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Working “On” Part 5 – Evaluating Progress

We all dreaded the blue sheets. As camp counselors at Storer Camps, we had to write up an “evaluation” of every camper in our cabin. The blue sheet was the worksheet we used. It had spaces for us to mark their daily activities and a few questions where we wrote short answers about their time at camp including what they seemed to like most, their strengths, and areas where they struggled.

The blue sheet dates back several decades. I remember my mom getting them from my counselors back in the 1970’s. I remember my own trials writing them late at night by flashlight on the porch of my cabin just to get them done on time. I remember turning them in to my director for approval only to be asked to rewrite them because of penmanship or to change a word or phrase. No time off until your blue sheets were finished and approved.

I also remember reading them as a parent and appreciating the thoughtfulness and insight that went into them. It made my boys’ camp experiences more meaningful. It gave me an outsider’s perspective of my children, a valuable measure of their growth.

Evaluations can be viewed as measuring sticks. They show you progress when you compare them to previous evaluations. They are also maps because they show you where you are in relation to where you want to go.

You are already using tools to evaluate your business. Your Profit & Loss and Balance Sheet are two of those tool. Your GMROI and Turn Ratio are also tools used to evaluate your business. These are easy tools because they measure hard, fast numbers.

If your Game Plan, however, is to exploit your Competitive Advantage of having better people offering better services, you have to have a map that shows you where your staff members are in relation to where you want them to go. You have to have a tool for evaluating their progress.

Some consultants believe in commission sales as the tool to evaluate your staff. If their numbers are going up, then life is good. The problem is that commission sales don’t always work in every type of retail store, nor are they truly an accurate predictor of someone’s selling skills since luck and timing and many other factors outside of pure selling skills have an effect on the numbers.

Some believe in written evaluations—blue sheets for your staff listing their strengths and areas they need to improve. I tried those and got frustrated by them. Although they measured, they didn’t map. Plus they took a long time to process and complete. They were as discouraging as they were encouraging. On top of that, if you don’t evaluate fairly and honestly without emotion using concrete, specific examples of problems needing to be fixed, these written reports could come back to bite you in a wrongful termination lawsuit.

Written evaluations are best for documenting unacceptable behavior to protect yourself in termination cases, but they don’t work as well for motivating your staff to improve.

Here are the concrete steps I suggest for mapping a path for your staff.

  • Talk to them. Sit down every so often and just have an informal conversation.
  • Ask questions. Ask them how they are doing. Ask them what they are working on. Ask them what they have learned from the training program (that I know you have implemented.) Ask them where they see themselves in the big picture of the store. Ask them if they understand their purpose for being employed. Ask, ask, ask.
  • Give them praise. Praise them for what they have done, what they have learned, and where they are. Roy H. Williams said, “What gets measured gets managed, but what gets measured and rewarded improves.” Praise is often enough of a reward to get the improvement you seek.
  • Offer suggestions. Based on your observations of their work, coupled with their own beliefs of where they are on their journey, give them suggestions for what they can “work on next” to reach the goals you have already spelled out for your team. Give them concrete action steps such as reading certain articles or books, or watching certain videos, or working on a specific task.

Do it informally and do it often. Formal evaluations are scary and make your team afraid of you. Because of the amount of work involved, they also happen too infrequently to be of good value. Informal discussions following the format above build trust and help motivate your team. Plus they give you a much quicker read on the talent and potential of your current players so that it is easier to spot new, better talent when it comes along.

Combine these conversations with a kick-ass continual training program and you will see the progress before your very eyes.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS There are many who might disagree with this procedure. There are valid arguments for a formal evaluation process. If you are a small business with only a handful of employees, however, a formal evaluation process could be (or at least feel) overwhelming. Your true goal for evaluating your staff is to see where they are and motivate them toward the ultimate goal of being the best at serving your customers. Daniel H. Pink in his book “Drive” points to three things that intrinsically motivate your staff—Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose. A simple measuring stick of growth compared to where you were previously is Mastery, but a map of where you are in relation to where you want to go is Mastery and Purpose.

Working “On” Part 3 – Hiring a Manager

I’ve only been flown in for an interview once in my life. I went to the Catskills in New York to interview for a position running an experiential education and wilderness trip program. I was a perfect candidate for the job. Not only did I have the experience running a similar program in Michigan, this program also had a strong bike program and owned a fleet of several dozen bikes they had to maintain. I had spent my teenage years assembling and fixing bikes at Toy House. It was a perfect match!

