I apologize in advance for the length of this post. It is definitely a little long for a blog post. However, there is a good lesson within this story, and well worth the read. Hope you enjoy!
A story about change:
The other day I was a helping a customer with some ideas on how to improve their customer service. The owner had many complaints from his customers about rude behavior from his staff and being treated poorly from the moment they walked into their establishment. The owner said he was dedicated to making every customer feel special. However, it was getting lost somehow in translation from him to his staff. We talked on the phone and agreed to meet at his establishment.
When I arrived, I walked in the door and was completely ignored for about 30 minutes. Now if I was in a hundred thousand square foot facility, maybe I could understand this treatment, maybe, but probably not. However, I was actually standing in an establishment that was considerably smaller. In fact, when I walked in I could see all corners of the store, as well as all six employees standing around as if they had nothing to do.
I approached one of the employees and asked them if the owner was available to speak with me. The woman rolled her eyes and walked away. I stood there completely perplexed. Was she going to get him? Did she just completely blow me off? I had no idea. So I waited a few moments and pretended to shop around the store. Approximately five minutes later the owner came out and introduced himself to me, “Hi you must be Lucky? We spoke on the phone my name is John.”
“Hello John”, I said. “Do you have someplace we can sit and talk privately?”
John said sure, but wanted to give me a quick tour of his facility first. I agreed and we started on the grand tour.
John spent the next 40 minutes showing me all of the different products he had in inventory. He showed me all of the money he had spent, and how he spared no expense on the real Italian marble floors, to the travertine tiled dressing room. He was very proud of this place and it was obvious he spent a lot of time and money to establish a specific feel when someone walked into the store. He went on to tell me how he had Mary Vinotelli, a very well know interior designer in the area, hand pick each decoration and design the entire layout of the store to make sure if felt open, friendly, and upscale.
I will admit, seeing this place through his eyes, the establishment was very plush and had a certain level of panache in its motif. However, I immediately went back to my experience when I arrived. I told John, we really needed to talk in private. I appreciated the tour and he does have a magnificent establishment, but we needed to dig past the luxurious façade of the store and get to the root of his problem.
We went up into his office where he had me take a seat across the desk from him and closed the door. John took his seat on the other side of the desk and said, “So what do you want to talk about? You seem very concerned and yet you haven’t been here but a few minutes. How can you already have drawn conclusions about my store in such a short amount of time? Was it something I said?”
I told John, “The fact is that I have been here for over an hour. I spent the first 30 minutes being completely ignored, and the next 40 minutes being lead around your store being shown the esthetics of your facility which really have nothing to do with your customer’s complaints.”
I went on and explained my experience when I arrived with his staff, and he was outraged. He stood up from behind his desk and stormed down the stairs. As I followed him I could hear John’s booming voice demanding to speak with Sarah. It was as if he knew immediately who the person was I was speaking about.
As Sarah came out of the back stock room, John went off yelling at her. If that wasn’t bad enough he actually had customers in the store while he completely demoralized this poor girl. I jumped in and told John, “Enough! Let’s go back up stairs.” He wanted Sarah to leave and told her she was fired before I could get him up stairs.
Once we got back into his office I told him that his reaction was inexcusable. I explained that first off you don’t treat your team members like that, and second off, you never discipline a team member in front of anyone else, let alone customers. John was quickly aggravated and told me I didn’t know what I was talking about. He has always been the same way with subordinates and that it has always worked. I told John, that I was there to help, but if he really believed what he said, then I would leave. John quickly calmed down and asked me what he needed to do. I explained to him that I would need to talk with his team first, and that he needed to apologize to Sarah and get her back.
John tried to talk with Sarah but she wouldn’t talk to him. She was done. He had berated her for the last time. Her response was, “With the scraps we get paid, it just isn’t worth it.” Sarah left with tears still welling up in her eyes.
Over the next few hours I spoke with each of the remaining employees. It was as if they were each reading off the same cue cards. They all had the same complaints. Low pay based on commission, no structure as far as who does what in the store, most of them never knew what hours they were supposed to work until a day or two before, and of course John’s curmudgeon attitude and temper tantrums.
