Whether in person, on the phone, or during a chat session, great interactions generally result in loyal customers and crap interaction can kill a brand. A major factor influence customer perceptions are the attitude of the people with whom you interact.

The process

When we hire a new employee, we know we should “hire for attitude and train for skill.” Unfortunately, when we are behind the 8-ball and have too few people to handle the work, we hire for skill because they are easier to get up to speed.  Solve the short term-term problem and then worry about the future.  This means we wind-up living with our hiring mistakes. The new hires become “to valuable to let go,” even if they really piss off your customers.

Assuming you hire people with a good attitude, you still have to do some heavy lifting to turn them into stars. Here is the high level progression of these employees:

Shows up

You hire the new employee, agree on a pay plan, explain the medical insurance and other benefits, and basically attend to all the housekeeping steps.  Then you introduce the newbie to her supervisor and co-workers. That goes well because they had a welcome coffee and donut session. The newbie was pleased and the old-timers are trying to keep this one because they are drowning and need some relief.

A little training and the newbie is turned loose on the customers. Because she is very pleasant, she can offset some lack of knowledge.  She starts feeling good about the job and decides to make a 3-month commitment before deciding if she stays or treats it as a temporary position.

Engaged

After a while the newbie attends some in-house training courses, gets to meet other employees, and learns about the history and products of the company.  She is feeling good and believes she made a good decision to stay.

During the same time, the customers she deals with are starting to feel comfortable with her and start asking more and more difficult questions.  She is now feeling inadequate and is second-guessing her decision to commit to the company. She is now at the crossroads and is starting to think, “should I stay or should I go!”  Then a miracle happens.

Empowered

The not-so-newbie’s manager caller her into his office and said to her, “Susie, you are doing great. Customers love dealing with you and your co-workers believe you are a dream. You have the right attitude and care about our company.  So, we are trying an experiment and want you to be one of the first people involved.”  Naturally, she was surprised and had a million questions, but all she said was “tell me more.”

It turns out that the experiment involved providing some additional training to customer-facing employees and then encouraging them to do what ever it took, within a few broad limits, to solve the customer’s problem. In other words, she would be empowered to do the right thing. Her face broke into a huge smile and she knew she had found a home.  As time went by, her customers sensed that something had changed because their dealings with the company had less hassle and better outcomes. And they purchased more and recommended the company to their friends.

Sound too good to be true?

In the early 90’s, I took over a service department that was under staffed and stressed out with to much work and to many rules. Without much fanfare, I decided to really empower my group. I brought the field people into headquarters and got them and the inside folks into a room and said “from now on, when you have a customer problem, do what you think is the right thing for the customer and us.  If you are not sure, picture the lead article on both your hometown newspaper and the paper in the town where we had our offices.  If you are happy with the outcome, then just do it.  If you are really not sure, or if you think the cost may be to much, then call me and we will figure it out together.”

I also had the same discussion with each new employee we hired over the years.  We never had any major disconnects and no one ever got criticized for spending extra money or for going the extra mile for their customer.

That policy is still in effect today and many of the people who heard my talk are still employed in the company.  Sales have been great, repeat business levels are high; the people still know they are empowered.  And it shows in their individual performance.

The moral of this true story is that by encouraging good people to do good to take care of the customers the business will prosper!  Be brave!