Why Customer Service Must Become More than Personal Service – Part Two

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In my last column two weeks ago, I argued that customer-facing employees in the Caribbean habitually place their personal feelings ahead of professional service. The result is a wide and disturbing variation in customer experience that confounds executives, who end up fighting perpetual fires. How can a company create an ethos that overcomes the fearful vulnerability felt by frontline workers?

In the article I asserted that the prevailing, local service experience is driven by a dark, persistent pessimism. Frontline employees develop an advanced, defensive mindset against possible feelings of abuse, victimization, and disrespect. The culprit? The unaware,incoming customer who is fully expected to look down on them. The end result is a collection of four experiences: “VIP”, “Tourist” and “Friend” Service for the favoured few, and “Res A’ Dem Service” for the majority.

What can a company do to reverse this situation? Here are three solutions.

1. Hire for Resilience
Disney, SouthWest, and other companies have shown that the best attribute to seek when hiring unskilled workers is their attitude. The best ways to uncover this trait is to do psychometric testing, and to submit an applicant to realistic but challenging scenarios. It gives prospects a chance to demonstrate emotional resilience under pressure. If they can remain mission-driven in a test situation, even when their ego is being threatened, they may have what it takes to stick to a new service ethic if they get the job. (In HR circles, the approach is part of what is called an Assessment Centre.)

2. Make a Strong “Identity Appeal”
Psychologists have defined an “identity appeal” as a way of convincing someone to act in accordance with a group to which they belong. For example, we might say to a KC Old Boy: “I thought you guys never missed a single Champs?” It might entice him to buy a ticket.

On the other side of Heroes’ Circle I remember when, as an 11-year old First Former on the first day of school, my Wolmers Headmaster referred to us as “Gentlemen”, not “boys”. He explained that “We now expect you to behave as such” indicating that our days of wearing short pants and playing marbles were over.

This is not just related to high schools. There’s a reason we discover our nationalism when we visit or live in foreign countries. Case in point: The Penn Relays were a boring track meet before Jamaicans turned it into an international faceoff.

Companies can tap into this cultural tendency. One was forced to change its uniforms when employees, after a while, refused to wear them in public: “People dem out a road sey we favya helper!” This is what happens when companies ignore the fact that employees want to feel pride in their group of choice. When managers use this power wisely, they surround employees with elements like uniforms to send a powerful signal: you are a member of an elite group and are therefore expected to act accordingly.

When employees are encouraged to affiliate, they willingly step into a new identity. Cloaked with a new persona upon orientation, they are able to deliver consistent customer service that hits high standards. It becomes the only option available.

Unfortunately, many companies fritter away this connection, wasting social capital. Powerful symbols fall into disrepair, earning the frustration of employees who become disillusioned. At that point, only a personal transformation can help.

3. Transformation as a Choice
Just as powerful as an affiliation, but harder to bring about, is a transformation of the individual. For example, when an employee is made aware of the four default service experiences mentioned before it can be a revelation. A few respond immediately by changing their attitude, trying to avoid the worst case.

Most, however, need more than a simple explanation.

In corporate transformation exercises, I have seen employees distinguish the root causes of poor service delivery and defensive attitudes. Using the tools of inquiry, self-reflection, and open sharing, they are able to discover their unique, personal weaknesses. Once they see where they falter they have a choice to act differently when they learn the habits of mind that lead them to deliver “Res A’ Dem Service.”

However, it takes a great deal of courage to take this path.

Personal transformations on a corporate scale are expensive to procure and take a long time, but they are sometimes the only choice for a company with a frontline embedded in a defensive culture.

The truth is that none of these three steps are short or easy to take. But they are well worth the effort even though they may not resemble traditional customer service training imported from overseas. Only interventions that account for deeply held defensive feelings can help employees deliver professional service that produces a consistent experience.

The original Gleaner article appeared here – http://jamaica-gleaner.com/article/business/20160619/francis-wade-customer-service-must-be-more-personal-service-part-two

Why Customer Service Must Become More Than Personal Service

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Why Customer Service Must Become More Than Personal Service – Part One

Jamaicans experience a daily struggle to receive a consistent, high level of customer service. This happens, in part, because quality service is allowed to devolve into a personal matter between an individual provider and his/her customer. Instead, it should be about a business relationship.

In a Gleaner column a few years ago I shared that there are three kinds of service experienced in Jamaica. Now, there is a fourth; here is a summary of each one.

