How to Write Articles For the Service Industry

If you go online and read some of the online content in the business sector you will see tens of thousands of articles about every aspect of business. Still, you will see a disproportionate number of articles on the service industry. This seems odd considering that more people are employed in the service industry than any other sector of our economy.

It’s true, go to the Department of Commerce, and see for yourself. There is also information at the Small Business Administration on this. It’s a known fact that our service sector employs more people in the service companies are both large and small.

Some are doing billions of dollars a year, single corporations, but for the most part they are small and medium-size businesses. And they do just about everything in our society; they fix our cars, do our home improvements, wash our cars, and take care of our elderly. These companies don’t sell a product, they are service companies; and whereas, they might sell a few products now and again their business primarily in servicing America.

Over the last three years, I’ve written over 50 articles specifically geared towards the service industry, what I’ve found is these articles are very well received, and the readers of these articles often send me feedback thanking me for the information. For those that write business articles, I sometimes don’t understand why they skipped this sector, as if it doesn’t matter. It does matter, and there is a thirst for information in the service industry.

Companies want to know how to stay more efficient, schedule their work, train their employees, recruit the best workers, manage their businesses, market their companies, and a whole slew of other subtopics. You literally could write all your online articles on the service industry alone and never run out of things to write about. I hope you will please consider this.

Importance of a Quality Work Uniform in the Service Industry

No matter what type of service industry you own or manage, presenting a professional workforce to the public is of the utmost importance to the overall image of your company. Choosing a work uniform that is appropriate and appealing will help your workers appear more professional to your consumers. Plus, work uniforms help to promote and advertise your business effortlessly.

As the name suggests, the service industry is all about serving your customers. A professional and attractive work uniform is especially important when dealing with the public because it immediately identifies you as someone who is available to help. When employees wear an identifiable work uniform, they become instantly recognizable to consumers. This promotes a feeling of professionalism and fosters an environment of customer support.

We have all had the experience of wandering around a store looking for someone to help us, not sure who works there because the employees do not have a clear dress code. When customers walk into your store, your employees should be instantly recognizable. There should never been any confusion of who is and is not an employee in your establishment.

Service professionals who work in people’s homes, like electricians, plumbers, and repairmen, should always present themselves in a uniform that indicates the company that they work for. This practice enables homeowners to easily identify the worker when he or she comes to the home. Most people would not let in a stranger without a proper uniform. Plus, wearing an easily identifiable uniform makes you appear more professional and trustworthy.

There are so many options when choosing a uniform for your staff. Listed below are a few things that you should keep in mind when determining the best outfit for your employees.

Appropriate for the job: Your work clothes should be appropriate for the tasks that you must complete. For example, a service industry worker who may be crawling under houses to check piping will need comfortable, stain resistant clothes that will enable him to perform his job effectively. An employee selling high-end furniture may require a more upscale type of uniform. When choosing work attire for your employees, make sure that you select clothes that allow them to do their job comfortably.

Presentable to the public: You want to select work apparel that will present a professional image to the public. Include your business name on the shirts and choose colors that match your company logo. Be sure to select items that are wrinkle-free and easily laundered so that your employees look fresh and refined each day. Remember that they are promoting your company image to the world.

Comfortable: Keep in mind that these are the clothes that your employees will be wearing all day everyday while they wait on customers and perform their job. It is important that you choose fabrics that are comfortable no matter what the season. You may consider offering your employees a few choices in styles. For example, you may have a cold weather uniform to be worn in the winter months and a short sleeves version to wear when it is warm. Breathable fabrics like cotton are usually the most comfortable to wear all year long.

Presenting a professional appearance is essential to the success of your service-based business. For the most impact, choose a uniform that will benefit your employees as well as your bottom line.

Taking Global Business Services to the Next Level

For those who have not read my previous post, “Moving from Shared Services to Global Business Services,” let me provide a quick summary. Shared Services (SS) is an operating model that has been around for decades. It enables function-specific resources (i.e., HR, IT, Finance, etc.) to be leveraged across an entire organization, resulting in lower costs with agreed-upon customer-service levels. Around the time of the 2008/2009 recession, greater demands were placed on the SS operating model and what evolved was Global Business Services (GBS). The GBS operating model offers better efficiency, wider geographic reach, and broader scope coverage, to handle greater regulatory scrutiny for the same or even lower costs. However, there are some obstacles to overcome to ensure the full value of the GBS operating model is achieved… which is the focus of this post.

