As a leader, where does your responsibility lie? Is it to your people, your shareholders, your customers or the wider community? As a member of a leadership team is it even possible to share out parcels of responsibility, or at the end of the day do you have to be ‘all things to all people’?
We could answer this from the legal perspective or from the perspective of best leadership practice, but in all honesty the two aren’t that dissimilar. The Companies Act 2006 sets out seven general duties of directors, the second of which is a duty to promote the success of a company. This duty, in accordance with the act, includes taking account of:
- the interests of the company’s employees
- the need to foster the company’s business relationships with suppliers, customers and others
- the impact of the company’s operations on the community and environment
So as a leader, in law it’s not possible to say my duty is only towards my employees or my shareholders or my customers. But even if the law didn’t impose such a universal duty of care, good leadership practices still understand and promote the importance of the interrelationship between different constituencies. For example, engaged and empowered employees are far more likely to provide a great level of service to customers, whilst at the same time being aware of the impact of the company’s operations on the external environment. In turn customers who receive great service are far more likely to help to drive profitability and to share in the environmental aims of the company, and so on.
In other words, good leadership leads to a spiral of positivity, in which each element feeds off and boosts every other element. Conversely, putting each of the different constituencies into a separate pigeonhole is unlikely to have the desired effect. That’s where so many customer service initiatives fail. In too many instances customer service is seen to be purely the responsibility of customer facing employees and customer service initiatives are devised as a series of actions rather than attitudes.
What then can leaders do to promote great customer service? Let’s start with one example from a colleague who worked in the 5 star hotel business for a while. Their boss took every opportunity to instil in his team the importance of being ‘present’ for customers and the need to present the property well (clean, tidy, etc). He modelled this by being in the lobby of the hotel at the busy times and making himself available to customers and staff, and never walking past a quality problem.
For that leader, customer service was an integral part of his daily life. Not only that, he led by example, demonstrating through his actions to customers and employees how important customer service was to him. That attitude sits at the heart of leading for great customer experience. Now I appreciate that leaders cannot always be physically present, but they can lead by example, putting customer service at the heart of every action and every decision.
Even here, customers shouldn’t be the sole focus of the leader’s actions to the exclusion of everything else. Modelling the way and then leading by example is the start, but so too is practising other characteristics of great leadership such as inspiring your employees to share in the vision and enabling them to act in order to deliver great service.
Leading for customer service isn’t difficult as long as you remember that your customers are people not numbers and your employees want to be able to treat them as such. Business is a relationship game and when you encourage and enable great service then everyone wins.
About Helen Green
Helen is a collaborator, a deadline demon and a diplomat. She is often described by her colleagues and clients as the glue in their projects. She can be contacted via www.questleadership.co.uk or E-mail: [email protected] .
After a degree in Hotel & Catering Management at Surrey University, she worked for 10 years with Whitbread, Bass and the Forte Group, gaining broad business experience in operations, communications, senior management and franchising. This eclectic experience reinforced Helen’s belief in the untapped potential in people and the importance of strong values in business and has formed the foundations of her subsequent career.
Helen worked for 10 years in business consulting with Tom Peters Company, as senior consultant and Partner, before co-founding Quest Leadership in 2007.
During her consulting career, Helen has worked at all levels, with individuals and teams, to initiate and facilitate personal development. Recent clients include: LSG Skychefs, Aim Aviation, Leica Geosystems, Texas Instruments, EnOcean, Gripple Ltd..
Helen’s competitive streak has driven her to compete at county level in badminton, and squash and equestrian eventing. Helen’s non-work interests centre on family, friends, cooking and sport.