Back to Work
Conway Daily Sun September 15, 2010
By Michael Kline
Back from vacation, back from lunch, or back from the future, getting back to work is usually seen as a negative comment with undertones that involve drudgery and, well – work! However, properly placed and used with the right attitude, the phrase “back to work” might just be the most profitable phrase you can say.
In this back to school, back to work season, most people are thinking less about vacation and time off and more about, that which pays the bills and builds their futures. It’s easy to think about that Sunday night feeling of having to get back to work, but what about during the work day? You take a short break to get a coffee – is that two minutes, five minutes, or ten minutes? Do you sit and visit over coffee for your break or grab the coffee and get “back to work”, nursing the coffee at your desk? Of course, some jobs require the full break experience, and are not appropriate to have drinks at the actual work site, but I hope you can see the point I’m trying to make. When you are interrupted by a co-worker who wants to socialize, you can say “I’d love to hear all about that, but I have to get back to work”. If you take lunch away from your work station (I hear some people do), then do you ever get up ten minutes early and say “I’ve got to get back to work”? Upon receiving a personal phone call, you can end it politely with, “I’ve got to get back to work”. I imagine most people could say “back to work” 5-10 times a day and double their productivity. If you double your productivity, could you double your income?
Your employer probably won’t give you a 100% raise tomorrow, but in time, you cannot help but double your income. Down south, they say “get-r-done”, but whatever you call it, this get “back to work” habit will make you one of the most noticeably productive people in the company. That is almost always accompanied by advancement, even if you decide to go elsewhere to take advantage of your greatly increased value.
Now if doubling your value has you intrigued, you may be wondering if it really works. Here’s the thing – being known as the one who always has to get “back to work” means you need to always have a pile of work to do. Most people actually don’t – well they do, but they can’t identify a piece of work to do at any given moment. Other employees will wonder what you have to do that’s so much more important than their work – you can create the difference by planning better. If you start the day by simply making a quick “to do” list you can constantly be getting back to work and tackling the list. If you have to sit down and re-start your brain after every interruption with a what-should-I-do-now approach, you may as well stay on break. Having to think about what you should do next is as big a time-waster as socializing. Ironically, the more you accomplish, the better you feel about the work and yourself, and work becomes far less work-like.
So the secret of the day for doubling your value is an old adage you’ve heard a thousand times – make your plan and work your plan. The trick to turning that adage into reality is to start with baby steps – today you can do this – you don’t need to take a class on making plans. The plan is, a to-do list, and getting it done is, simply executing the list. So, back to work, back to work, back to work. Surely, you’re reading this paper before or after work, possibly at the Met over a great local-roasted coffee – fine. Now get back to work!
Who Wants Their Job?
Conway Daily Sun, September 1,2010
by Michael Kline
I confess. I spend more time in retail stores than a Hollywood fashinista. Of course, I don’t push a peeka-doodle through the mall in a baby carriage, and I seldom buy anything. Most of my time in stores is research. I wander stores at home and when away, looking for ideas, studying displays, prices, lighting, styles, selling techniques, store policies, store layouts, counting employees to estimate store sales, counting ceiling tiles (to estimate square footage) and all sorts of geeky things that normal people would never think about. So when I have occasion to actually shop for myself, as I did recently at our local outlet mall, I have more fun that I probably should.
Let me issue this disclaimer before I start my diatribe about retailers – surely, people have occasionally (key word occasionally) experienced frustration at my own stores, surely I have occasionally committed retail no-nos in front of customers myself over the years, so I don’t like to throw stones from my own glass house. However, I see an epidemic out there! Last week, I decided to take advantage of the seasons colossal sales and buy myself some “back to school” clothes at ridiculous bargain prices. I must say, I see why people travel from far and wide for the bargains – at these prices, it’s cheaper to be well dressed than it is to go naked! I started at Banana Republic – the only store I will mention by name, because it was the only over-all positive experience. I escaped being greeted (I think most people agree with me, that while it’s rude to not get greeted, we’re thankful when we aren’t). I was recognized by the cashier who politely made me feel important as he took my money (what little they charged). Next store - no greeting (so far so good). Eventually someone asked me if I was finding what I was looking for – I lied, saying I was; since she couldn’t help me anyway, why even talk about it. As I’m browsing, I hear all about the work schedule. It would appear they are short staffed, and one employee has too many hours and is not happy about having so much work. According to the gossip behind the counter, the manger had better pay attention if she wants to keep this staff – people can’t work every day you know! As a customer, a store owner, and a consultant, I hate hearing employees talk about how much they hate their work, or how they have too much work. Tell it to the folks in the unemployment line that would give their left arm for your air conditioned job folding sweaters. I recommend she get one warning – next offense would be immediate termination for complaining about her work in front of a store full of customers. On the other hand, maybe the employee has never been taught how to act. Ultimately, it is always management’s fault, be it for poor staffing or the lack of training. Come to think about it, I remember my experience at this same store a few months ago when I was exchanging something. On that visit, two cashiers took turns not knowing how to handle an even exchange or to be polite in the process. There are so few men’s clothing stores I like here, or I would never go back. It’s sad to see small and independent stores struggling and working so hard to compete, when the big name store is successful not because of their work, but rather, in spite of their work.
