With four decades of management experience in the construction trades and customer service industry, I believe that it’s imperative to search and screen well to determine the best applicants to fill any administrative, sales or technical position in any business that deals with residential and/or commercial consumers. You need to find and employ responsible people who are willing to learn, possess an outgoing and friendly disposition and who aren’t easily rattled. Consumers can be tough at times.
This is not new news to anyone reading this blog, but how many companies do you presently deal with whose employees are timely, considerate, knowledgeable and professional? The extra efforts a company takes during the hiring process will pay dividends for a long, long time. And, if you breeze through this process, bad hires can easily cost you much more than poor customer retention. In this age of instant gratification and instant reviews, your reputation is always on the line.
Personally, I have interviewed thousands of applicants and look forward to adding the next person to our growing staff. I have more HR tools available to me than at any point in my long career (drug tests, background checks, aptitude tests, personality profiling and more), But even with all of this pertinent information on hand, I still rely heavily on the value of the face-to-face interview. After an employment opportunity has been offered and accepted, only Step 1 has been completed in this employment and developmental process. As I have said privately many times, “Let’s wind them up, let them go, and see what we got.”
Most companies have a probationary period for a new employee, and everything must be acceptable in order to advance into full-time employment with valued benefits. Once completed, Step 2 officially begins. I figure that any new employee will take approximately a full year to get their sea legs under them. It doesn’t matter what position they fill – senior VP, apprentice, service manager, sales, customer service rep, etc. The individual may be well experienced in their area of expertise, but they still must learn the nuances of any organization and your company’s way of doing business. During this phase, teaching and coaching are essential to groom the new co-worker so that they have the direction and instruction to succeed and hone their skills to create better value - for themselves and your company. One positive side effect of this phase is to watch their confidence build as they learn and grow via their ever-accumulating combined customer experiences. During the latter portion of Year 1, they tend to relax, and you can see them become more comfortable with their role representing the company and especially with what they are saying…to your customer!
Step 3 involves ongoing training in many aspects of our industry – customer service, sales, technical training, supervision, and much more. It also involves providing a solid platform to keep a co-worker motivated and happy, such as individual mentoring, quarterly coaching (if necessary) and annual reviews. Many management books touch on the importance of employee recognition and I fully agree. Recognizing when someone does something right rather than wrong may be valued more than a pay increase - I certainly realize that pay increases are welcomed too. We reward a co-worker in a couple of different ways every time a customer praises their work. And if any noteworthy achievement has been earned such as NATE certification, BBB’s Customer Service Excellence Award (individual) or any other business and/or industry recognition, we will also produce and promote a press release to highlight their accomplishment. Studies also reflect that co-workers want to know what’s happening within the company. For this reason and many others, we publish a weekly newsletter and post all of the customer remarks for everyone to see. In addition, ensuring co-workers understand all of the company benefits available to them is also crucial. If company benefits are weighted too heavily to the top, it will be difficult to retain a full staff for any length of time.
We try our best to create customers for life…and we try harder to develop a great service company with little turnover. It can certainly be a challenge, but if it was easy, everyone would do it. A company’s ultimate report card is not necessarily their profit-and-loss statement. I think it's also the company’s ability to gain and keep customers to fuel growth. This aspect of a company’s success will rely on your staff’s ability as a whole to satisfy customers and keep them satisfied with each and every experience with your company, which can only be done with quality co-workers…who care about customer satisfaction.