Have Business Will Travel

Can You Manage?

Service With A Smile

By Howard Scott

Do your sales clerks annoy your customers? Do they giggle, speak ungrammatically, chew gum, wear soiled outfits or not look your customers in the eye? According to a 1996 study by Decisioneering Group, a Paradise Valley, Arizona, consulting group focused on helping businesses understand and strengthen their relationships with customers, many retail clerks bother customers enough that they think about taking their business elsewhere the next time.

As a business owner, it's up to you to recognize these annoying ticks, and to alter your employees' behavior. But this is a delicate situation--one where you can't be so blunt that the clerk is secretly angry and will revert to that behavior when you're not around. You need to initiate a long-term behavioral change.

Richard Perkins, owner of One Hour Quality Photo Lab in Pembroke, Massachusetts, has come up with what he calls "the nonconfron-tational-meeting method."

"Because I have had problems when I challenge the person directly, I prefer a company meeting," Perkins says. "At the meeting, I'll discuss different business matters going on, then add that we are trying to improve our image, and I don't want to see certain behaviors. I'll post the guidelines in a letter so staffers can read it. In that manner, we correct the behavior."

Glenn Kidder, manager of Video To Go in Milton, Massachusetts, has a different approach. He eliminates most of the problems during the initial employee-training period, which includes a lot of role playing. "We cut out bad habits as we see them," Kidder says, "so that they don't get out on the sales floor."

Should anything come up, however, Kidder will pull a staffer aside and talk about the observed behavior in constructive way, making an effort to avoid personalizing the criticism. "I explain how a change in behavior will improve interaction with the customer. Putting a positive spin on the criticism, showing how they can benefit personally, is usually what turns the staffer around."

To make sure his employee guidelines are being followed, Kidder asks regular customers to give him follow-up comments on how they were treated when they came into his store. Other methods used include hiring a secret shopper, observing behavior on videotape and getting feedback from other staff members.

In modifying your staff's personal peccadilloes, use the following guidelines:

1. Avoid criticizing an employee in front of a customer or another employee; humiliation is counterproductive and unprofessional.

2. Phrase the comment in a positive way, saying how the suggested behavior will improve customer interaction. That way, you're giving a helpful tip instead of criticism.

3. If the staffer challenges the assertion, provide an explanation of how the behavior is annoying and ultimately detrimental to your business. Cite customer complaints. Point out that customers pay all your salaries, and must therefore be satisfied.

4. Offer gentle congratulations to the staffer when he or she complies. Acknowledging a job well done is important--and one of the cornerstones of good employee management.

Contact Sources

Kim Baker, kimbaker@aol.com

Decisioneering Group, 5725 N. Scottsdale Rd., #150, Scottsdale, AZ 85250, (602) 949-8566

Diet Solutions: People Helping People, P.O. Box 107, Howell, NJ 07731, (800) 243-6409

Douglas Jackson Pierce LLC, P.O. Box 2492, West Lafayette, IN 47906, (765) 497-0130

Shel Horowitz, P.O. Box 1164, Northampton, MA 01061, (413) 586-2388

Lexington Mortgage, 190 W. 800 North, #201, Provo, UT 84601, (801) 373-5944

Mass Music, P.O. Box 4567, Davis, CA 95616, (510) 791-2689

Net Sales Inc., Rick@yujean.com

One Hour Quality Photo Lab, 254 Church St., Pembroke, MA 02359, (617) 826-7670

Video To Go, 550 Adams St., Milton, MA 02186, (617) 696-1100

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This article was originally published in the September 1997 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Have Business Will Travel.

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