Top 3 Keys To Effective Frontline Management in Service Operations
Having traveled a hundred miles, a weary salesman walked into the coffeehouse of the hotel had checked into, looking for refuge, food and most of all, service. He plumped himself into a chair and waited for somebody to come up to him with a menu.
When somebody finally did, he asked, “Can I get cup of coffee, and a tuna sandwich, and please be kind enough to hurry up on it?” That ‘somebody’, without a word, walked off. Fifteen minutes of waiting later and after a few frantic waving of his hands, the flustered salesman finally got the attention of that waiter.
In an obviously disgruntled mood, he repeated his order, “Can I have my coffee, tuna sandwich and a little kindness, please?” Again, the waiter walked off without a word. Another 15 minutes later, and after much frustration, the waiter finally turned up and literally threw a cup of coffee and some miserable-looking sandwiches on the table, and in his usual earlier manner, proceed to walk off without a word.
The salesman, who by now could not bear the treatment anymore, stood up and almost shouted,
“THANK YOU. I’VE GOT THE COFFEE AND THE SANDWICHES, BUT WHERE IS THAT LITTLE KINDNESS I ASKED FOR?”
The waiter turned around, and staring the customer straight in the eyes, said, “If you are so hard up for me to be kind to you, listen to me, DON’T EAT THAT SANDWICH!”
Bad food, bad service, waiters who don’t speak or are without eyes and frontline service that does not serve… we all have our share of these moments. Some of us bear with it and suffer in silence.
Asians appear to have a great capacity to be tortured with bad service. It used to be that expectations were low and expressing dissatisfaction and complaining (in the open) was not in our nature as Asians.
But times are changing; consumers are now better educated, more exposed and more vocal. Business in general is getting more competitive and customers have more choices. The message all over the world emphasizes the same point: “Good customer service gives organizations the competitive edge.”
Although hardly any business leaders out there would deny that good service is important to their business, and while some would actually laud it, very few have actually taken any action that have proven successful in improving their frontline service significantly.
The reasons are quite simple: Improving frontline service requires more than lip service; it often involves a total organizational change effort.
Perhaps the greatest challenge in improving frontline service lies in the managing of the frontliners. Organizations that have succeeded in getting a consistently high level of service performance from their frontliners focus on a few basics.
There are 8 Key Points to Consider:
Put the right people in the frontline
If the wrong type personnel are put in on the frontline, it would be tantamount to trying to get chickens to soar like eagles. Granted that people can be trained to perform, it would be a lot easier to train people with the right personality and attitude than to try to work on personnel who have problems working with others, or worse still, don’t like people.Organizations that are successful in the service area put considerable emphasis in their hiring policies as well as in the careful selection of who they put in the frontline. In contrast, I have come across a local organization that actually puts non performers in their counters because frontline work is considerably tougher and since nobody likes it, a staff who needs to be punished for poor performance, is sent there!
Develop service standards to clarify expectations and to measure and monitor service performance
If frontliners are not clear exactly what good service means and are therefore left to judge on their own, then two things can happen: Those with lower personal standards could be driving your customers away, while those with higher standards could be giving the customers more than what they expect.In any case, service would be inconsistent. By providing service standards, frontliners are given goalposts to shoot for. Examples of service standards include answering the telephones within three rings, issuing a policy document within five days of receiving the application. An important point to note is that standards must take the customer’s expectations into consideration.
The message all over the world emphasizes the same point: “Good customer service gives organizations the competitive edge.”
There is another good reason why service standards are important. Service standards provide a yardstick for measuring the level of service performance. Frontliners, like most workers, do want to do a good job and like to know how well they are doing. Service standards enable supervisors to provide an objective performance feedback to the frontliner.
Train and motivate frontliners
Excellent service frontliners are certainly not born neither are the art and skills of how to give good service taught in schools or universities. Yet organizations, when they employ workers who have never worked in the frontline before, expect them to perform miracles without training of any kind.
Not only should frontliners be given training but post training activities such as coaching and action planning need to be carried out as well to ensure maximum and long-term results. Service training that consists of giving smiles only will not be sufficient. It is important to provide not only skills but product or job knowledge as well. And it should not only be the frontliners who should be trained but the people who are managing or supervising them should also be trained to coach, motivate and to lead in frontline performance.
The least trained and the least respected person in most organizations is normally a frontliner, probably either the office boy and your telephone receptionist. Yet they play a significant role in the service performance of your organization. Not only should they be trained but also be motivated to do a good job. If they are made to feel insignificant and unimportant, their capacity to provide good service will be hampered. After all, only those who feel good about themselves can make others feel good.
Providing a good environment as well as good reasons that will motivate service frontliners to a consistently high level of performance is the job of supervisors and managers. This cannot be left to “motivators” or trainers alone. Whatever they can do is still only within the training environment. If a motivated frontliner goes back to a demotivating work environment, the consequence will be worse than before.
There are five more factors to consider in managing frontline service which will be share in the next article:
• Empowering the frontline
• Supporting frontliners with resource and technology
• Getting feedback from the frontline
• Giving recognition and rewards
• Providing leadership directions and commitment