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ThinkFM 2015: The value of being nice

Andrew McMillan, John Lewis ThinkFM Peter Livingstone
Andrew McMillan, John Lewis (Credit: Peter Livingstone)

4 June 2015 | FM World team


Andrew mcMillan, Chair, British Council of Shopping Centres’ customer experience committee

Closing Keynote/The fundamentals of customer service

16:50pm - 17:15pm


ThinkFM 2015 ended with a keynote address by customer service specialist Andrew McMillan, who brought his 20 years’ experience as a customer service manager at John Lewis Partnership to bear on how FM teams, and organisations more generally, could improve their customer service.


“No matter the organisation, when people talk about customer service it comes down to the same basic set of principles,” said McMillan. “The product, the service, the channel and the processes.”


The aim, said McMillan, is to ensure that the experience delivered by staff is so consistently good that “the staff become the organisation or its brand in the eye of its customers”.


McMillan’s presentation was long on corporate case studies. He was keen to highlight how even renowned business curmudgeon Michael O’Leary of RyanAir had recently come around to the value of customer service, agreeing with the proposition that “being nicer
to customers is turning out to be a new and winning strategy for us”.


Discussing his experience as chair of the British Council of Shopping Centres’ customer experience committee, McMillan said that it was possible to write cultural SLAs into sub-contracts with third-party service providers. And in an entertaining diversion he explained that, having worked with Virgin Airlines, what’s surprising is how fast food chains and Virgin actually have fundamentally similar business models. 


Commercial airlines were in fact “no more exciting than fast food”. The same planes go to the same locations, and differentiation by price is difficult after fuel and compliance costs are factored in. Thus, Virgin puts as much energy as possible into the element they can influence – how they make their customers feel.


Finally, McMillan introduced his audience to the six steps of customer engagement. Of these, he focused on how the recruitment strategy around customer-facing employees had to be Draconian. “You can’t be shy about getting rid of people if they don’t work out. You need absolute clarity in the recruitment process.”


This theme was picked up by ThinkFM host Daisy McAndrew, comparing McMillan’s comments with those earlier in the day from Frank van Massenhove – that managers needed a ruthless streak to ditch poorly performing employees. No obvious silver bullet exists for this conundrum, but McMillan accepted that as well as the perhaps softer, fuzzier brand value aspects of good customer service, it all comes down to whom you employ and their ability to perform in front of customers. 


Six steps of customer engagement

1) Define what the organisation wants to be in terms of personality and behaviour, for both customer and staff. (This definition is created by the staff that have to deliver it.)

2) Measure – the outcomes of the desired behaviours to track progress and deliver improvement.

3) Communicate – internal communications to regularly reinforce the personality and behaviours of the business.

4) Lead – leadership focus to embed and develop the behaviours.

5) Reward, recognition and appraisal – recognition and appraisal to report on behaviour, not just outcomes.

6) Recruit – based on defined behaviours, competency interviews.