JEDDAH: P.K. ABDUL GHAFOUR | Arab News Staff
Published — Thursday 28 February 2013
Last update 28 February 2013 3:36 am
Appointing women on the board of a company will boost their sales, said Elaine Allison, a Canadian customer care expert and business development consultant. “Companies across the globe have demonstrated better corporate performance when they have women on their boards,” she said in an interview with P.K. Abdul Ghafour of Arab News.
Allison was in Jeddah recently to attend the annual conference of Saudi Arabian Airlines. It was her first visit to Saudi Arabia.
She is an internationally recognized speaker and bestselling author of The Velvet Hammer – PowHERful Leadership Lessons for Women Who Don’t Golf,” and a contributing author of “Roadmap to Success” with Deepak Chopra and Ken Blanchard. She has designed and delivered hundreds of training programs.
Arab News: What is your impression of the Kingdom and its people on this first visit to Saudi Arabia?
Elaine Allison: I was elated when I was invited to Saudi Arabia to give a lecture. I thought it would be a good opportunity to visit a new place and experience a new culture. Of course, I made necessary preparations before coming. I downloaded a list of Western woman’s travel requirements for the Middle East and bought an abaya and a headscarf from a Toronto store. I was prepared for separate eating areas for men and women and I knew about the cultural differences. I believe that when we visit a country we have to respect and honor its culture and regulations.
How do you feel now after visiting the Kingdom and meeting Saudi people?
I was a bit nervous and I believed my visit is going to be very different. But when I arrived here I had an amazing experience. I was overwhelmed by the graciousness of everyone I met in Jeddah. I am looking forward to coming back and I will definitely blog and tweet about my nice experiences in Saudi Arabia. Everybody should visit this part of the world.
As an expert in customer care, can you explain the new trends in promoting customer services?
Companies are making use of modern technology and social media for marketing. I see lots of opportunities in this area. I am thinking of writing a book on how we can make use of social media for customer care. We can use this media efficiently to communicate with customers especially when there is a problem. It gives businesses a unique opportunity if they learn how to use it. I would say that social media can bring about a revolution in customer care, and businesses should understand its potential. They should also understand that customers can tell the world what they think of your service and this will have a big impact on their sales. Businesses have to organize a strategy on how to embrace new media.
As a frequent flyer I know how important it is for passengers to quickly be informed about any delay or breakdown. Customer care staff should communicate with passengers and update them about their flight. When there is a delay, passengers should be provided with diversions such as books, magazines, video games, etc. to keep them engaged.
My advice to Saudia customer care staff is that if they see somebody looking for something at the airport, they should approach them and ask: “Can I help you?” That person need not be a Saudia customer. I strongly believe that such an attitude will have a tremendous impact on customers. People are looking for that graciousness and welcoming attitude.
You have more than two decades of experience in HR and leadership training. What must companies or HR departments do to motivate their employees?
I believe that companies must recognize that customer service training should be given not only to the front line staff, who interact directly with the customer, but also to the employees behind-the-scene. They should be informed about what must be done when things do not as planned to make a big difference to a customer’s work experience and a company’s brand. Training all employees can help a company reach its business goals. The opportunity and ability to contribute to those goals is actually the number one motivator in today’s workplace. If a person knows that what they “do” and “can” makes a difference — they not only just show up for work but they “show up like they mean it” and the customer feels that. Training is also a forum that allows an employee to be heard, share new ideas and learn together.
You have written a book “The Velvet Hammer” on the empowerment of women. Which of your recommendations would be beneficial to Saudi women?
Firstly, neither women nor men are better than one another — they are just different. I believe we must celebrate those differences. Companies across the globe have demonstrated better corporate performance when they have women on their boards. When we blend men’s and women’s brains in thinking and strategizing, everyone wins, both the customer and the company.
Corporations listed on the stock exchange show that a company with at least one woman at board level will outperform other companies by demonstrating a 16.4 percent return on equity (ROE) over those companies without women. They also outperformed in higher average growth and the higher price/book value (P/BV) multiplies. Women have a finer line to walk when they step into leadership roles. If they are too forthright (hammer), they push people away, and if they are too nurturing (velvet) they can be deemed weak and nothing gets done. My research has shown the differences come down to cerebral and hormonal differences, and of course cultural expectations.
Everybody wants to achieve success. What advice in your book “Roadmap to Success” would help Saudi youths and graduates achieve success in their lives?
My chapter in this book is called “I Can Fix That.” If you never want to be unemployed, or if you want to always be successful in your own business, then uncover a possible solution for your company, your customer or your department. This is why a business will enter a market and grow — they solve customers’ problems with both their products and their service levels. I believe that 99 percent of problems can be fixed. In my keynotes and learning programs I have uncovered that for most direct challenges, conflicts and problems that attendees bring up, a “third way” can be found to solve it. Often it is not my way, not your way, but a new way. Those who offer solutions instead of making complaints always get ahead.
You have called for making customer care a culture for the success of any company. What are the benefits a company or institution will have by improving their customer services?
A company or institution benefits from developing a culture of care by creating happy employees who are proud to work there. Over time, this will create a tidal wave of goodness. Employees then fight to keep their name, their brand and what they stand for. It becomes a culture as it is the noble thing to do. Now the customer also tells everyone how happy they are. You can see big “wins” on blogs, Facebook, Twitter and other social media. A company obtains continued sustainability and growth. In other words it gets and keeps customers. A company keeps more people employed, so the economy wins as well, and in turn the citizens can enjoy a higher standard of living.
What are the main obstacles for customer services and how we can overcome them?
A main obstacle a company encounters when transforming teams into “Customer Care Crusaders” is that they don’t align their training with their strategy or brand. Many companies think if they can train their front line staff in customer service courses, things will change. It can be a good start but they don’t get the full results or benefits. They then stand back and get disappointed by the results of the training and assume it did not work well. They either abort training altogether, until things get really bad, or look for another training company and try again. Customized training is the key. To improve customer service, we have to select a training company that will work collaboratively on quality improvement. The right trainer will conduct a thorough training needs analysis reviewing and updating any current training in place and uncovering skill gaps where new training areas could be developed and customized for the company or institution. We should make sure a training company understands curriculum design, adult education and has business acumen so that the programs, exercises and materials they design actually changes the behavior according to the company’s needs.