In my last post I asked if you and your employees care about your customers. Pardon me if I go all "warm and fuzzy" on you, but you cannot create an atmosphere of caring unless you, the employer/owner/manager care about your employees. You cannot do it all; no matter how many hours you work. Therefore you hire employees to help you. They, in turn, depend on you for knowledge, training, and other resources. Big corporations have huge human resource departments who implement all kinds of policies, many which are designed to protect the company against legal liability as opposed to promoting a high retention of employees. Smaller businesses, whether they´re two or three employees or 150 spread throughout the world, can be more flexible both with the writing of their policies and with their implementation.
Be fair to all your employees, but be flexible. If a single parent cannot be on time when your office opens at 8:30 because of childcare, perhaps they can arrive 30 minutes later and leave 30 minutes after everyone else allowing your office the ability to stay open another 30 minutes.
Empower your employees to solve complaints, on the spot in many cases. This keeps the customer happy, prevents the hot potato from landing in your lap, and studies have shown, improves employee retention.
Get to know as many employees as is practical. Manage by walking around. Ask them about their families, about their hobbies, talk about what you have in common.
Ask your employees for advice about running the business. For example:
Why are customers buying our products?
When they don´t buy, why not?
What are your thoughts about our marketing, our advertising, and our branding?
When you´re dealing with customers, what´s your biggest challenge?
What the easiest thing about dealing with customers?
Are you getting support from our other departments when it comes to making the sale? (Delivery, manufacturing, service, credit, etc.)
What do you like most about your job?
What do you like least?
What could we be doing better?
Are any of our policies or practices outdated?
Are you managing the paper work/data collection after you make the sale?
Do you see any trends, positive or negative, that could impact us?
Do you have any questions about why we do things the way we do?
Do you know anyone who would like to work for us?
Do you see working here as a career? If so, what would you like to be doing in five years?
Tell me how our competitors compete against us? Are they doing something we´re not?
Now, where appropriate, take action on the input you receive.
I mentioned above that you should treat your employees fairly. But I also believe you should provide additional recognition and rewards to those who perform above and beyond the call of duty, in single instances, and especially consistently throughout the year. When I was a manager trainee in the jewelry business, my manager brought in big platters of boiled shrimp from Red Lobster on Christmas Eve. We didn´t have to leave the store to go to lunch and were able to field a full crew the entire day. Most of us never ate boiled shrimp on a regular basis so that alone was a treat and we didn´t mind the hard work. Another time working in a warehouse after hours my boss brought in a case of, uh, adult beverages for us to enjoy when we finished.
Inject fun into your work place. I used to be a route salesman for Coca-Cola and at our annual safety banquet; one of our drivers was given an award for crashing into several cars. It seems his brakes had failed and he was headed downhill towards an intersection with people in the crosswalk. By crashing into those cars, he was able to stop his truck in time. Our manager could have made a boring presentation presenting him with an award for quick thinking, which was why he received the recognition. Instead, the manager had fun, making out like the award was for doing the exact opposite of what we normally expected. I´ve been to many banquets since then, that one still stands out to me.
By creating this type of environment, you will also lower your employee turnover, saving you thousands of dollars. This also means you´ll wind up with a more experienced staff which will increase productivity, and hopefully, profits.
To sum it up: Be fair, listen, empower your employees, and have fun. When your employees know you care about them, it´s many times easier for them to care about your customers.
"It´s the knowledge derived from information that gives you the competitive edge."