Spoiling the Barrel

Published June 19, 2011

And You Think Your Employees Aren’t Powerful? …It Only Takes One!

Like comparing apples and oranges?  No, apples and employees! The employee that isn’t trained to exhibit excellent customer service skills or takes it upon him or herself to alienate customers is like the proverbial apple that “spoils the barrel”, creating an atmosphere that spawns negativity and steals from your bottom line. It only takes one employee to send your customers running away screaming to your nearest competitor, even in the world of electronic interactions.  Our companies need to make sure that we don’t present customers with ‘bad apples’, but with employees that exhibit sound engagement skills, creating a lasting bond between customers and our organizations.

We live in a world where customers “run it”! In the old days we only needed to remember that, “the customer is always right”. We soon progressed to a focus on customer service, determined by the company in the way its product or service is designed and the way in which it is delivered. We now focus on customer satisfaction, which is determined only by the customer. There is a customer survey in every hotel room, department store, restaurant, computer box, Internet service and in a million other places. “How did we do?’ What could we have done better? Were you completely satisfied?” etc.

Customers have caught on. They finally understand how powerful they are. They know they can take their business elsewhere. After all, in this day and age, technology is the great equalizer. The only thing that will set one organization apart from another is service.

I have spent time in a number of organizations that are competing with “themselves” because they are franchises or have a number of offices in a small geographical area. When confronted with poor service, dissatisfied customers don’t even have to go to a different company; they can go around the corner to another office, location or branch.  There is little satisfaction if they are still doing business with the same company when the offending office has to close. There is no growth in that.

We have arrived at the place where in order to preserve and increase our current customer base; we need to go from running our companies from the inside, out (“If we build it, sell it or make it, they will come”) to running them from the outside, in (“We are here to listen, serve and satisfy!”). In order to accomplish this, we must develop employees that understand and master the concepts of diversity and inclusion, team building and customer service. The possibilities presented by the diverse nature of their own teams and in those they serve, should excite employees to display their skills in a way that insures equal opportunity satisfaction for all customers.

Employees are feeling pretty powerful themselves, even in this economy. They don’t feel the need to “go the extra mile” or effectively engage one another in order to solidify their job performance in what, many times, is a short tenure. They have not only failed to satisfy external customers, but internal customers as well; coworkers and those who look for or provide support in other areas of the company. Those in other departments, most times, do not enjoy the benefit of good customer service skills. They experience apathy and negative attitudes, the monsters usually lurking on the other end of the phone line or somewhere in interoffice e-mail.

When allowed to continue on a path of unchecked displays of negative behavior, employees are given ample opportunity to express and act out their own personal biases in front of or to the our external customers, which can be mistaken as a company position. This invites a damaged reputation and litigation.

As I go from one company to the next, it is apparent that this state of unsatisfactory communication has unfortunately become the norm. There is little evidence of negative consequences for poor performance when it comes to serving customers. There is evidence however, through the growing number of customer complaints, that excellent performance is no longer a mandate in many organizations! There must be a way to reestablish standards that will stop the spoilage!  How can companies keep current customers and attract more business with the army that we call first line employees?  How can we develop a sense of “customership” on the inside of our organizations that makes its way to the outside?

When I am in companies and asked by executives, “How can we improve our customer service, I have the same response whether it be the fast food industry, health care, finance, manufacturing, automobile makers, or car rentals.  “Customers want two simple things; a customer service professional (all employees, by the way, customer service employees), who can answer a simple question or make a simple decision”.

Only an environment where empowerment sets the stage for employees to answer simple questions and make simple decisions is one that will effectively help companies tackle the issue of poor customer service.  Empowerment is about effective engagement, which allows a positive flow of energy.  I often have speaking engagements where I talk about energy in corporations.  It’s simple physics.  A simple definition of power- a source of energy! A simple definition of energy- the ability to do work! Empowerment makes employees feel they can do more and want to do more.  The feeling that I’m talking about?  The transfer of energy from whomever has the authority to create an environment and the flow of energy therein.

How about a definition of a negative attitude? – Energy is flowing (generated in the opposite direction of producing a positive result. A definition for positive attitude? -Energy is flowing (generated) in the direction of producing a positive result.  A negative attitude spoils the energy in any environment where results need to occur every bit as much as the bad apple spoils any other apple that it touches.

Great customer service begins with good performance management that hold employees accountable for the effect they have on the energy within the organization. Their behavior and attitudes are quantified and used as performance criteria as much as more common areas of evaluation like timeliness, meet’s deadlines, and quality of work.  Our organizations cannot afford to lose one single customer to the behavior and lack of commitment of employees in our organizations who drive them away!  We need to recommit and redirect our customer service professionals to a new way of walking and a new way to talking. Listen, serve and satisfy!

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