Are your frontline staff meeting expectations?

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Front-line employees operating on autopilot with the wrong motivators and confusing priorities means many companies have much lower customer service ratings than they think.

Vancouver-based customer service expert Elaine Allison says her experiences back up a recent study from the UK showing customers consistently give companies lower customer ratings than the companies give themselves.

A study from MindGym of more than 300 companies in the UK and Europe shows 80 per cent think they have good customer service, but just eight per cent of their customers agree.

Customer feedback tends to centre on three key concepts, the “Three Cs” – courtesy, competency and concern, Allison says. If a staff member is only nice, but can’t solve the problem or doesn’t seem to care about the issue, then the customer walks away dissatisfied.

“If you miss one of those three, which are all integrated, the customer will check off that they didn’t have a good experience and that’s where I think companies think they’re scoring 80 per cent but the customer is scoring eight per cent because they’ve missed one of those three basics,” Allison says.

One study showed that when a staff member was attentive 85 per cent of customers increased their purchase while a “neutral or negative” employee led to 70 per cent of customers purchasing less.

Companies that have good service have people return to their stores, and don’t have to compete on price, Allison says.

“I know it works and I know it’s profitable to focus on that and it does keep bringing the customer back,” Allison says. “And if you look at any business that has not put a focus on creating this culture and training employees into what the customer wants – they struggle.”

The MindGym report blames disconnected frontline staff who are on “auto-pilot” and managers who use “too much stick and not enough carrot”.

“That’s a culture that’s created through a myriad of different parts of a business. You’ve got to get the employees, no matter what level they’re at understanding the expectations,” Allison says. “The frontline is basically all the customer sees. If that point of contact is not exceptional you’re going to struggle."

Other fundamentals were knowing how to react when things don’t go as planned, knowing all the options – “Finding third ways” Allison calls it, such as when airport security says they will hold your place in the queue while you finish your water instead of just throwing it away – and learning to say no in a nice way.

“It’s all training so your employer is prepared before they ever see a customer,” Allison says.

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