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Archive for the ‘Customer Service’ Category

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A century ago, more than 1.5 m people in the UK were employed as Domestic Servants or were, to use the expression of the day “In Service”. It was an incredibly tough life for very low wages and unlike the Downton Abbey vision of maids combing their ladies’ hair all day, most servants led a grim and thankless life.

I was reminded of the old concept of “In Service” when I read last week that the UK economy is now 70% service-based. Sadly, with a few notable exceptions, we no longer make products in the UK, we simply provide a service for those products. So from call-centres to banks, from retail and hospitality to Care, we are all now “in service”. Of course, at the same time, we are all recipients of that service and our expectations of service levels we require are constantly rising. So whilst workers in the service industries may no longer work 12 hour days and live “Below The Stairs”, they are still expected to provide ever-increasing levels of care to their customers.

New Economy – New Skills

The move towards a service-based economy has a profound impact on the skill requirements of our workforce. Thirty years ago, school leavers with low academic qualifications, could still find jobs in shipbuilding, coal, steel or manufacturing. Conditions may have been awful and the work mind-numbingly boring, but they were often jobs for life and were the heart of many working-class communities. Now that those jobs have vanished forever, opportunities for low-skilled workers are almost non-existent and as I have argued many times before, unless we recognise that and address the issue, we are in real danger of creating a generation of young people who won’t just be unemployed – they will be unemployable.

That is why I always use the term “crisis” rather than the preferred government term “problem”, when referring to workforce skills. And in my opinion, it is not just about giving people the skills that will make them employable, it’s about giving them the confidence that will make them believe that they can move on from a low-paid service job and build a genuine career. Last week, I was talking about Functional Skills at an excellent Apprenticeships 4 England funding conference and I told delegates of a comment that had been made to me a few months ago, when an Apprenticeship provider told me that they only worked with hairdressers and that hairdressers did not require Functional maths and English skills to cut hair. Apart from finding the comment incredibly patronising, my response was that surely the purpose of the Apprenticeship wasn’t simply to assess someone’s ability to cut hair but to provide a young adult with the skills which would make them believe they could go on to become a salon manager or even open their own hairdressing salon one day.

Of course, Maths and English are not the only skill areas that we need to address. There are a whole range of “employability” skills where young adults need additional help and we desperately need more extensive careers advice. But at the end of the day, without the ability to communicate effectively and not just simply remember numerical facts, but understand their meaning and their use in different situations, then everything else becomes meaningless. Whilst young adults need no longer bow and scrape to Lord Grantham, they do need to be able to meet and exceed the expectations of their “service” customers. That is why I believe that successive governments have got it just about right in putting Functional Skills at the heart of both Apprenticeship and Traineeship programmes.

Funding is Critical

However, the programmes will only succeed with the right level of funding. The next government Spending Review is published at the end of June and I am fearful that Further Education and workplace funding will be cut again. Of course, there will always be spending limits and priorities, but the skills crisis in the UK is acute and needs to be addressed now, not as part of some long-term plan for the future. If the government wants the UK workforce to be trained to Level 2 in Functional Maths and English, then it has to provide funding at a level that will ensure that high quality providers will be able to deliver the qualifications.

Roger Francis is a Director with Creative Learning Partners Ltd, a new vocational training company formed by the senior managers and staff of MindLeaders Learning Services following the acquisition of the company by Skillsoft in 2012 and focusing on the delivery of Functional Skills

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You're welcome!

Today’s post comes courtesy of Roger Francis, Director of Services and HR at MindLeaders ThirdForce

I’ve recently returned from a business trip to the States and as usual, I was overwhelmed by the quality of customer service in comparison to the UK. The cynics may say that it is inextricably linked to a tipping culture but in my opinion, the difference seems to run deeper than that. Great customer service is embedded in their culture, something that shows through in the warmth of their hospitality.

The problem we have in the UK (where our economy is now so dependent on the “service industry”) is not so much that our service levels are poor, it’s that they are horribly inconsistent. Whether it’s in a restaurant, a hotel, a supermarket or a bank, the level of service we receive varies from one person to another and even within a single site it can differ from one day to the next.

Yet UK companies invest huge sums of money in training their people to provide good service and then even larger sums of money in advertising the fact that they provide fabulous service. So why the chasm between the aspiration and the end result?  One reason is that companies focus on “service” because they think that they should do so, rather than because they believe it adds real value and a genuine point of differentiation.

At MindLeaders ThirdForce, we put an enormous amount of energy and resources into our service provision. Whilst we believe that our elearning and vocational training products are Best in Class, we also recognise that many of our competitors have quality offerings.  However, as we have been told time and time again, one of the key reasons why customers choose our products is because they know that they are guaranteed an unmatchable service offer.

There are two other key aspects to any successful service offer. Firstly, we need to understand that the service offer is not a one size fits all model, but should be tailored to meet the needs of the individual customer.  That means we need to gain a thorough understanding of what our customers require – not just of our products, but of the wraparound service.

Secondly, we need to recognise that customer aspirations continue to rise and what may be regarded as a good level of service today will appear average in 12 months’ time. That is why we constantly review our service levels, regularly seek feedback and develop innovative ways of improving our offer.

What are your views on the value of “service” and what have been your experiences to date?

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