Treating customers right: does selection, training and development make a difference?

Ultimately it comes down to people

In their latest book (Extreme Trust) Don and Martha make the point that ultimately it all comes down to people:

“… no business rule or line of software code will ever be sufficient to ensure that employees treat customers right .  Your employees have to want to do that……

Is wanting to do the right thing enough?

I accept that employees have to want to treat the customer right.  The question that I want to grapple with is this: is wanting to do the right thing enough?  I consider myself to be a great learner and so I would have said that yes:  wanting to do the right thing is enough because if you want to do the right thing then you will do what it takes including learning that which you need to learn in order to do the right thing.  My experiences with the healthcare system in the UK have led me revise my point of view.

Both of my parents are elderly and now incapable of looking after themselves especially as my father has had two strokes and thus needs help with everything.  So they have carers coming in to help with various tasks every day.  What they have noticed and I have noticed is that there is one carer, Charity, who is actually good at what shoe does.  My parents love Charity whereas they are indifferent to most carers and consider some others to be totally useless – completely unfit for their roles.

Why is it that Charity shows up as both being professional and as caring?  Why is it that my parents and I love Charity and not any one of the other carers?   To answer this question we have to look at the bigger picture.

The problem with the care provided to the old folks in the UK is to do with the lack of value we place on our old folks and the commitment to cutting costs. To cut down costs and to deflect criticism the local authorities have outsourced the provision of care for the elderly to private companies. The focus of the people who run these private companies is minimising costs.   One way of keeping down costs is to pay the absolute minimum – the minimum wage. With that goes the practice of taking on anyone who applies for the job of carer.  There is no selection to make sure only the people who are suitable for this kind of work actually get to do the work.  Finally, there is no training and development.  Is that why the annual rate of turnover in carers is similar to that in call centres?  Do you see a parallel here between these carers and front line staff whether they sit in call centres or stand behind counters in retail stores?

Let’s get back to the question of Charity: why is she so much better than all the other carers that my parents and I have come in contact with?  It turns out that Charity grew up in Germany. And trained – professionally – to be carer in Germany.  That’s right – she spent two years training to be a carer.  Why did she undergo that training?  Because, in Germany you cannot work as a carer unless you have the necessary skills and experience as evidenced by a certification.  And to get that certification you have to undergo two years of training.  In the UK there are no such requirements: so anyone can be a carer and most of the carers neither care about their job nor do they have the skills/expertise to do the job – the job of connecting with vulnerable/demanding people and the jobs of cooking, cleaning, bathing, listening and chatting to old folks.

Lesson: focus on selection, training and development of your people if you want them to treat customers right

It is not enough that your people want to treat customers right, they also have to have the necessary skills and experience.   Learn from Zappos and other customer service champions:

Select the right people.  Put in place hurdles that screen out the people who are only doing it for the money.  And follow this up with giving people an incentive to quit during the training like Zappos does ($2,000?).

Train your people.  Rigorously train your people so that they have both the skills and the lived expertise that they need to do their jobs and leave customers feeling that they have been treated right.

Develop your people.  People care to the extent that they are cared for.  Development, taken seriously, is evidence that you care for your people and their futures.  Human beings have both a capacity and a yearning to grow, to develop, to be all that they can be.  Development done right meets this needs and enables you to keep the people you have so carefully selected and trained.

And finally

What is the biggest attribute that UK carers lack?  In my experience is the ability, the willingness to empathise, to care, to be patient, to be kind towards the elderly folks who rely on them.  It is interesting that this reflects the biggest issue companies face: inability/unwillingness to empathise with customers as human beings.  This is an issue that Don and Martha have also identified in their book Extreme Trust.  I will writing a review of that book soon as I have now finished reading it.