Most managers acknowledge that customer service is critical to the success of an organisation, but to gain total commitment from front-line staff requires a top down effort. Gillian Bullock reports.
Harvey Norman founder and, arguably, Australia’s most successful retailer Gerry Harvey believes that customer service has to come from within: It’s about changing the culture of an organisation so that the employees want to go that extra mile when it comes to service. You can’t just tell people to be nice to customers.
Politeness and good service is what makes people want to come back. And generally, people love to be loyal. If I buy something, I will tend to go back to the same shop it’s a natural thing.
Harvey Norman can make all the rules in the world, but too many people just revert to type. You’ve got to have the culture there and the change has to come from the top, says Harvey.
Harvey Norman has put its money where its mouth is by developing a psychologically-based system called Customer First, which is used by its franchisees.
Driving this program was Special Projects Manager Joe Deen who says it is all about franchisees and their staff interacting with customers to create trust and a rapport so they will keep coming back.
The system was designed to create a motivational climate in which productivity and morale would flourish, says Deen.
The program included measurement feedback and reinforcement of behaviours, both of which came from the leader of each franchisee.
A leader’s interpersonal competence is critical in knowing how to reinforce good behaviour, says Deen. Our franchisee leaders understood that their staff were more likely to correct their weaker points if emphasis were placed on the things they did well.
Measurement of the program was achieved through courtesy boxes in each Harvey Norman franchisee store seeking customer views. Outstanding service earned three points, good service two points and needs improvement one point.
A computer program was then developed to identify individuals who gave exceptional performance as well as track the level of customer service in each franchise.
This was all communicated in a monthly newsletter acknowledging and reinforcing franchisee customer service results.
The best franchisee store over a six-month period was given a celebratory dinner and $60,000.
We found you needed leaders to reinforce positive behaviour, along with a carefully designed motivational system in which productivity and morale will flourish, says Deen. When you set people up for success, good service just seems to follow.
A similar tale is being acted out at the Commonwealth Bank with the introduction of the Which New Bank program some 18 months ago.
Hugh Harley, Group Executive Retail Banking Service at CBA, says the all-round objective of Which New Bank is excellence in customer service.
Our focus has been on two key areas: creating an environment where everybody does their best work every day and streamlining our processes.
These are the secret to good customer service, says Harley.
In our industry, good service is ultimately the key to determining purchasing decisions and it is what helps us retain our existing customers, he says.
The decision to pursue a program like Which New Bank was premised on the realisation that despite having the best brand recognition, the largest distribution network, a leading market share and an underlying desire to do the right thing by the customer, the Bank needed to keep ahead of its competitors.
We weren’t generating as much return as we should have been and we realised this was because we were not focusing sufficiently on the customer, says Harley. But since the introduction of Which New Bank, we have seen an improvement in the retention of customers.
Take our home loan business two years ago we had a total run off (both scheduled and unscheduled) of about 30 per cent. That figure is now 24 per cent, and in a business our size, that translates to a dramatic improvement of about $6 billion, says Harley.
For CBA, it is as much the little things as the big things that have made a difference.
While the bank has streamlined processes to improve the customer experience, there is also a focus on small gestures.
You should never under-estimate the simple common courtesies such as a warm greeting or using people’s names. These things resonate with our customers, says Harley.
The bank has introduced a number of strategies as part of Which New Bank and, as with Harvey Norman, the process is coming from the top down.
It’s all about changing the culture of the operation and making every member of staff believe that every day is a good day.
As a result, CBA has implemented such things as the Big Five, where every Monday teams of co-workers across the bank meet to outline five things to help improve service that they aim to achieve each week; it might be something like improving response times or perhaps setting sales targets. At the end of the week, a debriefing meeting is held to monitor the week’s progress.
In his book The Future IS Customer Service, Kym Illman, Managing Director of telephone audio production company Messages On Hold, says that while technology plays an important role in business today, you have to do something extra if you want ownership of your customers.
It all comes back to creating a memorable customer experience to make the difference and wow them, says Illman. It’s about using technology cleverly. The cost of the wow factor can always be picked up you’ll never be out of pocket.
Illman’s motto is to establish what the customer wants you to do, do exactly that and then do something extra that they don’t expect.
Vast rewards flow from enhancing your service levels. But the challenge for most businesses hinges on inspiring employees to super-serve customers. Management needs to commit to an ongoing training program and the more you invest in training, the greater the rewards.
