The Marketing Bureau

Specialist Marketing & Communications Resourecs



3 Non Negotiable Characteristics

Of Customer Facing Staff

By Brian H Meredith
From the NZBusiness Magazine"Marketing Maestro" Archive
First published October 2007

So much is talked and written about customer service as a core business concept that the term has become frankly, trite.   What a tragedy.

There is little that is truly “new” in business as a concept, a philosophy or an endeavour.

Indeed, business is really rather simple and is unarguably vital to human existence. Business is as fundamental to human existence in our society as is the air that we breathe.


Simply because business is the only place the money comes from.

Every cent that circulates in our economies has originated from a business. And in business, the only place the money comes from is customers.

So, given that customers are not only the centre of the business universe but are, rather, the centre of all of our universes (every cent each of us spends has originated from someone’s customer), it would be reasonable to expect that those people in businesses who are vested with dealing with customers would be finely tuned service machines.

So why aren’t they? Why is the “front line” in so many businesses often comprised of people who are the most poorly recruited, the most poorly trained, the most poorly supported and the most poorly paid?

In order for sustainable change to occur a paradigm shift is called for, away from the still too common one that says that the people at the top of the hierarchical pyramid are the best and only ones to know what is best for the business and what is best for the customer and the front line is merely composed of functionaries.

Despite this paradigm being prevalent in many business, it is fatally floored. Perhaps (just perhaps) it may have had some validity two or more decades ago but here in the 21st century, customers are more sophisticated, more savvy, more technologically connected and more discerning than ever before.

That means that interaction with customers is now a critical component in business success. They need to be engaged, they need to be listened to, they need to be responded to. “Have a nice day” uttered with feeling by an acne-ridden adolescent just doesn’t cut it anymore (if it ever did).

So who is going to do that? Well, it sure as heck isn’t the CEO or even the sales & marketing director. Whilst strategy should still be developed from there, it is that most powerful of all resources in a business that must be harnessed to operate as the prime source of interaction with customers – front line staff – bank tellers, retails sales assistants, call centre operators, waitresses, flight attendants – these are the people who must be recruited, trained, supported and rewarded for being the business’s true front line of customer relationship management.

There are many aspects to the shifting of this paradigm for which there is in adequate space here to explore. However, key amongst them is a deliciously elegant and simple stratagem – one that will, if you deploy it assiduously, begin a transformation in your front line performance.

It is the three non-negotiable characteristics of customer facing staff. I urge you to read them, consider them and then do whatever is necessary to integrate them into your recruitment & selection strategies and processes.

The first non-negotiable characteristic is maturity. Not meant in the chronological sense of the word but in the psychological sense. No customer in any business wants to be confronted by any staff member who does not display the requisite maturity to engage the customer and meet their needs.

The second is social skill. Not the ability to use the right cutlery but, rather, the broader skills that is required for one human being to socialise, interact, communicate with, other human beings. Front line staff must have this ability innately, not through the deployment of a series of stock phrases ingrained on some workshop our course.

The third non negotiable characteristic is tolerance for contact. You might be amazed at how many people, for any number of reasons, either dread contact with other people (particularly strangers) or have a low threshold for boredom or irritation or simply suffer from anxiety in the face of sustained human contact. These people may require the caring support of their therapist but you don’t need them on your front line.

It takes just a couple of minutes to know whether a person has these characteristics so don’t even dream of hiring them if they are absent. Rather, add a 5 minute filter interview to your selection processes and if candidates fail it, do not allow them to progress further. It is futile and costly. These characteristics cannot be taught. They are present or they or not.

If you accept the notion that the frontline should be populated by the topline, do not ignore this simple yet effective strategy. It will do nothing less than transform your front line people and their performance. And your customers will be eternally grateful.


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