A lot has been written about how much communication is non-verbal. In fact, most communication between people is not even conscious.
For example, people calling service centres, or talking to sales assistants, become aggressive when they detect that the person they are talking to is not primarily interested in them. And, if the employee is reading from a script written to give the impression that they do care, it just makes things worse if the script is being recited in a way which makes it clear they don’t.
There’s a very useful principle to the effect that no organisation can give a better standard of service to its customers than its people give to each other. If you believe that, and everyone I’ve told it to does, then the first job of anyone in a team serving customers is to serve their colleagues. And that has to start with management showing by example.
Interestingly, the motto of the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst – where the British Army trains its officers – is Serve to lead. What that means is that, if a potential officer thinks he or she is going to lead a group of trained soldiers, they had better be in service to them first. This attitude shows up, for example, in the rule that “officers eat last”.
The trouble with the word “service” is that many British people equate it with servility or servitude. But those are two completely different things.
I think that many people in a service team resist the idea of being in service to the customer because they believe (if only subconsciously) that it requires them to be inferior to them. It doesn’t. Being in service is leadership.
Now, “Serve to lead” is a rather dense sentence. Expanding it out into something more useable turns it into something like “act as if the other person were more important than you”. The words “as if” are crucial here. I am not saying “act according to a belief that the other person is more important” – that way lie servility and servitude.
But, if a manager consistently puts out a message to their team that improving service is about making other people’s needs more important than theirs, they will find their staff reciprocating – both with each other and with the manager. Particularly if the manager has had a few sessions with everyone to explain what is going on and what is possible.
Not surprisingly, I call the principle of acting as if the other person were more important than you a “leadership principle”. It is actually about an approach – not a behaviour. It is about an attitude that we might usefully take with our colleagues and customers. It doesn’t require extra time to do it in because it isn’t more things to do. It is how you do what you are already doing.
So, if a manager is applying the leadership principle with their staff and encouraging them to apply it to each other, it is but a short step to everyone applying to the customers.
This sounds self-evident. “Surely we do this already!” I hear you say. And many organisations and businesses do – but not enough of them. After all, the consequences of doing it can be far-reaching. For, if a customer-facing person is to make the customer more important than them (and, by extension, more important than the business), considerable latitude has to be available to the staff member to resolve individual problems.
It may be tricky to devise watertight procedures which nevertheless give the front line staff the flexibility they need to do this effectively. But that difficulty isn’t the reason for it not being done. The trouble is, it raises big questions about how far the service provider really trusts their staff to do their jobs. The implication of this is a higher cost to recruit better staff and a substantially higher cost in training them (plus the cost of working out some good, flexible procedures).
But the gain is greater: staff job satisfaction and retention and customer satisfaction and retention. And the good news is that it easy to start the process. All that is needed is for the senior people in an organisation to commit to making their staff’s needs more important than their needs. Once that is done, the same attitude will flood through the organisation and out into the customer base. The question is: do you dare?
> blog: “No problem” is a problem
by Jeremy Marchant . © 2013 Jeremy Marchant Limited . uploaded 5 march 2013 . image: Free images