You can dream, create, design and build the most wonderful place in the world…but it requires people to make the dream a reality.
-- Walt Disney
A client recently required a half-million dollars of liability insurance before we could sign a training contract. Time was of the essence. Based on a friend's recommendation, I contacted Joni Ginno of State Farm. She instantly moved into overdrive. Within an hour she had located a policy that would fulfill my specific needs. Within what seemed like only moments, her staff had completed all the necessary paperwork and by days end I had verification of the required coverage. Impressive? Yes! The staff was friendly, eager to respond to questions and genuinely concerned with my needs and issues. It was also apparent they worked well as a unified team. After the dust cleared Joni and I sat down over a cup of coffee to chat. As a customer service trainer, I wanted to know how she had developed her of business and staff in order to provide exceptional service.
Through the years, Ms. Ginno knew that in order to succeed, she would need to create a positive team and customer service approach to business. She realized early, that the quality of her organization's customer service must match exactly with her vision for the business. Joni would only succeed at accomplishing her business vision and mission if all of her staff members were in the loop and working well together. To accomplish that, her staff became her number one customers. When we discussed the various steps and techniques she used to develop her cohesive team, she shared the following:
Create an action plan together. Every business must have a mission, a vision for the future and an action plan to make it happen. It is important that everyone be involved in the development process. People want to know their opinion matters. When staff is involved in the decision making process, they buy-in to making it happen.
Modify your plan regularly. Action plans will not do a business any good unless they are constantly reviewed and updated. What maybe applicable today very well could be outdated six months from now. Be willing to make your action plans an ever-changing working draft that is reviewed by everyone every week.
Create a positive work environment. Let the staff provide input and make choices that directly affect them. It can be as simple as letting them select the radio station or music you listen to. Request their input when selecting office furniture, computer systems or software. They will probably be using it more then you and it is important they feel comfortable in the environment they spend more waking time in then their home. Creativity and positive customer focus are all byproducts of a positive work environment.
Hold staff meetings off-site. Take a break. Meet for breakfast at a local coffee house. Go out to lunch together. Don't allow staff meetings to become mundane. New surroundings stimulate creativity and out of the box thinking.
Communicate regularly. More often then not, organizations fail to complete their vision because communication between the owner or administration and the frontline staff is poor. As issues or items come up, address them don't wait for staff meetings. Keep your door open and always be ready to listen.
Remind the staff how important they are and express your appreciation. A verbal pat on the back is always welcome and much appreciated. Reinforce your appreciation with a few extras now and then like unexpected flowers, donuts or a pizza for lunch.
Create mutual trust and respect. If you expect the staff to have respect for and to trust the customers, then you must provide an environment that will help them develop those abilities and skills. Trust and respect are created and developed when you are supportive, honest and accountable for your actions, decisions and mistakes.
Provide incentives. Establish monthly goals as a team. If staff completes and accomplishes their goals, then give them something special. It can be a massage, dues for a month at the local health spa, a round of golf or concert tickets. Make it something they want so they become excited about completing their monthly goals.
Support their professional growth and development. Staff development is just as important for the frontline as it is for management. An investment in their professional growth is an investment in your organization. Establish training needs with the staff on a regular basis. Make completion of training programs an important part of their annual evaluation.
Honor individual strengths. One staff member may be particularly skilled at dealing with irate customers while another has exceptional telephone skills. Realize that each employee has special natural abilities and strengths they bring to the job. Capitalize on those strengths by shifting leadership for projects or to handle specific client needs.
Solve problems together. For the most part, people want to be challenged. Employees want to be part of the solution process. By involving staff in the problem solving process you indicate you trust their judgment and respect their opinion.
Develop shared accountability. High-performance teams establish high standards and goals and hold themselves accountable. People are willing to set those standards if they feel everyone is working together and toward the same vision in a supportive environment. People are more willing to help each other when goals are shared and the environment is supportive.
Ask questions often. As a manager it should be your objective to constantly ask questions in order to improve the working conditions and the chances of your team accomplishing your shared vision. Some of the questions you need to ask include: "What can I do to make your work life better?" "What if…?" "Have we considered…?" "What are your suggestions regarding…?" "How can we change to better serve the customer?"
Set an example. A team is only as good as it's leader. A manager must constantly set the example of how business is to be conducted. How you treat your staff, is how the staff will treat the customer. Be positive, upbeat and care about your staff. After all, they are your most valuable assets.
Have fun everyday. People want to work in an environment that is not only challenging, but fun as well. Add humor to situations when it is appropriate. Encourage the circulations of cartoons that emphasize a point. Be willing to laugh at yourself. It indicates to the staff you also make mistakes and establishes an environment that encourages staff to risk without fear.
Often businesses and organizations fail to develop and invest in their most important customer and asset, their employees. If you hire will and spend time developing your staff and creating an environment that encourages creativity, risk taking, trust and respect, then your customers will ultimately benefit. Your employees are your most valuable assets. Remember to respond to their needs just like you would a client in order to develop a climate that resonates with customer care.
If you have special techniques you use to develop lifetime customers, please forward your suggestions to Eileen at Trainstars@aol.com.
Copyright © 2001 Eileen O. Brownell. All Rights Reserved.
Eileen Brownell is a business visionary who works with organizations that want repeat customers and with people who want to provide outstanding service. She provides seminars and keynote addresses on customer service, communications, conflict resolution and team building. Eileen is the author of 12 Secrets of Unforgettable Customer Care. She can be reached at 888-324-6100, Trainstars@aol.com or view her services at www.eileenbrownell.com