Smart up your customer-facing staff


Customer service strategy expert Stephen Parry, whose clients have included Fujitsu, explains how empowering staff to interact more with consumers can boost a company’s bottom line

Today’s customers demand greater choice. To stay successful, organisations must not only confront and deal with this demand, they must design a corporate culture that actively embraces it.

A vital part of my work involves ‘smarting up’ customer-facing teams: taking managers and staff beyond a traditional mindset into one that vastly improves its customers’ experiences, helping to grow the revenue of the organisation in the process. Here are some of the ways you can implement that.

1. Know the customer better
We’ve all had those frustrating customer experiences where the person we’ve just spoken to hasn’t been able to help us. Our needs haven’t been met and our dissatisfaction is vented at the employee or next tier of management. But the real fault isn’t there, it’s right at the top level.

Those negative customer experiences are almost always because employees have been placed into ‘dumbed down’ positions, prohibited from moving beyond a transactional level. Their task is simply to increase the portfolio of a narrow range of options.

Fujitsu – an IT outsourcing company I worked with – decided to move beyond its focus, to go further to understand their clients’ non-IT issues at a deeper level. In doing so, they ‘smarted up’ their service staff to uncover business problems in need of IT solutions. For example, for an airline client, they found ways to use IT to reduce queues at ticket offices, check-ins and flight delays.

2. Encourage conversations to enhance knowledge
When customers aren’t listened to, or feel their demand hasn’t been met, they’re made to feel like one of a million – and not one in a million.

In the ‘smarted up’ model, sales staff are given the freedom to engage in wider ranging conversations with customers in order to understand their situations; the customer experience becomes personal.

Our smart people are now telling the organisation what customers really want; in the process, ushering in a source of new revenue streams for the company.

I once worked with a large telecommunications firm which offered a one-size-fits-all set of services, delivered in a strict transactional process and causing much frustration to clients and shareholders, who were concerned at the client churn rate.

Our work in ‘smarting up’ their staff allowed them to create a more efficient way of working, which gave them the ability to generate a wide variety of new services.

3. Think beyond cost and see the value
My work in growing this kind of cultural change in organisations often meets with stiff resistance: ‘Can I afford to pay my operational staff more?’ and so on.

Sadly, too many business organisations, to paraphrase Oscar Wilde, know the cost of everything, but the customer value of nothing. Once again, it comes down to the traditional, transactional mindset. When you separate ‘value’ from ‘cost’, everything is always going to become too expensive. The global drive to move work to the lowest labour cost betrays this inability to think beyond transaction and cost.

This is borne out in the work I did with a client, a well-known parcel and documents delivery company. After ‘smarting up’ their couriers, the company found customers wanted their packages weighed and packed with all paperwork completed when the courier arrived to collect the parcel. Rather than try to drive couriers to greater efficiency, they encouraged them to create greater customer value. The result? New services, greater job satisfaction and an enhanced customer experience.

Employing people to do more responsible jobs is an investment that delivers true value. The key is to recognise the value of your most priceless commodity – your people.

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