I spend a huge proportion of my time speaking to retailers, banks, car dealers, restaurants and other consumer-facing businesses and hopefully instilling in them a few simple lessons for improving the delivery of service and how that relates to profitability. It’s not rocket science, is it? Give great service and you’re far more likely to frequent their establishment, again aren’t you?
I talk to these brands every day about putting you, the customer, first. But in actual fact, there’s a step before this. And that is to put their employees first. Businesses with the most customer-centric cultures are ones who know how to look after their people. After all, if they don’t do that well then surely, they can’t expect their employees to bend over backward to give you the service you’re looking for?
So, what does it mean to put employees first? Let me give you the long and short of it:
It means having a culture that is open and transparent. One that doesn’t penalise failure when you get something wrong. It’s the opposite. One that almost encourages its people to try new things and celebrate failure. This is how businesses can learn quickly and improve what they do.
It means having a CEO who recognises the importance of tapping into the knowledge of their team who work on the front line, serving you the customer. Most businesses don’t give their employees a voice. The opportunity to openly express their opinion about what’s working well or what needs to be improved. After all, they're engaging every day with hundreds of customers many of whom will share their thoughts with them about products or services that they like or conversely that really frustrate them or that they simply don’t like. There are so many learnings a business can take from its team that interface with customers.
It really upsets me when I think of all the businesses who are no longer around, often as a result of not listening to their people or their customers. At least not until it was too late.
From your perspective as consumers, I’d imagine that like me, one of your biggest frustrations is that in almost all consumer-facing businesses, the staff are not truly empowered. By that, I mean they cannot make decisions to help you when you have a problem. They have to escalate it to a manager, and he or she may have to get to the next level up and so it goes on. It can take days or even worse, weeks to get a decision. You just want a resolution, and you want it now. Have you ever had contact with the customer service team about an issue you’ve complained only to be ‘placated?’ You know, when they talk to you in an empathetic and understanding voice but when you ask them what they’re going to do about it, they’re not actually empowered to do anything! There is nothing worse. When that happens to me, it just makes me even angrier!
Is it an unrealistic expectation for you as a customer to expect an instantaneous decision to resolve an issue you have? I don’t believe it is. You paid your money in good faith. If something is wrong, the brand should resolve it.
One business I know who do manage customer issues extremely well is AO.com. If you call their contact centre team because you have an issue with your fridge freezer, tumble dryer etc, whoever you speak to is empowered to make a decision on the spot to replace your faulty product. Is it any surprise therefore, that they have 1.8m fans on Facebook? Or ratings of 9.2 out of 10 on Trust Pilot? They have true customer engagement. And much of the goodwill towards them as a brand is as a result of them hiring people who care, who want to give great service and importantly who are empowered to do so.
Most retailers and restaurants have a lot of churn with the staff who are on the front line. Particularly those on the shop floor. But why is that? I believe there are lots of reasons that could be addressed. Yes, the pay isn’t great. But I think there are bigger issues at play. Very few businesses invest in training and development these colleagues. Nor do they give them a clear view of how their career could progress within their organisation. And as alluded to above, they’re not empowered to resolve your issues. So, guess what? They are often on the wrong end of your frustrations! You can almost hear them say to themselves “I’m not paid enough to take this.”
I hope this is painting a picture for you of the importance of businesses that serve you thinking first and foremost about their own people and how they treat them, before they consider how best to serve you. If they get that right, then you can be assured of a great experience. And the brands you love are the ones who do this best.