Over the years, I have found that the image that comes to most people’s mind when I talk about Quality of Customer Service, is that of a front line employee smiling (or not) at customers. The front line staff will most likely be a Receptionist whom you will find at most organizations, a Cashier/Teller at a Bank or Supermarket or a Waiter/Waitress at a Restaurant.

There is a perception out there that Customer Service is only to do with communication and soft skills. That the front line staff just need to talk nicely to the customers and smile and all will be well. This is indeed why you will find most organizations happy to pay for ‘the junior staff’ to attend a Customer Service Training – usually, once a year; and which content is mainly on communication.

There is no question that the way customers are communicated to is important (and especially when things go wrong) and will have an impact on how customers feel about continuing to deal with an organization. However, there is definitely more to quality customer service than how staff communicate to customers. For an organization to deliver great customer service, it has to entrench a culture of service. A culture of service will lead to enhanced customer experiences and therefore higher customer retention and attraction, lower costs and consequently increased profits.

There are some fundamental values without which an effective and efficient service delivery programme will not be entrenched in an organization and therefore achieved. These are ‘customer first’, ‘continuous learning and innovation’ and ‘walking the talk’.

Customer First
The customer is the most important person when it comes to the delivery of service. There are two types of customers in any organization. The internal customer – which in this case refers to the employees of the organization, suppliers and partners and the external customer – in this case referring to the people who buy products and services from the organization.

While both internal and external customers are important in making an organization’s customer service programme successful – I believe that the internal customer is far more important because without him/her, an organization will not be able to deliver its services in the first place.

As such, the way in which an organization manages its employees will definetly impact on the quality of service delivery to the external customer. Often, an organization that values its employees will have human resource policies e.g. on recruitment, induction, training and development that emphasize and support a service delivery culture.

It is a high price to pay if employees are unhappy because they will in turn, not care for and manage customers as well as they should. This will lead to increased customer complaints due to, for example, a lack of focus and follow through by staff to customer issues, and mishandling of customers due to negative attitudes of staff. Ultimately, the extent to which employees are satisfied or unsatisfied with the organization will come through in the way in which they interact and serve their fellow employees, suppliers and partners as well as the external customers.

Continuous Learning & Innovation
External customers are needless to say very important because they keep the organization in business by continuing to buy its products and services. They should therefore be treated as such by continuously seeking feedback from them on how well the organization is doing.

An organization that values its customers not only seeks feedback but takes feedback seriously enough and finds ways to incorporate it into the future improvements on not only products and services but also processes. This then provides the basis of an organization that is continuously improving by innovating its products and services.

A Culture of Service
An organization might have the most fantastic service delivery programmes and initiatives but find that they lose steam and become ineffective after the initial launch and excitement. Once an organization determines to enhance its focus on its customers, its senior management’s commitment to the various initiatives must be unwavering and sustained over the years by quite literally ‘walking the talk’.

The senior managers, led by the CEO, should not only talk about the importance of putting customer first but lead their staff by example. For instance, they should regularly join the front line staff in serving the customers. This will not only give them first-hand experience on how well (or not) they are serving their customers but will also have the effect of motivating the staff when they see their senior managers actively taking part in serving customers.

Written by:
Eva Kiplagat

* this article first appeared in Management Magazine