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Looking after your biggest asset

May 09, 2012
By Philip Edwards, Stephens Removals.

As an industry we, quite rightly, invest enormous sums of money in our trucks. We are understandably proud of them, and often like to feature our shining, brightly coloured, liveried vehicles in our adverts and company literature – and, yes, having the right truck for the job is important.

We also invest a lot of money and spend hours devising forms with boxes for us to tick, measuring our performance in health, safety, quality and service standards. We set up procedures for everything imaginable.  We have regular visits from quality inspectors, and customer feedback forms that ask if they were informed about this legal regulation and that insurance condition, which is all very good.

But at the end of the day it’s not the truck or the form filling that makes the move a success, it’s the staff, and it has always surprised me that as an industry we spend tens of thousands of pounds on vehicles yet we baulk at investing in our staff, who ultimately are by far and away our greatest asset – or potentially our biggest liability.

When customers go back to work after moving and their colleagues ask, “How did the move go?” generally speaking the answer will be “Good thanks, the guys were great!” Never yet have I heard of anyone replying, “Great, the truck was very shiny,” or “Wonderful, their procedures were very precise.”

We are a service industry and service is all about people.

As my Nan so very astutely pointed out: “What customers really want is for their removal men to be ‘nice’,”  – and to my mind that’s always been a fantastic summary of aspiration.

Therein lies the difference between a man who “picks things up with his ‘ands and carries ‘em” and a truly professional furniture moving company. At Stephens we have highly talented guys who can wrap, protect, and move virtually anything anywhere and we assiduously train them how to do that and give them wonderful skills.

But people’s expectations of moving companies have grown enormously over the last couple of decades, and we have to move with the times. Customers not only want their movers to be highly skilled, they also expect them to be great communicators, empathetic and supportive towards them and the stresses they go through on removal day. They expect them to be not only willing, but also happy to work late at the drop of a hat because the key was delayed or because the people moving out had decided to do it themselves – in a transit! We are required to be friendly without being familiar, to adapt and fit in with every type of character in all sorts of circumstances, and we are to be understanding and polite when we encounter a customer who, although he’s never moved a bit of furniture in his life, explains to us how best to carry things  – and what’s even more amazing is that we expect our guys to do all this without any kind of training whatsoever.

That’s why Stephens recently employed the services of Anne Wilkinson of Executive Playground, a training company that specialise in team building and customer communications.

Some of the obstacles faced by our teams are unusual, so Anne wrote a bespoke training programme with ‘the Stephens Olympics’ as the theme. The programme contained a series of exercises where the difficulties and hurdles that our teams face were identified. Thought-provoking challenges, with role plays, encouraged everyone to look for solutions to these problems.

Over a three-day period everyone at Stephens took advantage of the coaching and engaged in some inspired problem-solving, culminating in a final late-afternoon session where everyone had an opportunity to put forward their best suggestions for improving the customer experience.

Following in true Olympic tradition, we awarded bronze, silver and gold medals for the very best ideas, all voted for by the staff themselves.

We are absolutely delighted with the training. The value of this type of event is always difficult to quantify but, by goodness, it certainly made me think and evaluate the way I do my job, and I know a lot of the lads had a similar experience. I’m convinced that it will lead to even better service levels, and by the anticipated increase in referrals alone will pay for itself in weeks.

Last year 60% of customers told us that they chose us because we had moved them before or because they had been recommended to us – our target is for that figure to increase to 70% during 2012. We are very proud of the service levels we provide and anything we can do to help the crews maintain and even improve the customer experience is worth its weight in gold.

Photo: Philip Edwards (left) with gold medal winner Adrian Kedge

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