Friday, April 22nd, 2011
Awareness is key. People don’t know what they don’t know.
The first thing I would do to increase awareness and improve the quality of customer service delivery in any business is to ask my employees this question: “Would you describe for me, from your perspective, what you do—what your job entails?”
When I pose this question to employees I encounter in hotels, shopping malls, supermarkets, or airports, the responses I receive almost always apply exclusively to job function—the tasks or duties associated with one’s job role.
Here’s how a typical conversation with a supermarket employee might go:
Me: “Pardon me. Do you mind if I ask you what you do—what your job entails?”
Employee: “Are you from corporate headquarters or something?”
Me: “No. I’m just interested in what you do.”
Employee: “Well, my job is to sack groceries but when we’re not busy, I bring in shopping carts from the lot and sweep the store. Sometimes I have to check prices or clean up spills. That’s about it.”
Let’s examine this response:
- Sack groceries (job function)
- Bring in shopping carts (job function)
- Sweep the store (job function)
- Check prices (job function)
- Clean up spills (job function)
Every action listed has to do with job function. Rarely do employees reference actions or behaviors pertaining to job essence which, ironically, is their highest priority.
Job essence for employees at most companies is to create delighted customers, promoters—those who will enthusiastically recommend the company or brand to others, are less price-sensitive, and have higher repurchase rates.
While groceries need to get sacked and carts need to be brought in, if these tasks are completed without a smile, without enthusiasm, without attention to detail, or without genuine interest, the customer will notice.
In the absence of job essence, all that exists is a transaction. Transactions are not memorable. Transactional service does not make a lasting positive impression or inspire loyalty.
This begs the question: “Why do so many of the employees Steve interviews only cite job function and not job essence?”
Consider this: Job function is results oriented. Managers are interested in results. Job function is doing what your told. Managers appreciate compliance. Job function is doing what’s expected. Managers don’t like surprises.
Until managers actively model, recognize, and reward job essence, achieving results will take priority over establishing relationships, compliance will trump initiative, and customer service will be characterized by routine and predictable actions.
What they (employees) see is what you’ll (management) get. And most employees see job function being recognized and rewarded over job essence.
For instance, let’s assume the supermarket employee, during his new-hire orientation program, was told how important it was to provide exceptional customer service. Perhaps he was shown a mission statement, a poster, or was given a button to wear that contained the company’s customer service slogan. He was also made aware of his job duties which include gathering the stray shopping carts from throughout the parking lot.
Being enthusiastic about his new job role and wanting to perform well, the employee is conscientious when bagging groceries. He is careful to handle delicate items such as bread and eggs carefully and bag frozen food together to prevent it from thawing too quickly. He also insists on helping customers to their cars—especially when the weather’s bad—even though most of his coworkers avoid this step.
During his first several weeks in his new position, the employee is routinely approached by his manager who asks, “Hey, why are there so many carts in the parking lot?” But he never receives any feedback about the exceptional customer service he provides to shoppers.
So he’s conflicted: “During orientation they told me how important it was to take care of the customer. I try to do that but no one seems to notice or care. The only thing I ever receive feedback on is the shopping carts in the parking lot.”
It doesn’t take him long to learn that the way he’s going to score points with his manager is by spending more time in the parking lot, away from customers, retrieving stray shopping carts.
I recognize that job function is necessary—even critical (i.e., the shopping carts must be retrieved from the parking lot and the floor needs to be swept periodically) but it does not represent the totality of an employee’s job! It only represents a portion of his job. The other portion of his job, which is often neglected, is job essence—his highest priority: to create a delighted customer—a promoter.
When employees are made aware of the essence of their jobs and it’s reinforced (modeled, recognized, rewarded) by their immediate supervisors, then customer service quality will improve, fewer eggs will get broken, and we’ll begin asking the question, “Why is customer service so predictable great?”
It’s my blog. I can dream.