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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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Creating “Crazy” Customers

As I sit in the front area of a client’s business watching the walk-in traffic, one effect is constant – the excited look on most customers faces! This client is a bakery and their products are beautifully displayed in glass cases. I’m watching crazy customers eyes widen as they approach the product cases. Some laugh as they can’t make up their mind regarding which product to choose. Others almost run to get to the cases to pick their favorite product. The employees are so upbeat and ready to serve, patiently waiting for the customer to make a decision. Some customers make jokes – “Is this stuff sugar-free?” “How many can I eat before I ruin my diet?” Now this does not happen just by chance. Let’s talk about what I feel contributes to these customers being just “crazy” about this business.

Reputation
This bakery has carefully established a reputation for providing it’s customers with the best products possible. The owners take pride in maintaining the reputation established 66 years ago by the founders. The products are made fresh daily in order to give customers that “it was made today” comfort level. The general manager has worked tirelessly to create systems to insure product freshness. One must be concerned about both establishing and maintaining a positive reputation with customers and within one’s community. A positive reputation builds trust and credibility with current and future clients. It’s pretty easy for customers to refer you to others when your reputation is intact.

Engaging Employees
I’ve watched how the employees greet each customer individually – even when engaged with other customers. Genuine smiles – even when some customers are a bit gruff. Proactive employees immediately draw customers to them – especially during a face to face encounter. An employee with a delightful attitude bodes well in the quest to provide a great customer experience. It’s important to have the right people in front of your customers. I always advise companies to put “people persons” in front of their customers. I am a firm believer that “people persons” provide great service from the heart. It doesn’t matter what the product or service is, “people persons” look forward to putting smiles on customers’ faces. Be sure to get the right people in front of your customers. Get the ones who “run toward” the customer to make sure the experience is a great one!

Engaged Leadership
Leadership at this bakery is determined to keep customers coming back. The General Manager is tasked with finding ways to make sure the bakery and two satellite stores run smoothly on a daily basis. The need to have engaged leadership is important to a successful enterprise. At the beginning of my stint with this client, we held a “Pet Peeve Conference” to address the “pet peeves” of the owners, management, department heads and employees. This was an all day conference where solutions were developed to remove the need for internal personnel to be “peeved. The recognition by the owners of the need to address these “pet peeves” is an indicator of their desire to make sure that all is well within the organization. When leadership is truly engaged in the day-to-day operations, both employees and customers are beneficiaries.

Do you want customers that are “crazy” about your business? Remember it’s important to maintain a positive Reputation in order to increase customer retention. Make sure you have Engaging Employees interacting with customers and never forget that Engaged Leadership is most critical to your organization’s success.

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Stuck in the Middle – Do Customers Belong Here?

While on a client engagement, I could hear customer service personnel repeatedly apologizing to customers. When asked why, they informed me of a scenario where customers make purchases and are promised a 24hr installation of the product by one department, when in fact, the department in question had no idea if the promise could be met. The customer was stuck in the middle between the sales department and the installation department. It’s important to remember to make sure your customer’s experience is as seamless as possible. Let’s look at a few ways to accomplish this feat.

Establish Customer – Focused Policies
When developing policies and procedures for customer service personnel to follow, it’s important to remember to get their input. After all, they’re being held accountable for both adhering to the policy and providing a great customer experience. They know what drives the customer crazy about your company’s policies and procedures. For instance – if your company has a product return policy, be sure to take into consideration how this will impact both customers and customer service personnel. Will you allow returns for specific reasons? Make sure the customer is fully aware of your return policy when they make a purchase. If your customer purchases your product online, make sure that your return policy is prominently displayed on the page where the purchase is completed. Will you allow blanket returns – or in other words – can they just bring it or send it back for whatever reason? Think about this – Do your policies make sense? Are they easily understandable by customers? Will they encourage repeat business? Will they incent customers to refer your company to potential customers? These are some issues to consider when developing policies and procedures.

Create Employee Autonomy
Often times the customer ends up in the middle of your policies when customer service personnel are not provided with the power to make decisions. When working with a hospitality client recently, it became apparent that front desk personnel were not equipped with options to deal with a variety of situations they faced when dealing with hotel guests. After about 15 minutes of identifying issues which required they contact either the hotel general manager or assistant general manager, we were able to create options that could be utilized without the need to contact anyone. The front desk personnel were visibly relieved upon the completion of this exercise as they could now feel good about their ability to make decisions that were both good for guests and for the hotel. Give customer facing personnel options that can be executed autonomously. It’s a good idea for both customers and customer facing personnel.

