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3 Reasons To Listen To Your Front Line Employees

During my customer service career, I have often heard the statement – “It doesn’t matter what I think, no one’s listening to what I have to say anyway.” More often than not, these words were verbalized by a front line employee. It’s important to appreciate and listen to your front line employees. Here are three reasons not to take them for granted.

They Are the Face of the Company
Whether face to face, on the phone or web chatting with customers, front line employees are the company to your customers! By the very nature of the position, front line employees are able to provide invaluable insights into how customers really feel about your products/services. Remember to treat them in the same manner as they are required to treat the customer. Your willingness to do so sends the message that they are an important component of the organization. Sooner or later, it will be pretty easy to spot an unhappy employee – body language, voice tones, customer complaints, attendance or all clues to employee morale. It’s important to keep morale high as happy employees create happy customers.

They Have Solutions
It’s common for front line employees to create “custom” resolutions for reoccurring issues. Through personal experience, I have witnessed front line employees put their “custom” resolutions in motion in order to deliver a great customer experience. Maintain open communication with front line personnel as this encourages the sharing of information. Their solutions keep customers happy which contributes to the profitability of the company. During a corporate stint as an operations analyst, it was common to conduct process analysis projects. I often found that front line personnel knew the process and its shortcomings much better than their respective managers. Upon further examination, more often than not, a communication gap existed between management and front line personnel. The communication pattern was one of “do this because it’s your job” vs “if we ask you to do this, how does this impact your job?” When more of the latter exists, the customer benefits as frontline personnel feel that their opinion matters, which leads to the provision of a better customer experience.

They’re Human
Probably the most important reason to listen to your front line personnel is a simple one – they’re human. Front line personnel want to feel valued and respected for what they do. Not everyone is capable of servicing customers. I repeat – not everyone possesses the ability to provide customer service day after day, minute by minute. It takes patience coupled with a good attitude and a highly developed listening ear to consistently meet customer expectations. I often hear people say “Anyone can answer a phone.” or “It’s pretty simple to take customers’ orders.” Yes, anyone can answer a phone or take customers’ orders – the key is, do you know what to do next? Not everyone has the personality or demeanor to turn an angry customer into a long-term purchaser of the company’s products/services. The next time you feel like your front line personnel are not performing to company expectations, carve out some time to get in their shoes. Take on their duties. Ask questions and really listen to the replies. You might be surprised by the knowledge gained from this simple exercise.

Are your front line personnel an untapped information reservoir? Remember – They Are the Face of Your Company, They Have Solutions and They’re Human. Spend time with your front line personnel today!

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Take the “We Will Provide Great Customer Service!” Pledge

The advent of social media, specifically Twitter, provides an avenue for customers to express their happiness and unhappiness with products and services. Just search for “bad customer service” or “poor customer service” and you’ll be presented with a plethora of comments regarding customer service experiences gone wrong. There are, however, companies and organizations that strive to provide great customer experiences. I am issuing the challenge for 10,000 businesses – large and small, across all industries – worldwide to take the “We Will Provide Great Customer Service! Pledge. Let’s talk about what I am challenging businesses to pledge to exercise:

1. Reliability – Our customers can believe that our products and services will meet their standards. Our customers can unconsciously trust us.
2. Credibility – We will strive to maintain a positive reputation with our customers and employees. We will do what we say we will do.
3. Competence – We will take the time to properly train our employees to ensure they are fully knowledgeable about our products and or services. We also provide basic customer service skills training to all employees – especially those who interact with customers on a daily basis.
4. Accessibility – Our customers can easily reach and communicate with us – whether that be via phone, face-to-face, web chat, email or SMS text. If we have brick and mortar locations, we will utilize customer friendly signage to allow for quick locating and retrieval of our products. Our website will be customer friendly – easy to navigate and free of industry jargon.
5. Responsiveness – We are serious about responding to customer inquiries, requests and complaints. We will set time standards for responding to customer emails, chat requests and especially customer complaints. In addition, we will proactively provide updates and progress reports when working on projects. We will develop update criteria with the customer – #of updates, frequency and method.
6. Courtesy – We will remember and exercise the principle that everyone, customers and employees, deserves a measure of respect. We will courteously acknowledge our customers presence – via whatever method they choose to engage with us. When customers are angry, we will remain courteous to ensure that we do all we can to resolve the issue and retain their business.
7. Consistency – We will strive to consistently apply the aforementioned six keys as our ability to do so day in and day out, month after month, year after year is what will makes us great at providing an excellent customer experience.
Is your company up for the challenge? Go ahead and commit to the pledge today!

Commit To The Pledge!