State of GBS

Multiple surveys and commentary have been published indicating the widespread and increasing trend of companies moving from SS to the GBS operating model. An annual survey by the Shared Services and Outsourcing Network (SSON), one of the largest communities of shared services and outsourcing professionals, stated that nearly 70% of the respondents operate as a GBS or multi-function model. Although GBS adoption continues, we have also heard of examples of GBS initiatives not delivering the “promised” return on investment (ROI). In the first year, most initiatives seem to deliver a respectable 7-10% ROI, but what is concerning is that according to Genpact, a global leader in business process management and technology services, “as many as one-third of all such transitions fail to ever achieve anticipated cost savings.” Unfortunately, from my network of peers in this space, I personally know of examples where this has occurred. There are several reasons for this occurrence, so let’s discuss a few of the major ones.

ROI Shortfall

Fundamentally, there are a few main reasons why a GBS transformation may fall short:

1. Aligned Strategy and Governance – Many companies do not take the time to have ALL key stakeholders agree to an overall GBS strategy and governance upfront. Executive commitment is key.

2. Direct Linkage to Desired Business Outcomes – Misalignment between GBS Leaders and Business Clients on priorities, and/or not being able to adjust quickly as market conditions change. Alignment to client priorities is key.

3. End-to-End Scope Coverage – Only portions of an “end to end” process like Order to Cash are moved into GBS, without accountability (or a voice) to influence the balance of the “end to end” process not moved into GBS. “End to End” process accountability is key.

There are a myriad of other operational, process and technological constraints that impact success. Some of those areas include limited technology investment, an unclear talent management and acquisition strategy, under-resourced service and client management capabilities, to name a few.

Improvement Areas

So, what can you do to ensure that your GBS is positioned to get to the next level? As with most any enterprise transformations, it is critical to have executive commitment prior to moving forward. However, for a successful GBS transformation it is even more critical to have the CEO/COO and all the business and functional executives onboard, due to the potential enterprise impact. Obviously, there may be situations where select businesses or functions may be deferred (or even excluded) due to business model conflicts, but these need to be managed carefully so as to not encourage others to “opt-out.” Other improvement areas include:

1. Strategy – Alignment upfront and on an ongoing basis between GBS and Business Clients is critically important to creating value. If that is done, GBS is off to a good start. Some key strategy elements to “hash out” include short/medium term vision, value proposition, roles and responsibilities, decision rights, and governance structure.

2. Governance – Many companies prefer to not have a separate governance structure for GBS, but rather to add the responsibility to an existing structure. I think that is a mistake in the beginning because it is critical to get this right at the outset. Good governance establishes a clear mandate for GBS, removes board members from operational issues, and develops a separate “client voice” when business complexity requires doing so. In addition, as the GBS/Client relationship matures the concept of an enterprise process owners board could be considered, to help drive even larger areas of business value.

3. Scope – The discussion of scope is a topic that is covered upfront as part of the strategy dialogue, and remains an ongoing discussion at the Governance Board. It should be clear what migrates to GBS at the start, over time (as long as ROI and business value commitments are achieved), and what scope still needs further dialogue. There needs to be continual dialogue to ensure alignment, and to minimize any strategy changes especially as executive changes occur.

4. Service Management – Experienced GBS operations (of a decade or more) all seem to have a well-developed service management capability and view it as critical to their success. This team is initially focused on driving a consistent service delivery strategy across GBS, communicating operational performance and business value in a consistent/branded fashion to clients, and coordinating all the behind the scenes KPI measurement activities efficiently. However, as the GBS matures, this team shifts to more of a “services marketing accountability” driving services strategy, design, M&A migration, and new service offerings jointly with operating leaders and business clients.

If the above items are implemented, the chances of a successful GBS transformation are significantly enhanced.

External Perspective

A few years ago, I attended a conference made up of Fortune 500 companies interested in trends and best practices for functions and SS organizations. A large Fortune 50 company who implemented GBS over 10 years ago delivered the keynote presentation. I was “blown away” by how GBS had transformed their company, and how its scope had grown from Finance and IT to non-traditional areas such as Logistics and Joint Venture support, as well as delivering tremendous business value along the way. When you see the potential of GBS in action, it can be a tremendous motivator! Please take advantage of the learnings from others to help accelerate your ROI. For me personally, I did leverage the learnings from select conferences but, I also proceeded to do plenty of targeted benchmarking. We engaged more than 25 companies, with many outside our home industry. The primary focus was to share best practices, but also to get a deeper understanding of GBS optimization methods, and exchange learnings on similar “pain points”. If you are trying to improve your GBS, in addition to the above recommendations, I wholeheartedly suggest utilizing the concept of benchmarking to get some “fresh” ideas.

