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Function vs. Essence

Several years ago, I was out to dinner in Orlando with a colleague. At the time, she was the director of training at a large resort and convention hotel located near Disney World.

Her hotel competed for group business head to head with Disney’s own hotels. If you have experienced Disney, then you know how difficult it is for another hotel to win business when competing with them—especially if the deciding factor is the anticipated quality of service that group members will receive as hotel guests.

When I asked Theresa about her approach to customer service training, given her formidable competition on the other side of Interstate 4, she said that a key ingredient was to involve hotel employees in clarifying the difference between their job functions and the essence of their jobs.

Consider the definition of each term:

func⋅tion [fuhngk-shuhn]: –noun The action for which a person or thing is particularly fitted or employed.

es⋅sence [es-uhns]: –noun The most important ingredient; the crucial element.

Depending on the employee’s job role, the functions performed will differ. For instance, the functions of a bellman (e.g., deliver luggage to and from guest rooms, provide information about the hotel outlets and services, etc.) will differ from the functions of a maintenance employee (e.g., perform preventative maintenance, execute repairs, etc.).

Theresa explained that, while employees’ job functions will differ, the essence of their roles was the same: To exceed the expectations of their hotel guests by consistently delivering product and service quality that will result in delighted customers.

Bain and Company, a consumer research firm, equates delighted customers with a category of customers called promoters. Promoters are those customers who are the least price-sensitive, have the highest repurchase rates, and are responsible for between 80 and 90 percent of positive referrals to a company or brand.

Now, Theresa had defined the essence of her employees’ job roles based on their highest priority: exceptional product and service quality. Other organizations may define the essence of their employees’ job roles differently. For instance, my neighbor is the executive director of a halfway house that provides housing for men who are in transition from incarceration to freedom. He told me that the essence of his employees’ job roles is to convey respect towards the clients, his term for the men who occupy the facility.

The challenge for employers is that, oftentimes, employees think that the functions and essence of their job roles are the same. When this happens, employees become transactional and process-focused, treating each customer like the last customer. A factory mentality ensues. In the short-term it may be highly efficient (employees do more things faster) but in the long-term it is ineffective (does not fulfill the organization’s highest priority).

Consider your own organization. Do the employees really know the difference between their job functions and the essence of their jobs? If you’re not sure, just ask. My hunch is that you will be met with blank stares…

This becomes an opportunity for you to have a meaningful conversation with your employees about the difference between the tasks they are responsible for executing and your organization’s highest priority.

Order Delight Your Customers: 7 Simple Ways to Raise Your Customer Service from Ordinary to Extraordinary by Steve Curtin or purchase from select retailers, including Barnes & Noble.
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