1. VIP Service (the latest addition) is extended to the powerful few, whether Government Minister, big CEO or well-known pastor. The individual service provider lives in fear of making a mistake but quietly hopes to please the VIP in order to gain a future benefit.

2. Tourist Service is received only by foreigners. It’s the extra effort we make to give outsiders a special experience that makes them want to return with their friends. Delivered routinely in North Coast tourist enclaves, it has led to improved service across the island. (Incidentally, in Trinidad and Tobago I see this kind of service being actively suppressed; the late Dr. Eric Williams once stated that “Tourism is whore-ism.”)

3. Friend service is the extra courtesy we extend to people we know. Even the worst service worker with the nastiest attitude knows how to turn on the charm when the recipient turns out to be related in some way. As a result, Caribbean people know that long before they enter an establishment, they need to scope out “someone who knows someone.” It’s the only way to bypass a long line or a rude demeanour.

4. Res’ a Dem Service is doled out to those unfortunates unable to secure VIP, Tourist or Friend service. Its prevalence explains why no company that serves local customers has developed a strong reputation for good service. From insurance companies, government agencies, banks and schools… everyone has horror stories to tell. The tough question is, in a country that provides great service at the other levels, why does Res’ a Dem service persist?

While we often blame a lack of motivation or training, my work across the region points to a different cause: what philosophers call “a thrown way of being.” It’s a simple idea. We all wake up into the same fixed attitude and mindset each day without realizing it, much in the way that a fish lives in water without knowing any other medium.

The Jamaican service provider wakes up into a worldview shaped by our historical legacy of slavery. To keep the institution alive over the centuries, its creators infused it with themes of superiority and inferiority which reverberate. Today, we continue to seek opportunities to look down on each other – a “thrown way of being.”

This propensity has an obvious flip-side: we despise the feeling of being scorned. Customer-facing employees are especially vulnerable because they are instructed to extend a warm, kind, helpful hand. A customer is therefore in a position to reject this overture, leaving the provider feeling victimized, abused and disrespected.

To prevent this from happening, workers toughen up, effecting an unfriendly, sullen demeanor. It informs their facial expression, tone of voice and body language in ways that most of us would recognize in an instant. Unfortunately, it contrasts badly with the confident, smiley, “How Can I Help You?” perfected by their counterparts in North America.

For local business owners, this aspect is bad for the bottom-line. Customers who receive Res’ a Dem Service feel little loyalty, especially when they see other people receiving VIP, Tourist or Friend Service. Perhaps we have all noticed the provider who instantly transforms once the “right” customer shows up. It’s led me to ask myself: “Who am I…?” because in that moment, it hits like a personal insult.

This body blow is one that many top executives are immune from. Having long-ago outsourced these daily transactions to others, only extreme measures such as those portrayed on TV’s “Undercover Boss” come close to giving them a real experience.

It’s a pity because service workers who become lifeless and resentful aren’t being ignorant… they are caught in a dynamic that’s invisible, but powerful. It’s one that their external environment supports, but their internal state also keeps it in place. The end result is a slip into a personal world far removed from corporate objectives.

In my next column (Part Two) I will look at some solutions to help individual service providers disrupt this “thrown way of being.” Needless to say, this isn’t an easy topic but it’s a must: good service shouldn’t be a personal affair that defaults to “Res’ A Dem Service.” We all lose out when this is allowed to happen.

Francis Wade is the author of Perfect Time-Based Productivity, a keynote speaker and a management consultant. To receive a free document with links to his articles from 2010-2015, send email to columns@fwconsulting.com

For more information on the topic of customer service, sign up here.

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/article/business/20160605/francis-wade-customer-service-must-become-more-personal-service

New Project – The Jamaican Professional In Trinidad [Research]

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Ja prof in Tdad projectYou may be familiar with our 2007 study – “The Trinidadian Executive in Jamaica.” It remains the standard in practical, cross-Caribbean studies of cultural differences experienced by working professionals. (Download a copy here.)

On the heels of its success we are launching a new study: The Jamaican Professional in Trinidad.

If you are willing to be interviewed and/or surveyed anonymously, or know someone who might be, do let me know here.

Once again, the intent is not to generate academic data. We intend the final result to be a useful companion for Jamaican professionals hoping to make an effective transition to living and working in the twin-island republic.