Senior managers spend time with front-line staff for an up close look at customers' concerns.
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Too often the senior executives who make the decisions that directly effect customers interact with them the least. At British Telecom (BT) Group, however, the communications giant keeps its senior-level managers from being out of sync with the needs and concerns of its customers with a program that moves senior managers from the corner office to the frontline.
The program, called Back to the Floor, pairs senior managers with front-line, customer-facing employees or back-office teams for a day, to listen in on customer calls and help resolve concerns. After their stint with their front-line host, senior managers are expected to identify and own an issue within the contact center and then work to resolve the problem. In the United States the company has developed a database to help track these issues and help ensure that steps are being taken to resolve them.
The initiative started as an exercise that the company did in the United Kingdom. It was then rolled out in 2003 across all of BT's global operations. Five hundred senior managers were involved that year, and 2004's participation nearly tripled, to about 1,300 managers.
Thomas Ray, vice president of service operations for BT Americas, who also oversees the Atlanta center where most U.S.--based managers go to participate in the program, says Back to the Floor demonstrates BT senior management's dedication to its customers and employees. "The commitment of the visit is to make sure that the senior executive listens and learns, and proactively supports the individual he said he would by identifying an issue that is preventing that team or that person from delivering...excellence in customer service," Ray says.
On the day that the senior managers are scheduled for their front-line visit, BT holds a preliminary meeting with the managers and the hosts explaining the purpose of the program. "We provide them about an hour of preliminary questions and answers and just a little bit of background, and then that's when the senior manager actually goes to the floor and sits with the person," Ray says. "We then group together at lunchtime to see if there are activities that need to be addressed that could potentially be something that is facing multiple teams." Then it's back to the floor to complete the shift.
According to Ray, the initiative is two fold: It gives the senior manager a day-to-day view of what's happening on the frontline directly with the customer, and it illustrates senior management's commitment to providing excellent customer service. He should know--he also participated in the program in 2003 and 2004. One of his more memorable experiences was listening in on a customer calling about a supplier. "Once we got off the phone it was very clear to me that the individual was struggling with a supplier we had within Europe," Ray says. "The action that I took away was working directly with my counterpart in Europe to improve that relationship with that particular supplier."
BT is seeing its customer satisfaction scores rise as a result of Back to the Floor; employees are also responding positively to the program. Based on survey results, "we had 100 percent of the senior managers who went back to the floor take an issue away that they were responsible to resolve," he says, adding that "our surveys of front-line participants in Back to the Floor show that 94 percent believe their experience hosting a senior manager for a day was a worthwhile experience."
As a result of implementing the Back to the Floor program, BT has seen:
100 percent of senior managers take away an issue to resolve;
94 percent of its front-line participants respond that the hosting experience was beneficial;
senior managers get a better understanding of what customers want and what front-line employees deal with.
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