Monthly Archives: November 2014

Power to the People

I’ve just returned from speaking at the Hospitality.next conference in Athens.freedom - empowerment

In my presentation I shared my 7 low-cost strategies to wow customers and keep them coming back for more.

I asked the audience for their feedback on which of the 7 strategies they felt they need to focus on most to improve their customers’ experience.

Nearly a third (32% to be precise) said that devoting more time and effort to inspiring and engaging their team would add the most value.

This reflects the findings of a recent study by Gallup that indicated 63% of employees worldwide are “not engaged”. And in the UK they reported that 26% of employees are actively disengaged, meaning they are unhappy and unproductive at work and liable to spread negativity.

Imagine what impact that can have on customers.

Of course there are many ways to engage your team but during my presentation I homed in specifically on empowering teams.

This naturally starts with recruiting the right people (focusing on attitude above aptitude), then letting them know upfront exactly what’s expected of them – sharing your customer service values giving them the knowledge, skills, resources and confidence to deliver this.

Once you’ve all that in place here are 7 ways you can empower your team so they are able to give their best when it comes to delivering a great customer experience:

1. Personal suggestions

Involve your team in discussions and decision-making. After all, many of them will spend more time with customers than you do and often spot things or hear things you might miss.

So ask for their suggestions, what do they think will work, what won’t work, what will customers love?

But once you’ve asked their opinion be sure to be prepared to listen. Even if you’ve tried something before and it hasn’t worked that doesn’t mean to say it’s not a good idea. Quash their ideas early on and they’ll be reluctant to come forward with suggestions in future.

2. License to do what’s best

You can’t be there 24/7. Trust your team to make decisions to do what’s best in a given situation. If they truly understand your customer service values and what’s of most importance generally they’ll work out the best route to get there.

This is particularly so when things go wrong or when something out of the ordinary happens. Expecting team members to seek your approval or get sign off every time is time wasting for you, demeaning for your team and at best frustrating for your customer.

3. Anticipate (what if…)

Equip your team to deal with the unexpected. In any business there are times when things don’t go according to plan or mishaps happen. The more you can anticipate these and train your team in how to handle such situations the more confident they’ll be, and the likely they’ll deal smoothly with anything that gets thrown at them.

Your goal is always to minimise the negative impact on the customer experience.

4. Ownership

Give individual team members ownership over particular tasks. This gives a sense of pride and ownership.

And with ownership comes the desire to get things right.

When individuals have one or two areas to focus on specifically it encourages them to go deeper and develop their expertise. This can take the pressure off you as this person then becomes the go to person instead of you.

5. Keep informed

Keep your team up to date with what’s happening in your business so they don’t look stupid in front customers.

This not only includes up-to-date product knowledge but what else is happening in your industry, with your competitors, in the press; what’s happened or going to happen in your business on a day-to-day basis, customers you’re expecting to call or visit today; anything happening in your business, your location, or industry that could have an impact on customers; what’s available, what is not available, limited availability, where might there be delays in deliveries or work schedules.

A knowledgeable team not only gives them confidence, it enables them to make decisions, offer suggestions and most importantly help build trust with your customers.

6. Personal development

Not everyone wants to progress, but that doesn’t mean to say they don’t want to be stretched or given opportunities for new challenges. Add variety so they don’t become stagnant; a bored employee is unlikely to wow your customers!

Give them exposure to other aspects of your business and opportunity to experience different tasks which all leads to better understanding of your business as a whole and in turn creates confidence- for your team and your customers.

7. Continuous improvement

Create a culture of continuous improvement. Challenge your team members to come forward with suggestions on how things can be improved, not just for the customer but to make their lives easier too.

Shaving 5 minutes off a task in one area can free up 5 more minutes to spend caring for customers elsewhere. .

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So how well do you fare in these 7 areas? Do your people have power and the opportunity to enhance your customers’ experience?

If you’d like help on any of these I’d love to see how I can assist.


