Special Feature

Customer Service: Teamwork for Efficiency and Productivity

As I walked the raining streets of Monrovia recently, I was attracted by electronic gadgets displayed in a transparent glass window of a business center. I decided to enter the business center to “check out” some of its items, and probably reminisce my visits to a few high tech stores in other “developing” countries.

However, when I walked into the high-tech store, I was bombarded by a few customer service representatives: “what do you want?” “Look at this TV, it is good ooo!”  “I say, I say, you wan this set, I can help you?”  The demands by the customer service representatives were overwhelming, and made it almost impossible to walk through the store. I looked at the customer service representatives on my left and on my right. Ahead of me, one customer service representative was also signaling me to look at another item.   At that moment, I stood momentarily. Probably, not momentarily, but for a few minutes to hopefully take a deep breath and also consider my options.

Unfortunately, my decision to make myself “invisible” didn’t help. The customer service representatives were still at my “throat.” I then removed the “diplomatic cloak” and picked up the “chalk and ruler.” My first forcibly initiated student was the dark hair male on my right. I asked the guy, “Are all of you working together in this store.” His response, “Yer.” At that moment, he probably felt my question was meant to suggest just what might have been roving through his mind. I then allowed his eyes to meet mine. When our eyes met, I hooked his stare and dragged it down to my arms where he held my arms. Silently, I let my unemotional stare to freeze on this spot; blocking my ears to his words. Within seconds, the pressure on my arms was gone. When I turned my face on my left hand, the customer service representative with the rainbow hair was still standing with a wide grin. I also asked her, “Do you work with the two guys (in front) before me. She said “ah han. We all wok together ooo.”

As I moved towards what appeared to be the Boss’ desk, I overheard Ms. Rainbow and Mr. Guy in some form of not too friendly discussion.  Ms. Rainbow told Mr. Guy in an audible whisper, “You nan start again ahn? Why you thin my position for you? ” I wondered about the competition that existed between the two customer service representatives as I walked forward. Competition among persons working on a team undermines the productivity, and establishment of team spirits for a business or entity. As I walked further ahead in the store, I thought of what my boss have always said, “A position is not anyone’s birth right. We meet positions, are appointed for positions; we leave positions, and are sometimes terminated from positions. No one owns a positions.” As I thought about my boss comment, I hoped that members of organizations and businesses, including the store I was walking thorough would realize that building positive team spirit goes beyond working in a store, and can go a long way in our personal and professional lives. I left the two customers service representatives to resolve their “beef” and moved towards the front desk where the manager sat.

All the while this classroom lesson was going on, Mr. Manager was sitting at his desk; feet on table and hand folded behind his back and watching with eager eyes – apparently not at his customers service staff.. As I approached the desk, Mr. Manager removed his feet from his desk and asked, “Can I help you?” “Yes sir,” I responded. I need to look at the freezers you have. I need a freezer that consumes less electricity.” At that moment, Mr. Manager left his managerial seat and guided me towards the freezers aisle. We were followed by four customer service representatives: they were still calling my attention to different items.

I focused on the manager, conducted my business and walked out of the store even more convinced that teamwork is critical to efficiency in Customer Service.

While most businesses employ customer serve representations to enhance trade, teamwork remains lagging in most big, small entities, and to be candid, in some government institutions. Now someone reading this article may be asking, just as I was asked recently, “What do you mean when you say “customer service?” Customer service is the services consumers receive before, during and after a transaction. According to Turban et al. (2002), “Customer service is a series of activities designed to enhance the level of customer satisfaction – that is, the feeling that a product or service has met the customer’s expectation.”  In essence, Customer service begins the moment you walk in an entity, whether a business entity – to purchase goods and services, or an institution for [official] interactions.

Sometimes when I talk about “efficient customer Services and team spirit,” some people are astonish. It’s like efficient Customers Service is for sophisticated societies, and not something consumers in Liberia and other developing countries should have and enjoy. I can’t help but wonder why efficiency, professionalism, and positive team spirit should be isolated to “sophisticated” societies!

As I look at the shock, alarm and surprise on people’s faces when efficient customer services and team spirit are highlighted, I wonder whether consumers and businesses in Liberia are different from “Businesses” and Consumers” in other places. The fact is that consumers are people. Without transactions from consumers, businesses are bound to fail, flop and fold up. And the moment consumer[s] walk in an entity to transact business [es], customer services begin – whether poor customer services, or efficient customer services.  And the quality of customer services determines the level of team spirit that exists in an entity.  If the team spirit is poor as the one that exist in the store I walked in, then the customer services will be poor.

Several factors contribute to poor team spirit, including inadequacies of some members, low self-esteem, undermining and back-biting, resentment, among other factor that negatively impact collaboration. How then can an entity promote team work to ensure efficiency in its customer services? Can customer services prove efficient without team work?  I doubt!

In human resource programs, we learn that it’s one thing to create a team, but quite another to establish teamwork. Teamwork is not about joining a team, or being a part of a team, but about embracing other members of the team and looking beyond individual backgrounds and performing with the team. When there’s lack of cohesion among members, a team doesn’t exist, but a group does.  To simplify it, a team doesn’t exist without teamwork. To promote efficient customer service, team spirit must exist. We know that cohesion among people doesn’t take place overnight. In the same vein, good customer service does not happen overnight – it requires teamwork, knowledge, systems, motivation and recognizing our differences.

Businesses and entities must recognize that customers are the core of their survival. Therefore, building a strong customer service team mustn’t be an option, but a priority. In building efficient customer service, management must consider the following: track performance of individual team members, seek out and reward positive and professionalism, discourage negative behavior that would undermine team spirit and productivity among staff.

Businesses must remember that in today’s competitive market, there are many companies marketing the same and similar products.  What separates one company from another isn’t the product, but the customer services demonstrated before, during and after transactions by the customer services team. Consumers may take home with them products and services, but what they ultimately remember is how well they were treated and appreciated by the people who serve them. If businesses and entities want to display a strong team, and become customer services stars, they must recognize that everyone enjoys being welcomed and appreciated and served like superstars.

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