The people with greater knowledge of the business and its products are usually promoted into its higher positions. In this instalment, we shall be discussing the interaction that customers have with the business most of the time, focusing on when and through whom they interact with an organisation.
When going into a bank, the first interaction that you have is with the individual who monitors who goes in and out of the premises.
This individual is usually the security guard, (mantshingelane or mahobho in the derogatory). However, the title immediately changes to “officer” if the circumstances are such that the public are persuading them for a favour. These security guards have the responsibility to open the doors at the beginning of business and shut them at its close. They also exercise the “right of admission reserved” task and in some instances grant access to the higher-ranking officials.
Not all organisations that I have observed have in-house security services. Most have outsourced this. The argument that is advanced is usually that the provision of security is not the business’s core activity. That argument suffices in the context of outsourced security personnel who guard against burglary and theft.
The reality of how these security personnel are utilised is however usually different from the situation on which the outsourcing argument is premised. How many times have your customers experienced rude and indifferent treatment from a security guard when trying to visit your organisation’s premises?
The outsourced security guard’s discretion is curtailed by the relation he or she has with the client organisation. Any issues pertaining to a guard’s discharge of duty is directly reported by the client organisation to the outsourcing organisation’s management. Given the complexity of the situation, outsourced guards are strict to the letter, with no room for exceptions when it comes to their handling of people coming to your premises.
If it were you the leader that had to screen people at your premises’ entrances, you would endeavour to understand the circumstances of each visitor before turning them away. We are not advocating for the business leader to man the entrance or the front office, but that the staffing of front offices should be done by personnel who know the business and are trained by your organisation.
The guards should direct visitors to the front office without at all times exercising the right of admission principle. This right should only be exercised where there are perceived security threats. It would be rare for an organisation to train a security guard from an outsourced organisation on its business processes. Therefore, is entrusting the first line of contact to an outsourced security guard, who is not part of your staff compliment, not a formula for killing your client relations?
If so, why then do customers have to get assistance from security guards? Why do organisations allow these individuals the opportunity to exercise discretion on who gets to see your senior managers? How many people do these security guards turn away because they do not have an appointment to see the managers in your business? How do the persons trying to contact your business who are turned away by the guard without merit let you know of their experiences?
Another systemic malfunction in today’s business set-up is the emergence of call centres. Persons who have limited specific knowledge about particular products usually staff these centralised query-handling hubs.
That is the reason why when one calls this centre, their query is first handled by an automated voice prompt. Typical recorded questions would go along something like: “For new accounts press 1, existing customers press 2, for account arrears press 3, other queries press 4, to repeat these options press 0”.
When your customer selects the appropriate options, they finally speak to someone who knows only that small part of the product relating to the chosen option. These call centres are either in-house or outsourced. The individuals staffing them more often than not give the impression that they work from pre-drafted scripts, they do not have answers for issues other than the little they are trained to answer.
The typical answers to unfamiliar questions posed by customers would be something like, “I hear you, but what I know is that …”, then the script is parroted into customer’s ears for the umpteenth time.
The nightmare of your customer’s experience with a call centre would be when they ask to speak to the manager. The model answer from the script is always that the manager is in a meeting of some kind, and that the time he or she will be out is unknown. Meantime, the call’s bill is charged to the unfortunate customer.
At what point then would the high-ranking officials in the organisation get to meet with their customers? The marketing executive would tell you that this would be achieved through golf days when clients meet with the management. How many ordinary people who are the business’s clients can play golf, let alone get an invitation from your marketing department? The only clients the executives usually get to meet are the executives of client organisations, who, just like them, would also be sitting in some insular ivory tower office.
These fellows would bring little, if any value pertaining to customer service feedback because they do not experience your business service offerings, but their subordinates do. Yet your business leaders never meet the actual people who directly interact with your business. It is like the shortsightedness of an airline that worships business class passengers and gives sloppy service to economy class passengers. Yet the hard fact is that economy class travellers pay for themselves and can switch airlines at the click of a finger, while most business class travellers fly on business accounts that cannot be switched overnight.
Most leaders would tell you that their prerogative is to create customer-oriented businesses, yet they abdicate the customer-facing role to call centres, outsourced security guards and inexperienced college leavers running their front office. Are you still wondering why your organisation is losing customers?
If so, ask the untrained guard at your reception or the inexperienced school leaver you hired to man your enquiries desk. Giving adequate information to enquiries creates business opportunities. Effectively resolving queries retains your customers. Front office posts are not entry jobs, they are promotional jobs that should pay well to be worthwhile for your tenured employees who know your business enough to add value to the customer interaction.
Let the outsourced guards do what they are trained to do, provide security, not to chase away customers
Sam Hlabati specialises in Systems Thinking and Reward Management. You can contact him on firstname.lastname@example.org