More than a Sheep Dip

I occasionally get asked to deliver one off training workshops.staff-training

There’s nothing wrong with a one off workshop providing it’s not just a sheep dip, and everything else is in place to support delegates once they get back to the workplace.

I’m sure you too can think of occasions when you’ve attended some training, or seminar, or a workshop, and returned to work the next day and carried on exactly as you did before. You’ve probably seen this happen with colleagues too.

It’s such a waste!

Not just of precious training budgets, but of people’s time and talents.

If my 33 years’ training experience has taught me anything it’s that training (whether that be customer service orientated or not) seldom – if ever – works in isolation. It’s what happens before and after the training that’s just as important if you want to make a real difference and make lasting change.

Granted, to create magic moments for your customers your team need the knowledge and skills to deliver a 5 Star Service.

But it goes much, much deeper than that.

Customer service values

The first consideration is to identify the type of experience you want your customers to have. I met with a prospective client last week and she was able to define precisely how she wanted her customers to feel as a result of doing business with her. This makes perfect sense; how else can you convey this to your team?

However, this is more the exception than the norm!

Naturally your customer service values must tie in with the whole ethos, culture and brand identity of your business. The clearer these are the easier is going to be to define your customer service values, and the easier it is going to be to define these to your team.

Better still involve them in the whole process; this is by far the best way to get buy-in and clarity.

Of course once you’ve established these you need to ensure you are the perfect role model. Not just with your customers, but your team as well; treat them as you would like them to treat your customers!

Your customers’ journey

Next on the agenda is the customer journey and all the various touch points your customer experiences. I’m often amazed how frequently I come across employees who only know their tiny little bit of the customer journey, having never experienced anything else the customer gets to see or hear.

I strongly encourage all businesses to have every single employee experience every one of their customer touch points. It’s amazing what they pick up and the opportunities they see to improve the whole customer experience. Not forgetting the potential it opens up for spotting opportunities to add value or make recommendations to customers.

Systems and resources

Even your most talented employees will struggle if you don’t have all the right systems and resources in place.

The most obvious shortfall is when you’re short staffed; even your most enthusiastic team members have a limit on how long they can put on a brave face!

But do you have systems in place which avoid people having to reinvent the wheel every time they carry out similar tasks; putting extra pressure on them, particularly those which have a direct impact on the customer, so the customer doesn’t get a consistent level of service.

Or is there so much red tape and to-ing and fro-ing that slows everything down?

Do you have all the right equipment, tools, or even products?

It’s easy for us to become oblivious of how ineffective a system works or poor the equipment when we’re not using it every day. So test it frequently, and ask your team for their observations and any feedback they’ve had from customers.

Leadership

Training is useless unless people are given full authority to make decisions that impact the customer experience without having to come and find you or seek authorisation from a manager or supervisor every five minutes.
Trust your team! People soon pick it up when you fail to trust or allocate any responsibility to them, leaving them doubting their own abilities.

Lack of confidence will only lead to people not getting on with things off their own bat, which can be both frustrating and draining for you and customers alike.

For example, giving your team what I refer to as a ‘wow budget’ gives team members the scope to make decisions that might have cost implications (e.g. giving a refund, upgrades or substitutions). Everyone in the team understands what level or value they can go to (without having to defer up the line) if they need to do something to put things right, go that extra mile or wow the customer.

As long as team members can explain how they’ve spent their wow budget you’ll seldom see it abused. It puts then in control and gives them ownership of the customer experience.

And back to the training…

With the best will in the world training and practice in a classroom environment will never be a substitute for direct interaction with customers. It’s this interaction that gives your team the confidence in their skills. Offer plenty of support and encouragement and plenty of positive feedback and recognition when they’ve done well.

Foster a supportive culture where people can learn from their mistakes, rather than be blamed. Encourage team members to come up with their own areas of improvement and how they will achieve these.
Recognise and reward when these improvements have been made even if things are not yet perfect!

Creating a culture of putting the customer first and providing amazing customer experiences takes more than a sheep dip training exercise. It’s about shaping, creating and embedding a whole way of doing things that’s like a stick of rock and runs through everything you do.