Client Service - 24 September 2013
“Right, well I'll go and have a lie down then. No I won't; I'll go and hit some guests.”
– Basil Fawlty
Anyone who’s ever seen an episode of Fawlty Towers will be aware of the degree to which Basil detests his clients – even the most loyal who never complain. And so, by default, he has an antipathy for any form of customer service. Perhaps one reason for this is that he himself is deeply disengaged.
This connection between engagement and customer service was explored earlier this year inThe International Journal of Human Resource Management. The researchers studied two organisations to find out whether there was a difference in customer service among employees of leaders who adopt soft engagement versus those who prefer hard engagement.
Soft engagement is when engagement is the primary objective. The employee is at the centre of focus because there’s a belief that everyone is entitled to positive work experiences.
Hard engagement is when profitability and productivity are the primary objectives. Engagement, therefore, is seen only as a mechanism through which to achieve performance.
In the study, one of the organisations was a call centre that prioritised soft engagement; the other was an energy provider that prioritised hard engagement. In both environments, leaders from all levels were genuinely committed to engaging their employees, but their intentions and core drivers were very different. And so were their results.
Employees in the call centre went to extraordinary lengths to help their clients. They performed unpaid work for them in their personal time; they referred to their clients as being part of the family; and some would even trudge through snow for three miles to get to work such was their dedication.
In contrast, those behaviours were not present at the energy company where, incidentally, hard engagement was practiced and where, subsequently, three quarters of the employees were disengaged.
So which actions constitute soft engagement? Examples from the call centre include:
- A culture that first and foremost values, cares, and trusts employees
- A high degree of employee discretion on how to perform the job
- Rewards that are competitive within the industry
- Leaders that go out of their way to recognise employees
- Senior leaders who are consultative and accessible
- Strong interpersonal relations among co-workers
As one of the call centre employees said in relation to soft engagement: “It makes you want to come to work in the morning and do your job really well.”
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