As it appeared in the Daily Nation on November 11th 2014 by Lucy Kiruthu
I recently visited an organization whose receptionist seemed to find the many visitors a bother. At yet another reception, the staff taking cover behind the computer had ear phones on possibly listening to some music and not noticing visitors walking in. At other reception areas I have overhead greetings such as “Yes!” and “Next!” or witnessed a mere stare to those walking in.
Such experiences are not only unique to reception areas; many have had similar experiences in banking halls, sales floors, behind the counters, switch board, restaurants, in the field and other front office operations. When the personal touch is lacking in customer interactions it becomes difficult for any organization to build a reputation of customer focus. Do such frontline staff and their managers really understand their crucial role in building strong customer relationships?
Staff in the frontline are the face of the organization. These staff have numerous interactions with customers every day. It is in the frontline that enquiries are received, customers are served and even new customers are recruited. Interactions in the frontline leave either a positive or a negative impression that either makes the customer relationship better or worse. They impact the overall customer experience, build or erode the customer’s trust and can significantly influence whether the customer stays or leaves. Having had an opportunity to work in the frontline both as a staff and as a manager for over a decade I know too well that customers can easily tell if the frontline operation is on track or is a disaster waiting to happen if no action is taken.
In the book, From Good to Great, Jim Collins says, “People are not your most important asset, the RIGHT people are.” Most businesses do a poor job of hiring the right people for frontline positions. I have come across organizations where under-performing staff are either taken to the switchboard or to the reception and frontline managers take a low profile. In other organizations recruiting for the front-line does not take as much effort as the back office positions.
Getting the right people at the frontline requires a greater focus on soft skills. It is the pleasant personality, positive attitudes, passion, dedication and willingness to assist that make a difference in the frontline much more than past experiences on similar roles. Do you have the right people in the frontline, people who love people and are passionate about their job? It is the frontline managers’ job to make frontline operations worthwhile. They have a key responsibility of outlining the behaviours expected from the frontline staff. They need to make clear how employees should act and react to customer needs and requests. They are in addition responsible for creating an environment where the frontline staff feel respected and valued internally and one in which customer feedback is used to improve performance.
The managers also need to reinforce and teach effective communication on an ongoing basis. Such managers make a big difference! Is your frontline in need of sprucing up? Identify what is not working and take action. It will take the concerted effort of the frontline teams and their managers to keep getting better. Do not wait any longer!
Lucy Kiruthu is a Management Consultant and Trainer and can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org/old or via twitter @kiruthulucy