I have once again invited back customer service experts Chip Bell and John R. Patterson, authors of Take Their Breath Away: How Imaginative Service Creates Devoted Customers. This piece makes excellent points about customer-facing employees.  If customers are your greatest asset, think long and hard about who you have taking care of that asset and how you treat them:

CB/JRP: “The music is not in the guitar” are lines from an extraordinary new book called Life is Good by Jake and Rocket (aka, Bert and John Jacobs).  It holds a special message for remarkable service.  Examine how much energy and resources organizations typically spend on CRM software, ironclad return policies, service processes and procedures, and call center metric mania.  In the end, service is not about stuff–it is about people creating positively memorable experiences for customers.  Even erudite and super sterile business to business connections are far less B2B than P2P–people to people.

The recent recession has triggered budget cuts that have had some unfortunate impacts on service quality.  Some budget cuts were necessary for financial survival.  But, some of been the result of very flawed decision-making.  We all appreciate the value of belt-tightening and trying to do more with less.  We all understand the virtue of instilling in employees a strong sense of frugalness, particularly during tough economic times. 

When I was in junior high school my dad lost his job at a bank.  It took a while before he was named a credit manager at a small farm implement company.  During the lean months he taught us kids a lot about financial conservation–it was a family affair we all shared.  When we sat down for a family meal, if there was a bedroom light left on, he charged the last person to exit that room a nickel (40 cents in today’s dollars).  We soon learned to switch off lights as we left the room.

There is an old saying that goes, “cutting fat makes you healthier; cutting muscle makes you weaker.”  When the budgeting ax carves an extreme cut out of support needed by frontline employees, then customers suffer.  The circular effect will come back to haunt you.  Such a penny wise-pound foolish approach can leave employees demoralized and the customers they serve disappointed.  If important front line tools and training are excised from the budget, it is the customers who fund the organization that catch the impact. 

Convergys Corporation in March, 2010 completed a major survey of over 2500 customers and over 1500 employees.  Seventy-seven percent of customers indicated that service quality over the last year has either stayed the same or gotten worse.  And, 31% of employees stated they did not have the necessary tools; 25% reported they did not have the necessary training. There is likely a direct link between the customers’ assessment of service and the employees’ assessment of the lack of tools or training!

Who is paid more–an IT programmer or a front-line clerk; the bus driver or the bus mechanic?  Where are training dollars directed—toward supervisors or the customer contact people?  Do systems make service delivery easier for the people who serve customers or more efficient for the organization?  Guitars make harmonious melodies only in the hands of talented, prepared and passionate performers.  The same thing is true for customer-facing employees.  Take care of the guitar, but cherish the musician.