I believe that everyone wants to do a good job at work. It’s just that poor processes and unimaginative management get in the way. Companies are often reluctant to pay attractive salaries for front-line staff and try to counter this by “scripting” everything that the staff do. This is particularly true of call-centres, but applies in many service situations. Firms genuinely want people to do the right thing for the customer, but it is difficult to define precise standards for every interaction and trying to do so just de-motivates the people doing the work, and frustrates the customer.
Scripting does not work. The issue with the service environment is that every customer is different, which creates complexity. In addition, there is complexity comes from the variety in the work.
Imposing “services standards” on staff doesn’t work either. Staff will then focus on meeting the “standards” – ticking boxes – rather than actually satisfying customers.
So what actually matters to customers? I haven’t done a scientific survey, but I believe that there are 7 key elements for customers:
1.To be listened to
2.To have their needs understood: what matters to them
3.For it to be easy to access the services available
4.To be respected and dealt with appropriately
5.Not to have to repeat themselves, or be passed around
6.To know exactly what is happening at all times, and to be in control of the service rendered
7.To receive a timely response and delivery in the timeframe agreed
Meeting these needs is not about scripts or service standards imposed from above, it is about good old fashioned caring for the customer. And that means treating front line staff with respect, paying them appropriately, and training them thoroughly and regularly in human interactions, as well as products and services. It is about a culture of caring and serving the customer (rather than the managers).
Thus, front-line staff are the key to service excellence, but service process improvement is not just about training front-line staff to handle different types of interaction. Front-line staff need the power/ authority/ responsibility to “pull” other support as required (rather than just “referring on”).
Front-line staff, therefore, need to know who to contact when they have a problem, and they need to have direct access to these other support professionals on behalf of their client. For those contacted, it means treating the front-line staff as their customer. This requires that the relationship between the front-line contact and the “professional expert” be one of equals with joint responsibility to solve the client’s problem. Just as the front-line worker having to go through layers of management to request support will kill prompt action and initiative; the “professional expert” considering themselves the superior actor in the intervention will also destroy the culture of service excellence.
The first principle of service process improvement is that everyone involved to comes together as equals with the aim of improving the outcomes and the experience for the user.