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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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4 Steps to Increasing Customer Retention

In these days of fierce competition, it’s crucial to do everything that one can to protect one’s customer base. The ability to retain customers is based on how well your internal operations run. While it’s important to smile and be nice to customers, it’s a good idea to make sure that your internal systems are able to consistently perform at optimum levels. Do you want better customer retention? Let’s take a look at how to get you there.

Map and Analyze Your Internal Processes

When working with clients, I always like to start here. Process mapping gives one an overview of what is actually happening within one’s company. Customers are impacted by your internal processes. How well your processes are constructed determine the level of service received by your customer. Hand off points and delays become clearly visible during this exercise. Process participants can communicate their requirements for completing their part of the process. Customer communication points can be identified. Process cycle time can be determined as well.

Create Consistency

It’s important that your company has a standard way of completing routine tasks. With your employees’ assistance, determine the best way to complete tasks and then develop standard operating procedures. These procedures become a guideline to follow to ensure consistent service delivery. This step also creates confident employees who can truly say “Yes – I do know how to complete that task.” Confident employees create happy customers.

Proactively Seek Feedback

Always, always, always proactively seek both customer and employee feedback. Where possible, attempt to get customer feedback immediately after their experience with your company. Solicit employee feedback regarding ways to improve internal operations. When you proactively seek feedback, the way your customers and employees view your company goes to another level. The information gained can be utilized to improve the experience received by both parties.

Analyzing Customer Complaints

It’s one thing to solicit customer complaints, but it’s another to analyze the complaint information. Look for patterns – is there an issue with one of your service offerings? What time of day are you receiving the most complaints? Is there a particular location that generates the most complaints? On which day of the week do you receive the most complaints? Do the complaints point to a particular process within your company? Did the complaints start after a new product launch? Analyzing your complaints will point you in the direction of quick resolution of the complaint sources.

Want better customer retention? Look inside your business first. How you do what you do will determine how well you retain customers!

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Management Skills Do Create Customer Experiences

When leaving a recent late lunch with a good friend here in Houston, Texas, we witnessed something that I personally had never seen before. The manager of the restaurant was loudly chewing out a waiter – right in front of customers! My friend and I were both taken aback by this behavior. What level of service did the manager expect the waiter to deliver after receiving a public tongue lashing? In continuing our series on tangibles that create customer experiences, let’s identify a few ingredients for successfully managing others and how a set of management skills can shape customer experiences.

Communicate Respectfully
In the above mentioned example, the manager’s behavior was most disrespectful to the waiter. Managers must be mindful to remember that employees are people and not machines. Heck, if you disrespect a machine by not recognizing its need for maintenance or adhering to proper operating procedures, it too will soon cause anguish via being less productive and eventually becoming non-productive! Humans are the same. Strive to always preserve their dignity as people. When it becomes necessary to issue a reprimand, do so in a manner which allows the employee to receive it. Stick to the facts of the situation. Never, ever reprimand an employee in front of peers or customers. Doing so is sure to result in a decreased level of service provided to customers.

Take Responsibility for Employee Success
It’s often been said that employees must be responsible for their success within an organization. In my opinion, managers are responsible for the success of those over whom they have authority. Being in this mindset is critical when those one is responsible for interacts directly with customers. Make sure that your management skills repertoire includes the ability to create skilled employees. Are they receiving adequate training? How much time are you spending with employees to insure they are able to successfully apply the training to their everyday tasks. Now I can hear some managers say “I’m too busy to spend time with my employees.” My response to that is – Take a look at what is keeping you busy. Are you busy putting out fires? Are you busy returning calls or visiting with upset or unhappy customers? Perhaps spending time with your employees might result in a decrease in your firefighting duties. These are opportunities to insure tasks are handled properly as well as to identify additional training needs. In addition, your employees will appreciate the personal attention!