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Don’t Do This in Front of the Customer

Once upon entering a fast food franchise (yes I know it’s not healthy, but oh well) I witnessed a verbal altercation between if you can believe it – two employees! From what I could gather, there seems to have been an error on a customer’s order and one employee was trying to place the blame on the other. I was somewhat dumbfounded as both employees seemed not to notice that I had entered or that all of the attention of the eat-in diners was upon them. Finally, I moved closer to the order station and whispered to get their attention – “Hey – you really shouldn’t do this in front of the customer.”

I don’t know how many of you have witnessed similar encounter, but I do know it’s not the way one should represent their respective company to customers. When errors happen, they should be discussed out of the customer’s sight. It’s important to work as a team – not to place blame, especially in front of the customer! While it is necessary to determine how the error occurred it’s probably a good idea to not allow it to become heated. Employees should be trained to continue to work as a team, even in the midst of an employee induced issue.

The fast food as well as other industries require employees to quickly provide a great customer experience through producing a quality product in a timely manner. This means everyone working in tandem to make sure the customer’s order is fulfilled properly. Rarely will you see the person taking the order actually preparing the order. Each person is relying upon the other to properly complete their portion of the order fulfillment routine. As with any process where we humans are involved, errors will sometimes occur. When they do, it’s important to quickly resolve the issue for the customer. When discussing the error with the team, one should look to the system first for the breakdown and strive to preserve the dignity of the employee who contributed to the error. Moreover, employees should strive to preserve the customer’s perception of the company. As we all know, customers have smartphones with cameras and recording capabilities. One could unknowingly become a social media hit!

Remember when errors occur in fulfilling customers orders, especially in a public setting, choose an opportune time to discuss the situation. Just don’t do it in front of the customer!

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Employee Morale Does Create Customer Experiences

It’s often been said that customer contact employees are key to creating great customer experiences. There is a lot of validity to this statement as customers depend upon the person with whom they interact to provide a high level of service. In continuing the series on the necessary ingredients for creating great customer experiences, let’s focus on employee morale.

During my management days, I expected my team to be ready to handle their duties every day. However, I also knew that it was my responsibility to maintain a high level of team morale. When employees are happy, they are more inclined to create happy customers. When one takes the time to understand what impacts the customer facing employee, one is in a position to create an environment conducive for high employee morale. Here are a few issues that impact the morale of customer facing employees.

Corporate Culture
When the culture of the organization is employee-friendly, morale has a tendency to remain high. Employee turnover is more than likely very low, which leads to highly experienced customer facing personnel. Does the culture allow employees to express their needs and or concerns? Is leadership responsive to these needs and concerns? Are core values in place that include the importance of employees to the organization’s success? A healthy corporate culture is important to sustaining employee morale. Remember, your paying customer is the direct beneficiary of high employee morale.

Management Expertise
Oftentimes, managers/supervisors are placed in their role without the proper training. This can certainly impact employee morale as it leads to managers making decisions that may negatively impact their subordinates. I suggest that companies take the time to properly indoctrinate new managers/supervisors. Provide people skills training. Managers/supervisors should possess competent communication skills, have the ability to create synergy amongst their direct reports and be able to be the spokesperson for their team with upper management. When faced with situations that may negatively impact their team, managers/supervisors must be courageous enough to tactfully address their concerns with upper management. Make sure they understand how what they’re responsible for impacts the rest of the company. Be sure to also help them to understand how the rest of the company impacts their responsibility. This knowledge helps managers/supervisors make good operational decisions, which usually leads to an improved level of employee morale. Remember, one of the most common reasons for employee discontent is the level of supervision provided by the front line manager. Make sure that this is not the case for your company by properly developing manager/supervisor personnel.

Objective Performance Evaluation
This is a major component in consistently maintaining employee morale at a high level. Employee performance appraisal should be based upon reasonable objective standards. The standards should in turn be built from a job description. A performance appraisal based on subjectivity instead of objectivity is a recipe for disaster. Employees lose confidence in the company’s ability to properly appraise their performance, which leads to lower employee morale, which can certainly lead to employee turnover. Make sure that positions within your company have a job description. Develop performance standards based upon reasonable expectations. In other words, develop “real world” performance goals. A sure fire way to antagonize employees is to hold them accountable to goals that you can’t explain. The only way to develop “real world” goals is to spend time in the “real world”. Determine what is achievable. Look for ways to improve the employee experience that will assist them in creating a great customer experience. Make sure employees understand what they’re being held accountable for and be consistent across the employee base. Refrain from preferential treatment as this will lead to a drop in employee morale. Employees want to know that they are all held to the same standard.

Keep employee morale high in your company. Create a great Corporate Culture, make sure management/supervisory personnel have the proper level of Management Expertise and provide Objective Performance Evaluations. Your paying customer will certainly benefit from your decision to do all three! For more insights on improving morale, see this article “How to Improve Employee Morale and Job Satisfaction”.

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