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Sunday, 18 January 2015

Do You Have a Customer Service Department? Get Rid and Replace it with Everyone in the Business!

It is strange how similar subjects seem to crop up during a week’s activities – call it coincidence or synchronicity it still surprises me.

For example I saw this week on LinkedIn one of those strictures that said:

“Customer service is not a department, it’s an attitude”

and that for me encapsulates the whole concept of great service.

This was substantiated yesterday when we ha d a problem at home with the central heating boiler.  Wouldn’t you know, just when it is getting really cold.

I called the British Gas Homecare help line at 8.15am on Monday morning, told then of the problem and lo and behold, an engineer arrived at 10.10am.

A very good start and better was yet to come.  He stayed working on the boiler until 1.00pm and then said that he had gone through everything that he could with the exception of a PCB (printed circuit board) for which he didn’t carry a spare. 

He promised however to pass the call on to a colleague who turned up as promised yesterday, solved the problem and all is now ell (and warm).

While the engineer was completing the paperwork, he told me of his training with British Gas.  I wasn’t aware, for example, that all the engineers go through a four-year training programme in London, comprising regular six week in the training academy and then two week on the job experience with an experienced engineer.

There is a final examination to ensure that the training had sunk in followed by two years probation until the apprentices are finally approved.  This means that the formal training is six years and the approval last for only five years (with annual checks) at which point they have to be re-examined.

All of this was very interesting and opened a new window on what is going on the world of business.  I would never have assumed that British Gas would have such a comprehensive and detailed trains programme for its people.

The really interesting statistic was that, on average, engineers stay with British Gas for 16 years after qualification and there is always a long pipeline of people wanting to join the training programme.

It cannot be coincidence that in an organisation that emphasises training of its employees to such an extent offers exceptional service to its customers.

Care for your people and they will care for their customers

Yes, I am talking about British Gas, that formerly nationalised organisation that had a dreadful reputation for service and which since being denationalised is certainly doing something to improve that reputation.

The question is: where does customer service start and how it is delivered?

As another example, employees of the Ritz-Carlton chain of top quality hotels tell its people that:

“We are ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen”

and that is a model of leadership which starts with its own people and then encourages them to give great service without exception.

All employees of the hotels, for instance, are told that if any customer asks them to solve a problem, then that employee owns the problem and is empowered to solve it for the customer.

It is almost a truism to say that it is impossible to deliver great service with dissatisfied employees so the first and most important thing is to ensure that your people are happy, engaged and fulfilled in their everyday activities.

Moreover, if the businesses believes that the wellbeing of the employees transcends everything else and this is visibly demonstrated, then that will encourage the people to deliver that great service for which most businesses crave.

So, if you have a Customer Service Department which is really a synonym for the Complaints Department,  get rid of it and replace it with everyone in the business, fully empowered to give great service to their customers. 

Radical maybe, but it is an approach that will deliver a genuinely sustainable future for the business and its people.

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