Tenets of Cus­tomer-Fo­cused Lead­er­ship

Cus­tomer-fo­cused lead­ers lis­ten a lit­tle more to their cus­tomers and to the front-line staff.

Financial Nigeria Magazine - - Governance And Markets - By Lucy Kiruthu Lucy Kiruthu is a Man­age­ment Con­sul­tant. Email: lucy@evolve-con­sul­tants.com. This ar­ti­cle was first pub­lished by Man­age­ment Magazine, a pub­li­ca­tion of the Kenya In­sti­tute of Man­age­ment. It is pub­lished un­der con­tent col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween

Afew weeks ago, I re­ceived a call from a brand con­sul­tant who needed a cus­tomer ser­vice intervention for his client. The client, a paras­tatal with var­i­ous front of­fice op­er­a­tions, was ex­pe­ri­enc­ing chal­lenges in cus­tomer ser­vice. It ap­peared some­thing was not right. The brand con­sul­tant was con­vinced that what his client needed was a one-day train­ing for all the front of­fice staff. I was of a dif­fer­ent opin­ion. I felt that it was im­por­tant to in­ves­ti­gate the root cause of the cus­tomer ser­vice chal­lenges, in­stead of rush­ing in to train the staff.

My proposal was, there­fore, to meet with the lead­er­ship to un­der­stand ex­actly what steps they had taken to ad­dress the chal­lenges. How cus­tomer-fo­cused was the lead­er­ship? Was every­one pulling in the same di­rec­tion? Had they cre­ated the right en­vi­ron­ment and was the team get­ting the right sup­port? These ques­tions re­late to what I con­sider the tenets of a cus­tomer­fo­cused lead­er­ship and they con­sti­tute the start­ing point to achiev­ing cus­tomer ser­vice ex­cel­lence.

I be­lieve that if the lead­er­ship is cus­tomer-fo­cused, it is much eas­ier to get every­one else in tan­dem. Man­age­ment guru, Peter Drucker, be­lieved that be­cause the leader's job was to cre­ate the de­sired fu­ture for an or­gan­i­sa­tion, the leader needed to be in­ti­mately in­volved with the di­rec­tion of his/her or­gan­i­sa­tion. At the cen­tre of this in­ti­mate in­volve­ment is the need for lead­ers to fo­cus on the cus­tomers and to show the way in the cus­tomer ser­vice agenda.

Un­for­tu­nately, in most cus­tomer ser­vice cir­cles, there is too much talk and lit­tle ac­tion com­ing from the lead­ers. For lead­ers to demon­strate cus­tomer fo­cus, they must walk the cus­tomer ser­vice talk in their daily in­ter­ac­tions with their staff and with cus­tomers. In do­ing so, they can in­flu­ence their fol­low­ers to fol­low suit.

Lead and let oth­ers fol­low

Cus­tomer-fo­cused lead­er­ship tran­scends pulling in the same di­rec­tion, to hav­ing clar­ity on what the endgame looks like. The lead­er­ship team has a key re­spon­si­bil­ity of mak­ing it clear to the rest of the staff what is ex­pected of them, what the goals are and what the fu­ture looks like. The endgame may be 100 per cent sat­is­fac­tion, zero com­plaints, money-back guar­an­tee, de­light­ful cus­tomer ex­pe­ri­ences or 100 per cent cus­tomer re­ten­tion. Ev­ery­body needs to be aligned with the endgame.

Train­ing of front of­fice staff by it­self is not ad­e­quate and the en­thu­si­asm may not last long if the process is not sup­ported by the lead­er­ship. Cus­tomer-fo­cused lead­ers lis­ten a lit­tle more to their cus­tomers and to the front-line staff. They take ac­tion where needed be­fore seek­ing ex­ter­nal help.

A key re­spon­si­bil­ity of any leader is de­ci­sion-mak­ing. Lead­ers make many de­ci­sions ev­ery day, some ma­jor and oth­ers mi­nor. The strate­gic di­rec­tion of their or­gan­i­sa­tion in­volves many de­ci­sions, both ma­jor and mi­nor. In it­self, the choice of the strate­gic di­rec­tion is the most im­por­tant de­ci­sion that lead­ers must make. Many cus­tomer-fo­cused and for­ward-look­ing lead­ers pay spe­cial at­ten­tion to how their or­gan­i­sa­tions in­ter­act with cus­tomers as a whole.