Once I was done interviewing them, I headed back up to John’s office. I said, “John I have some very difficult things to say to you and you are not going to like it. But if you want to fix the issues you are having, then I suggest you take a deep breath and listen to what I have to say.” John agreed and had me go on.
I began, “First of all John, from what I have been told by your employees, you are not paying them a wage that is commensurate with their responsibilities…”
Once again John blew up, “Awe poor things! They don’t make enough money!” John then accused me of being a tree hugging hippie and said, “I suppose you would just pay them whatever they wanted, sit in a drum circle and puff, puff, pass? No one ever thinks they make enough money.” John continued, “You know, this is not my first business. I have owned and operated over six different businesses successfully and never had this problem before. The pay I am offering them is exactly the same structure I have used in all six endeavors. If they hustle rather than sit on their butts they can make good money. But they are just too lazy!”
I stopped John and told him. “Look this isn’t my first rodeo either and I am not a pot smoking hippie. I have helped more people than you know with turning their businesses around and helping improve their overall customer experience. I know what the standard rates are for a retail business such as this, as well as the basic commission structures. And John, I am afraid you are not even in the ball park. While you may be right about your other six businesses, I can’t make that determination since I have no information on those individual operations. Things change from market to market, town to town; even things like the local demographics can greatly change how you need to compensate your employees or what causes a great customer experience. What may be a great experience for a 28-year-old woman may not be a great experience for a 65-year-old man. There is no ‘one solution’ that works for every business model. You need to do the research for that market in that town and for your type of business. Simple things like the volume of the music, or the type of music you play for that matter can have drastic results on the experience your customers will take away from their visit.”
“Hogwash!” said John. “This is the way I have been doing it successfully for decades!”
“Well, then John”, I said, “Maybe you should be called Lucky! The fact is the only thing that tells me; is that you have been doing it wrong for decades.”
As I tried to discuss with John the other issues, I kept getting the same response. “That is the way I have done if for decades.” Finally I just told him, “John stop! The reality is John, that if you are not willing to change you are not going to change the attitude of this store, even if you were to fire everyone and start with a whole new staff. You have to understand, the first step to great customer service is how you treat your team.”
John looked at me completely befuddled. “That’s right- they- are- your- team”, I spelled out for him. “You need to understand that the experience your customers will have will come from the overall team goals and message. You need to treat your team the way you want them to treat your customers. If you are condescending to your team they will in turn be condescending to your customers. When you can’t even make a simple schedule a week ahead of time, that tells your team you don’t care, so why should they? Only once you have accepted that philosophy and implemented structure, so your team knows what their roles are and what the common goal is, do you have any chance of getting the results you desire. While there are many other things that will contribute to the overall customer experience, nothing will have the same significant results as following these basic rules. Business is all about people and it doesn’t matter which side of the counter they are on, they all want that great experience.”
John’s face was turning red. His anger had reached new heights. John exclaimed, “Who do you think you are? I brought you here to help me figure out what is wrong with my employees, and you are trying to put the whole thing on me? As if to say, that it is my entire fault? I have had enough of your Barney themed; ‘I love you- you love me’ nonsense!”
I told John I was sorry he felt that way and that I was afraid I was not going to be able to help him and wished him a good day. While I can’t remember exactly the words he used as I left his establishment, I do remember they we very creative.
Later, when I got back to my office, I put together a package that I sent to John. In it was a check refunding him his money and a copy of Spencer Johnson’s book, Who Moved My Cheese, with a note wishing him my most sincere hopes for his success.
This story is about change. Most everyone hates change and is afraid of reaching outside of the box. However, with no great risk comes- no great reward. I am always amazed by how many people get into a bad situation and just keep repeating the same mistakes over and over, only to be mystified about why things won’t get better. As Henry Ford once said, “If you continue to do what you have always done, you will continue to get what you always have gotten”.
As life continues to change you need to move along with it. If you stay in one place and always continue to do things the exact same way, eventually you and your business will become obsolete. Pay attention to what is happening. Try to predict where the market is heading, and make changes to compensate for the move. Stay ahead of the curve and always be an innovator. That is what Henry Ford meant by his statement. Change is the one thing that will never change, and you don’t want to get caught doing things the way you always have done them.