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Work/Life: Flexibility Will NOT Hurt Customer Service

“But how will we service our customers?” If I had a dollar for every time I heard this from a corporate leader…This fear is one of the key obstacles organizations hit when implementing flexibility. And on some level, it’s a valid fear. No customers, no business, no jobs. But in our 24/7, high tech, global work reality where people who sit on the same floor primarily communicate via email and IM, and customers span all time zones, we need to start rethinking what “customer service” looks like, and how flexibility might actually make it better.

“But how will we service our customers?” If I had a dollar for every time I heard this from a corporate leader…This fear is one of the key obstacles organizations hit when implementing flexibility. And on some level, it’s a valid fear. No customers, no business, no jobs.

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But in our 24/7, high tech, global work reality where people who sit on the same floor primarily communicate via email and IM, and customers span all time zones, we need to start rethinking what “customer service” looks like, and how flexibility might actually make it better.

We asked respondents to the 2007 Work+Life Fit Reality Check, to choose one of the following responses to the question, “If you had more work life flexibility….” 1) Clients and customers would expect better service because you would be a more satisfied employee; 2) It wouldn’t matter to clients or customers; or 3) Clients and customers might worry it will affect your ability to service them.

Even I was surprised by the overwhelming consensus: Almost 9 out of 10 respondents (86%) feel there would either be a positive impact (27%) or no impact at all (59%). Only 12% think clients and customers would worry.

Here’s where it gets even more interesting. Respondents between 25 and 34 years old (36%) are significantly more likely than those over 45 years old (22%) to believe that customers and clients would receive better service if they had more flexibility.

What does this mean? Employees under 35 years old don’t equate “being in the office, 9-to-5, five days a week” with servicing clients, as much as baby boomers do. To younger employees, what matters is that they are accessible. And with today’s technology they believe they are. To them, that’s what should matter. Not where and when they are providing that customer service.

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This is particularly true as more people find themselves servicing clients and working on teams globally. Is someone who’s been on the phone from 8 pm to midnight with Asia supposed to come into the office from “9-to-5pm” the next day? If yes, why? Is it truly necessary?

Successful flexibility requires rethinking the way many of us having been working for decades. That includes redefining good customer service. Maybe accessibility really is what matters most, and not where the customer service is taking place, especially if individuals have the flexibility they need.

So, whose turn is it to make the first move? It seems to me employees are already there. Now, it’s up to leaders to move past their “customer/client service” fears and support flexibility that meets the needs of individuals and the business. As the Reality Check shows, the two objectives are not mutually-exclusive.

(Check out my Work+Life Fit Blog: Most People Do NOT Want to Work Less, Just Differently)