My research also looks at the degree to which the organization in question has learning capacity, from both the customer and employee perspective. In terms of customers, this concerns whether or not they feel that the organization has reacted to their signals. For the employees, a more detailed study is required into their ideas regarding the learning capacity of customer service. A pretty clear central theme has presented itself so far. I therefore think it’s time to start kicking some butts, to really get people into action…
The phenomenon of a learning organization can be very vague. In my research, I have tried to make it as practical as possible, with questions such as:

  1. Do we share customer service information with other departments?
  2. As a customer service department, do we learn from other organizations?
  3. Do we ask employees where improvements can be made?
  4. And is there feedback on this to our employees?
  5. Do the customers feel we’ve learned from their signals?

Sharing information scores lowest

In the results of the participants so far, these elements are shown to structurally score among the lowest. Particularly among employees. In the sharing of information (both within customer service and between customer service and other departments) as well as learning from customers and from employees themselves. Yet there is so much to be gained here.

Added value of learning is unclear

Most organizations are still in the phase of predominantly operational steering, which makes it logical that they score less positively for these three elements. Once the operational aspects have been effectively tackled (which seems mostly to be the case), the time is then ripe to pay attention to the learning capacity. However, I have a sneaking feeling that there is still a lack of clarity on the added value of learning from customers and employees, and the sharing of information across departments. And so there is no real sense of urgency. This is aside from the fact that nobody is either stimulated or held accountable for these non-operational activities. That doesn’t exactly help, obviously….

Make it concrete and manageable

It is also due to the process soon becoming overly large or complicated. If you can continuously initiate small pilots which prove their worth, you will have plenty of munition with which to convince those around you of the added value, and spread the oil stain of enthusiasm. Let’s imagine that your organization is not happy with the way customers are currently reacting. Why not ask the various teams to add two questions for customers who call them, during a number of their telephone calls each week:

  1. Dear customer, what are we doing right?
  2. Dear customer, what should we be doing better?

Or how about the age-old 80-20 rule which nearly always applies: 20 percent of my customers are responsible for 80 percent of my calls. That 80 percent often represents a cost item of a few hundred thousand, if not a couple of million, in potential improvement. If you can analyze that the 20 percent is female for example, aged 30-35, buys products x and y and has recently become a customer, then you have a fantastic concrete source from which to improve. That type of business case simply cannot be rendered negative….

Perception versus actual improvement

During my discussions with participants, a question arose on this subject concerning the degree of perception. They felt that they were working much harder at continuous improvement than was recognized by either the customers or employees. That does indeed play an important role. To what extent do you actively communicate your improvement efforts, to your customers and your employees? Of course, the best way of communicating this is to actively involve your customers and employees in the process. Unfortunately, your employees and customers can never all play an active role simultaneously. Effective communication of the improvements you have made and thus increased visibility of your learning capacity, certainly does play an important role therefore. However, this must never become an excuse to neglect the ongoing development of your learning capacity…..

In other words: despite the operational responsibilities, there are plenty of opportunities to directly introduce small-scale initiatives which will have great impact on your organization, your employees and your customers…


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