Over the last few months I have had very few customer experiences, but of the few I have had, most have been bad. The service received in the three examples I use in this blog ranges from poor to extremely bad, so I was interested to read an article in the Telegraph recently which said that a study they had undertaken discovered that only one third of major retailers allowed customers to contact them by both phone and email, which disadvantages a huge number of customers.
Big is not always beautiful in terms of customer service and in my experience, big companies have become less and less competent at what they do. This provides smaller organisations with such an opportunity to steal a march on the big businesses when dealing with their customers, because they can respond more quickly and most importantly, can provide a much better personal experience to 'wow' their customers. Small (and medium sized) can be beautiful when it comes to providing a good customer experience, which results in repeat business and more recommendations.
The pandemic has really made one thing stand out and that is how important human relationships and interaction with other humans are. When it comes to doing business, that human interaction is so important, even with tech savvy youngsters. Done properly, a human focused customer service will give businesses the edge against their competitors. As an HR and People business, we really understand the impact of human relationships on individuals and organisations.
How good would it be, in this post Brexit world, to see smaller UK companies really flourish, with that extra business coming because they provide a better customer experience?
Last year I wrote a blog called Business Lessons from Blackbirds (HR blog post), having spent time watching a lone father raise his two blackbird chicks in our garden. This year we have been blessed with all manner of birds in our garden but again the blackbirds have dominated. This spring we had both parents to raise their chicks and having successfully raised one batch of chicks already they have nested again and are in the process of raising family number 2. I await the day when these chicks leave the nest with the same excitement I have awaited the other babies that have been brought up in our garden: blackbirds, greenfinches and robins to name but a few.
It has certainly been easier for Daddy Blackbird this year, having Mum around to share the burden. Last year when Dad was on his own it struck me how much the chicks learned from watching their father. They watched him peck around the garden and from time to time they would practise what he was doing. Most of the time it is fair to say they were there with their mouths open in the early days, just waiting for him to feed them but they soon started to learn from his behaviour. This meant that one chick, the braver of the two, actually left the garden quite quickly and was able to fend for himself. He was somewhere close I think where Dad could keep an eye on him but the chick was using his new found skills for his own survival. That made me think about learning, which is something all managers and team leaders should do and should encourage their teams to do. We learn so much from watching others and listening to what is said. How much time do managers spend teaching their staff to be able to do more? It takes a huge amount of time to properly train people to do their jobs so nowhere near enough I suspect as we are all so busy doing what we do at work. Is learning encouraged by senior managers? Do they give their managers and team leaders time to train their team members to survive and thrive in a changing world?
Watching the blackbirds made me think again about how rewarding it has been for me to see my three young proteges at CHaRM all go on to achieve much greater things than I could offer them as a small business. All three did their foundation level professional training with us and one started with me as an apprentice, so to see them all active now on Linked In as fully fledged HR and Learning and Development profesionals is wonderful. Although I wasn't able to retain them because they needed to fly off to experience the wider world, I know that, because of my interventions, they are all set up for life with good career opportunities ahead of them.
When it became apparent that the proposed way of dealing with the Coronavirus outbreak was to crash the economy, my thoughts turned immediately to our younger generation, who are likely to be the most negatively affected group in the long term. Already the younger generation (our future leaders) finds it hard to get on the housing ladder, pay off student loans and obtain secure and financially rewarding employment.
There is so much about this virus that we still don’t know, but one thing that has been clear from the start is the financial impact of Coronavirus on everyone’s livelihoods. Having experienced two recessions so far in my career, this third one is on course to be the worst. Each recession has left everyone who is still working worse off, and the commentary is consistent in that we will all be poorer as a result of this pandemic. Since I originally wrote this blog in April (updated 11.5.20), a piece of research by PWC indicates that more than 78% of those who have been laid off since the crisis began are women and two-thirds are aged between 18 and 34. This supports earlier findings which indicated that of those who have been furloughed so far, a higher proportion were likely to be younger employees. This is certainly true within our own client base, so again the prospects of the younger generation are put at risk. Businesses have a duty of care to their staff and it has made me think particularly about our duty of care to our future leaders and talent in these difficult times. Does our duty of care extend to investing in them and keeping them engaged during furlough to safeguard their futures? The Government has not only said that people on furlough can undertake training but it is encouraging it in its guidance.
Face to face classroom based training has been considered as old-fashioned by many ‘experts’ over the years, with everyone rushing to use technology based training such as e-learning. We have persevered with face to face training here at CHaRM because we believe in the benefits that it brings to both the students and their businesses. The testimonials and cards of thanks that we have received over the years have borne out our commitment to delivering good quality face to face training.
