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One of the United Kingdom’s top authorities on business practices, the Henley School of Business, has released a paper which indicates that two-thirds of all customers surveyed believe that service levels of retailers and various other service-oriented businesses are at an all-time low. The report goes on to say that these firms are arrogant and make no effort to understand their customers.
I must admit I have no first-hand knowledge of business practices in the U.K. but I can definitely state that I believe service levels are at an all-time low in Canada and the United States. I travel extensively in both countries and have experienced some service issues that never would have existed even twenty years ago.
What I find most perplexing is that during the most economically challenging decade of the past one hundred years businesses everywhere are allowing customers to walk out their doors empty-handed, while rude, lazy, disengaged employees continue to receive paycheques.
So what’s the problem? Because I am in the business of leadership and personal development training, when I am faced with bad customer service I attempt to analyze it and in some cases I even go so far as to point it out to the offending service provider and his or her manager. In most cases I find businesses that provide bad service are not managed well. In fact, in extreme cases, they appear not to be managed at all. Managers in many establishments have stopped being leaders. They have stopped engaging in old fashioned, hands-on discipline leadership. They allow customers to be ignored, bad employee attitudes to live, and poor or non-existent service levels to be the norm.
Twenty-first century management has lost its way in many cases. Until managers start to hold their employees accountable, and until managers themselves are held accountable by their bosses, service levels will continue to slide. Although very important, leadership is about more than setting a good example. Managers should be constantly observing the behaviours of their employees and taking corrective at the time bad service occurs. They should remove the bad service provider from the floor away from customers as soon as it is appropriate and tell them what they did wrong.
Employees should know their responsibilities and obligations to customers in all situations. When they fail to live up to those responsibilities they must be reprimanded and if the improvement does not occur, they should be terminated! Is that wrong? Is it wrong to demand that employees provide good service? If believing in that is wrong I must be living in the wrong century.
Managers should also be made to understand their obligations and responsibilities to customers, employees, and their employer before they are allowed to manage. I can hardly believe that some of the nasty, rude, dismissive, and absent service I have witnessed was carried out while someone with the title of manager was actually on the premises. In many of these cases the bad service wasn’t even isolated to one or two people. In some cases I have seen establishments with dozens of employees who seem to not want to provide service to any customers. If you own a retail or service-oriented business do you know what is going on with your employees? Do you care?
The typical reasons cited for bad service include: too busy, understaffed, new employees, and the computers are down. All of these are simply excuses for bad management. More importantly, managers who give these excuses are generally poor leaders. They give excuses rather than simply owning up to their responsibilities for bad service and holding themselves accountable.
Managers with poor leadership skills are usually generally afraid of confrontation. Rather than disciplining a bad service provider they tend to look the other way and hope that no one notices. Unfortunately for them, as the Henley Business School has pointed out, the world is noticing, big time! Billions of dollars are lost to bad service world-wide every year. That trend will not improve until service providers take the initiative to regain the control by holding managers and employees accountable for impeccable service. I’m looking forward to a future rife with great service. I’m Wayne Kehl of Dynamic Leadership Inc.