opinionBy Susan Wiliams
"The new age customer is different, more demanding and more aware of their rights. Most often the difference between being great and mediocre lies in refocusing and letting the customer be the central focus of all business activity." Memory Nguwi, IPC Consulting, Harare, Zimbabwe.
In a new economy that is driven by the explosion of social networking, where consumers can obtain and spread huge amounts of information within seconds, businesses worldwide are experiencing increasing de-mands for improved service levels and personalised and professional customer relations. Zimbabwe, in its atte-mpt to recover and rebuild its economy and participate in a global market, is thus under immense pressure to improve its productivity and, related to that, its customer service and relations.
With these challenges facing the business community in mind, Industrial Psychology Consultants Pty Ltd (IPC) hosted a hugely successful customer service conference at the Crown Plaza in Harare, on April 20, 2012.
Memory Nguwi, managing consultant of IPC Consulting, said that IPC Consulting was committed to providing a knowledge platform aimed at improving business in Zimbabwe.
"We endeavour to maximise returns on human capital by engaging clients and bringing fresh thinking to client issues, along with the experience and research to know what really works," he said.
Nguwi emphasised the need for practical solutions to real business problems: "We make an effort to deliver practical, evidence-based solutions that are tailored to your organisation's culture and goals."
The IPC Customer Serv-ices Excellence conference drew speakers of the likes of Professor Tony Hawkins of The University of Zimb-abwe, Layla Gibbons of MTN South Africa, Susan Williams of Prose&Coms Business Narratives, Row-ene Bowker of Innerview, and Nic Gildenhuys of Problem Facilitation to share some of their expertise and knowledge.
In his keynote address, Professor Hawkins painted a bleak picture of the current prospects of the country. Speaking frankly, he pointed out that, although dollarisation had "squeezed inflation out", Zimbabwe was not entering a Utopian phase.
He emphasised key bin-ding constraints that affected all Zimbabwean businesses in all sectors and industries, namely: (1) electricity deficiencies, (2) finance (inefficient amounts of investment and working capital), (3) institutional weaknesses, such as the inability to ensure electricity and other infrastructure necessities, and (4), politics and governance, the lack of which inevitably leads to uncertainty and wariness amongst potential investors.
In his final remarks, Professor Hawkins warned businesses that, in the light of many, uncontrollable global factors working in on the country's finances, it would be necessary to keep a tight rein on costs, including salaries, wages and prices, in order to be competitive in this uncertain market. He concluded with a message that productivity was the key to future prosperity and that a high level of self-discipline would be needed to curb current unhealthy business habits, whic-h include a combination of low productivity, high charges to the consumer, and individuals drawing high personal salaries from struggling businesses.
Gibbons spoke about MTN South Africa's rapid growth since starting out as a subsidiary of MultiChoice Pty Ltd in 1994, to become one of the most respected and successful companies on the African continent.
In her presentation, Gib-bons shared MTN's custo-mer relationships strategy on starting a relationship with the potential customer right at the point of sale and ensuring that there are systems and processes in place to support customer relatio-nship staff. MTN has high expectations of employees to maintain a service standard of 97 percent benchmarked against global standards. A strong customer service ethos is instilled throughout the company and employees, who are truly considered valuable assets of the company, are trained, supported through effective systems and regularly performance reviewed. In addition, employees are encouraged to contribute innovative solutions for problems, thus awarding them a sense of ownership for the business.
In an attempt to keep abreast of customer expectations, their experiences as well as their requirements are continuously assessed by way of surveys managed through external research companies, such as AskAf-rica. Layla concluded with the message that customer service excellence means to know what your customers want, and then, to exceed their expectations.
Gibbons was followed by Williams with a presentation entitled "Service under pressure: How to say it". Susan argued that ethics should be part of the practice of a business where every individual, as the face and the voice of the business, takes responsibility for his or her interactions with clients or colleagues. She used anecdotal material, pointing out how ethical decision-making in a service environment is based on human values without which no relationships can be built and no business can excel. She focused her presentation on the values of respect, accountability and responsibility, perseverance and striving for excellence. She concluded with a message that business ethics is not possible when decisions are strictly governed by rules, but that business ethics should be relational, responsive to the specific situation and based on taking responsibility for one's decisions.
In the second part of the presentation, Williams provided delegates with two practical narrative tools: (1) a storytelling approach to use with their staff as a starting point for implementing a value driven approach to customer relations, and (2) a conflict resolution process to use with irate customers or in conflict situations.
Bowker's presentation entitled: "It is a jungle out there" covered three issues, namely: (1) a sound business strategy is essential in delivering excellent customer service, (2) businesses deal with 4 types of customers, and (3) change takes one action at a time.
She used the analogy of animals in the jungle to illustrate four types of customers: the lion that roars and attacks when he is angry, the elephant that nev-er forgets either good or a bad service, and the hyena that makes a lot of noise and can influence other customers for or against a brand.
The most important "customer" is the internal customer, the worker bee. The worker bee was used as an analogy for employees who are the customer service representative. Bowker pointed out that it is only when the worker bee has the resources to make honey that he can offer excellent customer service.
Bowker concluded with a message that positive change takes place one action at a time.
Gildenhuys' offered a two-pronged perspective on customer service, namely (1) from the customer's point of view and (2) from the employee's point of view.
Gildenhuys' first presentation, entitled "What to-day's customers really exp-ect and how to deliver it", provided an overview of the relationship between customer's expectations and designing a service strategy. He pointed out that, on high value-low volume products, customers expect, firstly, sufficient information to be available to allow them to make informed decisions; secondly, service representatives to be knowledgeable and courteous; thirdly, effective after sales service, and fourthly, an ethical leader who is both visible in the business and available to clients.
The second part of his presentation entitled: "Cha-nging attitudes" was built around the question: What motivates people to do a good job? Gildenhuys pointed out that employers should ensure that they create an environment where employees enjoy their work, and are able, willing and allowed to provide excellent customer service.
According to feedback received from delegates, who represented the banking, telecommunications and service industries, the conference was informative, provided useful and practical information, and was empowering.
Some delegate feedback on the question: What did you like best about the programme?
1. The ability of the presenters to engage the delegates and still work towards the same goal. Presenter commitment superb
2. It opened new horizons
4. Relevance to the economy we are operating in
5. Touched on all aspects of service
6. Various presenters added spice to everything
- This week's contribution was from guest writer, Susan Williams of Prose&Coms Business Narratives. For feedback contact Memory Nguwi, the Managing Consultant of Industrial Psychology Consultants (Pvt) Ltd, a management and human resources consulting firm.
Phone 48194648/4819-50/2-900276/2900966 or cell number 077 2356 361 or email: www.ipc consultants.com