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Who Comes First - The Customer or Employee?

Aug 17, 2007
The commonly held view that the customer comes first is worth a close look. Think about the last time you received less than satisfactory customer service. What caused it? Probably an employee! Either directly, bad manners and a "don't care" attitude, or by not addressing your needs - "sorry, I can't handle that order, you'll have to call another number".

While most of our focus is rightly on customer needs, it may be useful to first stand back and look at the needs of the employees servicing them. Most customer complaints can probably be traced back to the attitude or competence of an employee. It follows then that if we have the right employees, doing the right things, we should enhance our customer satisfaction.

Asking employees to focus on the customer when they may be unhappy with the company is asking for trouble. I recently had a bank help desk employee agree with me that the Internet banking system was slow and inadequate. He later went on to tell me a lot more about the organization and its management, all of it unflattering!

Why do organizations let disgruntled employees loose on valuable customers? Probably because they don't know they are disgruntled, and maybe because no one has thought through the consequences.

Addressing the key issues important to staff is a good starting point. Do they feel they belong to a team which is going somewhere? Do they know exactly what is expected of them and receive feedback and appropriate rewards based on performance? Do they have a future and are they growing in the way they want to?

Once you have the basics in place to improve levels of staff satisfaction and retention, you can focus on the customer by ensuring that customer service is a key result area of the jobs that deal with them. With a small investment in time, measures relating to customer satisfaction can be built into the performance management system.

A useful way of looking at this is to use a systems approach, define the inputs and the outputs, and then choose the most useful and practical factors to measure performance against. While measuring outputs is best, many jobs do not necessarily control the end result of customer service or sales, so we need to look at what they can control and measure that.

Typical inputs would be the actions taken by the employee such as calls made, or specific behaviors such as building rapport and handling problems. These inputs can be observed and measured and, depending on the sales environment, you should know whether these generally lead to more sales.

Typical outputs are more closely linked to the main objective, which might be sales, repeat business or profit.
By recruiting, rewarding and developing the right people who can achieve against these types of measures, improved customer satisfaction should follow.

A free diagnostic tool for assessing how well placed your business is for attracting and keeping the right people is available at the website shown below with the author's details.
About the Author
Paul Phillips is a Director of Horizon Management Group; a specialist human resource management consulting firm. He has over 30 years experience in HR and, while based in Australia, has worked in a number of overseas locations. www.horizonmg.com
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