Sam Walton, the founder of Walmart, had famously declared, 'There is only one boss. The customer. And he can fire everybody in the company from the chairman on down, simply by spending his money somewhere else.' Clearly, an organisation derives its competitive advantage, not from superior products, processes or technology, as these lend themselves rather easily to duplication.
What then distinguishes the winners from the losers? Three words, says Michael Dell, the founder and CEO of Dell Inc, namely, The Customer Experience! A great customer experience is the outcome of a complementary and symphonic interplay of a number of factors.
Paul Anderson had spearheaded the turnaround of BHP, one of the world's largest mining companies. Within eighteen months of taking over as CEO, all performance parameters were heading north, barring one - safety. A candid conversation with the head of safety had revealed that Anderson was the root of the problem, as not only did he refrain from following the safety rules when visiting the plants, safety was also the last topic- after cost, reliability and quality - that he reviewed with the executives.
Unsurprising, when Anderson took cognisance of this feedback there was a turnaround in safety. Amazon has a mission statement that begins with the goal of being 'the earth's most customer-centric company.' Author Brad Stone refers to Bezos'obsession with delivering a flawless customer experience, and his requirement of a customer-centric attitude from every Amazon employee from warehouse workers to executives, in his book 'The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon'. Similarly, Tony Hsieh the CEO of Zappos refers to their aim of being 'maniacal about customer service' in a Harvard Business Review article.
'In The Spirit to Serve' authors J.W. Marriott, Jr and Kathi state that at Marriott hotels employees at all levels undergo training on a range of topics 'in recognition that we can hardly expect people to do their jobs well if we haven't shown them how.' At Amazon, similarly, it is mandatory for everyone, from entry-level workers to board-level executives, to undergo customer orientation training with the objective of sensitising people to listen, understand and act on the needs of each customer.
And interestingly, when the top manager delivers the message the impact of training has a multiplier effect. In his book Customer Mania!, Ken Blanchard talks about David Novak, the CEO of Yum! Brands, the parent company of brands like Pizza Hut and KFC, who invests a significant part of his time presenting four or five leadership development programs a year at different company locations around the world.
A supportive environment by way of efficient processes on the back of cutting edge technology, product and process knowledge, and quality supervision is imperative for training to manifest into a shift in workplace behaviour, says Pallab Mukherji, former HR head of India Infoline.
Quality of supervision
According to a McKinsey article 'Unlocking the potential of frontline managers', managers across industries spend 30 to 60 per cent of their time on administrative work and meetings, 10 to 50 per cent on non-managerial tasks , and spend only 10 to 40 per cent of their time managing and coaching frontline employees.
At best-practice companies, on the other hand, frontline managers allocate 60 to 70 per cent of their time to the floor, much of it spent on high-quality individual coaching. Unarguably, it is important to hold line managers accountable after equipping them with the requisite skills and time, and giving them space for making decisions.
In his keynote address at the 2010 annual Stanford Graduate School of Business Entrepreneurship Conference, the chairman of Four Seasons Hotels, Isadore Sharp had remarked that they appreciated their customers' need for luxury not just in terms of elegant surroundings but also in terms of time. They sought to address this by empowering people at the front-line - doormen, bellmen, waiters, maids - to use their discretion for making decisions on the fly in order to ensure the utmost client satisfaction.
Howard Schultz, CEO Starbucks Coffee says "You can't expect your employees to exceed the expectations of your customers if you don't exceed the employees" expectations of management.' In their book 'The Service Profit Chain', James Heskett, W. Earl Sasser and Leonard Schlesinger state that irrespective of your business, the only way to generate sustained profits is to build a work environment that attracts, focuses, and keeps talented employees.
"Capturing the voice of the customer through well oiled communication channels and setting developmental goals around key parameters is vital for maintaining service quality," says Mukherji.
Director, Delta Learning