Often we feel as though we are trapped on life’s treadmill. We are so busy ‘maintaining the present’ that we forget to ‘envision the future’. We are so engrossed in ‘do-ing’ that we are not ‘be-ing’. And it is in that state of ‘be-ing’ that we can more adequately address the future.
In concentrating exclusively on ‘getting the job done’ there is a chance that we’ll become complacent and not continuously improve. There will be no great future to strive towards and we’ll stay where we are. Conversely, if we worked only on our vision of the future, without maintaining the present, we also wouldn’t get there!
So, we need the balance of doing both kinds of activities simultaneously. That applies in our work situations and in our private lives. In the Brenda Eckstein International workshops, especially those that involve strategy, we consciously look at present and future. We also consider how business principles can be applied both in the workplace and at home.
A typical example is the ‘Sustainable Customer Service Strategy’ workshop. One of the exercises involves examining the current needs of our current customers (the present). And then we do the same exercise looking at who the customers of the future may be and how their needs may be different from the needs of current customers. I’m always fascinated by the variance of input in the different workshops.
A three-day ‘Advanced Customer Service’ workshop presented in Durban on December 8, 9 and 10 of 2010 was no exception and I’m providing the consolidated input from groupwork below. For this exercise, the future was determined as 2015. Eighteen participants were divided into groups according to whether they were from Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda or Zambia and each group deliberated intensely on the ten most important aspects of customer service in 2015 and how customers’ needs will have changed. Debate was lively and the input interesting. Each group’s ‘reporter’ shared their group’s findings verbally and this was recorded so that each participant will have their own CD as a reminder of action to be taken by their organisation or company. Here I’m capturing only the essence of their rich and valuable contributions.
Much of the discussion centered on the role of respective governments in creating an environment conducive to high standards of customer service in all sectors. These factors, which applied to various governments and within those, the different layers of government, are listed in random order. Each factor impacts on the level of service which organisations, businesses and firms are able to offer.
Governments need to:
- Create a ‘zero tolerance’ approach to corruption. All groups independently stated this need. There could then be an environment of trust thus impacting on customer perceptions and other aspects of service.
- Provide an enabling environment for adequate security for businesses, investors and prospective investors.
- Allow transparency in decision-making and negotiation, so as to build sustainable relationships.
- Introduce the usage of ICT enabling their customers to effectively access information like investment opportunities, tourism information as well as employment opportunities. There must be compatibility with new technology.
- Improve systems and infrastructure like roads, railways, airports and telecommunications to reduce lead times and processes and to promote consistency of service even where there are external changes impacting on service delivery.
- Upgrade educational institutional infrastructures, train more effective education providers and develop more relevant educational curricula of a higher standard, from primary level up. This would improve the educational systems.
- Reduce ‘red tape’ and bureaucracy. This applies to government at all levels. This would also help in creating friendly local investments, for example through reducing the process of obtaining identity cards, passports, local business licenses as well as working permits. An environment conducive for doing business is essential and impacts on the service given to customers.
Points not specific to government
- Market segmentation will be important and value needs to be added according to the needs of people in specific groups. High customer recognition will be possible. There must be a focus on the customer, an attitude of putting the customer first.
- ‘Convenience’ was anticipated as a major need amongst customers in 2015. An important component of this was stated as the ‘internship’ way of operating and doing business. By changing staff attitudes and increasing service and product knowledge, greater opportunities for providing the convenience factor for customers could be provided. Accessibility is also a component linked to ‘convenience’.
- By ensuring that stock levels are maintained at levels sufficient to meet product and service demand, greater service could you given. Here consideration of the population is an important factor.
- Continuous improvement through research, innovation and implementation will be essential in staying ahead of customer’s expectations.
- ‘Value for money’ will continue to be an important factor in meeting the needs of customers. Quality service is a component of this and affordability is also an important factor.
- An accurate and timely flow of the right information to customers is crucial. This applies to governments, organisations and businesses.
- There needs to be greater emphasis on being technologically advanced. Aspects will be ICT, social media, outsource hub. Everything will have to happen faster. Diligent, prompt service will be even more important. (And the monitoring of feedback needs to be more effective.) Customers will be more demanding in that they will be able to gauge and evaluate service based statistical results at a much faster and more responsive rate than they can now.
- All customers need to be treated with the same dignity and provided with equal opportunities, regardless of differences in buying power or other differences. This applies to external and internal customers.
- Customers of the future won’t want complicated ways of doing business. Simplicity will be important.
- Reliability and trust remain high priorities.
I hope these thoughts will inspire you to look ahead. What will your customers’ changing needs be? And how can you best meet those needs? Consciously build towards the future while you maintain current activities and you will be even more successful in 2015.