With businesses planning their reopening or returning to trade after closing during the peak of the Covid-19 crisis, they will be calling on employees to return to work who have been stood down while the business has been in hibernation.
With concern regarding the threat of Coronavirus still at a high, people may feel uncertain returning to the workplace particularly those in customer facing positions. This in itself could have a negative impact on employee motivation.
Businesses can help employees feel comfortable and confident to return to their workplace therefore, increasing their motivation. Without their full commitment, the success of the business moving forward could be severely impacted.
The first is keeping employees informed so they are aware of what is happening within their immediate community or environment and how the business is responding to those factors. It is vital to avoid leaving employees guessing and hearing important news via word of mouth of other external sources. By ensuring they are clear of the businesses decisions, expectations and guidelines, they will more likely feel in the loop, included and at ease.
Employees need reassurance their health and safety is a priority. Of course the objective of a business is to make profit however, employees must feel this is not at the expense of their own well-being be it mental or physical.
It is one thing for a business to publicly state “the health and safety of our staff is a priority during this time”, it is completely another however to have protocols and systems in place to ensure this a reality. The business must show not only to its customers but also their employees, they genuinely have their best interests in mind when it comes to health related matters by following through on their statement with tangible actions.
If communication, reassurance and action is not taken, businesses run the risk of their employees not only lacking confidence but also motivation on their return. This will most definitely impact productivity but also their personal investment and commitment to their work and the business.
At a time when uncertainty is prevalent and business is tough, morale and motivation can easily take a hit. Everything must be done to keep employees as upbeat and engaged as possible. If they’re not, businesses run the risk of employees returning reluctantly or them not returning at all.
Staff in supermarkets have been in the line of fire ever since the Coronavirus panic buying began. We are regularly hearing stories of customers treating store staff poorly, blaming them for empty shelves and new social distancing rules staff are responsible for enforcing in the store.
Having had a long history in retail and understanding how challenging some customers can be at the best of times, during my recent trip to the supermarket I arrived at the checkout ready to show the young staff member nothing but friendliness and kindness in this stressful time.
My good intentions waivered when in an unfriendly abrupt manner, she instructed “you need to pack your own bags”. Immediately I felt guilty having forgotten the latest rule and apologised profusely for putting my bags on the conveyor belt. She once again snapped at me to “move up”, my intention of being a polite friendly customer being severely tested.
Giving it one more try, I endeavoured to start a conversation saying how easy it was to forget the new rules being so different from our normal lives. She then started to soften, admitting she’d encountered many rude customers in recent days when reminding them of the new guidelines. I truly felt for her but wondered if the treatment she was receiving was in any way a result of the manner in which she introduced these rules to customers.
I desperately wanted to help so I said “someone once told me you catch more flies with honey” explaining the calmer, more polite and friendly you are the more difficult you make it for someone being nasty to you.
I am not in any way condoning rudeness or treating anyone poorly in any situation but I was certain this girl was prompting customers to react to her negativity with the negative energy she was radiating. No doubt she’d had several bad experiences which had understandably gotten her down but she was now setting herself up for every interaction to head in the same unfortunate direction.
It got me thinking that most likely these frontline staff have never been given any guidance let alone training in how to deal with difficult customers or how to diffuse heated situations. A few tips on tone of voice, remaining calm and showing empathy by finding common ground could go a long way particularly when having to ask customers to change their everyday routines.
In a time when rules are being put in place to prevent the spread of a contagious virus, the one thing that we can share and spread is a smile and basic kindness that goes both ways.
Leadership is tested in a time of crisis and can separate an average leader from a great one. Leaders play an important role in a time of uncertainty. Without strong leadership, people will become unsettled and distracted not only impacting productivity but their own mental and even physical wellbeing. Leaders must face challenges head on and lead their people through the crisis in order to come out the other side in the best shape possible.
While there are no specific steps or process to follow, there are vital areas to be attentive to when leading during trying times:
While some leaders think it’s a good idea to hold back on providing information to their teams, it is important to communicate the facts. The manner in which these facts are delivered should be considered so as not to initiate anxious reactions however, ensuring people are clear on details is much better than having them wondering and waiting, imagining worst case scenarios. Communication can prevent panic caused by uncertainty.
Listen with Empathy
Communication goes both ways. Allow people to express their concerns and acknowledge that emotions are running riot for everyone. Constructive conversations where people can share their thoughts with others facing the same challenges can be beneficial. Ignoring and stifling people’s concerns and emotions on the other hand can make them feel disconnected.
