted the dispatch manager to keep a log of these complaints. The log indicated that there
were approximately three to five complaints each month before training, although in the moth immediately
before training (July 1991), there were seven complaints. For six months after training (August 1991 to
Based on an average salary for management, each dealer complaint cost the oil company
approximately $50 worth of time. During the 11 months immediately before training, those complaints cost
the company approximately $2,200. In the 11 months immediately after training, complaints cost the oil
company $300. That represents a savings of $1,900. These figures do not take into consideration the cost of
Not only were complaints reduced significantly (85 percent) since the training intervention in August 1991, but Garner received several letters and telephone calls from dealers complimenting dispatchers on a job well done. Other benefits of decreased customer complaints included reduced dispatcher stress, improved customer relations, and an improved level of customer service.
DEALER SURVEY. A survey was sent to the 50 members of the Company’s Dealer Council, and
38 dealers responded. Table 3 shows responses for each question on this survey. In addition to indicating
that dealers were satisfied overall with the performance of the dispatchers, the survey showed that dealers’
requirements were being met by dispatchers, dispatchers displayed proper telephone etiquette, and the
The results of the survey suggested the following opportunities for improvement:
OBSERVATION. The dispatchers were observed on two consecutive days for two hours each day. Figure 2, a frequency distribution graph, shows the results of those observations. The dispatchers applied the knowledge and skills they were taught on the job. There was only one incident when a dispatcher did not use “proper telephone etiquette.” The phones were extremely busy, two callers were on hold, and the dispatcher answered, “Good morning, central Dispatch,” instead of “Goof morning, Central Dispatch. How may I help you?”
ABSENTEEISM RECORDS. The performance objective for dealing with stress could not be measured by observing dispatchers on the job. Instead, the absentee rate was used to determine if the objective was met. If training reduced stress, the absentee rate would be expected to decline after training. Figure 3 shows that although a decline in absenteeism began in February 1991, that decline increased dramatically after training in August 1991. Each day of work missed by a dispatcher cost the oil company $200. During the 11 months immediately before training, absences cost the oil company $5,200. The cost of absences for the 11 months immediately after training dropped to $1,200, a cost savings of $4,000.
REACTION QUESTIONNAIRE. The reaction questionnaire is divided into five sections. The design section contains questions addressing length of the course, amount of information, content, pace, and course timing in relation to job assignment. For example, questions in the section on method of delivery request information about job aids, case studies, role plays, pre- and postcourse assignments, lectures, and practice time. Questions about location, the training room, and equipment appear in the learning environment section. The instructor section asks the respondent to rate the instructor on knowledge of subject matter, presentation skills, classroom management, and other issues under his or her control. The questionnaire ends with an overall training section. Participants answer on a 5-point scale, ranging from 1 (needs improvement) to 5 (excellent). The results for each section of the Products Training Generic Reaction Questionnaire are shown in Table 4.
MANAGEMNET REACTION INTERVIEW. In interviews, central dispatch managers were
asked to rate how well dispatchers met expectations after training. The questions were based on problem
areas identified in the original needs analysis. Ratings were on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the best
possible score. Figure 4, shows both the mean ratings obtained for these problem areas during the needs
DISPATCHER REACTION INTERVIEW. Before training and six months after training, dispatchers were asked to rate their overall job satisfaction and how well their needs were being met. Ratings were on a scale from 1 to 10, with 10 being the best possible score. Figure 5 shows the results of these interviews.
Return on Investment
Net benefits/program costs = $300,650/$60,000 = 501%
Because of this good result, the course was taught to the other two central dispatch locations, with similar outcomes.
Conclusions and Recommendations
Also, each plant has a different delivery procedure. The oil company has no control over the
common carriers, and, therefore, there is no standardization for deliveries. Finally, some dealers do not “stick” the tanks (i.e., measure how much gasoline is left) and therefore do not order correctly. If a dealer
misreads or fails to read the stick and orders 300 gallons when his tank will hold only 200, then the arriving
Management believed the training had resulted in positive changes; dispatchers felt that training had
made their jobs easier and that they had more management support than before. In short, all training needs
of dealers, management, and dispatchers had been met. Based on these results, additional programs were
recommended, including follow-up training for dispatchers and a basic training program for all carriers
Questions for Discussion
3. Do you think the cost estimate for the program is adequate? Explain.