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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Can an Unhappy employee provide Happy service?

In the corporate world the word Happy makes people uncomfortable.  Executives and managers are more comfortable with terms like employee satisfaction, or employee engagement.  It seems to defluffy the experienced emotion, but it really boils down to the Happiness factor of your employees.  Are they Happy enough to provide your customers or clients outstanding service no matter what?  Do they have the ‘engagement level’, or as I like to say enough Internal Happiness, let go of their personal and professional challenges, for even a few hours, and focus only on the immediate customer?

THE SITUATION:  The Customer Guru has been out of circulation as I was traveling.  I travel quite a bit, so I engage frequently with all sorts of hospitality service providers.

I rented a car from Hertz at the Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport on Saturday, February 5th.  We had been in Phoenix a few days, but reserved a car for the final portion of our trip.   Purposely, we went late in the evening, after 9pm, for pick-up to avoid a long line.  That was a missed strategy, as when we arrived there was a long line of at least 20 customers and at first only 2 agents to assist this large group.   From the looks on the employee faces, they did not look like engaged, or happy employees.  That is understandable as there were many people, and it was late at night.  Everyone was tired.

At first ten, and then 20 minutes, of the wait more agents came on line.  This is a good thing.  The line is moving faster, customers seem to be moving quickly through the car rental transaction.  If memory serves me four or five agents ended up on the line.

It is our turn.  Our agent was one of the unhappiest employees I have ever encountered in the service industry.  His face displayed no sign of welcome, hospitality, or even ambivalence.  It was a face of “This place sucks, and I don’t want to be here.”  Renting a car is not a painful transaction, but this employee’s attitude seemed like every transaction or question we asked was a bother to him.  We had difficulty understanding him, as he was mumbling his words and speaking quickly. 

Funny enough, I was very happy with the car, but I cannot shake the feeling this employee left me about the Hertz organization.  As a leader that is something you should really lose sleep over.  If I doubt your service, then I don’t need much of a push to go to your competitor.

THE CUSTOMER SERVICE GURU SOLUTION:  There could be many solutions.

1.  My favorite is a Proactive Solution.  My guess is my agent felt like no one cared what he was doing or about him as a individual.

Your managers on duty should not allow the environment on the line degrade to this level.  They should know every employee’s general demeanor, i.e. happiness level, at the beginning of their shift.  Throughout the shift they should be encouraging employees, offering praise, and if it is a rush, be out there working the line.   DO NOT HIDE IN YOUR OFFICE OR CUBICLE!

Reactive Solutions involve the shift manager or supervisor.

2. Immediately, pull the employee aside and simple ask if they are OK.  If the employee says yes, then be clear his behavior is unacceptable, but be kind.  For example, “The way you worked with that customer everything does not seem OK.  It’s not like you.  I know you are usually much more outgoing and caring than that.”

3. If this is a chronic problem with this employee, then you have made a bad hire and need to respectfully and legally find a way to remove this person from a frontline position.  You are literally losing revenue due to this person’s unconscious actions.

4.  If it is an isolated incident, and they are having a bad day or a temporary personal issue, there are choices to make.   Choices include sending them home for the day so they can work through their issue, taking them off line for a short break so they can gather themselves, or other creative solutions. 

As a leader, you must evaluate each choice's risks and balance having a fair policy to all your employees.  If you let someone go home, you better have an answer when someone asks, “John got to go home, but not me.  That is not fair.”   This goes to having trust between you and your staff.  But that is an article for another day.

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