LOOK after your employees and they will look after your customers, was the message given to the region’s key business leaders attending one of the North-East’s major business events.
Almost 200 delegates from a wide range of sectors, from financial services to retail, attended Service Excellence 2 yesterday, organised by The Journal, Muckle and eaga at The Hilton, Newcastle/Gateshead.
Speakers at the seminar, chaired by Newcastle-based software firm Sage’s chief executive Paul Walker, included Richard Reeves, Andrew McMillan, Annette Rowe and Muckle managing partner Steve McNicol.
Paul Walker, who also chaired last year’s Service Excellence seminar told delegates: “I think it’s so important in the North-East that we start to get a better understanding of what Service Excellence can mean for our businesses.
“I certainly believe that if you can achieve Service Excellence it can be a very important differentiator between your business and your competitors, but achieving it is tough and you have to work extremely hard at it.”
Andrew McMillan, customer services manager for John Lewis Department Stores, explained how the John Lewis Partnership’s philosophy of Great Place to Work, Great Place to Shop operates among the company’s 30,000 “partners”, including the 20,000 who have direct contact with customers.
He said: “The strength of our service strategy is that we keep it very simple and very straightforward. If you start overcomplicating it, the message just gets blurred.”
Emphasising the importance of recruiting the right people who will engage with customers, he added: “We are always looking for the right personality with the right attitude. We are not really interested in whether they have retail experience. We can provide people with the training to work in retail, but we can’t train them to be nice.”
Mr McNicol, described how employee engagement has been developed at the firm and the areas that contribute to this including communication, reward and recognition and inspirational leadership.
He outlined how the process has continued since six members of Muckle’s senior management team went to the USA on the eaga service excellence tour.
Describing the type of people Muckle recruits, he said: “The right sort of people are our most important asset and the right sort or people are those who really want to understand what it is that your business is trying to achieve and who get a buzz out of your business being successful.”
Richard Reeves, European Business Speaker of the Year 2007, was one of the stars of the TV series Making Slough Happy. He is an expert on the workplace as well as being an author, journalist and economist.
He described how important a sense of wellbeing is to a workforce and how achieving this is dependent on much more than financial reward. He argued that a sense of autonomy, of purpose and of energy were key ingredients in creating an engaged workforce.
Annette Rowe eaga’s director of service excellence explained how the firm which floated on the Stock Exchange at the beginning of June, will still be distinctive from other plcs because it is 51% owned by its employees and this continues to drive up standards of customer care.
She emphasised the importance of communication in driving forward the company’s service excellence agenda.
“We have a listening culture and we are always striving to create opportunities to talk to our employees and particularly to our front line staff who are, after all, the experts on our customers.”
After lunch, in response to feedback from last year’s delegates, the afternoon was given over to networking and allowing the delegates to talk in more detail to the speakers.
Bob Dixon, senior banker with Coutts in Newcastle, said: “At a time of increased competition for both business and staff it was good to hear a range of thoughts on how to encourage employees and customers to become ambassadors.”