Speakers Corner, Customer service

Capturing the heart and mind of the customer: An interview with BSA Conference Speaker Linda Moir

Charlotte Bell

Charlotte Bell

With years of experience leading and inspiring fantastic customer service initiatives for some of the highest profile events and organisations, including Virgin Atlantic and London 2012, we took a moment to interview Linda Moir at the BSA Conference, following what can only be described as an exceptional speech. This is what she had to say…

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1. What is the most valuable lesson you have learnt during your career?

The most valuable thing I think I have learnt is not only the importance of listening to your customers, but how important it is to really listen to the people who work with customers every day, because that is where the best ideas come from.

2. What do you feel is the biggest mistake people make when it comes to providing customer service?

People overcomplicate and over-manage people and I’ve seen this in organisations, manuals and training books that no-one is ever going to read. I think the trick to brilliant service is to recruit the right people and then give them the freedom to go off and do their jobs - don’t lean on them all the time.

3. Have you had any surprises along the way?

I’ve only had good ones really. What I have learned in my career at British Airways, Virgin and the Olympics is that people usually exceed your expectations so I think that the important thing for leaders is to really expect the best and then you can only be surprised by the good things.

4. How did you get involved in the London 2012 Olympics?

I was born in London and as soon as we won the bid in 2005, I knew I had to be part of it. Even though I loved my job working at Virgin, I tracked the Olympics until a great job became available. I was one of the first “people people” to join the games and I was there for just over four years. I guess I just knew I wanted to be part of it.

5. What were your key learnings from the experience?

I think that the most important thing I learned from the Olympics was to encourage people to bring their personalities with them to work to solve problems. However much you try to legislate for problems, when you are dealing with lots of different customers, something will come up that you hadn’t thought about. If you encourage people to use their personalities, they will come up with a great solution.

6. What is your proudest moment from your career thus far?

I’ve been really lucky; I’ve had some really cool jobs but I think my proudest moment was the Paralympic games. I had friends and lots of people in the press saying “Oh the Paralympics won’t be as good as the Olympics - it is going to be like the bridesmaid event” and actually the truth is, they were better than the Olympics. From my perspective, the spectators had a fantastic time and the athletes were inspirational. I feel really proud to have been associated with the Paralympics.

7. What is the most rewarding element of your role?

This might sound a bit cheesy, but the truth is, I love seeing people love their job, I really enjoy it. Towards the end of the Paralympics, when we were pretty confident that the operation was running well, I spent a lot of time out and about. I loved meeting the volunteers who were telling me about things that were going on. Of course, I knew most of it because I had been part of the planning team but I loved that they were so proud of it and were telling me about all the great things that they were doing. That was really rewarding and cool.

8. What made you take the customer service route as a career?

I started work a very long time ago and I remember when I first started I was told, “Oh, you can’t really manage the operation because you are a woman. You’re good with people though, so why don’t you do personnel or all those people-y things?” So I did and I enjoyed it, but the more senior I have become, I’ve realised that people are the most important and difficult resource in an organisation. It’s not soft, it’s not ‘girly’, it is important. It was patronising but it spurred me. I almost wanted to do something to prove people wrong.

9. With the belief that British people 'don't do service', do you feel as though you have had a role to play in changing this negative perception?

Definitely. There is a lot talked about with the legacy of the Olympics and the venues and whether there are enough British people engaged in sport. I think the real legacy is about having the confidence that we can deliver fantastic service and that is something that the games have left us with.

10. How do you manage to change the work ethic of such large groups of people, especially when it comes to those all-important little details?

I think it is all about trust and as I said before, about recruiting the right people. Be really clear about what you want the outcome to be but then give people the freedom to deliver in a way that they want to. What we wanted was for people to come away from these games thinking “Wow, that wasn’t what I was expecting”. All those things people did came from their individual personalities. I think how we did it, was to trust people. Pick the right people, then trust them. We had to pick people with the right attitude, those that really wanted to do it.

11. What would your advice be to a company that is struggling financially, is it more difficult to ingrain your message of good customer service?

It is more challenging when you have got no money, but I think human service is even more important when the margins are being squeezed. The behaviour of your people costs nothing. When I was at Virgin, the margins were small but it costs nothing for people to be happy and positive about their jobs.

12. Lastly, what is the secret to 'capturing the hearts and minds' of the customer?

The secret is capturing the hearts and minds of your people. You’ve got to be what you want your customers to feel, or else it looks false and it comes across that way too. I think leadership is vital. If the boss doesn’t care about the people and the customers, that will show to the customers. Leadership at every level is really important.