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Customer service is the manager’s responsibility

I heard of a rural hospital that closed its doors to visitors on Freedom Day.

A public holiday affords workers a rare opportunity to visit their loved ones during the week. In this case a man travelled overnight to see his father, only to be turned away: “It’s a public holiday; we’re closed.”

Healthcare workers need to rest and be restored, especially after years of pandemic and now floods. There’s probably an excellent explanation for what seems like a sad story, and I know many health care staff who go out of their way to care for their patients and support the families even after hours, despite understaffing and poor resourcing.

But it reminded me of the central part managers play in making life better or worse for us all. Why do hospitals exist and doctors, nurses and admin staff have jobs? For the patients. Why does Treasury allocate funds to the health budget? For the patients. Yet it sounds like this hospital management arranged matters for their own convenience, not that of the patients or their worried families.

Similarly, why do shops open their doors? For the customers. Why do government offices exist? For the citizens. Why are there driving licence offices? To enable the public to be tested and certified as safe when they drive on the roads with the rest of us. Why do politicians have their jobs? To ensure good governance and public services for us all.

Yet so often we forget what our jobs are for. The arrogant clerk seems to believe that the public are there to meet his/her requirements. Too many politicians assume that they deserve the perks and opportunities of their positions as a reward for being elected, rather than to provide the services we need them for.

This is meant to be a column about small business, and I want to draw on this story to remind business owners that we have the continuing task of explaining very clearly where our jobs come from and how to maintain them. Without customers we don’t have businesses.

This applies to internal customers too. For the ultimate benefit of the paying customer, internal service providers (HR, Finance, etc.) should focus on making work easy for their colleagues.

So a key responsibility of managers is to create a culture of customer service (external and internal) that aligns everyone’s attention towards offering a friendly and proficient service to those who pay our salaries. This is not a one-off effort or a document buried among company policies; it requires a continual communications campaign, led by example, and reinforced by consequences.

Management is not just about creating excellent systems, but also about helping staff with repetitive jobs understand that the public don’t know the system as well as they do. We need friendly guidance about which queue to stand in.

This includes training staff in the wonderful attitude and skill of empathy. Thinking ourselves into the shoes of the customer or colleague provides the foundation of good customer service. What would delight me if I came to our building as a possibly confused, anxious, scared customer / patient / citizen?

Would life not be amazingly better if all managers focused on creating among their staff a deep empathy for those they serve?

So here is a heartfelt plea to any manager reading this: think about your salary, benefits and status if you must; but let the thing that keeps you awake at night be the welfare of the customer / client / patient who is the reason your job exists. And think of every clever idea you can to help your team be passionate about it too. Their job is to serve the customer, and their excitement to serve customers is your job.


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