Posts tagged ‘customer service’

February 3, 2012

Why the RBS Bonus Furore Should Give All Employers Pause for Thought About Rewards

So ex-RBS boss Sir Fred Goodwin is now plain old “Fred the Pleb”, having been stripped of his Knighthood for leading (pushing?) the bank off the economic gang-plank.  And now the current boss, Stephen Hester has been forced to hand back his hefty share bonus after political and media furore in theUK.

Both of them were deprived of their performance-related honorific or financial reward because of a perceived or real mismatch between what they got and what they had actually achieved

Stephen Hester’s reward package was put together when he joined the organisation in 2008, just after the taxpayer bailout of the failing bank and the organisation was desperate to find the right person to get the bank back on track.

But the leaders clearly made a classic reward package error – they failed to align their reward system with the true values of the business.   In other words, the company misjudged the feelings of the new owners – ie, the millions of British taxpayers who through the government now effectively own a majority of shares in the bank..

It’s an easy mistake to make: and one that many other companies commit when creating reward systems for their employees.  Instead of ensuring that employee reward is linked to the values of the business (in this case influenced extensively by the public and the politicians), they look at micro-performance and reward for individual achievements measured in a simplistic quantitative way.

To be fair it is a complicated business. And it’s no easier getting a reward system right for customer service employees than it is for chief executives.  It involves addressing difficult strategic questions like:

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January 13, 2012

Does Virtual Shopping Mean Curtains for the High Street or Are We Being Seduced Back into the Real World?

Question:  What distinguishes those retailers who will survive and thrive on the high street and those who will sink into oblivion under the weight of internet shopping?

Answer: An in-depth appreciation of the things that customers value about a direct retail experience.  The things that make the in-store experience something of genuine added value.

 The economies of scale and reduced overheads, and sheer shopping convenience achieved by a virtual store will never be matched by real life bricks and mortar shops, so the competitive advantage has to lie elsewhere.  Reducing prices and increasing ranges will only go so far in driving sales and eventually the squeeze on profits will force many shops into radical restructuring or liquidation.   Those who survive will have had a concerted re-think about what they are offering over and above the internet.

HMV, the iconic music and entertainment high street retailer in the UK is a case in point.  Despite announcing profits warning after dismal forecast during 2011, the company pushed on throughout the Christmas trading period and continues to insist that it will survive, despite a sales slump (8.1% decline in like for like sales for the 5 weeks to the end of December).

I fear the writing is on the wall HMV.  The internet offers identical products cheaper and without the trip into town.   Your store refurbishment programme is nice but not sufficient and your British stiff upper lip in the face of continual bad results is admirable but Titanically hopeless.  If you continue to do what you have always done, you will get what you have always got – and in your case that is consistently declining sales.  There is only one place it can end up: administration or disposal of assets.

There are many other examples of high street retailers struggling to survive against the combined might of internet retailing and the global economic depression: Blacks the outdoors retailer, Past Times the nostalgia gifts retailer, Hawkins Bazaar the toy shop, Barratts the shoe shop and Thorntons the chocolatier.  What unites them is that they are all long-established high street retailers dealing with the new world around them by doggedly sticking to doing what they have always done.  Perhaps they are reducing prices and making “efficiencies” but essentially, with the exception of an updated product range, when you enter their shops you might as well be stepping back ten years.

The high street is doomed.

But wait!  There is a new breed of high street shops that don’t seem to be declining.  In fact they are filling up the empty shop-fronts with bold new offers.  They include shops like Hollister, Build-a-Bear, and countless beauty emporiums. There is nothing new in the type of products they are offering – we are still buying clothes, toys and lotions as we always have – but  the way these companies sell them is different and they are expanding as quickly as others are falling around them.

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December 23, 2011

Boxing Day: A Festive Experiment in Gratitude

I realise that the proverbial partying, frenzied gift buying or making and stocking up on traditional food items to mark the occasion is still going on in anticipation of Christmas day.  But in the last post before Christmas I wanted to take a moment to mention the following day, Boxing Day: because it offers a unique opportunity to anyone interested in the dynamics of service.

Boxing day is traditionally the day when householders give small gifts or money called a christmas box to people who provide a service to them during the year.  In days of old that might have been housemaids, stable boys and coachmen.  Nowadays it is more likely to be given to the people who provide a service to us during the year but often are not paid by us directly, including the lads and lasses who empty our bins, deliver our mail and bring the Sunday papers.  And it is generally given before Christmas since not many of these services operate on Boxing Day itself.

