Give the Grumps to the Competition

No More Grumpy Employees
Let your competition have the grumpy people that hurt your business with bad customer service.

American Public Media’s Marketplace ran a Freakonomics Radio piece this week about customer service. As is true for most of their work, it was entertaining and made a great point. This week I also spoke with a long-time friend who is working with Sheetz, the Pennsylvania-based convenience store chain, as they aggressively expand in North Carolina. Both experiences had a similar theme. When you’re talking about employee quality, you get what you pay for. Pay more to get rid of the grumps.

The Marketplace story makes a simple, really an intuitive point. If employers spend more to attract and retain quality employees, they will take better care of the customers, helping beat the competition with service that drives customer loyalty. Costco and Trader Joe’s are two examples. I would add Sheetz to the list.

As my friend was describing the Sheetz environment, he explained that all employees in the organization, right down to the part-time cashier working a few hours a week, earn a bonus based on the store’s performance. If the unit hits its goals, all share in the rewards. Performance above goal juices the bonus and all get more. Deliver the goods and get more green in your pocket. Simple! The plan has created a culture where the entire team cares about sales, service and profitability. My friend also shared that they have been able to attract great employees from their competitors, hurting the other business twice with people and market share victories.

Compare that to other companies that view payroll as a cost that should be reduced whenever possible. These are the places where people work when they have no other option, but quickly abandon when better opportunities arise.

If you own or manage a business, there is a lesson to be learned. If you care anything at all about your customer’s experience, better employees matter. They will stay longer, learn more, provide better service and build a loyal customer base. When viewed as a cost to be minimized, employees at the low-wage employers will deliver quality commensurate with their pay. Business leaders, make a decision. Do you want the grumps on your team, or your competitor’s?

Bill Florin writes on business and entrepreneurism when not busy helping clients with their career marketing needs at Resu-mazing Services Company.

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Why Are You Really Calling?

Every organization that sells something, whether it is a tangible product, a service, or just an idea (think non-profits and politicians), has to reach out to its customers, and active existing customers are the best bets. After all, if I have purchased something from you or donated before, I may buy again. Anyone in business who has had any success has likely spent time and money cultivating existing relationships for additional sales and referrals. Why? It works.

Can we get real about the sales call, though, and avoid pretending that the call is about something that it isn’t? My family has a subscription to a famous magazine, one with a long history, filled with pictures and featuring a yellow-bordered cover. You know the one. They called every day last week at about 10 AM. The phone would ring, I would look at the caller ID, say, “Oh, it’s them,” and ignore it. The answering machine would kick in and the caller would hang up.

On the fifth day, I finally broke down and answered. The person on the other end of the call started by stating, “Hello, Mister Florin, this is Matt from the yellow covered magazine, and we are calling to say thank you for being a loyal subscriber. We are also going to send you a free gift – a world map poster – that is yours to keep just for previewing the blah-blah-blah DVD.” The call didn’t get much further than that, and I am pretty sure that they will not call again soon.

Why do telemarketers feel like they have to start their calls with false pretenses? The thank you was not sincere, of course. It was just a way to keep me on the phone for a few seconds. Maybe there are people in the telemarketing industry who know better than I, but I can’t be the only one who finds the hollow thank you approach irritating.

Here’s a better idea: Be direct! You know that we have subscribed to your mag for years. We sometimes watch TV shows on your cable channel. We like you – or did until the telemarketing blitz. Why not say, “Mister Florin, this is Matt at the yellow covered magazine. Since you enjoy the magazine, we thought you would like to preview this incredible new blah-blah-blah DVD. Just say yes and you can be enjoying it by next week, and if you don’t love it, send it back at no charge.”

As business owners and leaders, don’t we have the obligation to be clear with our customers? Matt wasn’t calling to say thank you. He was calling to sell me something that I might enjoy. The next time you call your customers, be clear, concise and purposeful. I know I appreciate the direct approach, and they will too.

Slamming the Door in Your Customer’s Face

Getting to the airport early is the first rule of travel, right? That, at least, is what the TSA pounds into our heads. Wanting to do right by the federal employees who have the authority to pat me down when I don’t want that particular experience, I always get there with plenty of time to spare. It’s important that they have time to count and scrutinize my three-ounce bottles. Last week was no different, and I had lots of time to sit, watch and listen.

If you have ever been in the Westchester County Airport (NY), you know that it is small. When waiting, travelers are sitting just feet from the gates, leaving lots of opportunity to observe airline employee behavior. Here is what happened.

Airline Gate Agent (talking into two-way radio, annoyed and impatient): “I need to close out this flight. Is the passenger almost through security?”

Voice on the Radio: “Yes, she is almost done, but she is kind of snotty.”

AGA (picking up and talking on telephone): “Go ahead and close the doors. I’m not letting her on. She is snotty and giving TSA a hard time.”

Seconds later, I could see the cargo door on the commuter jet closing. Ms. Snotty Passenger arrives after her 20 second, 30 yard journey from security screening. She quietly asks, “Am I on time to get on this flight?”

AGA, taking the opportunity to deliver a lecture, lets her have it. “Ma’am, you gave up your seat on this flight as you did not get here 10 minutes before departure time. We had to give your seat away. Please sit down and you will be on the next flight in three hours. Remember in the future that you must get here at least 10 minutes before departure.”

Ms. Not-so-Snotty Passenger accepted this answer, turned and sought out the seat that she would fill for a good portion of that afternoon. She would never know that her delay was so heavily determined by this single airline employee. Her seat had not been filled; the agent simply did not want her in it.

So what’s the point? If you own or manage a business that employs people, your best efforts at advertising and systematic customer service excellence can be snuffed out by your AGAs. What are the values that you work to teach and demonstrate, hoping that your team will make the right choices?

If you work in a service role yourself, you decide how you will behave, the actions you will take and the service you will provide. Think about what that gate agent could have done for the passenger and her company’s reputation had she said, “Ms. Passenger, please hurry. I told them to keep the door open for you so you could make it to your destination on time. In the future, be sure to get here earlier.”

Whether you work solo or in a large organization, finding ways to stretch and serve internal and external customers can make the difference between success and failure. That decision to slam the door on that one passenger was more than an inconvenience. It was a demonstration of the culture of that airline, something that will not be undone by advertising and other efforts to tell me how great that airline is. One person can make all the difference. Yes, come on board, or no, go sit down and wait.