This free article about frontline staff by Derek Stockley highlights the importance of having staff who know and understand the business. Frontline staff are critical to determining how your organisation is perceived. Derek Stockley conducts customer service training, see: Customer Service Training.
The important role of frontline staff - Disneyland
One of my favourite stories is about the Disneyland/Disneyworld theme parks. It concerns the group of employees that Disney regard as their most important. The way the story goes, Mickey Mouse etc (or the people who don the costumes) are not the most important group of employees.
Can you guess which is the most important employee group at Disneyland?
Disney regard their cleaning staff, the ones with the brush and scoop, as the most important employees in the theme park.
These staff have two roles - the cleaning role and the 'tour guide' role. They are the most visible of all employees. When visitors want directions, they ask the cleaning staff. They have to be experts, so they can answer visitor questions and requests for directions.
The cleaning staff are employed for their customer relations skills. From their induction, the importance of their role is reinforced. Although their primary duty is cleaning, their most important role is as the 'tour guide'. Their visibility is recognised as being very important and they are trained and treated accordingly.
Some examples of poor customer management
These are some examples that I have recently encountered:
- The security guard at the reception desk who had no idea about the person or department I had come to see.
- The woman stacking the bread shelves in the supermarket, who quickly stated "I’m sorry, I don’t work here" when I approached her with an enquiry.
- The security guards at a military installation that could not provide any directions on how to get to a certain location.
- The security guard at the exit of a major sporting venue that could not provide an international visitor basic directions to the nearest tram stop.
All the examples are related to outsourcing.
Security guards are often the "face" of organisations these days. They staff the reception desks and entrances/exits. Do they present the best image to customers?
Security staff have a purpose: security. So do the staff at Disneyland: cleaning. The difference is the recognition by management of the other roles that customers expect and demand.
The woman stacking the bread had obviously been asked for help many times before. She was brief and to the point. It is a clear disadvantage of the approach taken by that supermarket in the name of 'efficiency'. The supermarket has outsourced the stocking of the bread products to the bread manufacturer who produces it, delivers it and is charged with the responsibility of keeping up with demand by stocking the shelves. Many of us complain about the lack of staff on the supermarket floor, so finding a person who is visible, but unhelpful just reinforces the negative image we already have.
Outsourcing can have benefits. However, you must take the total picture into account. An outsourced unit must function as efficiently as an in-house unit. You must be able to control their performance. They must have training. They must provide high standards of service to your customers.
Summary and conclusion
The frontline staff member is your organisation. Your organisation can be 10,000 strong, but for the customer, the person handling the transaction is the organisation.
I recently had the opportunity to observe a good receptionist in action. She was friendly and courteous. She knew the organisation well. She handled routine enquiries on the spot, without having to refer them. She handled both personal and telephone contact in a friendly, polite and efficient manner. She projected a very good image for herself and her company.
The importance of the reception role had been recognised and a staff member with the appropriate skills had been selected.
Do your frontline staff realise how important they are?
Do they have the training to carry out their job duties, including the extra ones expected by customers?
Have you outsourced your most critical frontline functions? If you have, are you ensuring that they perform just as well as your own staff?
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Derek Stockley conducts a variety of public training courses in Australia.
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