Discussions on talent development in Customer Service tend to exist in the relatively limited context of HR or workforce strategies. Individual or collective training and development planning is often linked to people-related goals, such as boosting employee engagement or fostering future leaders.

There is nothing wrong with that because much of the day-to-day decision-making on skills comes from close to the ‘shop floor’. But one article on the subject that caught my eye framed the discussion on upskilling and reskilling in a broader context and the opening line had me nodding along in agreement. “Talent development is vital to sustainable business growth and success”.

The article goes on to argue that with the advent of the Fourth Industrial Revolution and widening skills gaps, companies will need to upskill and reskill their people to thrive in the future. The suggestion here is that businesses now have to reinvent themselves to stay relevant. Perhaps with an HR or Customer Service audience in mind, the article flips back to positioning the benefits of upskilling and reskilling in terms of HR and workforce strategies and goes on to conclude with seven steps to creating an employee development plan to realise those benefits.

At the top of its seven-point list is “Decide business goals”. While I agree with the further six points for creating the plan, it is this step that I believe is more important than any other in determining the parameters for upskilling and reskilling programmes. However, it is also important to be clear that the business goals in question must relate to the longer-term strategic direction of the organisation, rather than simply today’s objectives. Particularly when the broader argument in favour of reskilling and upskilling is that it’s vital to on-going organisational success.

So how do you link the two?

A traditional Customer Service personal development plan focuses on technical knowledge of products or services and some soft skills. As a result, any upskilling or reskilling involves simply acquiring new knowledge on new products and services and fine-tuning soft skills.

But, what if the longer-term business strategy is to pivot from being a software provider to a data insights consultancy, for example? Do the people working within the Customer Service operation have the aptitude to support this strategic redirection with the right investment in upskilling?

To understand this requires in-depth analysis of your existing skills base, the differences between individuals, and an understanding of what the jobs of the future might look like in your organisation. Knowing which skills are required to do such jobs and making sure people acquire them to keep your business relevant will give you more chance of thriving in the future.

Finding the people you will need to take the business forward is just as important as setting the strategic direction in the first place. Therefore, the upskilling or reskilling programme you design will need to be individually tailored. Technical knowledge is just one part of it. Gauging employee commitment (attitude) and assessing employee potential (aptitude) are imperative. You may have a new strategic direction in the pipeline but not everyone will feel comfortable changing their skillset. People will need you to explain things clearly and demonstrate how they are an important part of your journey.

The upside to this approach is not just a more complete upskilling and reskilling programme. It is a future-ready and resilient organisation with the additional people-related benefits of higher levels of engagement, loyalty and retention.