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Start With Gratitude; Then Walk Together

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Customer service is crucial for small businesses hoping to compete with chain stores, larger companies, and even the small business next door. While there are a number of steps to ensure that you are offering world-class customer service, the first approach is simple — make sure that your frontline employees feel respected and valued.

Small businesses need happy employees because they unleash their enthusiasm and passion from within, and that passion becomes infectious. It transmits to everyone around them, and — most importantly — it transmits to the customers.

The easiest way to keep your employees’ high spirits up is by providing positive feedback. Managers tend to only thank their employees when they go above and beyond their job descriptions, which they should. Why not thank them for just doing what they’re supposed to do? It can’t hurt!



After voicing your recognition, follow up by treating them likewise. Frontline employees are the most important assets to your customer service experience, so treat them with the utmost respect, honesty, and trust. They need to know that you are committed to their well-being.

Giving your employees recognition and gratitude for a job well done is a simple and often overlooked act, but it can mean the difference between a disgruntled employee and a motivated employee. Who do you want delivering the customer experience?

Recognition lays the groundwork for other customer service initiatives that turn shoppers into loyal customers. However, that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Now that employees feel valued, a productive working relationship will emerge between all levels of staff. And businesses can learn a lot about their customer service from their employees.

One lesson is to walk a day in their shoes or, as I like to call it, “side-by-side walking.” It offers a ground-up view of the service that customers receive, along with an understanding of what employees require to deliver world-class customer service.

Performing a side-by-side walk will give you a firsthand look at the necessary policy changes and processes that will improve your service experience, employee morale, and, in turn, the bottom line. Developing a program in conjunction with employees is far more effective than developing a program for them without their input.

A program with many points of view behind it will inevitably be better received and implemented. Side-by-side walking helps managers and other non-frontline employees consider and appreciate their frontline employees’ entire ranges of tasks and spectrums of experience. It equips management with a fresh viewpoint and a frontline perspective that should be incorporated into all decisions, programs, and strategies that are to be executed at the front line.

Remember: side-by-side walking is supposed to be an accurate evaluation of current practices versus the expected operations. So before you start the actual experience, be sure to secure a copy of the formal job description for the job that you will be observing. Once you have an understanding of the policy, write down an interpretation of the job’s tasks, constraints, and expected execution to use when rating the experience later.

Side-by-side walking is an assessment, not a training exercise. Simply observe and fight the urge to correct along the way.

To gain a true perspective, one must assume the full role of the frontline employee — that includes wearing the uniform. Though it may seem silly for management to trade their ties and wingtips for polo shirts and safety shoes, it’s the only way to get the total experience.

It’s important to complete all the pre-work steps — from clocking in to assigning a till. Managers and higher-ups need to understand that there’s a whole process before the employee even deals with customers. If this preparation doesn’t go well, an employee’s entire shift can go down the drain, which translates to the customer experience.

You essentially act as a shadow, so you must keep in mind that the process you’re following includes the day-in and day-out procedures that frontline employees execute. Follow all processes that are in place without influencing protocol. Once you have completed the closing process, you’ll walk away with a big-picture understanding of how daily operations are performed and the customer service provided.

Reflect on the experience and compare it with the formal job description. Look for the differences and gaps between the job description and what tasks are actually being completed. This can help create realistic expectations when implementing new strategies.

Finally, describe any possible improvements in a written document. This document should be shared with the rest of the leadership team. The stakeholders who are serious about delivering a world-class customer experience should review the document and see how its insight can change and improve their established policies and the customer experience.

The purpose of side-by-side walking is not to provide fodder for critique. The purpose is to gain a real frontline experience so that this experience will weigh on all further decisions.

Once your business understands the ground-up approach, infuse the newfound knowledge into your customer service strategy. You will be armed with information that will aid you in creating an environment that your frontline employees can be passionate about and your customers will notice.

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 his message in his book through keynotes, seminars, workshops, and executive retreats. Visit www.freshcustomerservice.com for more information.
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