I spend a lot of time writing about how to keep your customers happy. Yeah, I’m sure you’re sick of me telling you that a six step return policy isn’t what one would consider “customer friendly.” But keeping customers happy is just one part of making sure your business is successful.
Just like you need to provide a great experience for your customers, you need to provide that same great experience to the people who are the direct link to the folks with credit card in hand – your employees. After all, these are the guys and gals who act as the “face” of your company when they’re speaking, emailing or interacting in person.
Let’s face it, we’ve all had that one “awful” customer experience that keeps us from doing business with a particular company. Whether it be a bricks-and-mortar retailer, a restaurant, or an online store, if we’re given bad service or treated poorly by an employee, chances are we’re not going back.
Bad employee behavior is often times a direct result of poor management and lack of motivation. If you’re a fan of Kitchen Nightmares, Mystery Diners or Restaurant Impossible, like I am, you see examples in every episode where a lack of leadership and pride in people’s work results in employees providing poor service to paying guests.
You don’t need to have a management degree from some highfalutin’ college to properly manage your staff. Most of the principles of employee management are basic fundamentals derived off the famous Golden Rule – “treat others like you would like to be treated yourself.”
It may sound trite, but at the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about.
The two companies I’ve owned had fairly large employment numbers. TheFerretStore.com had a staff one person shy of 50 and was a mix of part- and full-time employees in various capacities. From executives and managers to warehouse workers and customer service representatives, the workforce had varying degrees of skill sets. At Solid Cactus, we had close to 200 employees, the majority being full-time skilled positions that required a college degree.
In both companies structure was key to the organizations success. Each “team” had their managers and supervisors who reported to the GM who reported to the executive team. Employees knew who their supervisors were so there weren’t any blurred lines of responsibility. Blurred lines result in conflicting messages, finger-pointing and a big mess that only results in frustration.
When it came to culture and lifestyle at the companies, this is where I think we shined and what made people want to come work for us:
Casual Environment – When I left the corporate telecommunications world in 1996, I threw my suit coats, dress shirts and ties in the garbage. They were replaced with t-shirts, shorts and sneakers. That’s what I was comfortable working in and it made me more productive. Just because you require your employees to dress for work as if they were going to a cocktail reception, doesn’t make them better employees. People want to be comfortable at work, so let them! While an established dress code is something you need to put in writing, make it casual. Obviously you don’t want warehouse workers walking around in flip-flops, so when coming up with your dress code, think carefully. A comfortable workforce is a happier workforce! One of the things we did in both companies was had a constant flow of t-shirts designed featuring our different store names, brands, etc that we would give out to employees at no charge. A few bucks for a t-shirt went a long way for building good-will with the team members and supported our marketing efforts as well!
Communication – Many businesses fail miserably at communicating with employees. Lack of communication results in employees having conflicting information regarding policy and procedure, it breeds rumors and false information and often times can lead to more serious damage such as dissension. The larger the company, the harder you have to work at properly communicating with employees. There are many ways you can communicate with your employees depending on the size of your organization. Employee newsletters, email blasts, staff luncheons, department and team meetings held on a regular basis are things that come to mind. At Solid Cactus, I ,along with members of our executive team, would take a department to lunch every Friday. We’d get a private dining room at a local restaurant/hotel where we would listen to what the employees had to say, take suggestions, and find out what’s going on with them. Once a quarter, we would have a quarterly staff meeting where we would shut down operations for a few hours, gather at a hotel ballroom for lunch and a meeting. Each department manager would present what his/her department was up to and what they were working on so everyone in the organization was aware of what’s going on in the company. Of course, I’d get up tell a few jokes, get booed at, dodge a few tomatoes then retreat and listen to the rest of the presentations.
Extra Curricular Activities – One great way of invigorating employees and boosting morale within an organization is to have some fun after work – or even during work for that matter. Again, depending on the size of your organization, put together some fun events that your employees and their family can participate in. Think “Water Park Wednesday” or “State Park Sunday.” Take the group for an outing they will have fun at! You don’t have to get too carried away, a night of bowling or a trip to the movie theatre to see a hot flick are great ways to thank your team members for a job well done. Shutting down an hour or two early for a game of softball can’t hurt either.
Let Them Eat Cake – Food is a great motivator and a great way to thank your employees for giving their all. If you had a great sales week and everyone worked extra hard to get as many orders out the door, surprise them by having pizza brought in for lunch. The 4th of July is coming up, why not get a grill and do some BBQ for the team? During the summer months, I’d grill lunch for both TheFerretStore.com and Solid Cactus employees until we got to a size where I’d need three or four grills to keep up! Is it a scorcher outside? Call the local ice cream truck over to provide frosty treats for the group. We had a great local dairy, Hillside Farms, who would do this for us and it was a big hit. Then a couple times a year we would have a catered lunch to celebrate company milestones or a holiday.
Recognize Greatness – When you have stellar performers, they should be recognized. At each one of our quarterly staff meetings we would recognize those top performers and those who reached a milestone year of service with the company and present them with an award. A simple pat on the back, a “good job” and a simple “congratulations” goes a long way in making an employee feel that they’re a special part of the organization. Take time to recognize those who are helping your company be a success!
Be Flexible – We’re all human. We all have things that crop up unexpectedly. We all have family and family comes first. While we would all love to have our employees working a set schedule, you have to realize that’s not always possible. If you have an employee who needs to adjust their schedule for a few weeks because of a family issue, don’t make their situation any more difficult – work with them to accommodate them the best you can. This is one area that can sour an employee quickly! You need to provide your employees with a work / life balance that works for both of you.
One thing to remember when creating a culture within your company is that work is work. Yes, you can make work a fun place that people want to come in to every day without it being an unsupervised Romper Room. What I talked about above are just some of the things I’ve done in my own companies to keep employees happy and motivated. It’s also what played a key part in making Solid Cactus one of the “Best Places for Work in PA,” out of the nearly half-million companies in the Commonwealth, for three consecutive years prior to being acquired by Web.com.
The moral of today’s story is – happy employees make for happy customers! What are you doing for your team members?