By Tom Shay
The media makes a point to tell us we are at record employment levels. Most people are thrilled to hear these reports. But these same reports represent challenges.
Where are you going to find a potential employee as your business grows? When an employee says they need to talk with you, do you break out in a sweat? Are you concerned they are going to tell you they are leaving? Are you already thinking and wondering if you are going to have to consider giving them a raise to keep them from leaving? (Hopefully they are only going to tell you they have a doctor or dentist appointment in the next couple of days.)
You can, however, do some things very differently from other businesses that will produce some awesome results. These changes will diminish the number of employees you lose. The changes will also increase the quality of the people working for you, as well as the quality of service your customers experience. You will surprisingly find a higher quality of person applying for any jobs you have because of the business now having a better working atmosphere.
First, how many of you provide “great” customer service? What about even “good” customer service? Now, do you have an ongoing staff education program? My expectation, and experience from having asked this question, is that few businesses can answer that question with a “yes.”
Now, how can I believe the answer to the first question is “yes” if the answer to the second question is “no”? Having great employees and providing a great customer service experience requires a commitment that begins at the top and filters throughout your business.
Take a moment to write out the kind of employee you want; describe with detail the salesperson, technicians, support staff and any other positions within your business.
As you share it with your staff, you will likely find that your best employees will volunteer to help you provide additional detail. Those employees who are borderline will likely just nod their heads and listen to what you have to say – not necessarily accepting your ideas. Remember this experience as you move forward.
Begin the transition by introducing a staff education program that includes all your employees. This will likely be the most challenging aspect, as you are now requiring additional effort, and time, of your employees. In the beginning, you can simply call it a “staff meeting.”
My experience in getting “buy in” is to ask the most negative employees for their assistance in creating these meetings. Finding some challenge in the business that annoys this employee, which can be resolved by staff meetings, will give them a reason for participating.
Staff meetings work best when they are bi-weekly and held after hours. One hour in length is all you will want for these meetings. The difference in these and what most dealers call a staff meeting is these will not be “gripe sessions.”
Because you are the individual starting this change to your business, you will be the leader for the first few. After your employees experience the consistent sequence to the staff meetings, you will have each and every employee taking their turn in rotation to create and lead the staff meetings.
You will want to put on paper and distribute to each employee the agenda for the staff meeting. This demonstrates each session has been mapped out, and they can know what to expect. Your first meeting will be light on content and heavier on the purpose and format of future meetings.
One of the first items to cover is that this is an education program and not an employee training event. Training tells people what to do; education engages people to use their brains to resolve challenges and take advantage of opportunities. You will know this part is being achieved when you find that employees are no longer bringing every question and every challenge for you to answer. That is, unless you enjoy making $5 decisions all day long and taking work things home at night that only you can handle.
With each meeting, the bulk will be on one item. It may be a new product line, a new item, or a lesson of how to improve sales skills, increase closings and learn how to sell up and make add-on sales.
The secondary part of each meeting will deal with ways you can improve how your employees work together, as well as improving the experience your customers have with you and your employees. As a group, you will create each of these “tools.” They will be in two groups – policies and procedures. The neat part is that your employees will be creating the tools as they decide how they can better work together and with your customers.
The policies your employees will be creating are the guidelines of how they will work together. You likely need a policy that deals with how your employees are to dress for work. You will find the employees that dress the best will be leading the conversation, and then writing the policy. They want to look sharp for your customers, and they want the rest of their coworkers to do likewise.
They will likely create a policy dealing with being absent from work. It will outline the importance of being on the job and the inconvenience it creates for employees and customers when someone is late or missing.
The number of policies and their content will vary from dealer to dealer, but you should lean heavily on what your employees have to say.
Procedures – again, created by your employees – will be the items such as how to write a special order for a customer, and how to handle an inbound phone call. Your best employees will be active in this, as they are likely tired of having to clear up the details of their less organized coworkers.
At the end of each class, a written test is to be given to each employee. Ten essay-style questions work best. A key component of the test is having one question that deals with something not covered in class. Everyone is told about this with an explanation it is his or her responsibility to talk with the teacher for that week to discuss the question. Experience shows that most frequently there are additional questions being asked.
While initially these questions will be asked of you, think about the experience as your newest employee is being asked for help by experienced employees. This is because with each employee teaching a class, they have several weeks to research their topics and prepare for the session. The newest employee has taken the time to get the most current information to share with his or her coworkers.
In preparation, each employee will bring their material to you several days before the class to show you the results of their efforts and their plan for the meeting. You will have the opportunity to help mold their thinking and ways of presenting information. This will show itself further as you watch them interacting with customers and coworkers.
One last detail of the staff meeting: The tests are handed into the employee leading the meeting for grading within 48 hours of the class. This employee is to grade the tests and share with you for further evaluation and a discussion between you and the employee leading the class.
At the next staff meeting, this same employee is to hand out the graded tests. I suggest a reward for employee answers graded at 90 percent or “A.” Why such a high level to earn the reward? Because the whole reason for adding this to your business is because you want to give “great” customer service, and great customer service does not earn a “B.”
Tom Shay of Profits Plus Solutions, Inc., is the fourth generation of his family to have owned a power equipment dealership. In addition to this column, he has written 12 books on business management, a book on vendor/dealer relations, and a college textbook on small business financials and business planning. He frequently speaks at trade shows and conferences for manufacturers and wholesalers. For more information, visit www.profitsplus.org.