They do not leave this to the front-line staff. Many de­cide that their or­gan­i­sa­tions will be cus­tomer-fo­cused, but only a few take the steps to make this a re­al­ity. Those that set them­selves apart get in­volved in re­view­ing ma­jor de­ci­sion that im­pact cus­tomers.

Cus­tomer-fo­cused lead­ers rec­om­mend re­view of pro­ce­dures, set stan­dards and broad pol­icy guide­lines for the front-line team to serve cus­tomers with ex­cel­lence. High-level de­ci­sions such as the choice of sup­port­ing struc­tures, the cus­tomer ser­vice lead per­son, the re­source al­lo­ca­tion, the choice of tech­nol­ogy etc, all have a ma­jor im­pact on the over­all cus­tomer ex­pe­ri­ence.

Own­ing the cul­ture-change process

In ad­di­tion, cus­tomer-fo­cused lead­ers are aware that ser­vice im­prove­ments take time and in­volve change. Change does not just hap­pen. But as lead change agents, they need to be at the fore­front of ini­ti­at­ing it.

I have held many train­ing ses­sions to sup­port a com­pany-wide cus­tomer ser­vice change ef­forts. The most suc­cess­ful ones have been those that have in­volved every­one, start­ing with the lead­er­ship team. The lead­er­ship team's in­volve­ment in map­ping out the de­sired cus­tomer ex­pe­ri­ence is a pow­er­ful ex­er­cise. In ad­di­tion, the par­tic­i­pa­tion of se­nior

ex­ec­u­tives in fa­cil­i­tat­ing the train­ing ses­sions for other staff is valu­able. Lead­ers make change hap­pen faster when they in­spire oth­ers to ac­tion and when they com­mu­ni­cate ef­fec­tively across the en­tire or­gan­i­sa­tion. Lead­ers have a great­est in­flu­ence on their fol­low­ers much less than train­ers would have. Lead­ers, there­fore, have a re­spon­si­bil­ity to ini­ti­ate re­la­tion­ships with those they lead dur­ing the change process. They also have the bur­den of main­tain­ing these re­la­tion­ships and cre­at­ing long-last­ing, and strong com­mu­ni­ca­tion link­ages.

Fi­nally, lead­ers own the cul­ture of their or­gan­i­sa­tions. They must, there­fore, have a solid value sys­tem and make their val­ues clear to all. If they value cus­tomers, it will be ev­i­dent in their ac­tions and even re­ac­tions to sit­u­a­tions.

For lead­ers to demon­strate cus­tomer fo­cus, they must walk the cus­tomer ser­vice talk in their daily in­ter­ac­tions with their staff and with cus­tomers.

Fur­ther­more, cus­tomer-fo­cused lead­ers are ex­pected to be good role mod­els for ser­vice ex­cel­lence. If lead­ers do not demon­strate the cul­ture they de­sire, it is un­likely that a train­ing ses­sion would make their sub­or­di­nates live by it. Lead­ers have a ma­jor re­spon­si­bil­ity of cre­at­ing a con­ducive en­vi­ron­ment where every­one in the or­gan­i­sa­tion is able to reach their full po­ten­tial. To re­main cus­tomer-fo­cused, lead­ers must take up cus­tomer ser­vice as one of their key re­spon­si­bil­i­ties. They must also be held ac­count­able for its de­liv­ery. A healthy cul­ture not only re­sults in im­proved pro­duc­tiv­ity; it also has demon­stra­ble im­pact on the fi­nan­cial well­be­ing of an or­gan­i­sa­tion.

To stay healthy through­out this year, do not just treat the symp­toms such as cus­tomer com­plaints with quick fixes like train­ing ses­sions for front of­fice staff. In­stead, deeply ex­am­ine if your lead­er­ship team is truly cus­tomer­fo­cused!

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