Rewarding Service Excellence

Nduka (standing right) sharing Customer Service experiences as a facilitator at an executive seminar

By Nduka Mba-Uzoukwu

For service organizations and, indeed, every organization in the public and private sectors of our economy, recognizing and rewarding staff excellence should be the norm. If it is not already, it is well worth implementing; especially during these pandemic days when employers and employees are making all sorts of adjustments to, at the very least, maintain pre-pandemic productivity levels while ensuring customers’ service experiences do not suffer. You lose money when customer experiences deteriorate. You also lose-out on potential revenue by ‘fattening’ dissatisfied customers’ reluctance to refer your products and services to their friends, family and strangers.

When done properly, celebrating excellence unleashes its inherent powers to motivate. Doing so publicly motivates even more so. Beyond motivating staff, it also promotes healthy competition within any organization, both on individual and departmental levels. These always make for a more focused, personally and professionally developed workforce. They also improve staff productivity levels, boost team-spirit, improve internal collaborations between departments and drive the sustenance of high organizational performances across the spectrum.

Institutions whose recognize-and-reward programmes work perfectly invariably reduce employee turnover as, their staff would be less-persuaded to leave. Studies have shown that staff who feel appreciated are more likely to stay and work harder, than not. Studies have also shown that employees who are publicly celebrated and rewarded for consistently demonstrating high levels of compliance with institutional values, tend to not only stay, but also to actively encourage people they know to join the workforce.

Arguably above all, it creates or fosters a culture of excellence in the organization. While shareholders and other internal stakeholders reap the benefits of increased brand equity, the biggest and most important beneficiaries of institutions that have excellent workforces are its customers. They get value for their subscriptions, stay loyal, spend more, and become self-employed advocates of their service providers.

But what happens when recognize-and-reward programmes are implemented wrongly? In the private sector, you tend to find cases where companies invariably create abrasive relationships between Sales and Business Support teams. They create this monster by overtly selecting and overwhelmingly rewarding performance in favour of the Sales Team. This usually happens in companies run by Executives who subscribe to the objectionable argument that the Sales Teams keep the business running and pay the salaries of everyone else. They get the company-wide recognitions, chunky bonuses, accelerated promotions, in-class courses in reputable business schools abroad etc., while their colleagues in Business Support functions look-on with implicit disgust and resentment. It also does not help when the ‘privileged’ salesmen/women rub it in the faces of everyone else, often developing superiority complexes while at it. Quite evidently, they get emboldened by this defective business and human resource management practice. Consequently, they create, amongst many other ills, a lot of disaffection between employees, productivity losses, efficiency deficiencies, staff attrition, brand devaluation, staff apathy and, disloyalty towards the company. Sometimes, customers bear the brunt of it all. Other self-destructive effects of poorly designed programmes include Management distrust and unhealthy competition between employees on both sides of the aisle. The list goes on.

Customer Experience (CX) Management leaders in many organizations will tell you how enormous the challenge of ensuring customer service quality does not drop can be when the staff are detached. When I researched this topic, most of the CX leaders said employees’ apathy towards striving for individual and corporate excellence was one of the major reasons why service standardization was daunting to achieve. Probing further, I found out that these disconnections were partly as a result of the way staff were being recognized and rewarded for their service.

They referenced biases in favour of their colleagues in Sales, with numerous examples. One of the most common instances cited was the fact that their colleagues in Sales got promoted faster, and, the ones who moved from Business Support roles to Sales also left them behind. When they asked their Human Resource Managers why that was the case, they were given the most implausible excuse that this occurs because it is easy to measure the performance of Sales Teams! This ranks up there with the similarly unspeakable excuse about the Sales paying the salaries of everyone else; and so, they should be better compensated than the rest of the workforce.

Surely, for staff in such organizations, it can be extremely difficult to give their best. Granted, not all employees care about any of all that. They are just happy they have jobs, earn a living, have somewhere to go to every morning, and, fit into social circles without having to worry about inferiority complexes. But, for others who care – the silent majority – it is a huge turn-off. Businesses fail for numerous reasons. This is definitely one of them.

If you have staff who just come to work and leave every day without being concerned about whether the organization actually recognizes and rewards the value they bring, your organization is walking a tight rope. It might not fall off the rope. It might still make it across to the other end. But, is carrying an aloof, demotivated, semi or fully detached, disgruntled, under-performing and disloyal workforce along worth the risk, as we see with many organizations today?

Put the responsibility for this unproductive practice squarely at the feet of the organization’s leadership. Perceptive leaders know that their employees are at the heart of everything they do. They demonstrate this by constantly exploring and implementing initiatives to ensure their staff are highly motivated to deliver. They recognize the need for the entire workforce to pull in the same direction, regardless of their functions. They understand the power of a workforce united in purpose and delivery. They embody fairness and transparency. They step-forward and hold responsible officers and functions accountable for implementing programmes staff will trust and willfully participate in.

They show the functional leads how it is done, get them trained on how to run those programmes, or replace them with people who can. They lead. They listen to their staff to get first-hand feedback on what it feels like to be in their employ. By so doing, they know exactly what pain-points there are and have them fixed. They care. They show they do because they know it is not enough to care. They know they risk taking away from the service delivery experiences they set-up to create for their customers when they do not lead enthusiastic colleagues. Delightful, consistent, profitable and endearing customer experiences are the product of internal service excellence. They get that. And they course-correct.

Business Support teams are arguably the engine-room of any company. They are the Product Development and Management people. The Marketers who create product and service awareness. The Legal team. The Operations people famed for being the spine of any organization. Administration and Logistics. The Drivers. Dispatch Riders. The Customer Support people who ensure customers’ after-sales experiences are positively memorable. The Frontline Officers who, like Sales, face customers every day. The Security Team. The Engineering Teams. The Information Technology department. Sales/Business Development. Human Resources. Store. Warehouse. Risk Managers. Finance. The list goes on. All these teams serve each other.

They work together to ensure customers get value for their purchases and subscriptions. None of these teams can function without the support of the other. Every team contributes to the customers’ pre-and-post-sales experience, one way or the other. And so, it does not help when they appear unfairly treated. After all, the Sales teams rely on products designed and managed by other teams. They capitalize on the awareness created by the Marketing team.

Their customers will walk away or under-use the products and services if the Customer Support teams are weak. What happens when the dispatch riders constantly make late deliveries? Or, when a technology-based service regularly fails to deliver value due to its epileptic availability. We always see what happens when car manufacturers withdraw millions of units sold around the world due to defective airbags. If those didn’t happen, maybe the Sales teams would have been bountifully rewarded for the volume of sales achieved, at the expense of everyone else who worked together to make the sales outcomes possible. This is not to make a case for one against the other. No. Rather, the point is, it takes everyone to makes things happen.

Rewarding service excellence is best achieved when every staff member feels like they are catered to. When they can trust the process. When they actually feel like they can win. When divisive modalities for compensating awardees are eliminated. Or, at least, the semblances are explained and successfully sold. When they sense Management’s sincerity of purpose. When Management successfully earns their trust consistently over time.

If your programme needs to change, change it. Leaders who do not have Recognize-and-Reward programmes, should. Public sector parastatals are also encouraged to dive-in. Every employee is worth the hassle, job roles and sectors, regardless. Your customers are overly worth the pain too. Act now to derive full value from your customer relationships and, also to recover your customer acquisition costs. Happy Employees, Happy Customers!

Mba-Uzoukwu is the Managing Partner of CX-Practice, a Customer Experience Management consulting company. Follow him on Twitter: @PracticeCx, and LinkedIn:

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