Recently my mother had the pleasure of being a NHS customer twice in the space of 4 weeks at different hospitals for different operations. Both hospitals had similar targets to meet.
The care received at the first hospital was excellent. The staff was diligent and conscientious, responding politely and respectfully to patients and their visitors alike. The notice board proudly displayed how they were good at meeting their targets. The second hospital has its charter displayed outside across all three stories of the main building claiming their patient care was their No. 1 priority, yet my mother was left traumatised by the whole experience of being in their care.Â Interestingly, their notice board indicated they were not meeting their targets.
I am convinced that if all of the staff at the second hospital were respectful towards their patients as claimed by their charter and followed the basic rules of listening, engaging and responding to patients, they would have seen greater improvement in their performance and efficiency as well as being closer to meeting their targets. I did wonder whether the staff responded to patients in the same way they themselves were treated by their managers, and there was a bigger work-based environmental culture problem that needed to be addressed stemming from communication breakdown between staff and management; Quite a common observation.
This isn’t a dig at the NHS, but a gentle reminder of how organisations’ reputations are built on the customers experience and, more importantly how management needs to ensure they engage with their staff at all levels to run a business efficiently.
Whether in private or public sector, businesses cannot be run without some customer interface, and everyone has a role to play in customer service. However, where a client has a choice, they will walk away if dissatisfied with a service and will certainly not make recommendations or come back for more bad service. The good news is, these situations can easily be avoided.
Successful companies recognise how significantly staff can influence the company’s reputation as perceived by clients and therefore already seriously invest in appropriate training and development of their staff to ensure company values are up held. Successful companies apply the same strategy of genuinely listening, engaging and responding to staff needs as they do with their clients.
Staff committed to the business will endeavour to leave a good impression, not because they are instructed to, but because they feel valued and have a purpose of their own in working for the company; they understand how their contribution makes a difference. They are able to distinguish between tangible and intangible targets as well as other important factors that impact on the company’s reputation, so when it comes to customer service they will endeavour to do the best they can because it all influences the company’s reputation, performance, and of course the all important bottom line.
Good customer service requires staff to:
- Listen to customers – before doing anything else to understand the customer’s view of the world, why they hold these views, listening to what they want, what are they really trying to find a solution for.
- Engage in dialogue – to manage expectations and to ensure both the company and the customer are using the same terms of reference. It is important everyone understands and agrees what will be delivered, when and how, regardless of it being a service or product.
- Seek feedback to continually improve customer experience and enhance the company’s reputation as well as improve performance.
Likewise, good managers will:
- Listen to their staff – before doing anything else to understand concerns and issues.
- Engage in dialogue – to manage expectations and targets, ensure everyone understands their contribution and impact on the bigger picture and most importantly agree priorities.
- Seek feedback to continually improve and enhance the company’s reputation as well as improve performance.
At the end of the day, you cannot run a business without interfacing with customers, so if you do not get your customer interface right, you will soon not have a business. To get customer interface right, you need to ensure your staff understand their role, priorities and what is expected from them.