A Christmas box  is a small gift that recognises and acknowledges the service  these people provide throughout the year and is often given to people we rarely see but whose labour is a valued service and whom we fund through our local or central taxes.  

If it isn’t something you normally do, perhaps because you so rarely see these people, I wonder if you might give it a try this year?

Here’s why.  And let’s take the bin-men as an example.

1.  It communicates appreciation  

The bin-men may be paid by the taxes collected from us for all the services needed to keep our environment safe and clean, but the relationship between us is somewhat remote.  Despite benefiting from the services they provide, we are not their direct employers and I would hazard a guess that we don’t all rush out to give feedback on the quality of the job and a personal thank you each time we put out our bins.   

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December 2, 2011

Is There Really Nothing That Can be Improved with John Lewis’s Customer Service?

Simon Goodley writing recently in the Guardian on the collapse of Carphone Warehouse’s Bestbuy venture with US partners, reports that Andy Street, the MD of John Lewis, believes the endeavour was doomed from the start.  He is reported as saying “The US model is keen prices combined with high service. The truth of the matter is that prices were already extremely keen and high service is being provided by us … Put that together and there was not a gap in the market.”

Well now this is interesting.  We know that John Lewis are consistently voted as having the highest customer service ratings on the high street.  But is Andy Street suggesting that the service John Lewis provides is so good that there is nothing more that customers could want?  (Read more here )  Or is he implying that John Lewis have understood the price that customers are willing to pay for the higher level of service provided as compared to the cheapest retailers?

If it’s the latter, and John Lewis knows the precise formula for the link between service level and the price customers are prepared to pay then there will be no stopping them and we can expect to see to see John Lewis achieving total high street domination in the next few years.  But this would be pretty miraculous.  The variables are too complex and dynamic to be completely confident that you know exactly what people will, and will continue to, pay as a premium for “high service”.

So perhaps he means that John Lewis sets the standard for “high service” and there was nowhere for Bestbuy to go with improved service levels.  But it’s a dangerous game to assume that the service levels you provide – good as they are – are the best that customers want or will come to expect in the future.  The gap in the market may not exist in the current market place but there is no reason whatsoever that other companies couldn’t raise the game.  John Lewis’s figures for customer satisfaction are high, but only marginally higher than its nearest competitors and a good way off 100% satisfaction.

This tells us that customers know there is more that can be done to improve the service they receive.  Customers are able to tell you who is best now, but this best isn’t the best it could be.  Aside from death and taxes, the only certainty is change, and any day now no gap in the market could become the gap that, by resting on comfortable and incomplete laurels, John Lewis didn’t see coming.

August 25, 2011

A Cautionary Tale: Always Assume Your Next Customer is Famous

Let’s face it – anyone can have an off day.

But it’s a pretty spectacular off-day when a customer you tetchily call a “busybody” turns out to be an internationally known comedian with a show to develop for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. 

That’s precisely what happened to one hapless Virgin Atlantic employee and now her insult has become the title of comedian Shazia Mirza’s 2011 Edinburgh show, “Busybody”.

To be fair, the show, which has just received a 4-star review from the Scotsman, concerns not just this one incident but a myriad of tales about getting involved in other people’s business.  However, choosing the Virgin Atlantic incident as inspiration for the title of the show means that in the process of promoting her show across the media, Shazia has been asked to explain the origin of the title again and again.  So now, not only the hundreds or thousands of people who have seen her Edinburgh show know that a Virgin Atlantic employee threw an off-hand insult her way, but also the hundreds of thousands who have heard her on recent arts programmes or who have read her reviews. 

Is it fair to judge a company on one super-publicised incident?  Probably not.  But unfortunately for Virgin Atlantic, it’s human nature to form opinions in a less than rational manner. People are likely to “over-weight” this information when evaluating Virgin Atlantic’s care for customers.  Here are just some of the reasons why.

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July 5, 2011

Are We Being Short-Changed by the Idea of Emotional Labour?

Is the way that we think about the “emotional labour” involved in customer service jobs, helping to keep the real value of it hidden and do we as customers end up getting worse service as a result?  And are businesses struggling to keep our customer and our loyalty at least partly because they don’t fully understand the concept of, or properly appreciate the value of, emotional labour?

Arguably, yes.

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May 30, 2011

“Inside the Head of…” A Personal Perspective on Customer Service: Dr Stephen Fletcher

Beginning a new occasional series of Q&As with people involved in customer service, Dr Stephen Fletcher, Director of The OPC, a Business Psychology consultancy, talks about his experiences and insight on achieving outstanding customer service.

