When I was age five—and a year away from beginning first grade—I spent the mornings and afternoons with my maternal grandmother, who lived next door and had just retired from 30 years of teaching elementary school in our small North Carolina town of Marshville. One of my most vivid memories from that special time was our "bill-paying day" each month, when I would make the rounds with Mama in her old black Chevy as we visited the offices of the power company, the phone company, the gas company, and so on.
Sure, my grandmother could have dropped her payments in the mail, but she so enjoyed the friendly banter and the "Hello Miss Ada" greetings she received on these visits. (And, of course, I liked the Tootsie Rolls, Fire Balls and Mary Janes that called out to me from candy dishes in these offices!) Personal interaction was a critical dimension to my grandmother's customer experience.
Yes, she expected her gas drum to be refilled, her telephone to work, and her lights to burn at night. But what really kept her relationships fresh and rewarding with these businesses was the personal touch she received every month at the counters where she paid her bills. To my grandmother, these good folks were just "Carolyn" and "Irene" and "Jimmy." But today, we would dub them "brand ambassadors" for the way their actions extended and reinforced their organizations' intended value propositions.
The world has changed, and today the management requirements surrounding the reliable delivery of frontline "wow" are substantially more complex. Part of this complexity is rooted in the fact that companies must now manage a number of delivery channels, each with varying frontline requirements.
Whether serving customers face to face or via email, the Web, phone, fax, instant messaging, self-service, or some combination of them, a firm's reputation for world-class customer care is built one customer and one contact at a time. Frontline employees in operations, sales, service, or account management, etc., all play key roles in delivering this all-important contact.
Accordingly, a firm must continually evolve its internal operating systems and processes into structures that empower rather than impede the frontline's success with customers. This is a tall order. Yet, keeping an eye on a few key priorities will help you succeed. Regardless of the channels they serve, employees need at minimum three things to perform effectively on the frontline:
- A can-do, customer-first attitude
- Performance know-how
- Customer policies that turn buyers on, not off