Martin Summerhayes suggests taking stock of what we have now and developing soft skills can influence our future success.
As we enter a new decade, many people are either reflecting over what has been; or are striving to look forward to the next ten years and what is to come. I am neither going to be a reflective, nor am I going to be a soothsayer.
Rather, like many service professionals, I want to recognise those that worked over the festive period. According to a number of reports, more people were working on Christmas Day than previous years with 1.1million estimated to be working. The world of work – commercial, retail, social, hospitality, etc. has changed dramatically over the past few years.
True, we should always be grateful to the emergency services; the medical services; the armed forces; and those in defence and security that work tirelessly over the festive season. We should also be grateful to the media companies that provide multi-channel entertainment. After all, where would we be if there was no TV, radio or streaming media?
What has changed so much, is how many non-critical industries, provide services over this period. Many restaurants, hotels, and fast food outlets are open. For many years, IT service providers provided emergency support, but as many of their customers are providing services over the festive period, IT support services are more and more, working “as normal”.
Then comes Boxing day and the rush for the sales. The “bargains” as they are advertised. Each to their own, but the thought of venturing out to go shopping on Boxing day, fills me with dread. However, spare a thought for those colleagues who were working. Dealing with the rush of people into the shops. Those that were serving in hospitality sectors. Even those thousands of drivers who continued to deliver more than 58% of presents on the lead up to the big day and who were then tasked with delivering the “bargains” afterwards.
What on earth has this got to do with the title of this article. Let me break it down for you.
“The Hard…” bit: This is the focus on maximising sales and returns. To manage inventory, stock churn, ‘product’ utilisation, throughput of sales or if you are in the services business; the “people” utilisation. It is all focused on the “numbers”. The next set of announcements in January, will be the sales returns over the festive season.
Many corporates, businesses and organisations, will then spend time reflecting on where their “peak trading” plans were successful; or more often than not; where they failed to deliver the returns that they were predicting. There will then come a period of reflection; to try to optimise; shave a percentage point off here, or there; ready for the next “peak trading period”.
However, in all of this, we have forgotten the “soft bit”. What on earth is this?
“The Soft…” bit: The people. Those thousands of people that bring service to the millions of customers every day, especially over the festive period. With so many people taking work time off over the period and the business demands to continue to service their customers; many companies, utilise flexible workforces to supplement their permanent staff.
For many years, in the IT service industry, flexing the workforce has been the norm. This has also been the norm in Retail and hospitality sectors. Whether it is working on a telephone, taking orders; working on a shop floor selling products; out delivering goods or as field technician serving end customers across the country; many companies leverage this flexibility model, mostly with the minimum training.
Yes to:- Health and Safety training; How to use the CRM system; Minimum hardware training on how to configure the product you are replacing on a customer’s site; minimum product placement information for the product you are trying to sell; you get the picture.
Now the festive season is over, many of the full-time staff have returned to work, the flexible staff have been released and everything has returned to normal. Right?
Wrong. I have yet to hear of companies and organisations going out of their way to thank the staff that have worked over the period. Recognising their efforts and commitments. Fewer organisations still, take the time to equip the staff – both permanent and flexible with the soft skills to be able to work in this most stressful of times, or even normally.
Every interaction your staff – permanent or flexible – have with your customers leaves a lasting impression. Sometimes, known as “those moments of truth”. In today’s world, where differentiation is key, it is no longer the features of your product or service that counts; it is the individual interactions your staff have with your customers that make the difference.
Many forecasters are talking about the 2020’s as the decade of Customer Experience, where companies; leverage engaged, motivated and thoughtful staff; and will differentiate themselves from the rest and be successful as a result.
So, what soft skills training development programmes are you going to put in place to deliver the differentiated service that will make your organisation stand out from the crowd? Will you spend as much time, effort and cost on the soft skills needed as the technical focus?
How will you differentiate your organisation from the rest? I’d suggest focus on the Soft rather than the Hard. It is relatively easy to teach someone how to use a CRM system; log calls; pass then a product when they ask to purchase it; or field replace a whole unit it. It is far harder to provide understanding of customer ‘wants’ and ‘needs’; how to delight every customer engagement; support and change how customers interact with your staff, so that your organisational and business complexity is not fostered upon them.
It would be fantastic if you could share what plans and activities you are putting in place to make the difference.
The article was a reflection of a quote that has stayed with me for many years. If you have never heard of it and its author, then let me introduce you to Tom Peters.
The quote is:
Hard is soft. Soft is hard. "Hard" (the plans, numbers and org charts) is "soft". "Soft" (people, relationship, culture) is "hard". Peters notes that an organization is nothing more and nothing less than people (your employees) serving people (your customers and communities). Tom Peters
Here is a very short bio of Tom Peters:
- Tom Peters is co-author of “In Search of Excellence”, the book that changed the way the world does business and is often tagged as the best business book ever. It was named the 'Top Three Business Books' of the Century with more than 5 million copies sold
- Tom Peters has for travelled for 40 years, delivered 2,500+ speeches in across the USA and 67 countries to more than 5,000,000 people.
- Tom Peters has written 18 books with over 10 million copies sold. In addition he has authored 600 syndicated columns, 250 articles and 3,000 blog posts.
- Tom's most recent effort is “The Excellence Dividend: Meeting the Tech Tide with Work that Wows and Jobs that Last”. Tom's bedrock belief: "It's all about the people and the doing, not the talking and the theory."