Illman stresses the importance of setting up a system whereby service champions in your organisation are praised and rewarded for their efforts. Interestingly, money is not always the best reward.
Surveys show that being noticed is often ranked higher than money and appreciated more by employees than receiving token pay rises, he says.
Creating a workforce that enjoys what they do will go a long way to delivering excellent customer service. And as many businesses have discovered without good service your customers won’t return.
Wow your customers
A potential client of Perth-based telephone audio production company Messages On Hold (MOH) was having problems finding its office, located in a no-through street cut in half by a major road.
The client called MOH from her mobile phone about a kilometre away and Account Executive Matthew Green provided her with directions but to no avail. After a couple of minutes he told the woman to pull into a nearby service station and wait. He then drove there in his own car and invited her to follow him through the maze of one-way streets.
Now that’s service! But, more importantly, it meant that MOH did not miss out on her custom.
It’s actions like these that set companies apart and make customers keep coming back.
As MOH Managing Director Kym Illman says: If you can wow your customers, they will want to return; and they’ll also do your marketing for you through word-of-mouth advertising.
But he believes far too many companies today put technological advances like the Internet and automated phone systems ahead of personal service.
Some companies do everything within their power to avoid talking to customers, says Illman.
Business is done between people. If you want to own your customers for life, you should be providing a theatrical and emotional service experience.
Australia Post heads the charge
After a decade of change, Australia Post continues to cement its position as a successful and reputable company delivering results. The change was brought about by focusing not only on the culture and skills of the workforce but also on the organisation’s physical network, product offering and accompanying technology. All this was aimed at providing quality service and it worked.
Today Australia Post has a reputation of being a successful and reliable business with the proof seen clearly in the bottom line. Net profit jumped 12.2 per cent to $371.1 million in the 30 June year the sixth consecutive profit rise for the corporation. It reflected a high level of productivity gains and an ability to generate profitable revenue streams by working closely with its customers.
General Manager of Australia Post’s Commercial Division, Bill Mitchell, acknowledges that his people’s motivation is the key to unlocking a lasting relationship with customers although he recognises that other factors also play a role.
To create a culture of motivated employees, it is essential that Post gave its workforce new products, new merchandising formats, state-of-the-art counter technology and a new commercial image, says Mitchell.
Creating a positive culture among employees is not just about skills, roles and rewards these are critical but it is also about giving them the means to achieve high performance. If staff work in high-quality environments, with bright new products supported by positive advertising they will, in our experience, become the organisation’s strongest supporters and go the extra mile with customers. And, importantly, they will probably get a buzz out of work and have some fun along the way.
Part of the change program has been the refocus around key customer segments and the repositioning within local communities so that Post can get closer to its customers and better understand their differing needs.
This has been achieved by harnessing the efforts of the 35,000-strong workforce to focus on the customer and be involved in the selling effort, no matter whether they deliver or sort the mail, serve at a retail counter or handle telephone enquiries.
Engaging staff has involved such initiatives as introducing dedicated account management teams to serve the big end of town, establishing specialised retail outlets tailored to the unique needs of business customers and encouraging staff to become more involved in their business community through formalised programs.
As with other companies working on improving customer service, Australia Post runs research and service programs to measure customer satisfaction. The retail arm also introduced a reward-and-recognition program in which staff are rewarded for high levels of performance against such criteria as product and service knowledge, merchandising, how quickly and efficiently they attend to the customer’s needs and how effective they are in creating a positive experience for the customer.
[Bill Mitchell was a member of the AIM Qld & NT Board from 2001-2004 and retains strong links with the Institute. He is also a Fellow of AIM.]
A customer creed from the past
A Customer is:
- The most important person who enters our Bank.
- Not dependent on us; we are dependent on him.
- Not an interruption of our work; he is the purpose for it. We are not doing him a favour by serving him; he is doing us a favour by giving us the chance to serve him.
- Not an outsider in the Bank; he is part of it.
- Not a cold statistic; he is a flesh and blood human being with feelings like ours and with biases and prejudices like ours, too.
- Not someone to argue or match wits with. Nobody ever wins an argument with a customer.
- A person who brings his wants to us. It’s our job to handle them profitably for him and for ourselves.
Source: Bank of New South Wales (Westpac) Staff News of May 1967.