Quality service would be a bonus, say customers

6th September 2004

Quality service would be a bonus, say customers

GRUMPY OLD MEN, the BBC's surprise hit of last year, is about to return to our television screens. More minor male celebs - including Jeremy Clarkson, Rick Wakeman, A A Gill and Arthur Smith - will moan for England to explain what is wrong with their world.

GOM was a hit not least because the vast majority of viewers recognised many of the situations the Grumpies discussed and found themselves nodding in knowing agreement.

Chief among the Grumpies' criticisms last time out was that - though happy to accept their hard earned cash - the levels of service provided by UK companies was dire. Poor. Awful. And in some cases absolutely atrocious.

Now the Grumpies have something to smile about (though of course they won't). New university research supports many of their claims about levels of customer service within UK companies.

It is all to do with the way companies reward their staff for dealing with customers, according to Aston Business School's Gary Fisher, who wanted to identify which companies' reward schemes provide high quality customer service.

Though it might come as a surprise to the Grumpies, Fisher found that a lot of company practises are just plain old fashioned. 'Service organisations need to adopt radically different competitive strategies to those that guaranteed success over the last 20 years,' he said. 'They need to meet the needs of the 21st century.'

The modern consumer, it turns out, has become increasingly more discerning, informed and demanding, according to Fisher. So companies that reward their staff on their levels of efficiency, for instance, are missing the mark. What they need to do instead, according to Fisher, is reward and recognise them for providing a high quality service.

One terrible example of efficiency-gone-mad was from a customer who called a bank to cancel the accounts and standing orders of a recently deceased parent. The customer was eventually told that the call would have to be terminated because the three minute maximum call duration had been reached!

'It is vital that reward practices will not compensate for fundamental shortcomings in the way that customer-facing staff are employed,' said Fisher. 'Organisations that seek to remain competitive will no longer be able to concentrate on reducing costs and improving efficiency,' he continued. 'Unique value and innovation demand competing on the basis of human intelligence rather than efficiency.'

So, though the Grumpies would surely love to see the end of telephone queuing systems, for instance, it is clear that speed and efficiency is not necessarily the answer.

'As well as upsetting the caller,' said Fisher, 'the example above demonstrates that internal efficiency measurements such as maximum call durations can put customer-facing staff in an emotionally distressing position due to the fact that they are often prevented from meeting more involved and complex customer needs.'

With the service industries now accounting for eight out of ten jobs in the UK (or 70 per cent of gross domestic product) the way companies reward their staff, Fisher believes, is one of the most important issues facing the UK economy today.

The problem is, should UK companies solve such issues, what on earth will we have left to moan about?

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For further information please call 0121 204 4549 or email: b.a.l.coombes@aston.ac.uk

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