Learning about Service and Leadership as a Volunteer at Birmingham 2022
I recently had the great experience of being a volunteer Driver at the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games. I met some really interesting people and drove some great cars but I also saw some really good examples of teamwork and how supporting each other is so important. Since then I have spent some time reflecting and thinking about the lessons learned throughout the experience and in particular about a couple that specifically relate to the customer service world that I operate in.
Customers are individuals. My role consisted of driving various officials between venues and accommodation sites across Birmingham and the surrounding areas. It was very apparent that each client was unique and had their own needs. Some wanted to chat the whole time and engaged in some really interesting conversations; others were holding meetings in the car during the journey and others just wanted to close their eyes and relax. Some wanted to know about the local area but others were not interested at that time. What it demonstrated to me was something that I already knew; customers are all individuals with their own individual needs at that particular time. It is important to understand that when serving customers you should be led by the customers needs at that time and not attempt to deal with everybody in the same way. Be empathic to their situation not their transaction.
Leadership sets the scene. All drivers were connected to controllers via a 2 way radio. These people had an important role in leading the team by making sure that cars were in the right place at the right time. There were a number of controllers, each with their own style and ways of working but some appeared to be a lot more successful than others. I felt that the best performers were leaders rather than managers. For example, the way that they communicated simple instructions made a real difference. Those that led and empowered the team to deliver a great service were much more effective than those that tried to control and manage. The goodwill generated through an empathic approach and good leadership was much more positive with drivers going out of their way to be helpful. The controllers that recognised that they were part of the team were the winners.
Whilst the above examples may appear to be obvious, I frequently see them as being a real problem in the business environment. I witness customer service staff delivering a ‘one size fits all’ service. I see leaders who are trying to manage where they would benefit by providing direction, motivating and supporting.
When advising clients of these shortcomings I always get asked about the best way to change and improve. The answer is not always simple but in most cases it is about setting the correct culture. A culture where leaders empower people to behave like people and ensure that the service is appropriate to customers. They show trust in their teams to resolve a customer need in the most appropriate way and to support their teams through working with them to improve.
Its not always easy to see things when you are very close to them but it is often the most simple things that make the difference to customers and overall performance.
Volunteering was very rewarding but also helped me to see things from the ground floor and be part of something very exciting.