Reflections on Leading Customer Focus from the Frontline

By October 19, 2016 March 19th, 2019 Evolve Insights

As it appeared in the Daily Nation on Oct 18th 2016

Lucy Kiruthu

A Customer Care Manager position at a leading auto dealer seemed quite attractive.  Barely two months after responding to the Newspaper Job advert, I was at work ready to do what needed to be done. As a middle level manager reporting to the managing director and working across functions it was not an easy task. The managing director had been in the family business since he was 18 years and the business was doing pretty well financially. However, I was ready to introduce some interventions that would improve its focus on the customer. The scariest conversation that I recall is when the MD said to me “you cannot teach an old dog new tricks”. That was 11 years ago.

Many times, frontline staff find themselves in such difficult situations where the leadership is not enlightened on what it takes to drive customer focus. This is what is often referred to as being between a rock and a hard place. On one side are the customers expecting better service and on the other side is a leadership stuck in its old ways thus impeding service improvement. What should frontline staff or middle managers hoping to improve customer service irrespective of all odds do?

The main strategy that I used successfully to lead customer focus from the frontline was that of the voice of the customer. Anytime I needed something attention by the leadership, I started by stating what the customers were saying. As such collecting customer feedback became my number one priority.  With time, the senior leadership and the heads of departments started paying keen attention to what the customers were saying. Soon we started holding management meetings to review the feedback among other interventions. It was no longer about what I was saying it was all about well-documented honest customer feedback collected after sales and after service.

Every staff in the frontline has an opportunity to lead customer focus. This means aspiring to see an organization responsive enough to customer needs. It is common knowledge that the leadership team and especially the CEO or MD leads customer focus but this is not always the case. The worst frontline staff faced with such a situation can do is to complain and bury their heads in the sand of customer dissatisfaction.

Leading customer focus from the frontline is not easy and it is not for the faint hearted but it can be done. The beauty is in being in constant touch with the customers.  Everything else in an organization revolves around the existence of customers. By solely focusing on the voice of the customer, the frontline can trigger a mind shift in the whole organization. For example, a weekly report to senior executives summarizing customer complaints and stating recommendations can make a big difference. It is likely that some of the recommendations will translate into leadership actions. With time, the leadership will take note. Voice of the customer if taken seriously means transforming human resources management, IT, marketing, finance, security and every other part of the organization. A look at the dealership today reveals a completely transformed organization that continues to learn many new tricks.

Lucy Kiruthu is a Management Consultant and Trainer connect via twitter @KiruthuLucy