When I took on the job of Customer Services Director at Lavazza Professional two years ago, I soon discovered that I was heading up one of the most able, experienced and enthusiastic teams in the industry, writes Jacqui Croker-James. Our CSTs – Customer Service Technicians – are real heroes within our business. They have earned an invaluable reputation over the years, thanks to their ability to overcome any obstacle that stands in their way and triumph in the face of adversity.
And then came COVID. In those early days, the country was gripped by fear. Our technicians voiced a range of important concerns: against a backdrop of solemn wall-to-wall warnings to stay indoors and stay safe, how could they be expected to go about their daily business?
But as it became clear to our CSTs that they too were key workers, dedicated to other key workers who needed them, the mood changed from ‘doubt’ to ‘determination’. So began our mission to support fellow key workers. Be they NHS employees, logistics and distribution personnel, supermarket workers and so on, we owed these people a duty of care. Looking back, when we realised how much people needed their cup of coffee to keep them going against overwhelming odds, that was the turning point. We realised that those five minutes off – with a vestige of ‘normality’ around the drinks machine thrown in – were providing a tangible boost.
To serve a Customer in a crisis means continuously adapting. There’s no training course anywhere that can prepare you for managing people during a killer pandemic. Talk about ‘thinking on your feet’!
Now they were widely seen as ‘key workers’, I wondered if I should I treat my people differently?’ The answer was obviously ‘no’: you see, our CSTs have always been highly valued. The arrival of COVID did, though, change the nature of the decisions we managers were required to make. The stakes had been raised.
I’d look in a mirror and say, ‘would I do that?’
From the start, I decided to set myself ‘a mirror standard’. Before I asked an associate to do something for a Customer above and beyond the call of duty, I promised myself I’d look in a mirror and say, ‘would I do that?’
Our first practical task was to make sure our CSTs were protected, their risk minimised. We made safety our priority. As you’d expect, we issued appropriate PPE as soon as we could. We provided engineers with ‘perimeter’ tape to secure their working areas and enable social distancing. To their credit, they just got on with the job.
Nothing makes a manager prouder than praise of her team. In my job, that happens frequently. But to receive such positive feedback in the midst of the pandemic? Well, that has been really special.
I was delighted to receive an e-mail from a Customer to inform me that our people had been ‘excellent’, ‘professional’; ‘customer engaging’ and ‘willing to overcome all obstacles’. There was one occasion when the ‘mirror standard’ acid test came into play. We had a call to attend a broken-down machine. The trouble was, it was located on a COVID ward. I looked myself in the eye and admitted I wouldn’t personally take a risk like that, so I couldn’t ask it of a CST. Having said that, we had loyal customers, working under extreme duress, that were being denied a much-needed hot drink because one of our machines was down. The ball was in our court, so to speak. After a bit of lateral thinking, we provided a new machine, the CST pre-configured the machine remotely, then handed it to the Facilities Manager and then led him through a successful installation process remotely. On another occasion we delivered a machine to Shetland Islands and the CST used Zoom to install the machine remotely … I could share so many other examples, but you get the picture? Under unprecedented circumstances, working to unprecedented time frames, we’ve collaborated with a range of partners in our usual, highly-organised way and it’s fair to say that, in extremis, we’ve kept the drinks flowing by maintaining excellent service.
It quickly became evident that the CSTs could provide additional services to satisfy the ever-changing demands. The teams were set up to focus on hygiene support and added cashless technology to over 250 machines across the UK
…be flexible with your own procedures.
I do wonder if some of these innovations inspired by COVID will stick when the virus has become a more manageable threat. For instance, when we hire technicians, the selection process is ‘thorough’, to say the least. When the threat was at its highest, we needed two new people in the middle of lock-down. Getting them to Basingstoke to participate in our standard practical appraisal was impossible. Undeterred, we sent parts to applicants’ homes and evaluated their skills over Zoom. Needs must: we were able to hire two exceptional associates when we needed them most.
It’s all been about new challenges, lateral thinking and a ‘can-do’ attitude. You know, ‘the answers is ‘yes’, now what’s the question?’
If I had to share one thing I’ve learned with the rest of the industry, it’d be this: be flexible with your own procedures. It’s no good thinking ‘but we’ve always done it this way’ when you are trying to maintain the status-quo in unprecedented circumstances. Be adaptable.
What does the future hold? How can we take what we’ve learned the hard way to ensure that we’re prepared to face the challenges that await us? How can we make sure that our new-found agility is absorbed into our corporate culture?
At Lavazza Professional, we’re concentrating on the evolution of our offer; we’re examining our products, our machines; our sustainability, our knowledge; the customer experience we deliver every day… It’s a journey we had begun before COVID, but the pandemic continues to accelerate the pace of change.
To conclude, the ways in which we, as a business, have reacted to the slings and arrows of COVID has been a source of pride to all of us at Lavazza Professional and when the current threat diminishes, I’m sure that the pride we feel will remain.
Jacqui Croker-James is Customer Services Director, Lavazza Professional.
Read more about Lavazza Professional on Planet Vending, HERE