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Friday, August 26, 2011

Do People Like to Work?

Do people like to work? Hmmm, the first response is, “Of course, people don’t like to work.” Then why do people work? It is to receive compensation that further advances other aspects of their lives. Well, at least that is why I believe most people work, especially front line employees.

So if people work to receive compensation, and know that is why employers are paying them, then why do I observe more and more people actually working less while on the job? Somewhere along the way the unwritten contract between employer and employee seems to have diluted to employee’s feeling work is simply showing up, that talking to coworkers, ignoring the customer, or using technology to do personal things on the job is something the employer should still consider work.

Here are three examples of the phenomena. Recently, I had jury duty at the Orange County courthouse in central Florida. While waiting to be screened at security I saw the sheriff, who should have been observing the security process, texting during my wait. 


Second example, when I worked at a call center I noticed many front line agents using the texting capabilities of their phones between calls, and there was no business reason to even have their phones out while waiting for the next call. 

Final example, my husband called three separate Footlocker stores to inquire about a soccer shoe he saw online. Every call ended abruptly with the store employee rudely answering the phone, assuming they knew what he wanted, and the employee ended the call within one minute. The employees reacted as if my husband was bothering them. 

Why does that happen? Primarily it is boredom, the repetition of the job. 


Busy people have no time to do anything but be engaged at work. But not all jobs require the employee to be ‘on’ from start to finish of the shift. By the nature of many front line positions there is downtime between customer interactions, so without direction employees find other ways to pass the time. Second, it is a lack of supervision. No one would dream of doing anything but work, or the appearance of work, while a supervisor is nearby. But it is not realistic to think a supervisor has the capacity to observe employees every moment of the shift, nor is it efficient.

Finally, it is the unwritten contract between employee and employer. 


Everyone knows that they should be only doing work at work, but it seeps into the culture of what one can get away with, and what the employee feels they “deserve” in relation to compensation or benefits. For example, the employee in their minds are not compensated fairly, so they will make up the compensation in form of not giving 100% on the job effort. No matter what you tell an employee in training, if they see it is not the reality in the environment, the environment will win.

I will also add that this is a behavior I see salaried folks demonstrate as well. 

This baffles me to no end. I have seen several intelligent employees practice this behavior, and I have observed many employees not seem to give a care about customers when they are in their very presence. Put aside me being a customer, but at least acknowledge me as a human being! The main question is how do you change your culture so this is not the accepted norm, when this is the accepted practice in society?

The Customer Service Guru Solution

My main thought to combat this is to always have a set of expectations for employees during customer interactions, face to face and on the phone. In my examples, the sheriff should know that it was completely unacceptable to be doing anything but observing the population being screened. I know it is boring, but anyone wishing to do harm is betting on that boredom. With the Footlocker example, the employees should have set expectations how to properly answer and personalize a phone call. In the call center example there is always something to do that would add value to the business. Finally, have supervisors spot check employees during these interactions.

I also believe employers will get nowhere if this is pursued with a punitive mindset. That only creates a culture of distrust and negativity, which employees will devise even more sophisticated methods not to work. Create a culture that shows employees are appreciated, and compensate accordingly, for giving 100% effort every minute of the working day.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Customer Service Theorem #1

Customer Service Theorem #1

The less complex the customer transaction, then the easier it is to provide excellent customer service.

My blog leans towards poor service scenarios that I experience as I navigate daily through the world. But these are not isolated incidents. I receive service multiple times a day, from multiple channels, and most of it ranges in the middle. I am not “Wow”ed, what most service providers are aiming for, but much of it is not drastically poor either.

There seems to be commonalities in service experiences, and I will make a very non-scientific foray into the world of theorems to isolate my ideas why.

Theorem #1

I noticed the simpler the customer contact and/or transaction, the easier it is for the service provider to provide better customer service. Maybe more importantly to your bottom-line, the simpler the transaction the easier it is to effectively execute service recovery.

For example on the simple end of the scale, I am at my local McDonald’s quite often. My hubby and I can’t seem to refuse the $1 menu! (Brilliant, Marketing Team!) One evening we arrived around 8pm, and I ordered a cup of decaf coffee. It's risky to order coffee so late in the day, but I took my chances. The manager on duty proactively told me she would brew me a fresh pot and bring it to me. Did she have to do this? Absolutely not. It was a nice touch, and unexpected.  Cost to McDonald's in labor and time was minimal.

At the same McDonald’s but separate visit, I was incorrectly charged. I spoke a short word to the front line employee to state the problem, who then quickly grab the manager. Within two minutes my money was refunded. There was no argument or even an investigation if I was actually charged incorrectly, the refund was just done. Even if I had been in error, that $2 they refunded continues to make me a loyal customer. Cost again to McDonald's in labor and time was minimal. 

On the other end of the spectrum, in a Delta airline ticket transaction to do something simple seems to be almost too much for any of the front line employees to deliver quickly, and forget about the ‘wow’. Once it took me at least four phone calls to make an emergency plane reservation, and yet another trail of emails weeks after the travel date to rectify the error in the booking.  Cost in labor and resources to Delta, since I spent over 10 minutes on each phone call, I guess would run into hundreds of dollars.

I have seen or experienced similar situations in real estate, timeshare, cruises, cable companies, etc.

So what is the difference?

Well, there is not a lot of risk in dollars or efficiency loss to an organization like McDonald’s to go out of their way for each contact and to immediately correct customer errors. My price point per transaction is approximately $5 and my time of contact with each worker is no more than 5 minutes, and that is even long.

Once the transaction becomes complex, the risk to the organization is much larger. There are rules and legalities to govern the transaction. But I also see less empowerment of the front line employee to simply fix common sense errors. I also find that most call center employees are not very sure of what their companies provide, their rules, or the leeway they have to correct them.  Employees are just scared.

What I find with call centers is they hide quite a bit behind the “That’s our policy,” even when the policy does not apply to my situation. They just don’t know what the policies are.

Why This Happens
Once the job becomes more complex, to learn the job requires a great investment in technology training during the onboarding experience. The need for the employee to learn the technology quickly supersedes the soft skill need to teach them how to think, or truly understand the polices that govern the technology. Everyday an employee is in training is a day that employee is a cost to the operations. But is this short-term benefit for long-term risk?

One way to combat this need to get them on the floor versus knowing what they are doing, is arm them with the basis to get them up and running, but have a continuous education plan in place for the more complex nuances of their business. In a perfect world training is continuous, but in reality we all know training is seen as an investment, not a revenue generator.

I would argue if you make the proper, realistic timeline, for how much an employee can comprehend and effectively plan their training, you are generating revenue by decreasing customer complaints, decreasing handle times, and decreasing turnover of your employees.

What organization, and by extension stockholders, wouldn't want that?