Inside the Head of… Dr Stephen Fletcher, Chartered Occupational Psychologist

Dr Stephen Fletcher is a Chartered Occupational Psychologist with over 20 years’ experience of working with clients whose customer service has a chequered customer perception.  Here he answers 10 questions that reveal some of his reflections on how to get customer service right, and wrong.

What first interested you in the field of customer service?

A         I had the chance to work closely with a corporate client who wanted to improve levels of front line customer service.  The more involved I became the more it became clear that to understand great service you first have to have a good understanding of the psychology of  people’s needs, and that this extends from the needs of the customer, back to the needs of the front line service providers and then throughout the organisation.  It demonstrated to me and to the client the many varied ways in which psychology can add value to the way organisations organise themselves to deliver customer service.

What has psychology got to offer customer service professionals and organisations?

A         Great customer service is all about giving your genuine self and creating a positive emotional experience for the customer.  Psychology can provide the insights into how and why people experience particular emotions and needs and so can help organisations to understand what they need to do to create these positive outcomes for their customers.

Q  What is the greatest challenge facing customer service organisations today?

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May 11, 2011

The Cost of Broken Promises & Betrayal: What the UK Election Result Can Tell Us About Customer Trust

When the UK’s third largest political party, the Liberal Democrats, lost a devastating 695 seats in the UK local elections on May 5th, it was just a year since they had become the nation’s sweethearts during the 2010 general election campaign.

How had they fallen so far from grace in such as short period of time? 

The answer seems to centre on an overwhelming sense of betrayal felt by their supporters and a desire to express their feelings about broken promises and breached trust:  to let their vote do the talking.

Elections Offer a Unique Perspective on Customer Behaviour

Elections provide an extraordinary opportunity to observe the workings of the relationship between an organisation and its followers or customers, collapsed into a single day. 

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April 28, 2011

What’s the Big Fuss about Positive Affectivity?

What?  You mean you haven’t heard anything about it?

Well, no.  Like most people, you probably haven’t heard much discussion about it because it’s one of those psychobabble terms that doesn’t easily trip off the tongue and so it gets very little air-time outside of academia.

But it’s something that we probably all have some awareness of, and with a bit more understanding we may well be able to give a good account of how much we tend towards it ourselves. More than this, research to date indicates that it might be one of the unseen and unmeasured features that means one group of people can perform better than another, when on paper everything else is equal.

What Exactly is Positive Affectivity?

Positive affectivity is the personality trait that predisposes someone to generally feel positive, optimistic and to pick themselves up quickly after disappointment or setbacks.  It is the tendency towards feeling happy about situations and outcomes and to express positive responses to adverse situations.

However, it’s more than just being in a good mood because it’s an enduring and measurable variable of behaviour.  Some people are more like this than others and this difference follows them across all sorts of situations.

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March 16, 2011

Is Staying Calm and Unemotional Exactly the Wrong Thing to do for Customer Service Employees?

Well yes, very probably, implies a new study.

This new paper by two Canadian psychologists reviews the academic literature on emotional intelligence and suggests that the ability to influence others as a result of one’s own displays of emotion is a distinct emotional ability with consequences in the workplace. 

Stephane Cote and Ivona Hideg argue that some people are better than others at showing appropriate emotions which influence the feelings, behaviour and attitudes of those around them.  

They propose that this ability to influence others through displays of emotions sits alongside other aspects of emotional intelligence that are currently better understood, such as the ability to perceive emotions or the ability to manage emotions.

Much is written about the contribution that emotional intelligence makes to the quality of customer service and academic studies show evidence of a link between various features of emotional intelligence and objectively measured job performance in customer service roles.  For example, research indicates that people who are more emotionally intelligent in terms of understanding and managing emotions, are rated higher in terms of customer service provision by senior managers (1).

However, there has been little attention focused on the role that expression of emotion plays in job performance and the authors contend that not only is it a genuine and measurable ability that is present to differing degrees in different people, but also that it is highly likely to have a direct effect, albeit moderated by other factors, on job performance.

So What Does this Mean for Customer Service Providers?

It means that customers like people who come across as positive about, and genuinely engaged in, the interaction and who seem to reflect appropriately the emotions they are experiencing.  And that because they like them, customers are likely to communicate more clearly, more warmly and more informatively, thereby making the customer service employee’s job easier. 

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