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For most organisations the most critical area is their customers. They want them to spend their money, become brand aware, brand loyal and to be advocates of the company.
In the public sector there is often a debate about whether or not there are customers, users, citizens, or service recipients? I prefer the term customer in the public sector even though monopoly suppliers mean that the choice to go somewhere else is not available. Even so, customers of public services have rights and a voice that should be heard. Perhaps it is even more important if you are a customer of no choice that the services you receive should be consistently excellent.
So are organisations really measuring the people issues that add value to their customers? If you could see at a glance which of your people initiatives were really making a difference it would be much easier to channel funding effectively it would also enable you to ensure that you had the right people in the right place at the right time doing the right things.
The HR team can add value by ensuring that the customer experience is a positive one and aligning employee development and hiring practices to customer need. In one local authority I worked in we had complaints about Housing reception points. In order to understand the issue I parked myself in a range of reception points on Monday mornings to see if I could get a feel for what was going wrong. It did not take long. Mondays are the best days to see reality as the tenants had had a whole weekend of dealing with whatever problem was on their mind, be it noisy neighbours, repairs that had not been completed or other issues. I was pretty disturbed by what I saw. Many of the customer were mothers with young children, the reception points were furnished with little more than chairs and fizzy drinks machines which usually led to parental confrontations with cola-demanding toddlers within seconds. The receptionists displayed complete disinterest in their customers. They avoided eye contact, were slow and unengaged and, in many cases misunderstood what tenants were telling them as they failed to actively listen. No mystery as to why we had so many complaints and that’s before we even got to the archaic process of allocating staff to go out and solve problems.
We managed to make major inroads very quickly by making a few simple and virtually cost-neutral changes:
· We removed the cola machines and replaced them with water dispensers.
· We bolstered the reception staff with those who had higher levels of emotional intelligence and empathy, and we supported them with training. We had to move a few people out to backroom roles as they were never going to be able to deal with people in an effective manner, no amount of training would change them in the slightest, so why waste money?.
· We brought in toys that our children had finished playing with for the kids to play with. We were nearly scuppered by the Health and Safety zealots who wanted a process of inspection of toys to avoid mortal danger, but we managed to fend them off.
· We took down screens that separated the customers and receptionist as we were dealing with our customers after all and needed to begin the interaction on a positive note.
· We introduced customer skills as part of the appraisal process and trained managers on how to differentiate between excellent and average behaviours.
· We asked customers what they thought of the service and asked them to rate this which we then posted on the reception walls.
Quite small things but it showed very quickly what we valued and moved us into positive relationships with customers at a very fast pace, they know they were respected and that we were there to prove them with a service.
Easy Jet please take note!
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