Sunday 22 November 2015

A Service Stimulus Package

With all this talk about an economic stimulus package (and no, I still don’t understand it either) I thought that we could all benefit from a customer service stimulus package as well.

What might this service stimulus package include? What can be done to stimulate the companies that sell us things to do so in a way that grows customer loyalty and contentment?

It can start from within. I have a rather old-fashioned view that the single, most important thing that affects the quality of service and then the success of a company is the quality of its leadership. If you have an inspirational leader at the top of a company, someone who invests his or her time in making the organisation work, and placing the customer’s needs at the same level as the shareholders, then the organisation will succeed, I guarantee it. However if you have a CEO or MD who sees their main role as attending conferences, pompously ignoring the staff and massaging their ego then the organisation will fail. I guarantee it.

The bad news is that, in my experience, the latter type of manager is more common than the former. There are tremendously good leaders in business in Botswana but there are also plenty who are not, people who’ve been hired because of their longevity, their connections or simply because the organisation can’t find anyone better.

But the good ones do exist. Honestly, they do. I’ve been lucky enough to know a few of them and even to work with them. Yes, I do mean here in Botswana.

So what makes them so stimulating?

The right leaders do the obvious things like set budgets and objectives and they hire people with the right skills (and fire those without) but they also do the things that actually matter even more.

They start by setting an example. That’s perhaps the most stimulating thing that any manager can do. They start by showing that they’re prepared to work at least as hard as anyone else in the organisation. They come in early, leave late and there are no tasks to good for them to do. I’ve seen restaurant owners clearing tables, preparing food and doing the washing up because someone is off sick and the place is particularly busy. They don’t see themselves as too important to do menial tasks. I’ve seen one of the most senior managers of a bank serving customers because the queues were long that day. I know two MDs of companies here in Botswana who insist on being personally involved in every complaint we receive about their companies.

Stimulating leaders also show passion. They show a real commitment to the products and services their companies offer, products and services they’ve often helped to design and develop. Think of the passion shown by that most complicated of business leaders, Steve Jobs. It’s fair to say that he lived and breathed his products, even the ones that weren’t successes (can you even remember which they were?). Why can’t other managers show the same passion?

They also show that they care. They don’t just pretend, they genuinely do care that their colleagues are performing at their best, that they’re are supported by the best training and technology and even that they’re as happy as can be.

That’s what a leader can do internally to make things better but what about the “demand” side? What about the customers? What can we do to improve the service we receive? Is it even possible for us to have any effect on it?

Yes, of course it is. And it’s actually very simple.

The best way for consumers to stimulate a company into delivering better service is to be demanding, to be difficult, to be challenging. In other words, to be the best thing that could happen to them. Some companies still don’t get it and many consumers simply don’t know this: that the politely critical consumer is the best possible customer. He or she is the customer that is offering you an entirely free consultancy service. They’re making observations and recommendations that other companies pay consultants huge amounts of money to make and they’re doing it not because they think it’ll make them rich or famous but because they want (even if they don’t realise it) your company to be more successful. They want your store to be the one they visit over and over again because the products and service are better than those from the competitors. They want you to make more profits so you can expand and enhance your service. They are the best possible stimulus you could get.

As well as being a challenging and assertive customer you can also do one other thing. Be nice. In fact be very nice.

We hear all the time about shop staff who are grumpy and miserable and who don’t seem to be enjoying life. So my response is to ask what you did to fix that? Yes, I’m often told that it’s THEIR job to greet customers with a smile, not our job. But who cares? Aren’t we a country of nice, courteous people? Aren’t we famous for being the country that spends half its time greeting people? And don’t we realise that it’s infectious? Smiling at someone will almost always stimulate them to smile back at you. And then who knows, maybe they’ll still be smiling when the next customer comes along.

Companies and consumers have a simple choice. Do you like being stimulated? Don’t you like stimulating others?

Get out there tomorrow and start stimulating. I guarantee it’ll excite you.

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