EVERY business leader understands the value of building and maintaining a brand presence.
The value of giving the customers, current and prospective, a memorable service is what drives the sustainability of an organisation through repeated business interactions with clients.
Those with the greater knowledge of the business and its products are usually promoted into positions other than the lowest ranks in the business.
In this instalment, we will be discussing the interaction that customers have with the business most of the time, focusing on when and through whom they interact with your organisation.
Imagine going into a bank, the first interaction that you have is with the individual who monitors who goes in and goes out of the premises.
This individual is usually the security guard, mantshingelane or mahobho as the public would want to call them at times. Their title with the public immediately changes to “officer” if the circumstances are such that the public are persuading the individual for a favour.
These security guards are given the responsibility to open the doors and close them at the end of the day. They also exercise the “right of admission reserved” task, in the instances granting entry to the business premises and access to the higher-ranking officials.
Not all organisations that I have observed operate in-house security services, as a greater number of organisations have outsourced all their security provisions. The business argument that is advanced is usually that the provision of security is not a core business activity.
That argument suffices in the context of the outsourced security personnel guarding against burglary and theft.
The reality of how these security personnel are utilised is, however, usually different from the situation on which the outsourcing non-core business argument is premised.
How many times have your customers experienced the 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 they have with the client organisation they are guarding.
Any issues pertaining to the individual’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 of the instruction on invitations and appointments with no room for exceptions when handling people coming to your premises.
If you as the leader were to sit at your entrances, you would endeavour to understand the circumstances in each situation before turning people away at the entrance.
We are not advocating for the business leader to man the entrance or the front office, rather the argument we are advancing is that the staffing of front offices should be done using personnel who know the business and are trained by your own organisation.
The guards should direct visitors to the front office without exercising the right of admission principle, instead they should be vigilant in vetting visitors for security reasons only.
It would be rare for an organisation to train the security guard from an outsourced organisation on your business processes. Is it not a formula for killing your client relations to entrust the first line of contact role to the outsourced security guard who is not part of your staff compliment?
Why then do customers have to get assistance from the security guard? Why then do organisations allow these individuals the opportunity to exercise discretion about 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 proper assessments of the merit of the reason for the visit 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 that when one calls this centre, their call is handled by an automated voice through a set of questions that they have to respond to.
Typical recorded questions would go along somewhat like this “For new accounts press 1, existing customer press 2, for account arrears press 3, other queries press 4, to repeat these options press 0”. When your customer selects 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. All the conversation time would in the meantime be charging in the hands of the unfortunate customer who would have called for assistance.
At what point then would the high-ranking officials in the organisation get to meet with the customers.
The marketing executive would tell you that would be achieved through golf days when clients meet the management. How many ordinary people who are the business clients can play golf, let alone get an invitee from your marketing department.
The only clients the executive usually get to meet are the executives of client organisations, who just like your executive would be sitting in some insular ivory tower office in their own organisation.
These fellows would bring little, if any value pertaining to customer service feedback because they do not experience your business service offerings, their subordinates do instead on their behalf. Yet your business leaders never meet the actual persons that directly interact with your business.
It is like the shortsightedness of an airline that worships business class passengers and gives crappy service to economy class passengers.
Yet it may be a hard fact 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-orientated businesses, yet they abdicate the customer-facing role to call centres, outsourced security guards and the inexperienced college leavers operating the front office and enquiries desks. 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 at the enquiries counter. 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, control losses from pilferage and robberries, not to handle (or is it chase away) your customers.
Sam Hlabati is a senior professional in Human Resources (SPHR®), a Certified Compensation Professional (CCP®) and a Global Remuneration Professional (GRP®). Email: email@example.com; twitter handle: @samhlabati