While it’s important to be open and honest about facts and allowing people to share their concerns, it is also important to remain calm and find things to be positive about. Focus on strengths, successes and small wins along the way.
Pick things to focus on and set smaller goals and check in on them frequently providing positive feedback. This way people will feel a sense of achievement and positive movement in among the negativity.
Envisage the New Beginning
While the challenges ahead are overwhelming, provide hope by visualising the other side of the crisis. This isn’t about providing false confidence or blind optimism but being proactive about the future and seeing how change can sometimes work to our advantage.
It is likely a leader will find themselves facing a great deal of pressure in a time of crisis. If they exude fear and indecisiveness and do not remain calm and appear in control, the result will be nothing but chaos.
While a leader can’t necessarily predict or control a crisis, they can help to manage the response.
Taking the opportunity to get away on the recent long weekend, my husband and I embarked on a few days camping on the Yorke Peninsula. We are frequent travellers who are eager to support small businesses when passing through towns by purchasing a drink, lunch or supplies and this trip was no different, especially at a time when local communities are encouraging people to travel with the recent bushfires and now Coronavirus.
Unfortunately, we were surprised and disappointed to experience some very average customer service in several of the towns we stopped at. The staff in general stores, cafés and even the National Parks Office were generally unfriendly, grumpy and at times border lining on rude.
We came across a healthy mix of travellers over the weekend, from overseas visitors to city folk like us enjoying a weekend getaway. There were plenty of opportunities to leave a positive impression with these visitors, promoting the local towns and businesses.
Every interaction each of these small businesses have with a traveller is a huge opportunity. Providing friendly, helpful service can be the difference of a traveller telling others “Don’t stop at that the general store as the guy behind the counter is a grumpy old man” or, “You must stop at the general store as the owner is friendly and helpful”.
While I understand, many of these small business owners have been operating for years, dealing with the sometimes frustrating behaviours of tourists, they cannot afford to let their level of service slip for even a second.
Vehicles today can go a lot further without having to refuel and people own portable fridge/freezers to carry their own supplies, they no longer have to stop at towns along the way. Give them a reason not to and they will drive straight through town without spending a cent.
Travellers don’t necessarily expect 5-star service in these types of businesses but a smile with a pleasant, helpful manner is a must. Businesses reputations have been built and destroyed based on such factors.
A holiday be it a weekend getaway or lengthy road trip, is meant to be upbeat, easy and pleasant. Whether it be while dining in a local restaurant or café, having a drink at a local pub, buying snacks from a deli or supplies from a general store, visitors are forming an opinion of not only the business but the town and even the wider area. This can very well determine if they visit again or recommend the place to other travellers.
Being known as a place of great service and great experiences is certainly the image we want to portray at all times.
There is a great deal of focus placed on the level of service provided to customers when they visit a store, showroom or office. However, it isn’t uncommon to call a business and receive an unprofessional greeting, the person obviously not trained in how to answer a phone call, let alone how to take a message or handle an enquiry.
Professionalism and quality customer service must be provided at each and every touchpoint with a customer, whether it’s in person or on the phone. Just as a business may have customer service standards or processes for the way in which customers are served in person, there can also be guidelines on how to maintain this quality of service on the phone.
Every phone call should be answered with a professional scripted greeting. For example, “Good morning/good afternoon, welcome to (business name), this is (your name), how may I help you?”
This greeting works three-fold. First, it makes the customer feel their call is welcome. Second, by mentioning the business name, you confirm they’ve called the right number. Third, by offering your name, it adds a personal touch showing friendliness.
By implementing and adhering to the use of a scripted greeting, it can ensure consistency and contribute to a professional image.
Taking a Message
When a caller asks to speak with a person who is unavailable, a message must be taken carefully and correctly. All relevant details including the caller’s name, phone number and reason for the call where appropriate.
It is also a good idea to note the time of call. This can aid in prompt follow up, which must always occur as a continuation of good service.
Before ending the call, confirm all details with the caller to ensure you have understood and documented them correctly.
Finishing a Call
Finish a call by asking the caller “Is there anything else I can help you with?” This not only is polite but shows concern that all of the callers’ requirements have been addressed. They also feel the business has time for them.
Another key point when answering the phone is, remember to smile! Smiling puts a friendly and positive inflection in your voice. There is nothing worse than someone sounding lacklustre or unenthusiastic on the phone. It certainly doesn’t paint a very good picture about the company or their customer service ethic.
In many cases, a customer’s call may be the very first or only contact they have with a business. A customer is going to be much less inclined to want to do business with a company if this first impression isn’t a positive one.
