Full Speed Ahead

Staff Savvy

7. Magic mirror. Want to improve your customer service skills? The quickest way to train yourself and your employees to adopt a friendly demeanor during calls is to put a mirror next to the phone, says Richard Chase, professor of operations management at the University of Southern California's (USC) Marshall School of Business in Los Angeles. "[If you're] looking at yourself in the mirror," he says, "you're not going to frown or scowl."

8. No joke, it's poka-yoke. Chase is a proponent of the Japanese method of designing work sets and kits to reduce the potential for error. For example, if assembly of a certain component requires four screws, compiling sets of four screws in advance saves time and reduces the likelihood of one component getting only three screws.

Can you find a poka-yoke solution to rid your business of mistakes? Maybe it's creating sales kits so salespeople don't have to collect the items they need each time they want to send information to potential customers. Or in a packing/shipping company, Chase notes, it might mean putting a box, tape and packing material together in a kit. "Anything you can do to keep employees from having to root around in one bin and then another is going to save time," he says.

For situations where kits don't apply--such as asking someone to clean up a stockroom--Chase suggests offering a photograph that shows the person the solution as it was reached before. "This is an old trick for getting your kids to clean up their rooms the right way," Chase says.

9. Get the message. When Shel Lustig and his two partners moved their Chicago radio-production company, MediaTracks, into a new suite of offices last year, one of the most important decisions they faced was what kind of phone system to purchase. "We had to have something where, if a message came in to me but it ought to have gone to one of my partners, I could forward it directly to that person," Lustig says.

It's a simple feature called message forwarding, a service that's available from your local phone company. Lustig says his firm relies on it. "The information conveyed is 100 percent accurate, so you save all the time you used to lose on confusion and mistakes," he says.

10. Start a commune. You have a file on XYZ vendor, and so do three other people on your staff. Eliminate duplication and the risk of errors, and make all the information available to everybody at once by starting a communal filing system. There should be a main file on each vendor, major order or other ongoing issue, so anyone who needs to check on it can do so whenever necessary. Each file should be kept in the appropriate person's office--the person who refers to the file most often; other employees should have access to it as needed.

11. Keep it brief. "Any time there's something people ought to know, I'll pull everybody together for a three- to five-minute meeting," says Jeannie Miller, president of Canton, Ohio-based mail order retailer Kids Stuff Inc. "That way, we know everybody's on the same page right from the start. There's no `Gee, I thought Bill would tell you.' We save a lot of time [by not having to] write and pass out memos."

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This article was originally published in the October 1998 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Full Speed Ahead.

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