Jim

You ARE the Company!

I recently stopped in at a gas station that I frequent and overheard a cashier tell another patron that their rewards program had changed.

She gave him the brochure and explained the differences that were going into effect. The cashier waiting on me said, “Well, since you overheard that, I should probably give you one too. This is a much better program. It’s about time THEY did something for the customer.”

I walked away thinking, “Wow. How can someone take such a positive thing for their customers and turn it into a negative?” Somehow, this employee had gotten a really bad attitude. I was certainly glad that he wasn’t part of the Incept team! For some reason, that situation really stuck with me, and I began to realize that there are at least two important lessons here.

Lesson One

I think it’s fairly rare for an employee to come to the job with a bad attitude – at least to a new job. Most employees come into work wanting to do a good job. They want to succeed, and they want to make their bosses proud of them. Unfortunately, and all too often, employees lose that desire somewhere along the way. The magic moment when passion for quality begins to fade is (almost always) when the employee feels like management doesn’t care about the quality of their service. Accordingly, they feel that management doesn’t care about them as a person.

In the case of this cashier, I’m pretty sure that he didn’t create the bad attitude. I expect that his manager created it by treating him as a number rather than a human being.

Lesson Two

I came away from this with another lesson: When you’re on the front lines, dealing with the customer or the donor, the people who you interact with see YOU as a representative of the company.” You ARE the company in their eyes. There is no “you” and “them.”

The words that you use, the empathy and advocacy that you convey in your voice, and the professionalism that you bring to the interaction all formulate the donor’s (customer’s) opinion about the entire organization you represent. I can point to at least three recent studies that all concluded that the attitude of the front line employee is at least one of the top two determinants – if not the single largest determinant – of  the donor’s (customer’s) future business. The most common reason why people take their business elsewhere is the poor attitude of a person who is, at any given time, the face of the company.

Managers

It’s probably not realistic to expect a mistreated employee to deliver an ideal customer experience. Employees have to feel valued and respected. That doesn’t mean that we have to baby employees and let them have their own way. We can certainly have good business rules in place to hold people accountable. We just need to treat them like we want and need to be treated.

The old “Command and Control” approach to management doesn’t cut it with today’s employees. CBS did an expose that concluded Boomers need to hear the message that they should be less of a boss and more of a coach. We need to become coaches and mentors. The very future of our businesses depends on it.

Customer Service Professionals

The next time you start to think negatively about the company and think you can distance yourself from the entity, you need to sit back and change your thinking. If you have challenges with the company, you need to have a candid conversation with your chain of command to offer suggestions on how to provide a better customer experience. Lose the “they” vocabulary. There is no “they.” When you talk with me, I think of you as the company.

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December 10, 2010 at 6:10 pm

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Stephen Smith December 10, 2010 at 1:06 pm

Jim I can relate %100! Previous job’s I’ve had in the food industry are a great example. Most employees don’t realize that their managers aren’t the “face of the company” but that they are.

Good first blog! :)

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Bruce Serven December 10, 2010 at 9:34 pm

There’s another possible angle on the bad attitude aside from the mistreatment one you suggested: some times it is just bad systems and bad management overall.

Think about all the companies where the front line employee is powerless to tend to the customer’s issue or concern (‘let me get a manager’).
Think about all the companies with ingrained ways of doing things where they put up with outdated/broken/malfunctioning systems (again where the front line employee is powerless to do much of anything about it, either externally with the customer or internally with a deaf eared [or incompetent] management). ie: the broken reservation or order taking system, the computer network where someone has a recurring problem that they develop a hack of a work around to deal with it cuz it/mgmt won’t fix it, or where they are resistant to change overall ‘cuz thats not how weve done it for the last 25 years’, etc.

With rewards programs, everyone knows the majority of them suck, and the reason many companies stick with them is because they often feel like there is no better alternative. (another example for this [internal only] is corporate health care plans – where the choices suck and everyone knows it but that’s all that is available/affordable). That employee may have just been in one of these rock and a hard place situations.

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Jim Beuoy December 13, 2010 at 9:53 am

Excellent insight, Bruce. Thanks for the comment. I couldn’t agree with you more;
It always irks me, too, when front line employees have to escalate a situation to their Supervisor, only to have the Supervisor give a credit 100% of the time. Why not just empower the employee to do what the Supervisor is going to do anyway, without sending the message that the employee is too stupid to make that decision, not to mention make the customer wait or have to repeat the situation all over again?

And I agree too that outdated/broken/ poorly designed systems all send the message that management simply doesn’t care about quality. It’s hard for employees to maintain a passion for quality when management clearly demonstrates that it isn’t committed, isn’t it?

I probably should have added that no one knows how to produce widgets like the person on the front line running the equipment to produce those widgets. Increased efficiency, improved customer satisfaction, and lower turnover are all proven benefits from giving employees a voice and responding to their input. That doesn’t mean that businesses need to do everything that front line employees suggest. Letting them know why you can’t do what they recommend though, shows them an ounce of respect and helps keep those ideas coming.

I’m so proud that the company I work for, Incept, works hard at finding ways for employees to tell us how they feel, what they think, and offer suggestions for improvement. We know where our success comes from, and it’s clearly comes from our Conversational Marketing Experts who strive to improve relationships with every customer contact.

Again, thanks for expounding on the factors that impact employee commitment to quality. I’d love to hear from others about what steps they’ve taken to make sure front line employees are heard and how companies send the message that they are truly committed to quality!

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Heather Bayles December 13, 2010 at 7:09 pm

I really like this! I came from a Company I worked for 5 years that had the “they” attitude, they were quick to agree with the customers negative attitudes and were quick to give the complaint hotline number so “they” could change it if enough people complained. glad to be away from the negativity and working for Incept has been a huge huge change!

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Heather Bayles December 13, 2010 at 7:18 pm

after reading the other comments of escalating to a supervisor, there are some things in retention i really wish could be changed when it comes to getting supervisors approval. rather than posting my ideas could we find a time that i could share my insight with you Jim? some of the process we have to follow often times makes me feel, well, stupid to the customer when really i just want to help them. and by telling them “I’m sorry it’s policy but let me ask a supervisor” i think can make us sometimes look week and that “hello, it can be done but you have to get mad first before i can make it happen.” If that makes any sense at all on what I am trying to say.

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