People tend to openly discuss certain types of issues in a workplace such as lack of opportunity for growth, the absence of team work, poor communication and other such topics that relate to the organisations culture or way of doing things.
What is not so commonly discussed, is the mental health within a business. Even though awareness has grown considerably around mental wellbeing in the workplace, it can still be a subject avoided and met with mixed response.
Mental health isn’t simply employees being, upbeat, motivated and positive. Rather it’s how people cope with the everyday stresses of their work and the environment they work in.
There are certainly things that can contribute to a workplace environment which can put strain on employee’s mental health. These include; secrecy, disrespect, scrambling due to disorganisation and a tense reactive atmosphere. When people find themselves immersed in an unhealthy environment day after day, it can take its toll.
Other factors than can affect mental health at work, is when people feel they have little direction. They may feel they are not being productive, having no goal or vision, resulting in people feeling lost. Not knowing if their job is secure can also have a detrimental effect.
What can make the situation worse, is when mental health is a taboo topic within the organisation. To this day, people commonly feel they will show weakness talking about their mental health at work, whether it’s a pre-existing issue that’s being triggered by the work environment or a mental health issue brought about by the workplace.
When people don’t dare mention their mental state in fear of people thinking they are unstable and are a liability, they struggle silently with their work impacted negatively. It may also become such an issue, they take it home with them, life affecting personal relationships and leisure time.
Fostering a high level of mental health in the workplace can have many benefits. Improved work relationships, increased productivity, reduced staff turnover and employees taking less time off as ‘mental health days’.
Businesses must make mental health conversations a safe topic. Recognising there are very good people within their teams, who cope with things differently. Also giving people the opportunity to bring adverse conditions to the attention of leaders, so as to minimise these environmental factors.
With increased awareness and openness, people can go from dreading spending hours each day in an unhealthy environment, to feeling supported and don’t mind giving that little bit extra effort in return.
In a time when retail stores are struggling to achieve the sales targets or budgets assigned to them, it can be easy for the team to become disheartened and loose motivation when they see these targets being missed week after week.
Although hitting a sales target is the ultimate goal in terms of sales performance, when this becomes a difficult task, leaders must look for strong performance or results worthy of praise in other areas. This can be found in the Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s) measured in retail.
One such KPI is Average Sale, also referred to as Average Transaction Value, which refers to the average dollar value or spend of customers per transaction. Even though the number of transactions or sales in a store may be low, stores with a higher average sale show the store team are utilising the extra time they have with customers, to build a quality sale. This is through establishing value in higher priced items, with customers benefiting from additional features or a higher quality product.
Items Per Transaction
Average Sale will also increase, if the team are taking the time to understand customers’ wants and needs and recommending additional items to suit. By showing customers products that enhance or compliment their main purchase and ensuring they have the complete solution or package when they leave the store, will reflect in the average number of items sold per transaction.
It’s not only additional products that may be introduced to customers but also the additional services offered by the business. These services may include extended warranties or service plans, which not only benefit the customer in terms of peace of mind but such services commonly have a higher gross profit (GP) for the business. It increases the average spend of customers as well as the bottom line.
While customer traffic may be low, stores can still have a strong conversion rate, or a high closure rate of the customers that do visit the store. By focusing on engaging customers, showing genuine interest in understanding them, building relationships and offering the best solution tailored to their wants and needs, customers are more likely to purchase thereby, increasing conversion. They are also more likely to become a repeat customer when the team provide them with the best experience possible, which important in tough times.
When a team are being recognised for their achievements in a midst of significant challenges and uncertainty, morale is more likely to remain positive. These and other KPI’s can show the leaders of the retail business, that the team are maximising opportunities both for the customer and for the business even during slower periods.
It isn’t uncommon for people to go into panic mode when they learn they have to give a presentation, with public speaking being one of the greatest fears of the human race.
There are plenty of simple tips and tricks that can help the inexperienced speaker make their presentation a success. The most common include pointers on body language, structuring content and how to use visual aids such as PowerPoint.
There are a few tips however, one might not consider as a new presenter but are extremely useful.
Prepare but don’t over prepare.
Being prepared for a presentation is absolutely vital. Not only being familiar with content but physically practicing the presentation out loud. Talking through what you are going to say to an empty room, can help you effectively verbalise ideas and build confidence.
There is a danger however in over preparing as being too rehearsed can make you inflexible. If you are relying on memorising a script and someone asks an unexpected question, it can be difficult to respond naturally without becoming flustered and thrown off track. The key is to be prepared with key points and overall structure but not to the point it makes you rigid.