This pattern continued – three stores in a row, all had multiple employees standing behind the counter, all complaining about too many hours on the schedule. This is where it gets amazing – three stores, all were over-staffed enough to have people with so little to do, they could stand around complaining about how they are understaffed and have too many hours! I know it is back to school shopping season, but if you can’t celebrate busy season, you probably should not work in retail. Human decency requires that if you agree to take a job, then you show some loyalty to the company that pays for your food, your children’s clothing, the roof over your head, etc. If you have a grievance, share it only with the proper channels, not other employees, and certainly not customers. If that means biting your tongue, then bite! The day you can’t show that appreciation, you should quit.
So now that I leave three stores in a row, unable to find anyone who actually wants their job, or my money, I feel like spending less. I did spend some money in each store, but I didn’t enjoy it, and I don’t want to go back to them any time soon. How can that be good for business?!
So lessons learned from this – First, never pay full retail for a sweater. Next, let’s review our own work habits and personalities. Let’s listen to ourselves and our staff with critical ears to make sure we aren’t offending anyone who contributes to our livelihood - the customer, the company, the supplier, the employees, the landlord – basically if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything. Wow, with advice like this, I could teach seminars! Seriously, isn’t everything we need to instill in our workplace that basic? The complexity comes from figuring out how to implement such basic ideas into reality. I recommend you see your local professional entreprenologist for assistance. This is basic, yet difficult and so terribly important.
Where Customer Service is Hiding
Conway Daily Sun August 11, 2010
People, Environment and Systems Make the Difference
By Michael Kline
I've recently received several requests to create customer service training programs for area businesses. I dig a little deeper to learn exactly what my client wants. So far, no two prospects define customer service training the same way. So how do we teach our staff that which we cannot define? I like to break customer service solutions into three major categories; people, environment, and systems.
First, the old-fashioned, stereotypical "teach my people how to act" program. In researching the latest thinking, it's no surprise that all the best research and writing doesn't really say anything new. Now if you're like me (old) and you've been hearing the same lessons since 1976, keep in mind that your staff was born as recently as 1994 - this isn't old material to them, but at the same time, don't expect to impress them with your company's old black and white film strip on the matter!
In spite of the demand for "something new", it is, and should be, pretty basic material, as the tenants of maintaining customer relationships hasn't changed over the years. We don't need "something new"; we just need to actually implement the old training, instead of learning it intellectually, while thinking we actually do it, when we really don't. So yes, there is great value in teaching how to greet customers, how to make and keep promises, how to handle difficult customers, how to remove obstacles, and how to wow customers simply by using key words and phrases that tell customers you care. This may seem basic, but until it is taught, it is not learned, and most people are not taught these skills at home or in school; this makes it the employers' role. It is vitally important, the easiest and least expensive to implement, and produces the most amazing and measurable results instantly.
Second, we need to create an environment where doing things well is a way of life. Sometimes we call this the company culture, but be careful. Too often clichés about being like a big family, or everyone being close friends creates such a pleasant work environment, that it is mistaken for doing things well and providing a high level of service. In my view, contrary to popular belief, happy employees do not contribute more, but rather, contributing employees are happier employees. Things that make employees happy in the work environment on the surface, do not necessarily make them more productive, or have more respect or concern for the customers, the employer, or even themselves. The satisfaction of contributing in a meaningful way and to be a part of achieving a worthwhile goal is far more powerful than most “carrots and sticks” we try to exert upon our staff. My suggested solution is to invent a culture of including staff in the creation and execution of company goals. This is a complex process involving the development and capitalization of passion and talent, focus and alignment, and constant communication. It will be painful, tedious, frustrating, exciting, uplifting, frightening and rewarding – this is the kind of “working on your business, not in your business” that separates entrepreneurs from the merely self-employed. Truly changing your service environment may require wholesale change in everything you do and everyone involved.
Finally, our own systems, policies and processes may be killing us. Let me explain. Customer service permeates the company – every employee, in every profession, from the front line to the loading dock, to IT or night janitor needs to understand their position exists for one purpose - the acquisition and maintenance of customers. Therefore, our systems and processes must be created with that understanding in mind. Regardless of how much sense they make to us, we must eliminate the hassles, policies and processes that annoy customers. The lawn should be cut to be appealing to the customer, but not while guests are sleeping. Refunds are going to be processed at the same cost anyway, why not empower the front line to do it on the spot and wow the customer? Recently, I was renting kayaks, and the owner of the shop, working the counter, explained their reason for opening later than I expected (and I quote) “we cater to ourselves”! It was all I could do to not walk out. Every employee, in every position, exists only for our customers. This is a difficult concept to permeate into the company if the owner thinks they work for themselves and not the customer.
So with the customer in mind, we need to develop, or redevelop our systems to remove the hassles of doing business with us. We need to consider ways to over-deliver our service promise and train ourselves and our staff “this is how we do it here”. Owners and managers, repeat after me: “this is how we do it here”. Create the best practices that deliver the best results. Teach your staff “this is how we do it here”. Deliver that with consistency and predictability, and you will get predictable results.
So there you have it - the development of people, environment and systems all contribute to customer service, and customer service is not just about handling problems. Customer service is the central, defining issue behind every product, policy or procedure we have, and the only purpose for having any work to do at all. Customer service is not a separate issue to manage, but rather an aspect of all the other issues you manage.