I figured I had the inside track on this job. They flew me in so they must have thought quite highly of me. I had the perfect skill set. I also knew the other two candidates. Both were currently working in the program where I was interviewing. Both had previously worked for me. Neither had the experience in a managerial role I had.

Although I thought I interviewed well, I didn’t get the job.

Only later did I find out the guy doing the hiring had always and only promoted from within. He flew me in only because his boss demanded he interview someone outside the company. I didn’t have a chance. I never had a chance.

Hiring from within makes sense on the surface. You’re hiring a known quantity. You’re hiring someone who already knows your culture (and likely fits in). You’re hiring someone who already knows your procedures. You’re hiring someone who is already loyal to you. The risks seem low.

Laurence J. Peters published a management theory in 1969 about the promotion and hiring from within now called the Peter Principle. According to Wikipedia, the concept is “that the selection of a candidate for a position is based on the candidate’s performance in their current role, rather than on abilities relevant to the intended role. Thus, employees only stop being promoted once they can no longer perform effectively, and ‘managers rise to the level of their incompetence.’ “

The risks may seem low, but the downside to the Peter Principle is that you end up with incompetent people at every level of the organization because you elevate people until they are no longer competent. Does that sound like a good plan?

You need to hire your manager the same way you hire anyone at your company. Make a list of all the traits and skills necessary for a person to be successful on the job. Then figure out what you can teach your new manager and what that person needs to bring to the table.

When you make a list for a sales associate you get different traits than your list for a store manager. A perfect salesperson is great at selling. A perfect manager is great at teaching and motivating. Yes, one person can be good at both. But if you are promoting your best salesperson to manager just because they are your best salesperson, you might have made two positions on your team worse off.

Your manager is most important hire you will make. Your manager is the person who gives you the most time to work on your business instead of in it.

Here are concrete steps you can use to find a great manager.

  • Make a list of the skills needed to be a great manager. That list better include the ability to teach, the ability to motivate, and empathy. You probably need to throw trustworthy onto that list, too, and the ability to learn.
  • Make a list of questions you can use to identify those skills in your candidates. Here are some on ability to teach and trustworthiness. Tell me about a time where you had to teach someone else a new skill. How well did it go? What would you do differently if you could go back in time? Tell me about a time when you weren’t able to keep your word. How did you rectify that situation later?
  • Talk to your current staff, especially the high performers who are great in their current role, but not necessarily skilled for the next role. Many people feel the need to want to move up the ranks. Your best salespeople might feel resentment if you pass them over. Talk to them about the importance of their current role and why you need them in that position. If it about money, give them a raise. If they are truly your best salespeople, they are worth it. If it is about power, give them responsibilities that fit with their skill set. They feel better, you feel better, and you haven’t promoted anyone to the level of incompetence.
  • Move “industry knowledge” lower down your list. Sure it helps if someone is as enthusiastic about your niche in the market as you are. But it isn’t nearly as important as the ability to learn, the ability to teach, and the ability to motivate other people. Given the choice between hiring someone who can step in and lead the team while they learn the products or someone who knows the products but is still learning how to lead, you know the smarter choice.

Your goal is to get the most competent people into every position possible. The manager role is the most important of all those positions.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS I have seen the Peter Principle in almost every place I have worked. I have even been guilty of it a few times myself. It never seems to end well. The easiest way to prevent it from happening in your business is to look at each role as being a separate position requiring separate skills, not a benefit or reward for time served or a promotion for those who do best in their current role.

PPS My son wrote a college entrance essay on “Leadership”. He identified empathy as being the most important character trait of a great leader. I couldn’t argue with his premise at all. Hopefully he still has that essay saved somewhere so that I can use it in a future post.

Get the State of Michigan to Pay

Hey Michigan peeps!

What if I told you that the State of Michigan would pay for you and your store manager to enroll in a Jackson Retail Success Academy™ style program in your area? Rather than you driving all the way here to take the class on your dime, I would do it in your neck of the woods for you and your friends, and the State would pay most* of the bill.

The Skilled Trades Training Fund in Michigan exists for that purpose.

Here’s the thing …

You need to get your local Michigan Works! office to submit the grant for it to happen (have them contact me for details.)

Send this to your DDA Director, Chamber Director, and Economic Development Director, too. Tell them you believe a Retail Management Training Program (especially the JRSA™ program) will help save jobs and boost the local economy.

Tell them all to contact your Michigan Works! office and help you push this through.

