I've been in a customer service type role since I can remember! I grew up in a small town called Aberdare in South Wales and my family had a small hardware shop (Cummings's) which was made up of 3 small terrace houses converted into one treasure trove of a shop selling everything from paraffin, glass (cut to size), paint, keys cutting, wallpaper, fireworks, bike parts, plants you name it we sold it – the picture above says it all.
My earliest memories were sitting on my Grandad’s knee as he held court over some poor unsuspecting customers terrorising them with awful gags and silly stories, but who always came back for weekly trips to the shop to buy some more screws, cement or suchlike. I've mentioned this one before but he did suggest a lady who came in to buy a toilet seat go home and take some measurements to make sure they chose the right one - certainly not appropriate, but in 1979 I'm sure was tame.
Joking apart, my grandad was a lovely man, he had a set of values that I believe are at the core of me; be honest, work hard, treat people as you want to be treated and always jump up if someone asks for help.
My subsequent career has weaved a merry path to where I am today but at every turn it has been about customer service, whether in EPP Claims in Standard Life (as was), or shops, pubs, or in recruitment I've always had customers that require good service along the way and hope I've provided that.
This blog was triggered by a conversation in the pub last week with a CEO of a financial services company. We were having a good chat about life more than anything (we touched on work) and it became apparent to both of us that at heart we were very similar. Quite similar views, similar politics, similar ethics but absolutely the same views on customer service and how critically important it is to us both.
If the contact centre is the first human interaction you have with a company
surely they are a critical resource who should be valued, probably a lot more
than they are currently.
Why is it that customer service people are often the lowest paid in a company yet can easily make the difference between people buying your service/product or not?
I for one value good service whether in a doctors reception, a smiling cashier or a waiter in a restaurant. We will all have examples of brilliant customer service but also some horror stories that would make you cringe.
In the USA a "server" is a real profession where people can make a steady living and often great tips yet in the UK its not held in high regard; students, travellers & young people typically make up the core of the hospitality workforce and do an amazing job, yet I'm not sure the value is realised all the way up the food chain.
The CEO I was with understood it, he was posing the question why don't we value the role that these frontline workers provide over seemingly more "professional roles" in a business.
I quoted from a recent Head Resourcing IT Leadership Forum where a number of CIOs & IT Directors gave the view that in an ideal world you wouldn't have large operations teams or contact centres, and that technology and AI will mean a fundamental shift of the workforce of the future. This is probably very true but lets not diminish the value of your employees, building rapport with your customers, helping with issues, guiding through complex processes, making life easier for your paying customers or helping sell your higher value products due the excellent experience they can provide and enhancing and increasing customer loyalty at the same time.
I don't know about you but customer service rage is a very real thing, often nothing to do with a human. How many times have you called a company (who you pay money to) to get a horrendous phone experience, numerous buttons to click, various options none of which you really want and then end up with a very negative impression of the company? It happens too often to write down and yet there's a reason that First Direct do so well in customer service surveys is that they realise this and that initial interactions with a human, trained well within a certain amount of rings is exactly what their customers want.
When in Standard Life in 1997, I always was happy to chat on the phone to the customers, build rapport, provide excellent service. Did I meet the required call stats? Probably not but I'm pretty confident that I would have ensured customers had a positive experience of the company, hopefully dealt with their query and meant a more satisfied customer than trying to get them off the phone to meet some metrics.
I suppose what I'm really trying to say is whilst technology is radically changing the way we interact and trade with companies there will always be a place for excellent customer service and that service can have a material and fundamental impact of your business, its value and reputation in the market.
So, to summarise, why don't you give your contact centre people an extra £10k each and see if that increase profits over time which equate to more than that cost? Why don't we make it a desirable profession and get rid of some expensive, useless phone tech that neither increases sales or enhances brand but frustrates loyal customers and tests the levels of that loyalty every time it tells you that you're "moving forward" in some imaginary queue!
PS. Change Recruitment, also part of the Taranata Group, has a great team dedicated to all things operations so if anyone is looking to build out their operations, call & contact centre or administration functions please reach out to Lesley Shepherd and I'm sure they'll be happy to help!