Don’t try to be funny.
Everyone likes to think they can make the audience laugh by telling the odd joke however, this can often go wrong. There is nothing worse than laughing at your own joke but the rest of the room is staring at you wondering and waiting.
If it’s appropriate, tell a story or use an analogy, which can sometimes lighten the mood. This can also help you as the presenter seem more personable and relatable.
Don’t just talk, ask.
Rather than talking at people, ask questions of the group to show your interest in them. Do this early in your presentation to encourage engagement and be sure to involve the audience at regular intervals.
A word of caution; avoid asking questions that could provide controversial responses that you are not prepared to discuss or address. Any comment or response you ask for, must be acknowledged. Prepare in advance the questions you will ask, how you will ask them and at what point. Even requesting a show of hands can make a presentation seem less of a lecture.
One last tip is to understand that nerves are completely normal. Even experienced presenters feel some form of nerves however, some learn to channel these nerves into energy or passion in their topic. The audience has no idea what is going on inside of your head. You might be a bundle of nerves on the inside but what they see is a confident, calm and in control presenter.
When the atmosphere within an organisation is negative and the mood of employees is low, this sparks concern regarding the organisations climate.
Organisational climate can be influenced by both internal and external factors. It can change quickly through a single internal incident or event, which can cause a change in atmosphere based on how the event is interpreted by the people within the organisation.
Another internal influencer on climate includes the actions of the organisations leaders. If employees perceive a leader as being unjust or making misguided decisions for example, this can lead to shared perceptions such as disappointment, insecurity or worse.
Climate can also be influenced by external environmental factors, such as a downturn in a market or negativity surrounding an industry. An example of this is the retail sector, where retailers have experienced a drop in foot traffic and sales in recent years. This can influence the ‘vibe’ within stores and drag down the energy of a team.
How the organisation responds to such external influences can determine the impact it has on the internal climate. Positive environmental factors can give climate a lift such as a stimulus or market growth.
Another major factor that can influence organisational climate, is how the employees feel about the culture of the organisation. Culture and climate are not the same thing. Culture is the way the organisation does things, as opposed to how the people within the organisation feel about the way it does them. Culture refers to the values, principals and norms developed over time. If the culture of the organisation isn’t healthy or employees perceive the common behaviours and occurrences as ineffective or inappropriate, the climate will be negatively impacted.
When a climate issue is identified, it is common for team building activities and short term mood boosters to be introduced by leadership. However, there will be little long term impact on the climate without addressing the cultural issues that may be influencing it.
This can include identifying out dated or ineffective systems or values that have become ingrained in the culture. Common patterns of rewarding poor performance, lack of communication, the absence of a strategy or focus to name a few, can all be patterns people within an organisation perceive as negative or unfavourable.
When employees sense a genuine desire for change for good, with a positive culture and effective leadership, environmental influences and occasional incidents may cause a short term glitch in the climate, but the overall atmosphere and its effect on employee motivation behaviour can be minimal.
Many businesses are guilty of doing things a certain way, simply because that’s the way they’ve always done them. Sticking with methods that worked in the past but no one has thought to or had the courage to update. While a certain approach may have been successful in the past, they aren’t necessarily going to guarantee success in the present or the future.
Many industries today are very fast moving. With new technologies, changes in trends, more informed customers etc., businesses run the risk of being left behind if they stay with the same processes that once worked but aren’t relevant today.
Classic examples of this are policies and procedures that are outdated and have never been updated to suit today’s circumstances. Businesses can quickly be seen by customers or clients as being out of touch if they don’t seem to be moving with the times. Although long time customers may desire the familiar, attracting new customers means being relevant. Finding a balance between the two can be tricky.
A successful business, who were once a leader in an industry, can quickly lose their advantage. It is dangerous to become complacent and be of the mindset of being untouchable therefore, continuing on exactly the same path ignoring the need to evolve. While the competition find new and improved ways of doing things, they can soon overtake the one time leader.
To prevent this from happening, leaders within a business must be open to change, being open to adapting and adjusting to an ever-changing world. Seeking out new ideas, information and being on top of industry trends and changes. Leaders cannot afford to let themselves become stagnant and resist the need to embrace new platforms and ways of doing business that didn’t exist ten or even five years ago but are vital in business today.
Employing from the outside the company for key roles can help with this. While it is great to promote from within, having fresh eyes and a different voice can bring different ideas and a new approach that people who have been within a business for a long time, may not have. It’s vital these people are listened to and empowered to make the necessary changes, rather than viewed as radical outsiders.