Recognize and Reward Excellent Service
Make it a point to identify and celebrate the positive aspects of employee performance. Customers are the beneficiary when managers take the time to let employees know how they are positively contributing to the success of the company. When employees are recognized for their positive actions, high morale is usually not too far behind. An atmosphere of high morale results in customers receiving a high level of service. Develop performance standards that encourage employees to provide great service to both external and internal customers. Make sure that speed is not the primary factor in your standards as this will surely encourage a lower quality of service received by customers. Take all of the factors that are important to customers into consideration when developing performance criteria. Doing so insures that you are rewarding employees for creating great customer experiences vs meeting a speed goal. Make a big deal out of rewarding excellent service!

As a manager, always remember that you are ultimately responsible for both the customer’s and your employee’s experience. Think about Communicating Respectively with employees, Take Responsibility for Employee Success and Recognize and Reward Excellent Service. These three simple steps for employee management will certainly create great customer experiences.

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3 Ways To Frustrate Your Front Line

Front line personnel are tasked with providing a great customer experience – whether it be face-to face, via phone or web chat. An organization’s success at retaining customers is dependent upon the skills of those rendering service. Did you know that it’s important for your front line personnel to be relaxed and confident during their encounters with customers? Let’s take a look at three ways to frustrate your front line.

Unrealistic Expectations – One of the leading frustrations for front line personnel are unrealistic expectations. I have often witnessed organizations create goals based on a mathematical formula that doesn’t take into consideration what is actually required to perform job duties. Unless one actually first of all understands what’s required to complete a task, it’s almost impossible to assign an achievable goal to that task. Unless one remembers to apply the capacity vs demand theory, frustration is sure to follow. When front line personnel are responsible for multiple tasks, it’s critical to determine how much time is required to complete all tasks in order to establish reasonable expectations. The main complaint that I’ve heard over the years is “There’s only so much time in a workday! How am I supposed to get all of this done?” Unrealistic expectations lead to your front line making choices that may negatively impact the customer. Taking shortcuts, leaving tasks undone or exhibiting an “I don’t care anymore!” attitude are some clues that you may need to take a look at what’s expected of the front line personnel within your organization. Now I hear some of you saying “Employees should always be ready to service the customer.” Unless you have spent time in the front line person’s shoes as they attempt to meet unrealistic expectations, it’s probably a good idea not to let them hear you making that remark – it’s not conducive to creating good morale.

Dictating From On High – Another “frustration maker” is being the recipient of “orders from on high” which negatively impacts ones performance. It’s important for leaders to have a comprehensive perspective of their organization. Should one not possess the employee’s perspective of what is required to consistently create a great customer experience, decisions which create negative morale usually follow. I have often heard “They don’t really know what we do here!” or “Those people at corporate don’t have a clue.”

It’s important to get the perspective of the front line when making decisions that will ultimately impact their workday. When considering implementing changes, be sure to remember who and what will be impacted by the change. Take the time to get the opinions of those who will be responsible for tasks created by the proposed change. Should you choose not to take these steps, you’re surely opening the door of frustration. Remember for every action there is a reaction. Make sure that you create positive reactions.

Sub-Par Supervision – One of the leading reasons for front line personnel frustration is the front line supervisor. Does the supervisor possess the knowledge and people skills to lead the front line personnel? Does your organization provide comprehensive supervisor training? Will the front line supervisor go to bat for their team when it’s clear that proposed changes will negatively impact his/her team? Front line personnel look to their supervisors for guidance and support. While in the position of supervisor, my own personal motto was “My job is to make sure my team has what they need to do their job and then to get out of the way so that they can.” Make sure your supervisors understand that in order for them to be successful, their team must first be successful. Do your organization a favor by developing a supervisor training program to ensure that supervisors possess the skills required to fulfill their role as a leader. A supervisor that is totally numbers oriented in regards to performance will eventually create an air of resentment amongst front line personnel. In the supervisor role, it’s a plus to get the story behind the number. Are there issues beyond the front line personnel’s control that may negatively contribute to their overall performance? In my opinion, it’s the supervisor’s role to identify and remove obstacles that hinder their team’s performance. Be careful when selecting a front line supervisor. Front line personnel are depending on you to make the right decision.

The day-to-day performance of front line personnel is important to the customer’s experience. It’s critical to create a positive workplace environment. Do all you can to eliminate frustration by staying far away from Unrealistic Expectations, strive to not Dictate From On High and do not subject front line personnel to Sub Par Supervision.

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