One of the most frustrating challenges for an owner or manager is getting their employees to consistently treat customers right. Too often, the company's customer service training program gets mediocre results and the employee-of-the-month program seems to die aa quiet death. Meanwhile, the motivational posters urging employees to be team players by delivering excellent service appear useless.
What, then, is the missing link that will bind together these and other reinforcing elements in order to create the necessary changes?
The ``golden key'' is in consistently using a system for providing your employees with positive reinforcement when they ``do right.'' But remember, having a system and not using it is no better than not having one at all.
First, identify the desired behavior and results. Both you and your employees must be tuned to the same channel if they are to provide customers with the kind of service you want delivered. Their perception of good service can be quite different from your own.
Management Consultant Tom Connellan suggests that your system include reinforcement of the desired results and behavior.
For example, when reinforcing the desired results, your comments might sound like this: ``Larry, you and your team members succeeded in achieving your projected goals for last month. Great job! Keep up the good work!''
What is important here is being specific about the results achieved. You are giving recognition to his ability and success at getting the team to work together and reach the projected goals for the month.
Your comments reinforcing desired behavior might sound like this: ``Sally, you did a good job in finding out what that last customer really wanted. By asking the right questions, you were able to help him specifically identify the type of repair he was looking for. That customer received the kind of service we want to deliver.''
Telling Sally she asked the right questions reinforced her behavior in using questions to discover what the customer really wanted. As a result, the customer received the attention he or she deserved and the right kind of service.
As one motivational expert has said: ``Never expect what you don't first inspect.'' If you want the right behavior from your employees, be sure to inspect it as they do it. This way, you can help them make the necessary adjustments.
It is vital that you continue to periodically reinforce their correct behavior. How often do you reinforce it? A good rule of thumb is a lot in the beginning and intermittently after that.
Three of the most powerful ways to reinforce behavior are:
1) One-on-one verbal ``attaboys or attagirls;''
2) Praise the individual in front of others; and,
3) ``Talk them up'' behind their back. Praise these individuals when they aren't present. (Word of your praise usually will get back to them by way of the grapevine.)
A word of caution: Be careful not to inadvertently punish the right behavior or reward the wrong.
This is illustrated in the example of the employee asking the customer questions about the type of problems his vehicle was experiencing.
If the manager were to criticize the employee for asking the customer too many questions when other customers were waiting for assistance, he would be punishing the ``right'' behavior.
If, on the other hand, the manager were to praise the employee for speeding up her assistance to the customer (not realizing that in doing so that she had neglected to ask the questions necessary to satisfy the customer) the manager would be rewarding the ``wrong'' behavior.
In conclusion, identify the type of service results and behavior you want and be sure to systematically reinforce it. Be consistent and persistent and your employees will follow through with the quality service you want them to provide.
Mr. Borg is president of Canton, Michigan-based Tom Borg & Associates, which offers consulting and training in customer service development and employee performance.