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ARTICLESManagement & Service

CUSTOMER FOCUS - A COLLECTIVE EFFORT

All sections in a company want to do a good job. They are truly interested in increasing business. Invariably every employee goes out of his way to ensure customer satisfaction. However, since all have their respective priorities and problems each department focuses on its functions in relation to the customer and works towards meeting it. This could sometimes lead to disturbance in flow of activity or events. Hitches have to be anticipated that inadvertently lead to bickering. Whether managers and colleagues are aware or not, customers do tend to get vibes of such undercurrents in an organization. Washing dirty linen in public?

Sales say “It is not easy to get a sale from customers these days. One has really to fight it out, out there.”

Operation say’s “It is easy to make promises and get a sale. They do not realize what we go through to meet customer deadlines”

Front line feels “sales make commitments and operations might have a tough time sticking to it. In the end it is we who have to do all the explaining to the customer”.

Finance says “statements cannot be sent on time to customers as invoicing instructions never reach by deadline”.

The chief wants to know “How’s business. How are sales? Are our customer’s satisfied?”

PHEW!

The departments may seem focused on the customer but is the company focused on the customer? Do the various sections work with empathy? What is your service strategy – department to customer or company to customer?

If they work with good understanding and camaraderie, you are lucky and only need to foster it. On the other hand should there be even a trace of animosity amongst employees, it has to be attended to immediately before it turns cancerous. How can a company bring together diverse customer focus and services and streamline it to a company’s service culture?

LATERAL INTERACTION

Department heads or section managers play a key role in reviewing their department functions and objectives keeping in mind the company’s service culture. While concentrating on his department’s performance the manager should not lose focus of the company’s service objectives. If his focus were only on his department, his team would think similarly. Should he look outside his department, try and understand, assimilate and inculcate best practices he would be in a position to educate his team to perform better, both at the sectional and organizational level. Of course one manager alone cannot do this. This needs all managers to meet regularly and discuss their respective department problems but eventually find constructive and collective solutions that help the company. This does not seem a tall demand from managers who are the pillars to an organization. They should have a broader outlook and spread the same amongst their team.

DEPARTMENT INTERACTION

At the bank I was employed, our branch manager held periodic meetings that were attended by all without exception. Of course he was present himself. The agenda was for a department representative to brief other employees of the functions and objectives of their department. The speaker basically explained what they did in the bank. Day-to-day working, problems encountered, how they solved it, how the flow of activities hampered or helped them, pressures they faced. The session concluded with a Q & A with the concerned department. This was followed by an audio-visual presentation on any subject pertaining to customer service. It could be time management, smile, telephone-manners, communication, personality etc.

Meetings of this nature help in nurturing an understanding of other departments and what your colleagues really do. Being informed about other department functions definitely help in serving a customer better. You are now aware of their activities in relation to yours. You know why a paper reached you late. You now understand their connotations. Maybe they help you prepare yourself while handling the customer.

This also helps in crisis management in case you are short staffed in a department and need help. It helps employees look at opportunities in other departments they maybe interested in or better suited for. It helps put other departments and the customer in perspective. This should definitely enlighten the chief.

VERTICAL INTERACTION

The President of one of the leading hotel chains in the world works as a porter, doorman and a waiter at one of his hotels as part of their “In Touch Day”. His management too rolls up their sleeves that day working as front desk attendants, food servers and doormen. Initially conceived as a morale booster to frontline, this subsequently enlightened managers on how difficult and vital the role of the service provider is. The role reversal has changed managers’ decision making. They now avoid imposition of procedures and policies that hinder staff in delivering quality service. It helps strengthen management’s commitment to staff. It helps managers walk the talk. You can now without guilt, preach what you practice and in a manner that can be practiced.

Even in UAE, we have recently seen programs where managers from the petroleum industry visit petrol stations and work with frontline. This helps them understand and learn from frontline, keep in touch with customers and review policies that help frontline with better working conditions and service standards leading to more satisfied customers. 

Maintaining customer awareness throughout the organization could also be done by sporting badges with the service slogan of the company, inspirational posters and pictures on customer focus placed all over the office and on site. Regular company newsletters also help highlight customer service achievements motivating employees to continue rendering excellent service.

It is all about putting the spotlight on the customer and shifting the focus of all employees on him.

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