Over the last couple of years our company has been asked to assist various industries with customer service excellence.
Some previous posts have dealt with customer service excellence. Service excellence targeted at the external and the internal customer alike.
What struck me time and again is the fact that customer service excellence is seen as a separate issue, as something outside the normal course of the business, as if producing goods or services was one thing, customer service another altogether.
What we also noticed is the profound misunderstanding, within many companies, of the different jobs within the same company. People do not know what is happening left or right of them, they do not understand the technicities of the other persons’ job and therefore they cannot relate to the difficulties or the challenges of their co-worker.
We sometimes hear of laudable efforts to change this, some Gm’s or CEO’s who go and work in an operational department occasionally or in a sales related department, but these seem to be rather the exception than the norm.
And there lies one of the challenges : we see our company structure as different departments, different levels dealing with the customers. In some industries there are clear divides between back of house and front of house and this is kept upright for the sake of the organisation more than for the benefit of the customer. In hospitality we’ve been quite good at creating these levels, although I must say that some hotels have reversed this in the last years.
Just last week I was told by a receptionist of a hotel, when I asked him if he could place a request for me to roomservice, that I had to call them myself. Their department was reception he told me, as if I cared. It also didn’t help that 1 bellboy and 2 more receptionists were doing nothing at the time.
Does the customer even know that there is a roomservice? Some hotel brands have changed this by introducing one number solves all service, but hotels are just one example.
What about banks, insurance companies, health care institutions, hospitals. Does a patient, or shall we call him a customer, care about the internal organisation of a hospital, or a bank for that matter.
In bank lobbies, we have seen employees, working outside customer’s view, that didn’t even greet or acknowledge their customers.
The customers look at our organisations as just one department, every staff member is an employee and should be able to at least listen to the customer. And start solving the problem or start brining a solution.
Alas, many a company structure is deemed more important than the customer’s perspective and that is when you get examples as above.
Speaking to staff, we hear that a lot are interested to understand what others are doing.
We acknowledge the fact that we cannot expect a company to make all employees work in different departments because of the sheer cost of it, but we are convinced this should and could be part of the induction cycle of many a company.
And here lies another challenge : we do not spend enough time and attention with our induction cycles. Admittingly, some companies spend more time than others, but we still come across companies who see induction more as a cost than an investment.
Talking to retail stores not so long ago, we learned some big brands expect staff to be operational after a mere 2 weeks, some give them 3 months of time to learn and absorb the brand before being expected to represent the brand.
And surprisingly enough, those few brands that do allow for a longer induction period have, as a result far better interdepartmental understanding.
Understanding the challenges and limitations of the person next to us in the organisation will allow us to better communicate internally and eventually to deliver better service to the customer, both internally and externally.
If I understand that the storekeeper is alone and that he’s receiving, labelling and storing 5 lorries worth of goods every week, I may think again before I barge into his department complaining about why it takes so long to get my extra deliveries, the ones I forgot to order during normal delivery times…..
But it cannot be the responsibility of management alone. Employees should not only have empathy for the customers, as we tell them and train them for, but they should also have empathy and the willingness to understand the other persons’ job.
Our employees are hard pressed, but helping others may actually help them also in their daily tasks.
I had a great example of such relationship between jobs very recently.
We were talking to an energy supplier recently and about the technicians that had to cut electricity for people that were in default of paying.
Some technicians just did their job, it was the customers fault after all.
But we also heard of a great example of one such technician that made simple explanation forms for his customers, explaining in detail what they needed to do to get electricity back.
This electrician didn’t do this solely for the customer, but he had understood the challenges that his call centre colleagues were facing every day, getting angry calls from customers without electricity.
So in helping the customer this way, he was really helping his colleagues, as customers were placing less angry calls and therefore all in this cycle were performing a better service.
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