Businesses who were once hugely successful can soon become a news story of another business closure because they didn’t evolve. They must learn from the mistakes of other businesses who have gone from the top of their game, to non-existent simply because they were set in their ways and weren’t open to change.
Having spent years training in the retail industry, much of my work has involved developing sales and customer service standards and techniques to help retail salespeople provide customers with a positive shopping experience, as well as increasing sales for the business.
As with any procedure, selling steps are generally developed for use in best case scenarios, when customer traffic is consistent but at a level in which allows a salesperson to follow each step, executing standards or techniques by the book.
During the Christmas period, trade takes on a completely different pattern. Stores that are usually quiet become hectic with people lining up to be served. Even though staff have a much reduced time frame to provide a high level of service, customers still want and deserve a quality experience.
Retail staff almost need two different sales and customer service training programs. One which upskills them in the complete sales and customer service process, providing tools they can apply throughout a majority of the year. There also needs to be a version covering how to adapt those skills, in order to obtain positive outcomes in high traffic and high pressure periods.
This includes how a salesperson would greet and approach customers when it is quiet in store, as opposed to when it is busy. This is because, customers tend to be more resistant to assistance from a salesperson when they are only one of a few customers in a store. When it’s busy however, they are often eager for assistance, wanting it in a timely yet polite manner.
It’s not only the initial greeting where salespeople need to adjust but also how they build rapport, establish value in merchandise and ensure the customer has the complete solution. Salespeople must be able to adapt in these areas, to continue to be successful in different conditions than they work in during the rest of the year.
The Christmas trade period often attracts new customers to a business, where they find themselves serving customers they wouldn’t normally encounter. This is the perfect opportunity to ensure these new customers are provided with a great experience, encouraging them to return during quieter times. It is therefore vital that salespeople not only ensure all customers are being served but being served well during this time.
This period is the busiest time of year for many retailers, with many counting on a significant amount of their annual business in the period of eight weeks or so. Therefore, it is important staff are empowered to maximise the traffic at this time of year. If they’re not, the increased traffic the Christmas period brings, can be a terrible waste.
Many of us have worked for a business, who have spruiked a bold vision and mission statement, a fancy declaration of grand ideas and promises but taking no action to see these promises fulfilled.
No wonder people’s opinions of a vision and mission statement are torn. On one hand, they see them as empty words, with the only intention of winning favour with customers or clients. On the other hand, as an employee we want to feel part of something. Knowing that the time, blood, sweat and tears we invest, is for more than just making someone else a lot of money.
There are several key elements that need to be considered for a vision and mission to be successful:
Create a realistic vision
The statement needs to be a clear expression of what the business is trying to accomplish, a common cause or purpose to work towards that people can connect with. Employees need to be inspired to engage with the vision, through encouraging their involvement and creating an understanding of why it is of value or benefit to them personally and to the business.
Have a strategy to achieve the vision
The business needs to be committed to living and breathing the vision. This includes having a clear strategy. Breaking down that vision into bite sized chunks or tangible steps that can be understood and carried out in the real world. There should be structures in place to empower the staff which includes resources, relevant policies and procedures that help and not hinder that vision.
Develop the team to connect to the vision
For a vision to be realised, everything within the business needs to be in support. Starting with clear communication throughout the organisation, with every department, at every level on board and clear on the part they play.
For people to be empowered to fulfill a vision, they must have the relevant skills and knowledge. This means training and coaching to develop the team, allowing them to confidently put into practice what is asked of them.
Lastly, the leaders in the businesses must display their commitment to the vision in everything they say and do. Creating a climate that is supportive, motivated and positive.
A vision and mission statement can go either way, an expensive PR exercise that people roll their eyes at or, a morale lifting cause that give the team something to work towards. The business must be genuinely committed to making that vision a reality, turning words into action.
As a trainer, the introduction of eLearning in the early 2000’s and its subsequent growth, can seem like a significant threat to our role. Replacing facilitator led or face to face training with a cheaper and seemingly easier way of upskilling staff, has great appeal for businesses.
Training delivered online through a Learning Management System (LMS), is certainly a smart option for businesses. It is a convenient means of delivering training, allowing employees to access and complete courses through their PC, laptop, tablet or even their mobile phone.
It is also cost effective, particularly for those businesses who have outlets or offices nationally or even globally. No longer are they faced with the substantial costs involved in getting staff to a venue, which regularly includes travel expenses, accommodation and a mountain of other expenses. Learners can complete training at their own pace, in their own home or work location.
eLearning is a great way of onboarding new staff, upskilling in basic product knowledge and the introduction of simple policies and procedures. For training of more humanistic subjects such as sales and customer service however, face to face training is still ideal.
