Whilst it is increasingly recognised that frontline customer-facing employees are responsible for delivering an organisation’s strategy, the development programmes designed for frontline customer service management have often failed to deliver the improvements that customers of brands design.

Consumer perspectives on customer service are broadly similar across most businesses and sectors. Big businesses have rightly been focusing on delivering customers’ needs and expectations over the past few years. But their efforts have resulted in ‘the averagisation of customer service’.  If we look at how consumers rank the customer service of the large brands they deal with daily (often measured on a 100-point scale), most organisations fall within about 10-20 points of each in a random sample. This means that consumer perceptions of customer service offered by banks, utilities, telecoms, High Street retailers, insurers, etc. are broadly similar and middling – in other words, undifferentiated at best.

Improving the levels of customer service by recruiting skilled employees has been on the agenda for organisations. AI is having a real, noticeable, and expanding effect in today’s workplace. AI is transforming hiring, eliminating the need for HR departments to pore over countless applications and pre-screen applications to identify qualified candidates, schedule interviews and answer applicant questions. AI is being used by businesses to screen out up to 70 percent of job applicants without any of the candidates having interacted with a human being.

The Law Review in September 2019  explains the potential benefits of AI-enhanced hiring – it saves time and can remove human bias that may cause a decision-maker to prefer one candidate over others (i.e. a shared alma mater or a mutual love of a particular sports team), leading to improvements in the fit and diversity of corporate teams. However, in customer service there is a long term trend to recruit for attitude and train for skills. This has resulted in organisations recruiting managers with the right attitudes towards customers, but often from outside their industry sector. Customer-facing managers are offered development programmes with training that includes: ‘Shaping the experience for customers’ through a range of role model exercises, best practice case studies, theoretical learning, peer review and knowledge sharing. A traditional model for development is 70% on the job, 20% self-learning online including gamification and 10% classroom style learning and skills practice. Some organisations have developed tailored-performance customer service excellence programmes or ‘academies’. Others have looked to independent, external accreditation in order to validate the quality of their customer-centric delivery  Yet customer service levels continue to be average in most sectors.

The challenge is how best to support new managers that show the right attitude and have a clear interest in customer service, but nevertheless have arrived from another sector or role. Studies show the first 100 days are crucial to retention. A recently launched support programme that ensures a manager’s success in a new role can be found at www.100days.global. Ella, the recently launched digital programme supports a Manager’s first 100 days in their new role as shown in this video. By following best practice, those recruits using Ella will focus on delivering interesting and useful things with their teams.

In another example, we are increasingly seeing game based learning used to train new customer service managers. One example is from the start-up, Attensi. Training of newly recruited customer-facing managers is said to be as straightforward as “winding up a clockwork toy…turn the key, wind it up and off they go, doing interesting and useful things”. A case study for Attensi is from Spar in this video.

Davies Hickman runs engaging Customer Experience training programmes to build the capability of your people. For more information please get in contact with me at enquiries@davieshickman.com.

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