The Forgotten Customers

I’m always encouraged to see businesses and organizations place a high premium and focus on customer retention and advocacy. Let’s face it, the customer is still King! Especially now that we have to consider the technological abyss of social media. Who would have thought that a day would come where your customers are already sending reviews about your products and service offering before they even walk out of the door of your business? Most of the time without you even knowing!

But while so much emphasis is being placed on the external customer and what needs to be done to attract and retain them; I can’t help wondering how much emphasis is being placed on the internal customers affectionately known as employees? Do we place as much emphasis on our staff? Are we doing all we can to retain them as customers of our businesses and how do we do this in the current economic climate?

I maintain that even in a time of incredibly helpful electronic gadgets, the blessed phenomena, human resource needs to be appreciated and revered. In the whole scheme of things even though millions of people are shopping on line and opting for on line services; let’s be honest, we all still prefer to talk to a real person when we need advice about a product or when something goes wrong rather than go through a list of probable web generated FAQ’s.

As I continue on the journey of measuring service levels and defining what outstanding service really is, more and more I am convinced that by treating your employees with respect, honour, fairness and by investing the time to build a happy, reliable, devoted and passionate team; you will reap a harvest of happy clients and customers who will continue to engage your business time and time again. I’m also painfully aware that so many business owners have not figured out that treating their staff badly or unfairly is destined for failure when it comes to offering outstanding customer service. They’ve also missed that taking time out of the business day to engage their employees is critical to successful Customer Service Delivery.

So here are a  few tips that can help to keep your staff motivated and your customers happier.

1. Pay your staff what they deserve! Too many business owners pay their staff just enough to meet the minimum wage requirements. Putting a little more cash in the pot is a great way to communicate your appreciation for their efforts and skills and pull out a higher level of productivity. It’s also a good idea to let them know upfront that as a part of your businesses corporate responsibility, you pay more than others in that field. This can also work as a safeguard for the business owner when there’s an increase in tasks or duties for the employees. Which there inevitably will be at some point. Employees who feel overworked and underpaid transmit this to your customers. So wherever possible and obviously dependent on skill level, try to ensure that you pay them what they are worth.

2. Communicate, communicate, communicate. Remember, people are not intrinsically bad, they just need to know exactly what you want them to do. Too often business owners and managers expect their employees to be Mini Me’s and they don’t take into consideration that they need to communicate the way they want things done and that this has to be reiterated regularly until a culture is built.

3) Development and training must be integrated into the workday. It’s not acceptable to expect your employees to know the job through some form of telepathic communication. They need to be taught, trained and brought up to speed with new products and technologies. The more your staff know, the better they can  adequately and confidently pass this information on to your external customers.

4) Schedule in one on ones with individuals. It’s very difficult to get a handle on all of your employee issues if you only forecast or have general staff meetings. It’s in the more intimate setting that you find out how the staff are doing on the job and what’s bothering them at home. Remember if your employees have personal problems they will more than likely show up somewhere along the working day. Regular individual time spent with them ensures that you keep your finger on the pulse of emerging issues.

5) Make employee reviews part and parcel of your business. As a business owner or manager, you must create an environment of growth for your employees. A by annual or annual review is a great way to highlight strengths and growth areas and to set timelines for improvements. Ensure that your reviews have some section where the employees can give you feedback about your leadership and the business also. Too often business leaders and managers profess ‘It’s my way or the highway’! Opening up the floor for feedback allows them the opportunity to speak their truth and feel that their opinion is valued and that the relationship is two way.

6) Where possible schedule in at least one group/team activity per year. Depending on the type of business it is not always possible to have a lot of social time, i.e. where shift work is necessary or where the business cannot be closed for a long period of time. However, you can always split the team and do one event with team  A and another with team B. You’d be surprised how much you can learn about your employees when they are out of the working environment. It’s also a good time for them to relate to you in a more relaxing setting. Many employees don’t believe that the boss is human. So socialising with them will make sure that they get rid of myth that while they were all born of mothers; you dropped out of the planet Zor!

7) Grow yourself as a leader. By this I mean, just as your staff are developing, you should also be aiming at developing your skills and leadership so you can better manage and lead them. Employees like to see that their leader doesn’t know it all and is also willing to develop. My motto is…  If you’ re not growing and developing you’re dead! Growth and development is also important because you should always be ahead of your employees in skills, knowledge and experience. They are looking to you for guidance, council and growth. If they know so much more than you do, then maybe they should be managing you! There will be and should be instances where your employees excel at a particular task, above you and you let them take the lead as the influencer in that area. This is also very healthy for the team. On the other hand they don’t want to feel that they are running the business and carrying all of the responsibility while you are in your office shirking on Facebook.

8) Incentives go a long way. They do not always have to be monetary. Many times staff are encouraged to do a better job when they are praised and recognised for a job well done. It may be more appropriate for you to hold a staff achievement award ceremony, where they are recognised in front of their peers. This kind of initiative goes a long way in building the emotional bank account of your employees.

9) Never pass the buck in front of your external customers. I just cringe every time I complain about a service issue to a manager or business owner and they in turn throw the staff member under the bus right in front of my very eyes. Your employees need to know you have their backs and even if they do make a mistake that can sometimes be costly, it will be dealt with in a civil and respectful manner.

10) Know when it’s time to say goodbye. Although the majority of your team may be firing on all cylinders, you can experience those that just do not want to fall in line with the organizational culture of service excellence and team work. It’s important that these employees are also given a chance to improve through your relevant coaching or discipline measures. But the caution is, you cannot teach an old dog new tricks. If you have tried all the possible ways for this particular individual to improve to no avail, then it’s time to say goodbye and part ways. Keeping and rewarding a bad apple often causes the hard working performers to become despondent and can cause team deterioration very quickly. This will reflect on the service outputs of your business. In the past I’ve had to guide some individuals who were not working out into other options of employment. Find out what they really like doing and what their passion is and get them on track to a new, better suited career.

All in all we all want happy customers but it’s important to remember that the better we treat and engage our staff, the better they will treat and engage our customers.

I’d be interested to know some of the ideas you have for engaging, developing and retaining employees. Fell free to let me know.

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