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Softer skills, harder results


To further make the case for taking soft skills seriously, Cornerstone OnDemand's Vincent Belliveau adds to the debate.

The economic woes of the last few years have proven difficult for many organisations. The UK public has been a lot more careful with its money and indeed, at the end of 2012, figures from the Office of National Statistics showed that families were spending £45 a week less than they were before the recession. This may seem like a small amount, but across the country it equates to a staggering £3.8bn each month. Although there is little that HR teams can do to reverse the recession, improving customer loyalty can be a way to safeguard spending, and behind that loyalty are often soft skills which help retailers and other organisations to both maintain and grow business.

The art of retention

Hard skills may help employees to perform their core roles, such as operating equipment, but soft skills will support organisations in obtaining and retaining customers. Listening to customers, striving to improve products and the service and delivering it on time will help to retain a client.

However, many organisations do not ensure that their employees' soft skills are developed. For example, a low price supermarket concentrates on trimming supply chain costs and offering cheaper products rather than achieving high levels of customer satisfaction. Unfortunately, in today’s economic climate, this approach is no longer sufficient to guarantee customer loyalty – and it could also be a missed opportunity. According to Marketing Metrics, a guide to measuring marketing performance, it is 50% easier to sell to existing customers than it is to acquire new prospects. Combined with the statistic that the cost of acquiring new customers is five times more expensive than satisfying and retaining current clients, it is clearly of vital importance to use soft skills to retain and grow business [1].

Anatomy of soft skills

These statistics alone should ensure that organisations put in place a soft skills training programme, but this is only the beginning. Employers need to ensure they are rewarding their employees when they demonstrate high levels of customer service and when they build relationships. It can be difficult to encourage soft skills in the workplace, so here are a few other ways of training and rewarding them which can make a difference:

  • Soft skills training: You shouldn’t just train staff on the essential hard skills to do their job – it’s equally important to conduct training sessions on handling difficult feedback and keeping customers delighted
  • Reward customer retention: If you calculate your net profit for a returning customer over the years compared with the cost of acquiring a new one, you’ll realise how important this is. Consider thanking key staff involved in keeping customers satisfied over the years
  • Reward great feedback: Highlight positive feedback from customers. Discretionary rewards or a gift policy can really encourage staff to go the extra mile for their customers – but this needs to be supported from the top. Going the extra mile often involves investment, and you should make it clear that this is supported.

Soft skills for all employees

Soft skills play an important role as people progress through their chosen career and therefore it’s important that these skills are continually developed. Having the ability to clearly communicate with colleagues at all levels, negotiating with suppliers, partners and clients will be key to business and personal success. Therefore, having the skills to nurture and manage those relationships through the use of soft skills will undoubtedly have a positive impact on the bottom line of the business. It will also help set a great example for more junior employees that are able to observe strong communication skills, creating best practice, supporting peer-to-peer learning and retaining the knowledge within the business.

Soft skills: the benefits are clear

The benefits of improving soft skills are clear, especially in a time when every penny and pound spent is being scrutinised. If organisations take the time to train their staff and make sure they are highlighting and rewarding the way that people do their jobs, rather than the immediate outcome, this will lead to numerous benefits.

Clearly, it’s vital that employees can do their jobs and that hard skills are covered, but organisations are increasingly needing a balance between the two, especially as these skills have the potential to increase client retention. Delighted customers are also far more willing to try new products from the same brand – a brand they now trust – and with statistics from American Express Financial Advisors showing that their own sales increased 18% after undertaking a soft skills training course, this is not something that other organisations can ignore.

If companies can make sure that their staff are trained in the right balance between hard and soft skills, not only will they excel on a day-to-day basis at their core job, but they will also retain and grow existing customers. Soft skills truly have the potential to turbo-charge a company, and organisations which realise this can make significant improvements to their bottom line.   

Vincent Belliveau is Senior Vice President & General Manager, EMEA of Cornerstone OnDemand

[1]Alan E. Webber, "B2B Customer Experience Priorities In An Economic Downturn: Key Customer Usability Initiatives In A Soft Economy"

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