Good Will

Making A Difference

Among the most important qualities customers look for in a business are courteous treatment, prompt and knowledgeable service, a positive attitude, integrity and credibility, and whether their needs are satisfied. Do your employees score high in all these areas? If not, how do you go about grooming your employees for service in the "diplomatic corps"?

Start by letting them in on some "company intelligence" about what turns customers off:

1. The waiting game. Long lines or inattentive clerks won't do. Nor will service counters with "Next window, please" placards on all but one station.

2. The zombie. These workers seem to be in a trance or heavily sedated. They don't make eye contact or act with a sense of urgency; they just go through the motions.

3. The antagonist. Customers are not the enemy, but frequently they are made to feel as if they are. When customers sense they are merely a transaction--or, worse, an interruption--they rarely return. Employee rudeness, impatience and judgmental remarks occur far too frequently, and nothing is more damaging to your company image.

4. The bare minimum. When an employee won't go the extra mile to satisfy a customer or seems annoyed by questions or requests, customers vanish, never to be seen again.

5. The know-nothing. Workers who are poorly trained and can't answer questions about your product or service are useless to you and your customers. Few things are more disappointing than when a company representative knows less about the product than the customer.

6. The liar. Lies, dishonesty, snow jobs and broken promises may get an employee off the hook for the moment, but in the long run they lose your company lots of business.

Once employees know what not to do, you need to show them what they should do. The first and most important step is to treat them with respect. If you don't, it will be very hard for employees to believe you will really support them when they start acting empowered.

Employees can tell if you don't trust them to make decisions on your behalf. So take time to assess the situation, spell out exactly what behavior you are looking for, and prepare your people to act responsibly on their own. This means:

  • making sure employees at all levels thoroughly understand your products, services, ongoing promotions, company policies and key customer arrangements.

  • seeing to it that all employees have the resources needed to do their jobs.

  • assuring your employees that (after proper training) they will be supported in using their judgment when quick action is needed to satisfy a customer.

  • including your employees in decisions about certain aspects of company policy and how they handle their own specific duties.

  • cross-training employees so they can fill in for each other when necessary.

  • instructing your staff in the basics of customer service and social interaction. Smiling comfortably, making small talk and listening attentively don't necessarily come naturally.

  • showing your employees by example how to handle a typical judgment call and leading discussions
    on how to solve problems or manage troublesome or unusual situations.

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This article was originally published in the February 1997 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Good Will.

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