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The first rung

Customer service is both a challenging and a critical task for any organisation, a customer forms an opinion depending on the kind of services he receives. Maya Walrond, senior vice president, Customer Experience and Technology Innovation, The Bank of Nova Scotia Jamaica Limited, speaks with Amitabh Sharma on the essentials of customer service.

Customer service
We tend to call it 'customer experience" rather than customer service- and the difference is subtle but important. Customer service is a critical element of the customer experience and refers to the quality of the interaction that our customers have with our front-line staff including their speed, knowledge, courtesy and level of caring. The broader customer experience encompasses the full experience of being a customer, including the convenience, functionality and reliability of our self-service channels, and the ability of our products and services to meet our customer's expectations and lifestyle needs.

Customer service essentials
Certainly some commonly mentioned elements of service are speed, convenience, accuracy, knowledge, courtesy, responsiveness, caring, friendliness, flexibility and customisation. It is difficult and prohibitively expensive to master all of these within one company, so each company needs to prioritise what service means in their environment. Funnily enough, each culture and even each customer segment within a culture values these areas differently so it is very important for as company to understand what elements of service matter most to the customers they serve or want to attract.

Traits for incumbents in this sphere
Some traits are non-negotiable in a customer service professional -good listening ability, empathy, responsiveness, adeptness at risk and crisis management, and openness to feedback would top my list.

The other important traits depend on the size of the organisation. For small organisations, the customer service professional has an opportunity to be very hands-on and to serve as a role model and manager of the staff around them. e.g. You enter a store and it is very clear that the owner treats each customer like it was his or her first. In these situations, a professional is unwavering in their warmth, attentiveness and decorum and they are great communicators who can motivate other staff to follow their example. They also possess an in-depth understanding of the company's operations and areas of operational risk.

For a large organisation the skill set is a little different. Typically the incumbent is managing a wide network of service interfaces including retail branches, contact centres and potentially third party outlets. In this instance, the challenge is to create a sustainable and consistent culture of service across the network without physically being present at the front-line.

To achieve that the customer service professional needs to be a strategic thinker who can put the right governance, training, measurement and reward structures in place to drive organisational change. In addition, the incumbent has to create effective avenues to listen to customers and employee feedback to understand the realities on the ground and to effect improvements or process change.

Training for customer satisfaction
Training is important in setting a consistent approach to service. Everyone has a different understanding of what constitutes excellent service, and training provides a mechanism to set clear expectations about what service means to Scotiabank, and about the behaviours that are expected of our staff to deliver service our way.

However, training is only one piece in a much larger puzzle. Achieving service excellence starts with recruiting staff with the right qualities for customer service, training them on the expected standards, and then creating a working environment that allows staff to thrive. In addition, it is important that the training is reinforced through management coaching, performance management and reward and recognition, or the skills will be forgotten over time.

The opportunities
In the Jamaican context, the opportunities for Customer Service Professionals are significant. First of all, Jamaica is increasingly a service-based economy with significant growth occurring in industries like hospitality, financial services, Information Technology and telecom services. Because many of these industries invested wisely in the past decade in their marketing and sales infrastructure, the greatest challenge today is not topline sales but having the right service approach to retain customers and improve customer profitability through more frequent or deeper customer relationships.

Another relevant trend is the fact that globalization has opened up most industries to competition. Today, it is difficult for a company in a competitive industry to create competitive advantage through its product offering, as product imitation or product leapfrogging is swift. As a result, companies have to find new ways to compete effectively, and many business leaders believe that the service experience will be the next frontier of competitive advantage. As a result, companies will be increasingly seeking to hire professionals in this area.
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