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Happy Accidents

Illustration 42097686 © Retro Clipart |

Can your customers count on superior product and service quality regardless of the employee involved? Or is the quality of their experience reliant on the employee they happen to get?

Most employees view their total job role in terms of the requisite job knowledge and job skills needed to reliably execute assigned duties and tasks. They are often oblivious to the greater why behind what they do and how they do it. Employees who work in these environments routinely process guests, each one like the one before, until the end of another uninspired shift.

It’s true there will always be a percentage of engaged employees who go above and beyond in the service of their guests, regardless of whether the why of their job role is articulated, shared, and modeled by their immediate supervisor. Encounters with these employees are what I call “happy accidents.” This is when customers come across an attentive server, effervescent phone rep, or detail-oriented landscaper. In these situations, the quality of customers’ experience hinges on the employee they happen to get.

But relying on happy accidents is not a formula for success. The opportunity for most businesses is to elevate inconsistent product or service quality that is reliant on the employee involved, to consistently superior customer experiences regardless of the employee involved. The first step in this process is to reveal employees’ total job role, which includes knowing why they do what they do, and how they do it at work.

Many years ago, I heard a story that forever changed the way I view job roles. Author Rick Tate described working at a full-service gas station as a teenager. His job was to fill customers’ automobiles with gas and, as they waited, check the vehicle’s oil level, and clean the windshield. One day his manager received a complaint from a customer that, after Rick had cleaned his windshield, streaks remained that made it difficult to see clearly. Rick was later approached by his manager who clarified that his job was not simply to clean windshields, but to provide motorists with clear vision.

This story illustrates the distinction between job functions, the duties and tasks associated with a job role, and job essence, an employee’s single highest priority at work. Let’s say that the business’s stated purpose, its single highest priority, is to create delighted customers. In order to accomplish this, the attendant must not only execute his assigned job functions (e.g., pump gas, check oil levels, and clean windshields), he must also reflect job essence by, for example, smiling, making eye contact, anticipating needs, and paying attention to detail. If he’s observant, conscientious, and takes a moment to verify the quality of his work with his customers, then he’s more likely to provide them with clear vision—and fulfill the company’s purpose.

Consider how a conversation like this, where his manager made a clear distinction between what he did (clean a windshield) and why he did it (provide drivers with clear vision), may have shaped Rick’s perspective. When the view of his job role expanded from executing routinized tasks to reflecting a higher priority, his behavior changed. Now, instead of going through the motions of squirting cleaning solution on a windshield, perhaps using a sponge to remove stubborn spots, and then using a squeegee to remove the excess solution, Rick did something else. Afterwards, he asked the customer, “How’d I do?”

This added step invited customers to affirm his work by responding, “Excellent! Great job!” It also gave them permission to reply, “You missed a spot,” or “It looks a little streaky,” at which point Rick could apply the extra effort necessary to ensure his customer had clear vision.

The same scenario occurs across industries every day but, unlike Rick, most employees have not had a similar conversation with their supervisors. They are completely unaware of a higher priority other than reliably executing job assignments. They see their job roles as comprised exclusively of job functions, the duties and tasks aligned with their job descriptions. There is no awareness of job essence, their purpose—their single highest priority at work.

Supervisors, managers, and leaders must articulate and reveal the higher purpose of the job role and connect employees’ daily work activities to this why. Doing so creates a work environment where the focus shifts from processing customers to delighting them, “happy accidents” are replaced with consistent product and service quality, and employees aren’t simply given a job to work on, they’re given a purpose to work toward.

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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