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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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What Is Customer Service?

While being interviewed on a local radio show, one of the co-hosts posed this question – “Errol, exactly what is customer service?” I don’t ever remember being asked that particular question but here’s my reply -“Customer service is a methodology that when put in motion, creates a customer’s experience.” This definition is not specific to any particular industry nor does the size of the organization matter. Now someone is probably wondering what I mean by methodology. When defining customer service as a methodology, I’m speaking of the systems that an organization chooses to put in place to provide a customer experience. Ok, now someone may be asking “Errol, now what systems are you referring to? Allow me to explain.

When determining what your organization’s customer service methodology will be, you are actually determining the experience your customer will receive when interacting with those within your organization. For instance, when your customer calls and your inbound call methodology dictates that persons answering calls will perform certain tasks while on the call and do so within a certain time frame, those requirements lead to the customer’s experience. When that person’s performance review and salary increase is tied to their success in meeting the goals of that inbound call strategy, this too determines the customer’s experience with your organization. If your strategy induces this person to be more concerned with meeting goals than taking the necessary steps and time for each customer’s situation, this too creates an experience.

When creating core values for your organization, you are creating an experience for your customer. If words such as integrity, honesty, respect and valued are included in your core values, your customer should experience these words when interacting with your organization. Core values are the frame-work from which your customer service methodology is created. Every component of your strategy should be grounded in your core values.

When choosing your training methodology, once again you’re creating an experience for your customer. Your customer is depending upon customer contact personnel to be experts on your products and services. Keep the customer’s experience in mind when developing training programs. I suggest focusing on creating ambassadors for your organization. Are customer contact personnel educated on your various products or services? Have they actually utilized or experienced your products or services for themselves in order to gain the customer’s perspective? What tools will they need to provide a great customer experience? Be sure to equip them with basic soft skills training as one’s ability to be pleasant and professional goes a long way in creating a positive customer experience.

When choosing who gets the opportunity to be the face of your organization through your hiring methodology, here again you’re creating an experience for your customer. It’s important to carefully establish your hiring criteria. What characteristics are critical for your customer contact personnel? Is industry experience more important than personality traits? Remember, you’re attempting to create a great customer experience. Your hiring choices will bear fruit! Make sure it’s good fruit!

When exercising your personnel management methodology , remember that this too creates an experience for your customer. Just as you must strive to make sound customer contact personnel hiring decisions, it’s even more important to utilize sound management practices. Make sure managers have the proper tools required for this position – people skills, products and services knowledge, coaching skills, leadership skills and a good comprehensive understanding of the organization. Should your customer contact personnel become frustrated with management practices, your customer will eventually be impacted. Employee turnover, discontent and low productivity all create an experience for your customer. Manage employees in a way that will certainly lead to a great customer experience.

When developing complaint resolution methodology – you got it – you’re creating an experience for your customer. We all know that sometimes mistakes are made or things get left undone. When these errors happen, the need for a quick and thorough resolution is paramount. Is your methodology in this area customer-friendly? Does every resolution require a supervisor/manager’s approval or are your customer contact personnel equipped with options for a speedy resolution? Are you tracking customer complaints for patterns and trends? Doing so allows one to identify possible operational issues which once corrected will alleviate repeat complaints which in turn – you guessed it – creates a positive customer experience.

When choosing the methodology to get your customer’s opinion regarding your products or services – one more time – you’re creating an experience for your customer. We all know the value in getting the customer’s opinion. Most love the opportunity to let you know what they think of your organization. Make it easy for them to do so as the more customer feedback you receive, the more data you have to make decisions. Do you need to make adjustments to your product or services? Do your customer contact personnel need additional training? Provide regular feedback opportunities in order to stay current on what’s important to your customer.

These various methodology components create an organizational customer service system which in turn creates customer experiences. Examine your methodologies to insure that they all are geared toward providing what’s important to your customer. Now put them all in motion and create great customer experiences!

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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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