Every business has them. They all sound great, too.
In fact, if you listened to all of the mission statements
pertaining to serving the customer that echo throughout the
halls of commerce, you’d think you were on some strange utopian
planet, where the customer is king.
The problem lies in the difference between the talk and the
walk. There is no doubt that the executives at McDonald’s know
how to serve customers. They know how to dress neatly, and smile
courteously, and listen carefully to their customers.
Unfortunately, it’s not the executives who are flipping
burgers and serving the sodas; it’s the local 16-year-old high
school kid, earning minimum wage in his first part time job. And
quite honestly, he is much more interested in a) his car; b) his
girlfriend; c) his buddies; and d) everything else in the world
than ensuring that your dining experience at McDonald’s is a
So the executives can honk and flap through employee manuals
that describe in detail just how each customer is to be treated,
but unless they find a way to connect with the kid working the
counter, McDonald’s standards of service remain theoretical. And
friends, theoretical service ain’t no service at all.
I don’t mean to pick on McDonald’s here; I am using them as an
example, based on their status as an American icon throughout
the world, and because their mission to serve their customers is
But I could be talking about almost any other business. Maybe
yours. Do you have customers? Do you have people other than
yourself dealing with those customers? Then I am talking about
your business, so here are a few things to consider.
1. Make your service initiatives relevant to your employees.
Typically, it is the executives in the nice offices that create
the policies and procedures that guide your customer
These people often have advanced degrees in business, or at
the very least, years of practical experience serving customers.
They’ve probably been through a number of service-related
seminars, workshops, and conferences, and probably read business
books and newsletters.
Understand that this is not always the case with your front
line personnel. You need to distill not only the “hows” but also
the “whys” of good service delivery.
One thing you can count on is that every person delivering
customer service for your company is also a customer of other
businesses, so they already know what good and bad service is
all about from the customer perspective. It’s up to you to help
them translate that inherent knowledge into practical service
2. Providing good service to customers is not a natural or
instinctive thing. It has to be carefully taught, and there has
to be incentive for learning, and executing what is taught. In
order to get the front line to treat customers well, they need
to feel well treated themselves.
They need to know that the company respects them and values
the work that they do, providing them with a structured
environment, clean work area, and fair compensation. You do get
what you pay for, almost every time.
3. Some profound person once said, “Success is in the details.”
In business, this is very true. In every service organization,
there are procedures that are repeated from customer to
The organization should establish how they wish every nuance
of those repeated tasks to be executed, and the personnel should
be trained to execute those tasks like second nature. This
specifically means the things they say/write to customers,
including greeting and valediction.
The things your people does over and over again can and
should be practiced to perfection, so that the typical
interactions between your customers and your staff will be
executed exactly the way the executives theorized it could be.
4. Positive reinforcement works. If you want something done a
certain way, make sure there are rewards for doing it that way,
and make equally sure that there are no rewards for doing it any
other way. Remember, rewards are not always money. Many of the
best companies ask their employees what type of rewards they
would like for meeting certain targets.
The responses are usually pretty reasonable, and most involve
time off, or tickets to an event, rather than money. And a
little bit goes a long way. If you are a manager, and your
company has not yet embraced the idea of sponsoring such awards,
you can be creative with what you’ve got to work with.
Let him leave an hour early one day, or give her an
interesting special assignment that utilizes a skill or interest
of hers. Or take the whole team to lunch. But most importantly,
let them know why you’re giving them this, and how much you
appreciate their efforts. Mark Twain said, “I could live for a
month off of a good compliment.” Sometimes a few sincere words
are the best reward of all.
5. Incentive bonuses. When I was a young manager, I was against
them, for myself as well as for my staff. I thought that the
whole idea of hiring someone, and paying them a salary to do a
job was motivation enough for them to do the job to the best of
their abilities. Naďve young chap, wasn’t I?
The fact is, incentive bonuses have great value beyond the
money involved. A bonus is a gesture of appreciation, saying
that, thanks to your efforts, we made a boatload of cash, and
here, we’re peeling a little off the top for you. However, such
bonuses need to be administered fairly and consistently, and the
rules governing them should not change in mid term.
One of the problems with bonuses is that when things are
going well, people come to expect them regularly. Then, when
things aren’t going so well, and the bonus doesn’t get paid, it
seems like a real gyp, man. Like they’ve cut your salary! And
that is de-motivating, any way you look at it. Moral of the
story: handle incentive bonuses with care.
Your company’s standards of service are what get remembered long
after your product reaches its limit of usefulness, or your
service has been delivered. How those products or services were
delivered is what will determine whether the customer comes back
for more, and whether they bring their friends and colleagues
back with them. In order to ensure that your employees
understand this, make this fact relevant to them.
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