Communicate Internally
As mentioned at the beginning of this article, it’s of the utmost importance to make sure that there is good cross functional communication within your company. Make sure that everyone understands how their roles impact other employees, departments, etc. Your customer need not be caught in the middle due to poor communication within your company. The goal should be to ensure that the customer receives a great experience. This requires setting customer expectations that are achievable by personnel who will actually perform what the customer requires. When developing policies and procedures that impact customers, remember to get input from all departments that contribute to and or participate in the process of providing a great customer experience. As my Dad used to say – “Everything you do affects someone else. You do nothing in isolation.” One should never hear this statement from a customer – “It seems as though you all do not communicate with each other there.” If you do, it’s an indication that you probably need to work on improving internal communications.

Well, there you have it. In order to make sure your customer is not “stuck in the middle”, be sure to Establish Customer-Focused Policies, Create Employee Autonomy and Communicate Internally. Doing so will lead to both great customer and employee experiences.

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Are You Using Band Aids or Cement to Improve Your Customer’s Experience?

When I was a kid, my father would often say “Why try to fix something with a band-aid, when you know cement is required?” Ever noticed what’s required when utilizing cement? A little more effort is required when attempting to put something that will last for a while in place. This made me think about strategies that are often used to “fix” a customer service delivery problem. Let’s take a look at some of these “band-aids” as a way to improve your customer’s experience and why cement is the better option.

Motivational Talks
While motivational talks are a great tool to utilize, they are but a spoke in the wheel of creating great customer experiences. Now, everyone needs a little motivation now and then, but be careful not to totally rely on this option. Attempting to “motivate the troops” without first listening to the troops is in my opinion a tactical error in the quest to provide great customer service. A common military tactic is to send out a “point man” ahead of the troops to look for and report back on hazards that the platoon might encounter. To ignore the point man’s communication would be unwise as this information was key to the mission’s success and to the safety of the entire platoon. It’s the same in customer service. The people who service the customer as well as the people who service the people who service your customer are your company’s “point personnel”. Here’s the cement: Get their opinions regarding the state of your current customer experience strategies. They can identify “hazards” that may cause a significant decrease in customer satisfaction and revenue. Here’s a formula for you: Motivational talks before investigation usually results in disengagement. Motivational talks, when utilized in isolation, will just like a band-aid slowly lose its ability to stick. The result is the underlying issue reappears.

Customer Service Training
Often I hear managers or business owners say that their employees need customer service training. Now you would think that as a customer service training provider, I would be excited to hear about that need. My first question is always “Why do you feel your employees need customer service training?” Some of the answers that I receive are “I want them to learn how to be nice to our customers.”, “I want them to understand how important our customers are to the company.” or “I want them to learn how to handle angry customers.” Now these are all some legitimate reasons to consider customer service training as a solution, but when used in isolation might be considered a temporary band-aid. Customer service personnel might for a time exercise some of the skills learned in training sessions, but if the internal issues which create problems for employees during their customer interactions go unaddressed, then the concrete has not yet been utilized.

Manipulation
Some managers and supervisors use this tactic in hopes of getting improved results. Comparing their team’s results to another team within the same organization, or to another location – in another state or maybe even on the other side of the world without considering the various dynamics that may be at work. This is a band-aid laced with poison. Most people do not enjoy having their performance negatively compared to someone else’s. Some companies feel that “a little competitiveness” is okay amongst employees. Make sure that this “competitiveness” does not induce cheating to stay under the numbers radar. The cement to be applied is to allow employees the proper time to take care of the situational needs of customers. When monitoring service interactions, make sure to consider whether or not the actions taken were such that the customer should not have to come back,, call back, email again or engage in an additional web chat conversation. To base performance incentives strictly on meeting a number is somewhat dangerous to the work culture. Did the actions taken not only meet the purchasing customer’s needs, but also those of the internal customers? Was someone else negatively impacted by an employees quest to “meet the numbers” goal? Beware of manipulation. You may in fact be creating additional work when utilizing this band-aid.

Remember – using a band-aid in the quest to create great customer service experiences is but a short-term solution. Get the cement out and develop an environment that thrives on providing the best service for each individual customer’s situation.

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