Next Step

In this article, I have only “skimmed the surface” in how you can take your company’s GBS to the next level. So, in my next post (3rd in the series), I will focus on one of the key improvement areas and do a deep dive on the “Importance of Strategy and Governance.”

Challenges in the Customer Support Services Industry

Every entrepreneur knows the importance of the quality of customer support services. Although in the customer service industry a myth is developing that outsourcing the customer services will not give the desired result, this industry is growing incredibly in South Asia. Mostly progressive companies are recognizing the potential and turning towards outsourcing their customer services departments to call centers located at different regions. These call centers are the main contact point for their customers. Most prominently this industry is growing in Pakistan, Philippines, and India.

In the adverse global economic condition like others, call center industry is also facing lot of challenges. To keep consistent quality of services the most alarming global issue is the retention of staff. The reasons and solution to retain them is different in Asia as compared to rest of the world. There are two important factors in the retention process i.e. incentives and motivation. The priorities differ between agents, especially in South Asia. The balance between incentives and motivation is the dominant factor in the retention of agents. There is a considerably high ratio of agents give priority on positive relationships among the team, supervisors and managers over incentives. It is equally important to chalk out a customized plan for individual agents to find out what they value most. One size fits all approach does not work in this industry.

I don’t run outbound call center but to my understanding another possible reason of turnover is the stress in outbound call center environment. Because of the use of sophisticated technology, agents don’t get time to recover from the stress in between awkward call from an unhappy customer or the stress due to performance targets. The performance targets sometimes put so much pressure that agents start bragging the customers to achieve their targets. The stress build up can also lead to illness and promote non-attendance.

Another challenge in call center industry is measuring the quality of services provided by your agents. The difficulty is due to the fact that mostly instead of complaining to the call center or the company directly, customers tell their friends of their bad experiences. So how will you measure the quality of service? Mostly companies are using surveys to get the opinion of their customers. There are other resources which can be used along with surveys. Among those forums, social media platforms and product reviews sites are on top. I experienced a little improved result when contacting all the customers who put negative remarks on forums and commented on the product reviews sites. On approaching them I offered the best solution to their concern that the company could afford. In most cases it is acceptable to the customers converting them again a happy customer. It is still important to measure the level of satisfaction and the best way to accurately know is to ask your customer directly at the time of first interaction.

Few call centers measure the quality of their service and the customer satisfaction level by assessing the average call handling time, time to answer a call, and the number of contacts by a customer to resolve the issue. But at times this method will not show the correct picture. All these methods depend on the products and services such as technical support services which may require a lengthy call to properly resolve the issue. Same could happen with customized products where during the first call some verification is required and it may only be possible to resolve the issue on second call. Also satisfying a customer only during first interaction is not enough. To earn a considerable satisfaction level customers need iterative positive experience from the contact center. Developing business relationship, trust and credibility takes time and it cannot be developed overnight.

The first step in improving the quality of customer support service is to improve your relationship with the employees. Involve them in major decision making, give them the feeling of ownership and acknowledge their achievements. It will help in increasing their morale and loyalty. Inspiration is an important factor in improving the role of your employees towards their commitment to high level of excellence and professionalism.

Besides satisfying existing customers on their interaction, it is also a good idea to keep their interest alive in the company. There are various avenues to stay in touch with your customers and prospective clients. There are companies who bombard their customers with chain of strong sales messages which in turn adversely affect customers’ reaction. There is no harm in sending a few softer sales messages. If possible, phone contact and face-to-face interaction is more effective.

In this turbulent economic time customers tend to look for low cost alternatives and it is becoming hard to keep their interest in your products and develop their trust in the company. Now the question is how you can keep your customers satisfied and maintain their confidence. The first and foremost thing is that your front line champions of customer service should be well trained to listen to and understand the customers’ requirements and concerns. For this purpose a weekly performance reviews with all your agents are very helpful in maintaining the minimum required standards. This is very important to quickly and effectively resolve customers’ issues. In resolving the issue exceeding their expectations and make the process simple and easy will further enhance their interest and confidence in the company.