By CHRISTIE CHUA
The number one concern for most businesses – especially small to medium-sized ones – is keeping their clients happy. Clients who are happy with your products and services will return and are likely to recommend you to others, bringing in more business which is necessary to keep your company going.
It is therefore no surprise that businesses dedicate a lot of effort to keep clients satisfied; however, it is all too easy to get caught up in the daily operations of the business and forget who really holds the power to make your clients happy: your employees.
As Virgin Group founder Richard Branson once said:
“Clients do not come first. Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients.”
This is especially true in the current business landscape – technology has made it easier than ever for consumers to choose from a multitude of options, and a highly-engaged workforce is essential in helping businesses remain relevant in increasingly competitive markets.
Plus Solar Systems chief executive officer Ko Chuan Zhen shares that as a business leader, his clients fall into two categories: internal (his employees) and external (those who pay for Plus Solar’s solutions).
While both are important, his primary focus is on his internal clients because he believes that giving them a positive experience with the company will enable them to deliver a similar experience to external clients.
“We try to be authentic in the whole process, because you can’t deliver excellent customer experience by following protocol all the time; it’s not just about following the right steps – it’s about going with what feels comfortable in the situation and treating others how you wish to be treated,” says Ko.
He continues: “In order to serve our employees well, we have to view them as our clients and ask ourselves, ‘How are we going to make them satisfied with the company?’ One way to do this is by cultivating a positive environment that supports learning and helps them to evolve.”
Creating a safe space for failure
Plus Solar prides itself on helping people evolve, be it their internal or external clients. “When they join us as fresh graduates, they might not know much, but two to three years later you can see that they’ve grown so much,” says Ko of his employees.
“The same applies to our clients; we’re helping them to evolve their business by keeping up with technology in the energy sector. In the end, we’re adding value to both internal and external clients by helping them to achieve their goals, while making sure that they’re satisfied with how we serve them.”
Ko says: “If you think of the workplace as our classroom, then our role is to learn, contribute and evolve, but a lot of people are not bold enough to take risks and push beyond their comfort zones because they’re afraid of getting hurt. So, they will just follow whatever routine that has been set.”
This is the last thing business owners want in their company as there will be many missed opportunities for improvement when this occurs.
Plus Solar employees discussing a project. They believe in the culture of open communication and its effect in creating a positive working environment. Pic courtesy of Plus Solar.
For employees to feel free to experiment, fail, and learn from the experience, they first need to feel a sense of psychological safety in their workplace – or to put it simply, employees need to feel safe to take risks and be vulnerable with each other.
The ‘all in’ culture is something that Plus Solar strives to cultivate, where employees feel empowered to dive right into new projects and work on things they strongly believe in. In this environment, nobody shouts at or is rude to others when they make a mistake.
Ko shares that Plus Solar leaders also encourage positive competition within the company to make employees realise that they won’t always win; there are times when they will lose as well and there are lessons to be gained from failure. As he puts it:
“Whenever we’re not winning, we’re actually learning.”
“This is the philosophy we live by and the culture we instil, so that our people will at least be bold enough to make the call and try something new out. We want them to say, ‘Let’s do this – and if it doesn’t work, it’s okay, let’s come back and change things.’”
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The impact of psychological safety at work
Creating this positive environment for his employees has helped with building the trust and facilitating the bonding among individuals in the company, says Ko. This is especially important as the company is expanding rapidly, with many new joiners coming on board in the last year or so.
“When the environment is psychologically-safe, there are a lot of things we are able to discuss in a very transparent and rational way,” says Ko. “Everyone is more open to feedback, and it’s a culture that I think is really quite healthy in Plus Solar.”
“I would say that our people become more mature due to this, and it definitely helps the business if the whole team has a strong culture of trust and bonding with each other – we are able to do things faster with better quality and results, and everything that we create will be much better. And we are then able to transfer this quality and positive feeling to our external clients.”
Interestingly, Plus Solar also trains its employees to identify their own internal clients within the company, so that they can serve each other better.
Ko shares an example: “The marketing team’s client is the sales team, because for the sales team to close deals, they first need the company’s brand to be out there as well as material for their pitches – and it is the marketing team’s duty to do the groundwork for this.
Plus Solar with one of their clients. Providing clients with an excellent experience is something that the company emphasises in its daily activities and operations. Pic courtesy of Plus Solar.
“I wouldn’t say it’s perfect, but at least they (the employees) are more aware. It all starts with awareness so that they know what sort of value they can add, or ‘plus’, to their internal clients. This goes back to the meaning behind Plus Solar, where the focus is on the ‘Plus’ – meaning that we are always looking to add value to others,” says Ko.
This principle extends to external clients as well. Ko says that clients are often surprised that Plus Solar does not always automatically propose the solution with the highest solar panel capacity, even though that would mean more revenue for them.
He says: “Our team puts a lot of effort into calculating the capacity needed for a particular roof and if the client does not use that much energy, they will propose a solution that matches their exact needs, even if it means a 10 to 20 per cent reduction of the value of the whole contract.
“This is quite a tough decision to make especially when faced with the pressure of meeting KPIs, but it is something that our people still practise because we cultivate the mindset that it should be win-win for both parties. It’s okay for us to take home less as long as we do not take advantage of others, as we must think of protecting other people’s interests as well.”