Corporate culture is not built in a day and to have a culture of service excellence requires sustained effort
By Carolyne Gathuru
The country has seen a common trend over the past few years, of front office operations being outsourced to security firms. Many receptions have security personnel in their company uniforms, handling guest and entry coordination functions. There has been a big debate in the customer experience circles if this is an appropriate move, and if it does add value to have outsourced staff being the ‘face’ of the organization. Whereas it is accepted as the norm to have security personnel handling gate entry procedures, there are different schools of thought about the extension of this service to guest relations.
Business process outsourcing has over the years become a very smart move for organizations to make in order to offload non – core functions to competent partners, and to focus on what they do best. Nowadays strategic decision making includes analyses of functions that would be best outsourced, with the pros and cons of in house operations verses partnerships for delivery, being debated in boardrooms. As such, the outsourcing of reception duties has seen such an increased uptake, to the extent that security firms currently offer front office training programmes for their recruits. They then use this as a marketing tool when pitching for assignments. Once upon a time though, receptionists who were viewed to represent the face of an institution were carefully selected to match the requirements of the brand. Some organizations still uphold this practice and prefer image over aptitude.
What the proponents whether for or against this strategy must agree on, is that is imperative to ensure that service delivery is seamless, irrespective of if the holder of the role is a direct or indirect employee of the organization. Starting right from the security personnel at the gate or manning the main door, to the reception desk; service standards that plug completely into the customer experience strategy of the organization must be upheld.
The service level agreements signed with the outsourced security firm need to incorporate customer experience targets and deliverables. Over and above the functional expectations of the outsourced partners, there should be an in-depth discussion on the organization’s service excellence standards, with clauses specifically outlining customer experience needs and how these will be applied and measured. The catch here though, is that most security firms already have systems in place to train their staff on customer service. The more discerning ones ensure that these programmes are conducted annually with refresher courses are held for older staff. The security staff are therefore deployed as already ‘trained’. Whereas this is excellent and empowers the incoming staff to be better armed at handling responsibilities, these training programmes are wired to the standards deemed appropriate by the supplier and may not completely align with the on ground expectations.
Given that customer experience covers the entire spectrum of the customer’s journey and interaction at all touchpoints, the role played by security personnel in an organization is critical.
It is said that first impressions last and that the entry and exit points of any organization are the most sensitive.
It is here that more often than not, security personnel will be found stationed. Who then is responsible for ensuring that the values upheld by the outsourced staff are congruent with the values of the main organization? Is it the responsibility of the talent management team to put in place systems and structures to ensure outsourced staff are as equally well trained as in house staff? If this be the case, whose budgetary allocation is it to deliver this objective? Should the company of origin or the company of destination foot the bill of the outsourced staff’s customer experience management training?
For any organization to have standardized service delivery across divergent teams from far flung departments, the customer service strategy must have a comprehensive orientation programme and continuous training sessions organized on a regular basis. Corporate culture is not built in a day and to have a culture of service excellence requires sustained effort. To further have this outcome cascaded to outsourced staff requires that they be part and parcel of the internal programmes implemented to drive change. The relevant budget holder in the organization needs to factor security personnel into the training budget irrespective of if the training is in house or outsourced. The expectation that excellent service will be delivered, without making the investment to plant and carefully nurture the seeds of service is an exercise in futility; and any CEO worth their salt will ensure that training programmes planned for in house teams are applied to outsourced third parties in equal measure. Success cannot be achieved any other way.
The outsourced teams must also be involved in joint initiatives and activities including: where representatives of different departments converge to deliberate over service delivery, the outsourced security team must stand up to be counted; where incentives and rewards are being applied to inspire improved service delivery, the security team needs to be included as an integral player; and where devolution of the corporate strategy for service excellence is planned for staff awareness, the outsourced team needs to be lined up right along the rest of the departments for receipt. The folly of many an organization is to ‘somehow’ expect excellent service from ‘outsiders’ without having made the requisite investment to nurture this outcome. This needs to be urgently readdressed to ensure that the firms seeking outsourced security and reception functions do so on the clear understanding that the customer service delivery of these teams is squarely their responsibility.
That security and now reception services will continue to be outsourced is not in doubt. This model has seen efficiency and effective cost management successes reign in many businesses. What needs to be instituted as the next step is to focus on harmonizing the customer experience from inside out…or is it from outside in?
Caroline Gathuru is an accomplished brand specialist, marketing strategist and founder of LifeSkills Consulting. She is an ardent customer service practitioner with over 15 years experience. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org