While modern eLearning platforms do provide the ability for learners to be part of discussion groups, the value participants obtain from real life group discussions, as well as hearing the experiences and insights of others, adds great depth to the learning experience. Not to mention the morale and motivation boost that comes from gathering a team in one location, who may otherwise never get the opportunity to put a face to a name or to the voice on the other end of the phone.
When staff physically attend training, a facilitator has the ability to guide learning, respond to live questions and recap or review where necessary. Although online learning has the ability to create quizzes, tests and assignments to assist learners in understanding and recalling information, there isn’t the ability to apply newly learned skills in role plays and other activities often included in live training sessions or workshops.
eLearning is certainly a great platform for businesses to upskill, refresh and develop their team however, there is still a place for face to face learning or even blended learning; with a combination of online and classroom training. Through offering an array of subjects through various training methods, both personal and business growth can be the result.
At eighteen years of age, I applied for a sales assistant position at a well known, high end department store. The first step in the recruitment process was a group interview with twenty to other eager candidates. The interview started with a speech made by a company representative, boasting about the brilliance of the organisation and how anyone would be desperate to work for them. I remember thinking at the time how arrogant their approach was. This perception was confirmed when I did not hear a word after the interview from the “too good” company. Not a surprise since the two hour, exhausting session was an unorganised mess.
For years following the encounter, I refused to set foot in one of their stores. I told numerous people of my experience, specifically their arrogance and disrespect of people’s time.
Fast forward twenty years, this time the interview was for an executive position within a large Australian retailer. The interview seemingly went well and was advised I’d hear back regarding the next stage, with several other applicants still to be interviewed. Several weeks later, I was still left wondering therefore, I called their office only to be told a decision had not yet been made. Coincidentally, I bumped into one of the interviewers who was genuinely surprised that I had not yet been notified, as the decision had been made some time ago. In his embarrassment, he confessed I had been unsuccessful as they’d decided to go with someone internally.
A week later, I received the phone call from their office, telling me now for the second time I had been unsuccessful. As someone with experience in human resources, I was completely dumfounded by how unprofessionally things had been handled. I obtained the impression this organisation did not value transparency and communication and to this day I avoid visiting their very big chain of stores.
Unfortunately these stories are common, with businesses having hap hazard, unprofessional and sometimes disrespectful recruiting practices. Employers must be mindful their candidates are also potentially their customers.
Just as a business is evaluating the applicants’ suitability for a role, an applicant is also making a judgement or evaluation of the business. They have an insight into its inner workings, which can expose all sorts of inadequate practices and a glimpse into its culture and values.
Not only may a candidate re-evaluate their desire to work for the company but their overall impression and desire to do business with them as a customer may also be influenced.
When we visit a business, we generally rate the level of service based on that which was provided by the person we predominately interacted with. This may be a salesperson, shop assistant, waiter or service attendant depending on the nature of the business.
Our overall experience however, is influenced by every representative of the business who we encounter along the way. These are people in positions who seemingly play minor roles, hovering on the sidelines or acting as the support crew. Although our contact with these people may be fleeting, they can either add or detract from an experience turning a positive one into a negative in an instant.
One such role is security personnel. Security staff can be the very first point of contact, as well as the last person a customer encounters when visiting a business and we all know how important first and last impressions are. Although they may have minimal connection to the business itself, rather external contractors hired to provide a security presence, if this person is unsmiling, unfriendly or worse rude or abrupt, this can have a detrimental impact to an otherwise pleasant experience.
Delivery drivers can also be the positive or negative icing on the customer experience cake. A friendly, knowledgeable, helpful salesperson has masterfully sold a new television or lounge suite to a customer who is excited about the delivery of their new purchase only to have their excitement shattered due to the sloppy looking, disinterested delivery person who clumsily unloaded the goods and refused to take the packaging away.
Receptionists are another example an important point of contact for clients or customers, responsible for the welcome and farewell to an office, as well other administration tasks. They play a pivotal role in the experience a customer has when utilising any of the professional services, with their demeanour, efficiency and presentation all contributing to a customer’s perception.
Other representatives that have the power to influence a customer’s experience include; installers, service technicians, door greeters, cashiers and ushers.
It is not uncommon for these types of positions to be filled by contractors or temp staff, unaware of the business’s expectations or standards on how to serve customers. Even when these roles are filled internally, they are often overlooked when it comes to the provision of customer service training, yet these roles can have an enormous impact on a customer’s overall experience and therefore, the service reputation of the business.
