Customer service – the disconnect between spin and reality


Want to understand why customer service doesn’t get better?  Paul Cooper highlights a key disconnect.

I was talking to someone the other day, who happens to be the regional director of one of the top 5 high-street banks. A jovial and optimistic guy, I sympathised over the events of the last couple of years and hoped things were now back on track.

“Actually I’m more depressed than ever,” he replied.

“Why?” was my obvious response.

The story he told me was as follows:

Recently he, along with other senior colleagues, had attended the bank’s AGM and heard the good news on their recent recovery, and how they had turned the corner. It was all to do with how hard everyone had worked, and that customer service was, and was to be even more in the future, the key to their success. He was proud, enthused and had a great feeling about his people, the organisation, and its brand.

They then all went to a senior managers’ meeting to discuss the strategy and budgets for next year. At this, they were all told that, amongst other things, as belts had to be tightened, all training budgets were to be cut by 20% across the board. The enthusiasm and pride could be seen to be rapidly oozing out of everyone in the room.

I don’t think I need to point out to everyone the dichotomy here, but it is yet another of many examples we see every day of the disconnect between spin and reality. Tom Peters once said that the problem is NOT that your staff don’t listen to you, it’s that they DO listen to you. And the message in the actions above is all too clear.

We pay lip service to service, and aren’t signed up to the fact that our people are the true key to great service, reputation, and success.

Over the last 12 years, I have seen it all, time and again. Organisations want a day on customer service “training” for their staff. A DAY! However good the message, that’s just a sheep-dip, and a cop-out.

There is no measurement of impact; no baking the concepts into induction, appraisal and training programmes; no long-term plans in place for reinforcement or continuous development, etc, etc. Management has forgotten about it happening within weeks, as have the staff who see nothing has changed.

Now, to be fair, I also see some enlightened organisations who have embraced the whole concept as a true investment. They have everyone in the organisation, including the directors, involved in the programme; they have introductory presentations and workshops for everyone; workbooks for the staff and managers to cover the topics over, typically, a 6-8 month programme and more.

Paul Cooper

Paul Cooper

There is an independent qualification at the end, and the programme is embedded in induction for new staff, whilst those who have completed the first part are being prepared for the next level. They are seeing many benefits from these programmes, like improved satisfaction of staff and customers, lower headcount turnover and the like, which I would have expected. But they initially signed up to them because of belief, not ultimate proof from analysis to the nth degree.

Sir Terry Leahy often said, “What’s good for the customer must be good for Tesco”. That belief doesn’t need piles of analysis – just do it!

So, is your organisation now ready for the NEXT era? Have you reflected back and realised that none of the organisations who didn’t make it through the recession had any decent reputation for service, whilst those who thrived are well known for their service excellence and have been for years?

Paul A Cooper is a Director of Customer Plus

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2011 Winner – Lifetime Achievement Award

Published On: 11th Jan 2012 - Last modified: 22nd Nov 2017
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