Spotlight on HR and customer service

by 18 Oct 2011

A new book has shed light on the future of customer service, and argues that business leaders and senior management bear most of the responsibility, as it is their role to foster workplace cultures.

Kym Illman, author of the aptly titled The Future is Customer Service, told The Sydney Morning Herald that there are three main managerial behaviours that hinder good customer service, namely:

1. Inappropriate procedures: Employees are forced to follow procedures “that are designed for the benefit of the business, not for the customer”.

Illman said there are numerous examples of ‘arbitrary’ procedures, such as call centre operators who are forced to ask scripted and often redundant questions. Or retail assistants who are instructed to “cross-sell” to customers, even though they may have expressed their disinterest.

“When switched-on employees point out procedural flaws, many managers are reluctant to make the change. Why? Because “it’s not company policy,” Illman said.

2. Poor hiring decisions: Managers continually hire people who “clearly have no passion for serving customers and when they discover an existing employee is unsuited to serving, they fail to act quickly and decisively, resulting in other staff thinking that behaviour is acceptable.”

Illman said managers who hire the wrong people do so for two main reasons:

- In relation to retail or hospitality recruitment, many managers have a bias for technical aptitude, making the mistake that it’s easier to train a technical genius on customer service, than to train a customer service whiz on technical skills.

- ‘Avoidance leadership’. Too many managers shy away from giving negative feedback because they don’t want to offend or upset staff. Yet, avoidance behaviour sends an implicit message to poor performers: keep doing what you’re doing.

3. Not leading by example: Illman said employees are usually influenced by their leaders. If their leaders don’t view customer service as a priority, there’s little chance employees will follow.

The available data indeed reflects the trends outlined by Illman. According to global research by consultancy firm Towers Perrin, 72% of engaged employees believed they had a positive impact on customers, while in the pool of disengaged employees, just 27% said they provided good service.

Speaking to HC, Richard Todd, regional director of HR for Hilton Australasia, said the hotel has invested significant money into creating an online social networking platform for employees to share stories of the team demonstrating brand pillars.

Each person has their own personal profile, and is invited to correspond with other people in the organisation. The main function of the ‘Blue Energy’ initiative however, is to share positive examples of times when individuals have demonstrated the ‘brand pillars’ through excellent customer service.

Todd said they have experienced ‘extraordinary engagement’, and the tool has driven their customer service culture. Additionally, outstanding team members are rewarded with cash vouchers and prizes for demonstrating good customer service.

“What HR is doing is recognising what good customer service looks like, and sharing that experience so everyone can see what makes a difference to the guest, and how can we continue to do those things,” Todd added.


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