The words training and coaching are regularly used interchangeably. While both are vital ways to improve and develop employees, they are best used at different times, utilising different techniques.
Training is the process of instructing or teaching skill or knowledge. This may be information regarding a product, process, procedure or skills such as selling techniques.
In a workplace, training is provided to ensure employees have the necessary skills and knowledge to be able to do their jobs competently. As training is often conducted at the time employment is commenced, the term ‘in training’ or the title ‘trainee’ may be used. Training can also be provided for existing or long term employees, when new instruction or information needs to be transferred. For example, the introduction of a new policy, procedure, product or service.
Training can be delivered one or one or in a group environment. While training can be conducted on the job, it is commonly provided in a more formal manner, such as in a class room, via structured sessions or even eLearning modules.
Coaching occurs after training, once a person already has the skill or knowledge. Rather than educating or instructing as is done in training, the focus is on how the person applies that skill and knowledge on the job.
Coaching, should always be one on one, as its best tailored to an individual. It is less formal, adapting to the situation and needs of the person being coached. Providing a supportive environment in which the coach guides a person’s development through encouraging them to reflect and identify their own opportunities for improvement, is the key to effective coaching.
Training without coaching is almost doomed for failure. While training may have a short term impact on a person’s confidence and performance, this is unlikely to be sustained without ongoing coaching. Trainees must evolve into coachees, where a behavioural approach is taken to develop a plan or strategy on how they will apply the learned skills and knowledge in real life situations.
Without training, there is unlikely to be long term application of concepts learned. If a person is not encouraged to use newly learned skills and knowledge, it is quickly forgotten.
While refresher training may be provided at intervals, effective coaching is ongoing. As obstacles arise, skills develop and other factors come into play, coaching can see a person’s confidence grow, motivation levels reach an all-time high and their potential reached.
Recently, I went on my first visit to the United States of America, spending six days in Hawaii on a business conference plus leisure time. This was my first experience in a country where tipping is customary.
I was aware prior to my visit, unlike in Australia, tipping is part of everyday life in the US, understanding the low minimum wage see’s employees relying on tips to make a living. Although I knew it was custom, I was surprised to see in some cases a certain percentage automatically added to a bill. At other establishments, a gratuity amount was calculated and printed on a receipt, with the customer asked to select an option between 15%-25% on top of the total.
I was prepared to pay tips particularly in restaurants, however what I wasn’t prepared for was the poor customer service that was provided in most cases across a wide array of service areas. Retail stores, food outlets, bars, restaurants and tourist attractions, the service level overall was sub-standard.
I was completely surprised by the lack lustre approach taken by staff when serving customers. Even in high end hotels and resorts, we had to hunt down servers or wait staff to place food orders and refill drinks. One would expect in these venues, staff would be attentive and eager to increase their earning potential through providing high end service to cashed up tourists.
Sadly, I didn’t identify any outstanding service provided throughout the days we spent on the famous tourist island. Most staff were simply going through the motions, struggling to produce a smile or in some cases, basic manners.
Perhaps it was my perception or understanding of tipping in general, seeing it as a way of recognising exceptional service. Rather it seems it is an expectation regardless of the standard of service provided, making tipping less of an incentive and more like an expected subsidy of their wage paid directly by the customer.
I found myself torn, not wanting to offend or disadvantage the person by neglecting to pay a tip however, I also struggled to reward poor service.
In a location such as Hawaii with its large portion of clientele being tourists for whom tipping is not necessarily the norm, these customers need to be given even more of a reason to tip. Where the service provided is at such a level, that a customer shows their gratitude to the person who served them, because they want to not because they are expected to.
The question I’m most often asked by managers is “How do I motivate my team?” Keeping a team focused and moving towards a goal, is a pivitol part of having a successful team and business, it’s no wonder managers are eager to know how they can master the art of motivation. The answer is in the word itself, with the word motivation coming from the Latin word ‘movere’ which means to move.
First, it’s important to understand that people motivate themselves. They make conscious and unconscious choices to want to do things and achieve a goal. Therefore, the best way to encourage people to be motivated, is to create a motivational environment.
There are many things a manager can do to create this type of atmosphere. One aspect is ensuring people feel valued through encouraging team members to provide input and contribute. People also feel valued if they are recognised for their efforts. This may be through a simple thank you and/or compliment or a more formal means of recognition where relevant.
