by Sean McCoy (@TheRealMcCoyTRM) An obvious, yet often-neglected principle is that outstanding service levels are best achieved through committed people with — you guessed it — great people skills.

At the risk of sounding stereotypical or putting people into preconceived boxes, it is necessary to ensure that job fit, skills and personality profiles are well-balanced and considered in most roles, and very specifically in a service-oriented environment. Empathy, good listening ability, a positive disposition, a friendly and engaging nature are some of the typical qualities that come to mind in a customer- or service-led environment.

Why, then, do we see situations where eg a highly analytical, introverted person, better suited to an administrative or systems role, is left dealing with clients at brand moments of truth, potentially disliking every facet of it and creating major brand disconnect in the process? The beloved call centre, or contact centre as it is now referred to, is a key case in point.

Missing the point

Sadly, in many instances in our country, this may be driven by people being only too happy to land a job, and that is the filter through which people deliver, not a commitment to a cause and a deep desire to serve.

Take any government department as a prime example — mostly bloated bureaucratic environments with little understanding of the concept of serving people, and staffed with personnel who have no people skills and little desire to acquire them. Harsh, possibly, but certainly the general public sentiment, largely expounded by inadequate leadership and obtuse organisational purpose.

Just the other morning, talk show host John Robbie was belabouring the issue on 702, following his return to OR Tambo among several international flights, only to be greeted by two manned immigration desks and a very unsystematic, disorganised approach to another round of Ebola forms — only for passengers on the flights from Paris, it turned out.

Service passion

What struck me during a recent bush-lodge brand audit and assessment exercise is just how different it can be with the right commitment to recruitment and training. It is a team of people extremely passionate about what they are doing in the field of conservation, but the people orientation runs deeper than this. They recruit from local communities across the SADC region, so that there is strong local culture and appreciation, and then they train like hell to deploy this across a largely international customer base of fairly demanding and refined travellers.

This cannot be done overnight, and it requires a deep programme of training and development — but it starts with ensuring that front-of-house people are people-inclined and passionate about service, too, placing operational people and skills effectively in the back of house, away from direct customer contact and engagement, in an essential and important support role, but not one dealing directly with people as end consumers.

While also listening to Gerrie Fourie, the chief executive of Capitec Bank, talking to Bruce Whitfield on 702 recently, it struck me that there are some parallels in thinking.

Competitive advantage

Commenting upon its results and future strategy, it is evident that Capitec is actively targeting more affluent middle- and upper-income market segments as part of their its growth plans. The banks also employs people from the communities in which its retail footprint falls, so the Mthata branch is serviced by Mthata employees who have a firm understanding of local and regional culture nuances. More so, they employ young, dynamic matriculants and train them in the skills of front-of-house service in retail banking — Capitec’s rise and rise over a very short space of time and up against some formidable and dominant market players might suggest that it is doing something right.

The pundits call this competitive advantage, and the opportunity to do this through people, while difficult, is hard to replicate and imitate — hence the key opportunity.

But it’s all common sense and obvious, I hear you say. So, too, is the advice not to smoke, drink and drive or eat copious amounts of unhealthy food; similarly, very ‘common sensical’, but so often forgotten or neglected — common sense is not always common practice. Putting the right people in the right seat, all pulling in the right direction, is not as simple as it sounds and requires visionary leadership, ongoing resourcing and disciplined effort.


Sean McCoy

Dr Sean McCoy, MD and founding member of HKLM, is a prominent figure in the branding arena, with his expertise centered on client service, brand strategy and business development. He contributes the regular “The Real McCoy” column focusing on internal branding to MarkLives.

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