As it appeared in the Daily Nation on August 23rd 2016
Is a friendly greeting and a lovely smile all that is needed to retain a customer? Off course not! Customer service goes beyond a greeting and a smile. If a waiter is all smiles and the table is dirty, the order takes an hour and the food is pathetic it is unlikely that as customers we will go back. If a staff welcomes us with a warm greeting but keeps us waiting with no updates the warm greeting will have added little value if any. If a bank teller has a lovely smile but does not keenly listen to our request then the smile may be considered as insincere.
For many years, customer service has been equated to a frontline staff responsibility. Undeniably, frontline staff manage the bulk of customer interactions. In many organizations, these staff are single-handedly tasked with making customers happy and dealing with the unhappy customers. However, to get this done the frontline staff need support from across the organization. The waiter needs support from the chef and the bank teller needs support from the back office. The main burden of making the customers happy has unfortunately been left to the frontline. With this distorted standpoint of customer service as an oversimplified frontline responsibility, many staff in the frontline have been on the receiving end especially when customers express dissatisfaction.
Though a greeting and a lovely smile are a good starting point to a customer interaction, there is much more to happy customers than this. As I have previously reiterated in this column, customer service goes beyond the frontline, it cuts across all aspects of an organization – strategy, people, leadership, policies, procedures, structure, culture and everything else in between. Organizations that excel in customer service consider it as a leadership responsibility, a secret strategic weapon and a way of life. Customer service requires a strong link to the overall strategic direction reflected in every day decisions and actions. It is only when everyone’s commitment and involvement is evident that an organization can be said to be truly customer focused. Customer service excellence is a complex undertaking beyond a greeting and a smile.
The main challenge facing many organizations today is not the ability to smile or greet customers but it is the ability to weave customer service excellence into their DNA integrating it with all aspects of the organization. To keep our customers and attract new ones we need to go beyond the frontline; we need to see customer service as a responsibility that cuts across the organization and key to survival.
Nonetheless, ignoring the customer or frowning does a lot more harm than most imagine. I believe the positivity in a warm greeting and a smile affects the inner being thus having a ripple effect on other aspects of the human interactions characteristic of all organizations. A famous Chinese proverb that a man without a smile should not open a shop goes on to emphasize this point. James Cash Penny the founder of J. C. Penny stores is quoted as having said that every great business is built on friendship and that courteous treatment makes a customer a walking advertisement. It is important to expound on the complexity of making this happen. Let us go beyond a simple greeting and a smile and make customer service excellence a core pillar of our strategy and our way of life across the organization.
Lucy Kiruthu is a Management Consultant and Trainer and can be reached on email@example.com/old or via twitter @kiruthulucy