It was interesting therefore to read an article in the Chartered Management Institute’s magazine for members recently which talked about the future of learning for the next generation. Again a number of experts were asked about their opinion on what the future of learning would look like, and it was really interesting to read their views that instead of learning being technology-led as it has been over the last few years, it should be technology-enabled, with the real benefit of training coming from personal interaction. Once again, I feel like we are pioneers at CHaRM, but in reality, the world of learning has come back to our way of thinking.
The article finished with a quote that supported the approach we have taken with our training: “no-one ever tells you about the school textbook that inspired them. They tell you about the teacher, the person. Learning is about people”. Our two tutors who deliver our Certificate in Learning and Development were called inspirational recently by one of our students. Learning is and always has been, about people, we know that.
So what does that mean for us (and you, our clients)?
One thing that has come sharply into focus for me while all the Brexit shenanigans has been continuing is the behaviour of our politicians. A few weeks ago some people in York were interviewed about what they thought about Brexit. A care worker started to talk about how badly all of our politicians are behaving and that if they were running a business such behaviour would not be tolerated. She was not senior, or even a manager, but she knew about appropriate behaviour and she was quite right in what she said. If that behaviour was going on in a business something would be done about it. We would not tolerate the shouting and the abuse and all the other bad things that are happening in our parliament if it were taking place within a business.
A few weeks ago I felt very sad. The golf club that I had belonged to for 17 years closed overnight, without any warning, leaving members without a golf club and the golf professional without a living. Thankfully I had seen the writing on the wall and had left some months before but it did not stop me feeling very emotional and sad for all of my friends who were still there.
The closure of my golf club coincided with the collapse of Carillion. What a horrific situation for all of those people out of work, plus the impact on all of those smaller businesses who relied on Carillion – some of those were our clients.
The more I thought about these two things, the more angry I became on behalf of all those that I knew were affected. Two factors were at play in both scenarios – one was greed and the other was incompetence. It seems like an increasing number of people are directly affected by these factors these days. I can’t do anything about other people’s greed, but I can do something about incompetence in organisations.
Those who know me know that I am passionate about training and developing people, particularly managers. It gives me a real buzz to see people grow in skills and confidence.
It was a real joy therefore to meet an Operations Manager recently who felt the same way. She, like me, had worked at Boots and had experienced some really beneficial personal and professional development. This Operations Manager had a manager working for her who she recognised was struggling in his role and she wanted to discuss what training and support we could offer him. That organisation continues to grow, in large part because they are not afraid to invest in people who can help them achieve that growth.
What a contrast it was to be contacted by another manager from a different organisation who did not really value training and wanted some management training on the cheap. It was obvious, when he realised there was a price tag associated with the training, that he was paying lip service to the idea. When he realised we were not going to play ball and deliver poor quality support, things went very quiet!
Employees will always deliver the quality of service that their employer deserves. Good quality takes time, costs a little more (not always a lot) but lasts significantly longer. When it comes to training, it is definitely worth the investment.
As I read the newspapers this weekend, it occurred to me that the young appear to have found their voice. They flocked to the polls on election day in greater numbers than we have seen for a long time. It seems like the young have decided that they are no longer willing for older people to dictate what happens with regard to their futures. I am so pleased that the younger generation have started to engage proactively with their future.
For many many months, in the HR professional newsletters and magazines, we have been reading about what 'Millennials' and 'Generation Y' employees want from work. For the most part though they appear to have been fairly silent about it, putting up with whatever management style has come their way. In reading about their impact on this election, it made me wonder whether their voices will get stronger within the workplace. I do hope so. That would force many businesses, run by older and up to now seemingly wiser people, to take their needs more into account. As a business leader, I look forward to the impact of younger voices being heard and taken seriously with regard to their workplaces.
It is very unusual to have an HR specialist who can also train. We are very lucky at CHaRM to have two. In the early days of my career I worked alongside a Training Manager who was responsible for all management training. He was a lovely guy and great blue sky thinker, but when it came to actually delivering or getting anything done he was a complete non-starter. My internal client managers (production and factory managers) came to me and asked me if I would develop a practical training programme for managers. I decided to give it a go and have never looked back. I became an HR specialist who can train - one of a rare breed. It was something I really enjoyed - passing my knowledge onto others. There was always a technical element to the training that I delivered because of the employment law which surrounded many of the management topics and that gave it a different edge from the normal run of the mill management courses.
When I started CHaRM, although I set the business up as an HR business, it very quickly became clear that there was a need for training, which I could fulfil and which clients asked for. It is great to see someone develop and grow and that is a great motivator for me. It is something I haven't lost in my 21 years at CHaRM and I derive great pleasure from being involved in the development of others. Over the last 21 years, things have evolved to include the development of much more senior people and an involvement at a much more strategic level than when I first started out. The talent development activities that we deliver still give me a great buzz as I watch new managers develop and grow. That job satisfaction has not changed for me, but many things in training have changed over the last 21 years.