Enhancing your value proposition
By Jim Knight
I’ve never been a big fan of mediocrity. Not in society and certainly not in any portion of my life. Yet, I see it everywhere. No matter where I go—in retail, auto repair, healthcare and even hospitality—I constantly experience blah interactions with businesses. So many companies are just delivering what I believe is boring, middle-of-the-road customer service. So much so, that it actually shocks me when I experience a memory-searing, positive moment with a brand.
Beside the fact that I have taught guest service classes to literally thousands of people around the world, as a regular consumer, it pains me when I see something that could have easily been delivered in a spectacular fashion, with something as simple as a smile and an acknowledgement. Yet, for some reason, it seems that these memorable moments happen today more as an exception than the norm. It would be so easy for an organization to differentiate themselves from their competitors from a service standpoint because so many others are not even trying. We could blame our service woes on the global environment, point to the lack of qualified talent or even complain about the work ethic of today’s workforce, but the reality is, we allowed it to happen…regardless of the excuse we use.
As you can imagine, I tend to get fired up when I am around organizations that allow this type of blasé service to occur—mostly because I know it is 100% preventable. I also could talk about forgettable (or even poor) service all day long and even provide some pointers on how to address it with the guests, but I’m convinced that it would only be the by-product that we would be addressing. If you really want to do battle against the mundane, we’ve got to go deeper into the internal company culture and start earlier in the Employee Life Cycle process. To truly make a difference in your company’s service approach, you’ve got to revolutionize your Recruiting, Onboarding and Training practices.
So, here are 6 high-level philosophies I would consider, for any business to enhance your long-term service value proposition…and not surprisingly, it’s all about building a better team:
1. Develop a crystal clear, brand-specific recruiting strategy. Customizing your recruiting approach is essential to getting the best start. It is near impossible to train poorly-selected employees. You cannot train a person to smile or have a great personality. And we need these traits in people who are in the “service” business. Instead, you should look to build an “army of giants” around you, who embody these characteristics. To effectively do this, you need to match your incoming talent to the organization. This pairing includes all three C’s: Competence, Character and Culture. If you hire people that are missing one or two of these critical C’s, then you will have inevitable problems. Everything from your recruiting ads to well-developed hiring profiles to a rigorous interview process should be geared to truly reflect, attract and match the candidates you want to embody your organizational culture.
2. Ensure leaders are singing off the same song sheets. Making sure that your managers are communicating the same message to all potential candidates solves a lot of issues later on. Start with the Mission Statement. Have it represented in full force during every interview and refer to it during discussions with potential hires. If you want to ensure leadership is on the same page, conduct multiple interviews with each candidate, with separate managers, utilizing different Interview Guides. If your leaders don’t know and agree on the things that are important up front, then you won’t ever get people on the same page.
3. Be the chocolate — create employment differentiation. Guests rate companies on a REX scale: Reality versus Expectations. To earn a positive rating, we have to exceed expectations. And since guests have so many choices (and such short memories), we have to earn positive ratings every time, with every guest, to stay top-of-mind. If your organization is like every other company out there, you’ll be more easily impacted by competitive pressures. It’s better to be different. It won’t make everyone happy but it will make some people delighted and committed in ways you can’t buy. This includes some of the direct and indirect benefits that employees receive when working for your brand. If this proposition doesn’t scare you and can be executed, you should take advantage of the differentiation and market this as a competitive edge. In a world of vanilla ice cream, people need a little chocolate in their lives. Be the chocolate.
4. Hire only rock stars, not lip-synchers. The expression “hire for personality, train for skill” is popular for a reason: unique experiences are created by unique people. Technical skills can easily be taught, but if you are looking to deliver something great, you’re going to need a great deliverer. Understand people’s strengths and hire them in the right positions in your organization. The goal should be to figure out what people are great at and then put them in a role where they can succeed. By doing that, you’ll help employees contribute their best. As painful as it might be, you should hold off filling the open position for as long as it takes to ensure that you have the right talent for the job. Suck it up and hire only the top talent, not someone who is simply there for the paycheck and is going through the motions when you’re around.
5. Serve the brand kool-aid through compelling storytelling. Understanding the compelling story of what you’re doing, to the extent that you can impact and influence others into committing to the mission, is a wonderful trait—and one that is sorely missing in many brands. Great storytelling is a lost art. It may sound easy when you’re a brand that has a rich and storied heritage like Nike, Apple, Starbucks or Hard Rock, but figuring out exactly how to tell the meaning behind what you’re doing as a company really does matter to employees. They want to be a part of something bigger than themselves. To create brand ambassadors, they need a great story to belong to. Take time to think about the storyline, the associated collateral and the facilitator to bring your company’s culture to life.
6. Communicate the language that employees dream. Building your training and communication pieces around how your employees communicate is critical to having universal understanding across the organization. I grew up on comic books and always felt like I could communicate better by having a visual representation of the story or information. Why not produce your training print materials in this fashion? Respect for individuals means respecting the ways in which they learn. Knowing that most people learn best visually, it makes total sense why an Airline Safety Card is designed the way it is. It’s why IKEA furniture instructions and LEGO toy manuals are so globally effective. In order to have impact on a workforce that has grown up with television, internet and iPads, your communication collateral needs to be developed with graphics, heavy photos, bullet points, less text, generous white space, some edginess (and maybe even QR codes)…if you have any hope of garnering attention and retention. And that’s just print materials. The future will be all about technology and experiential learning. Think about how the 21-year old grew up, absorbed information and how they dream at night…then revolutionize your training and communication methods to match.
The six philosophies I provided here—around recruiting, interviewing, onboarding, storytelling, communicating and providing differentiation—are but a sampling of the list of things you should consider if you are interested in amping up your organization’s service culture. There are many programs and processes that a leader could implement to produce immediate external results, but the smart, strategic leaders are the ones that understand that to develop long term, sustainable growth you need committed brand ambassadors. It’s an internal approach to creating positive customer experiences. Unless you’re a stand-alone owner in a business that does not require any other humans to get results, we need great people—rock stars—to make that happen. Rock stars are the ones that create memories.
To hear more thought-provoking ideas like these, I will be speaking at the 2015 Annual Convention in San Antonio in April, where I will share proven best practices to assist you in creating a “culture that rocks”.
I hope you come hear what all the noise is about.