Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Ensuring that the office frontline is not a war zone

{pp}Treat the customer well if you want to be a billionaire

For many of us the worst wars we will ever endure are getting past the warriors, thinly disguised as switchboard, reception or frontline staff.

When we take out a contract with a company we are often assured that they are there to attend to our every need, but when it’s time to lay a complaint, ask a question or try to speak to a manager a wall descends that even the most sophisticated nuclear missile would have difficulty penetrating.

The person who makes the query may have started off as a meek and mild, gentle soul but within 10 minutes after confronting the Frontline Warriors he or she is half deranged, his hair is tousled, her brow is furrowed, a gentle voice has been replaced by a screech or in some miserable cases a whimper. And still the Frontline Warrior holds on to his or her territory arms folded, a triumphant smirk, or they cut the phone off with a cackle knowing that the hapless customer will now, with the final insult, throw him or herself out of the window. But just a minute: There’s something wrong with this picture, frontline staff are not expected to be warriors, they’re expected to be servers. The “may I help you” so often voiced by switchboard or reception staff is not a devious ploy to confuse innocent customers, it is supposed to be a sincere desire to assist.

“People forget that in the same way that a person forms an assessment of you in the first 30 seconds of meeting you, the same happens within the first 15 seconds of speaking with you on the phone or encountering a staff member they believe will help. Organisations can prosper or fall on how well clients and customers are served by frontline staff,” Liza van Wyk, CEO of national training organisation BizTech says. She gives the example of Sir Richard Branson who has built a US$10bn empire on two principles: The customer is why you’re in business and ensure they have fun while they're spending their money. Branson recalled that on one trip: "I wanted to talk to the pretty girl in the next aisle, but I was stuck in my seat the entire flight." Branson's frustration inspired him to introduce stand-up bars in Virgin's cabins. After his wife's manicurist suggested offering nail treatments and massages onboard, Branson’s response was: "Sounds like a great idea." Now Virgin has 700 therapists on staff. Many executives consistently do what's easiest or cheapest for the business rather imaginatively meeting the needs of the people that pay to keep the business operating: the customer.

Branson suggests: Take a look at your business and ask yourself, "Is this how I would want to be treated if I were the customer?" Another Branson tip: Don't rip people off, and they'll happily stay your customer. “That philosophy of quality and respect to the client underpins our courses,” Van Wyk said. “It has ensured phenomenal growth in our company but too often companies and customer service agents forget that the people who are paying their wages are their clients.” Debbie Hunt who facilitates the BizTech course Professional Switchboard, Reception and Frontline Skills* can immediately reel off half a dozen failures in customer service: “Answering a phone and speaking the company name so fast the caller is not sure if they are through to the right number. If the company has a difficult name, it is especially important to speak slowly and clearly. “There are those staff members who do not introduce him or herself - with good customer service always tell the person who they are speaking to.” Van Wyk adds: “It is easier to argue with a disembodied voice than a person with a pleasant voice who has introduced himself as Ismail or herself as Jane. People identify with other people.” Hunt gives other examples: “Switchboard staff who are under pressure may put a person through without saying, ‘please hold on’ or they may treat people like they are an interruption - it comes across in the tone of voice.

Poorly trained staff will ask people to phone back, instead of offering to call the client back. Courtesy is part of customer service. “Recently I was with my brother when he phoned a large parastatal, the guy on the other side of the phone said: ‘I can’t help you with that.’ My brother asked if he could be put through to someone who could help. He was told no one was available. It went on in this way until my brother saw red and blew up.” She recommends, “Offer to assist, be positive, have a polite tone of voice, and never say I don’t know or I can’t help you. If you don’t know, then tell the client: ‘I’m not sure but let me find out and I will call you back in 10 minutes.’ Be proactive rather than shrug your shoulders.” Hunt says that poor customer service can result from those who simply don’t care, to those who receive poor training and inadequate leadership from managers who don’t stress the importance of a positive customer/company experience first time, every time. *

Biz Tech has courses on Professional Switchboard, Reception and Frontline Skills on 3 to 4 August 2009 and 09 to 10 November 2009.

Contact information:
Liza Van Wyk,
CEO Biztech
Tel: 011 582 3300
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Charlene Smith Communications (Pty)Ltd
Contact: Leila Beltramo
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Tel: 021 762 2656