The author discusses why service from the heart makes business sense in a shaken world.
In a fast-paced, high-tech, materialistic, social-media saturated, volatile, uncertain world with many social and environmental problems, there has been growing human disconnection, loneliness, stress, and depression. Covid-19 just brought all this to a new level by straining our mental health, relationships, and even avenues for stress relief like travel. 1
Businesses need to pivot and one of the ways they could do this is to offer what is now a rare luxury—service from a warm, joyful, and loving heart. One kind smile can be a healing balm to our aching hearts and minds while reminding us that there is still good in the world. On the other hand, when we encounter poor service, it can be the straw that broke the camel’s back.
The American Express Global Customer Barometer 2017 2 found 72 per cent of customers willing to spend about 16 per cent more due to excellent customer service. Sixty-five per cent have spent more with a company because of a history of positive service. The same Barometer found that 66 per cent of Singaporean customers have not completed a purchase because of poor service and on average, a Singaporean customer tells 24 people about their poor service experience!
Rare, Normal, and New Normal
Auntie Mabel is a “mother“ figure at Green Dot who teaches staff how to cook, serve, and grow with love. She shares stories that have fed me as much as the food has. Because of her and co-founder, Fu Yong Hong, who is full of compassion and wisdom, an invisible string ties me to Green Dot emotionally. If I’m in an area where they have a branch, this string will inexorably pull me there.
What I have experienced more often than the kind of service from Auntie Mabel is service with hardly any eye contact; joylessness and listlessness; and lack of empathy. It is tragic that some of us have accepted this as normal. We need a new normal.
In our shaken, ailing world, we need service with a higher purpose. I envision service staff as Super-Heroes with archetypal powers to make a positive difference in customers’ lives:
- Fellow Human Being creates warm human connection in a world where this is increasingly missing. By sharing and listening to stories, secrets, and wisdom gained from our collective human journey, they add meaning and illumination to customers’ lives.
- Sunshine-Maker brings joy to a world ridden with fear, anxiety, and conflict. Through appreciative, encouraging conversations and humour, they bring on smiles and laughter.
- Healer knows how hard it can be to be human and makes life easier and less painful for customers. This matters in a world where people bear many invisible burdens and wounds.
- Warrior cuts through red tape and proactively advocates for customers’ wellbeing by identifying ways to improve company policies and practices.
Is this asking for too much? Absolutely, in the way things are now. The lives of those in the service line can be very tough based on interviews and conversations I have had.
Inside-Out Approach Needed
Want your staff to be empathetic to the customer? Be empathetic to your staff. Build a positive culture of care, support, joy and wellbeing. Then staff will have the energy and bandwidth to serve from a joyful, loving heart. And they will have internal role-models and teachers through their bosses and colleagues.
Wages, working hours, workload, breaks, who gets hired, who gets promoted, how bosses treat staff, how staff see their work and themselves, how disrespectful customer behaviours get understood and processed—all this will affect customer service.
Just training staff to show empathy to customers while they, for example, feel crushed under an enormous workload, battle workplace conflicts and have little time for toilet-breaks is unlikely to bring meaningful, sustainable results.
Auntie Mabel—an ambassador for service from the heart"
PHOTO: Human Unlimited Pte. Ltd.
Organisational psychology Professor Benjamin Schneider has found, through his studies and observations across industries, that when employees responded more positively to their work environment, there was an increase in customer satisfaction and business results. A negative work environment led to unhappy workers, poor customer service, and falling revenues. 3
Twenty to 30 per cent of profit can be traced to how employees feel about their workplace. Fifty to 70 per cent of this view traces back to their leader. 3
From looking at 225 studies, happier employees were found to bring in 37 per cent higher sales and have higher creativity and more effective conflict resolution skills. 4
There is a lot to be done. We need progressive, service-oriented CEOs committed to leaving a legacy that truly matters in the countless lives their organisations touch everyday—and help their businesses thrive.
1 Joyce T, 19 August 2020, The Straits Times, Covid-19 will have a long-tail effect on mental health, experts predict. Accessed via https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/health/covid-19-will-have-a-long-tail-effect-on-mental-health-experts-predict
2 American Express Global Customer Barometer 2017. Accessed via https://business.americanexpress.com/sg/~/media/Files/GCP/sg2/business-trends-insights/Amex_GCSB_Infographics.pdf?la=en-GB
3 Key Step Media, 21 July 2015, Happy Employees, Happy Customers. Accessed from https://www.keystepmedia.com/happy-employees-happy-customers/
4 Sonja L, Laura K & Ed D, 2005, Psychological Bulletin, The Benefits of Frequent Positive Affect: Does Happiness Lead to Success? Accessed from https://www.apa.org/pubs/journals/releases/bul-1316803.pdf
Vadivu Govind is Director of Human Unlimited Pte. Ltd. The consultancy enables future-ready, life-affirming leadership and workplaces. Vadivu holds a Masters in Public Administration (Columbia University) and certifications related to topics such as workplace happiness, positive psychology coaching and strengths development.
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