This is where it’s important to be aware that people are motivated by different things. This is very much the case when it comes to recognition. For example, some people revel in being publically recognised and made a big deal over, where as someone else would be demotivated by this approach and prefer a quiet pat on the back.
A common way of motivating people is through monetary remuneration. Bonuses and incentives have long been a means of keeping people working to achieve goals however, not everyone is money driven. Some people prefer additional responsibility and will take on additional tasks without any monetary compensation, simply because the autonomy and trust placed in them is motivation in itself.
Many people are motivated by the opportunity for self-development through training and opportunity. When people feel as if they are growing and improving, they are more inclined to be motivated.
Understanding what demotivates people is also important. Practices such as micromanaging can have a detrimental effect on the motivation of a team. People don’t want to feel they are being watched constantly, with little room to move and their creativity and personality stifled.
Overloading people with unrealistic workloads can also destroy morale and motivation, as can underloading. When people don’t have tasks that keep them moving, challenged and interested, motivation levels can take a hit.
While there is a long list of factors that lead to motivation or demotivation, the key is undoubtedly clear. A manager or leader must be ever mindful of the environment or atmosphere they are creating and making it one in which team members make a conscious choice to want to be motivated.
Whether you believe a person is born a leader, naturally having leadership attributes or, a person who has learned these skills through theory and experience, there are certainly a combination of leadership characteristics that a good leader has. These include; empathy, flexibility, being forward thinking and innovative to name a few.
There are however, three characteristics that can make a good leader, great.
A great leader is accessible and easy to approach in any situation. Their team feel comfortable to ask questions and to bring issue to their attention as they arise which can foster an open and supportive culture. If the team also feel safe to share ideas with the leader, this encourages contribution and collaboration making the team stronger as a result.
No one willingly follows a person who lacks confidence. This isn’t to be confused with being cocky or arrogant but having a certain assurance in oneself can be attractive and reassuring to a team. Of course a leader needs to remain open to feedback and input from others but showing no sign of doubt or uncertainty can boost the confidence of a team.
Great leaders are also confident and positive about situations, the future and in the people they lead. Their belief and conviction is encouraging, particularly in tough or challenging times.
There is nothing worse than being unsure or nervous about what mood or reaction one can expect from their leader on any given day. Regardless of what is happening in their personal lives or the pressure they are under, a leader’s response and reaction must always be steady and in line with the team’s values and mission. As a result, they are dependable and the team feel safe in their presence rather than walking on eggshells.
Consistency also means being fair and equal with every person within the team, regardless of their position, history or relationship with the leader. They treat everyone with the same level of respect and hold people equally accountable.
A great leader is always looking to grow and develop their skills. They understand the leadership characteristics they are personally strong and capable in and take action to improve those that may need strengthening.
There is no doubt being approachable, exuding confidence and unswerving consistency, can help build trust in a leader. Trust is a key in great leadership, without it, leadership is difficult if not impossible.
There are many reasons customers experience poor service in a retail, sales and service business including; a lack of resources, outdated policies and procedures and poor choices of behaviour made by staff to name a few. There are however, several widespread causes of the provision of poor service.
The first is a lack of training of staff in the fundamentals of customer service. Staff must be skilled in areas such as how to be polite, professional and effective communication. If they don’t have an awareness and understanding of these and other essential elements, inadequate service can be the result, simply because they don’t have the skills.
In some instances staff may be well trained however, if management are not clear on the standard of service the business expects to be provided to its customers, staff don’t know exactly what is required of them. They haphazardly provide customers with the level of service they feel comfortable with, which may or may not be at an appropriate level.
In other cases, there may be little or no accountability to these standards and are therefore disregarded by staff. Accountability includes being corrected or coached when the standards of service are not met or, when customers are not served to the level expected by the business. Accountability also includes positive feedback, recognition and/or reward when staff do a great job of serving customers well.
This leads to a major factor influencing the level of service provided to customers and that is, how the staff are treated by their managers and the business in general. If morale is low, as a result of management continuously disrespecting staff, they will have minimal enthusiasm to want to do the right thing by the business or its customers. Ultimately if staff are treated well, they are more likely to treat customers well.
As a customer, we often look at the person serving us poorly and place the blame wholly and solely on them however, consider what is behind the poor service. Do they even know what good service looks like? Have they been trained to provide quality service? Do they have clear service standards to follow and are they held accountable to standards such as being applauded when they do a great job? Lastly, are they treated respectfully by management, in a manner in which the business would like to see customers treated? If the answer is no to any of these questions, staff are not completely empowered to provide customers with a good service experience. When staff have the right tools and right the support, they are better equipped to make good customer service choices.