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Registering the Importance of Frontline Employees

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The holiday shopping season is climaxing as last-minute shoppers scurry about and retailers get ready for after-holiday sales. While shoppers clamor to check off items on their lists, it�s an important time for retailers to lay the ground work to turn one-time shoppers into loyal customers for the New Year and beyond. This process starts by providing shoppers with a customer service experience that is positive and proactive. And the best way to approach this task is to utilize your frontline employees by listening to and empowering them.

You're probably thinking, "Utilize my customer service reps? You mean people like Johnny, who didn't even finish high school? Sarah, who has way too much on her mind to worry about our business plan? They're a dime a dozen. They perform simple tasks, call it a day, and cash their miniscule paycheck. These people have no place telling me how to run my business."

What you're probably not thinking is that if you employ these frontline workers in a way that maximizes their capabilities and applies their findings, you've located a potential gold mine that can enhance interactions between your organization and your customers. You've found people who can provide input that will allow your business to innovate and adapt to best suit your clientele.

Customer emotions can be volatile and tempers fiery when a problem with service arises. But sending customers off to the nearest store or telling them that your hands are tied — you can't do anything to help — is not going to cut it. Doing so will only make them more likely to avoid your store in the future. That's why it's smart for businesses to create a "What-If Arsenal" to resolve issues arising with customers.

A What-If Arsenal is a stockpile of tools and techniques that help foster a consistently superb business-to-customer interaction. It is a cache of solutions managers and employees can use to solve customer complaints. They should be at the employee's fingertips or stored in his or her head for instant retrieval when the manager is there and when the manager's away. Many customer problems are repetitive and can be solved with the same solutions, but the What-If Arsenal also has tools for combating unforeseen disasters.

Some customer problems and complaints are out of reach of the frontline employees, and there is no way they can predict or prevent them, like a cash register malfunction or supply shortage. But employees can come to work equipped with back-up plans, and be able to pull from the What-If Arsenal for solutions to make customer interactions far better than they may have been without these ready-made solutions.

Perhaps even more relevant and useful in improving how your business works is using insights from those who have face-to-face interactions with customers. This phenomenon is called "Bubble-Up Innovation" — fresh ideas and contributions from frontline employees on how to run service more efficiently. When Bubble-Up Innovation is encouraged, appreciated, and enacted, it can take your organization to the next level.

Frontline employees have viewpoints and experiences that only they can articulate. Bubble-up Innovation is the best way to harness and implement their feedback. Your employees will make your organization stand out from competition and enhance the bottom line. So make a concerted effort to tap into your employees' knowledge and ideas.

Maybe you can place a tape recorder in a Bubble-Up "zone" where employees can record their ideas. Employees are more likely to give you ideas if they don't have to spend a lot of time writing them down.

While many people are more likely to give you ideas off the cuff verbally, some employees feel more comfortable writing their ideas on paper. To get their feedback and thoughts, provide a simple form that employees can fill out.

Don't forget to reward your employees when they take the initiative to improve how your business operates. You need to encourage this kind of innovative behavior. Gift certificates, movie tickets, and spot bonuses (instant cash recognition) are all good incentives.

The options are limitless. What's important is getting everyone on the same page in the organization, from the CEO to the clerk who works the cash register. The answer to saving your fledging business is right in front of you, but oftentimes you'll have higher-ups sitting in the boardroom analyzing their business model, creating new marketing campaigns, and looking for ways to cut back on expenses. Meanwhile, Johnny and Sarah are standing at the register witnessing firsthand why customers are taking their business elsewhere.

About the Author

Michael D. Brown, MBA's customer service tips are excerpted from his book Fresh Customer Service (Acanthus Publishing, 2007). As a professional speaker, coach, and trainer, Michael draws upon his life experiences and highly successful corporate career to deliver unprecedented results that enhance the bottom line. With 15 years of technical and functional leadership experience, he delivers the message of his book through keynotes, seminars, workshops, and executive retreats. Visit for more information.

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