The State of Michigan wants you and your team to have the right training to be successful. They are willing to pay for it. You should let them.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS *I say most of the bill because I don’t know all the details of the program. In the cursory explanation I received there is still a small amount you might have to pay depending on the circumstances of the class and what gets approved for the grant. For instance, you may have to pay employee wages while they take the class. But if you get your local economic development people on board, those costs might be even further minimized.

PPS Don’t put this on the back-burner. They are taking submissions right now for 2018. Call your Michigan Works! office this week!

Measuring the Right Result

This is the year of confessions. I’ve told you I don’t like cleaning up and filing things away. I’ve admitted I only went to the University of Michigan to get football tickets. As much as it pains me to be one, I’ve even admitted I’m a Detroit Lions fan.

I have one more confession. I love musical theater. I get cranked up watching Broadway shows. I even get excited watching live Broadway-esque performances like the one Neil Patrick Harris did here.

Image result for disney newsiesLast night I watched Disney’s Newsies on Netflix. Not the 1992 movie starring Christian Bale but a filmed stage production. Loved it!

While reading more about the production on IMDb.com, I noticed it had a pretty high rating from the public. I started reading reviews and and they were mostly 10’s. The reviews that weren’t so stellar didn’t talk about the acting or singing or dancing or storyline. They talked about camera angles and editing of camera shots.

One person gave it a 4 solely because of the choppy editing of the dance sequences. Tough critic.

It got me thinking about how we measure success of our business and how our customers measure success of our business. The two criteria are completely different.

Your customer considers your business a success if she comes in, gets what she needs, and feels good about it. You consider your business a success if you can pay all your bills and make some money for yourself. Two completely different sets of measurements, yet when you stop and think about it, the more you take care of your customer, the more likely you’ll have enough business to pay all your bills and make some money for yourself.

You need to measure what is important to your customers as much as you measure what is important to you.

Notice that I didn’t say, “instead of.” I said, “as much as.” You need to measure both.

You need a method of keeping track of how many times you say, “No we don’t.” to a customer request. I have a friend who has a “No List” she keeps by the cash register just for that purpose. Every time a customer asks for something they don’t have, the staff has to write it down. She figures if a lot of customers come in believing she might have a certain item, then it would be in her best interest to look into carrying that item.

You need a method of tracking how many customers are repeat and referral customers. Only customers who get their needs met and feel good about it will come back and bring their friends. If those numbers are rising, your customer service is succeeding.

Inventory levels, cash flow, profit margin, and sales are all important and need to be tracked, but they are as much a result of the first two numbers as anything else. The more your customers think of your business as a success, the better those other numbers will be.

If you have a lot of items on your No List then you need to figure out why your customers have such a different view of your business than you do. If you have a lot of new customers not referred by a friend, then either you’re a tourist destination, your advertising is stellar, or you need to up your game on taking care of your customers.

When your customers come in, get what they need, and leave feeling good, that’s the singing, acting, and dancing that gets you the standing ovation.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Speaking of measuring the right things, here is the survey that the American Specialty Toy Retailing Association (ASTRA) uses for the presentations at their Academy.

Here are the averages of the survey responses from your presentation, “Cash is King & You are the Advisor:”

1—Unsatisfied  4—Completely Satisfied

Did the presentation meet your expectations based on the session description? Were you satisfied with the speaker(s) level of knowledge on the topic? Rate your overall satisfaction with this session:
3.9 4 3.9

Those of you who have followed this blog a long time know that the three things I stress the most about Customer Service are:

  1. You have to meet your customer’s expectations. (Question #1)
  2. You have to build trust. (Question #2)
  3. You have to leave them feeling good about the transaction. (Question #3)

Did the audience come in, get what they needed, and feel good about it? Those results were my standing ovation.

Retail is More Like Football

I am a Detroit Lions fan. There, I said it. That’s the first step to healing, right? I got to watch my Lions play yesterday. Owning a toy store was probably the best thing for this Detroit Lions fan. I never got too invested in their season because I knew I’d be too busy on Sundays in November and December to pay attention to the team. The let down each year wasn’t as bad because of that.

Related imageLast year’s record-setting eight come-from-behind-in-the-fourth-quarter victories was quite exciting, followed by another season-ending debacle all too familiar to die-hard Lions fans. Lots of people want to blame the coach. Others want to blame the now highest paid player in the league, quarterback Matthew Stafford. Some want to blame the organization as a whole. I’m in the latter category.

Although teamwork is important in all of the major team sports, it is at its highest in football. A great goalie in hockey or a mega-star in basketball can change the tide in those respective sports. Baseball is a team sport built almost exclusively around individual actions and talent. But football is truly about eleven guys doing their prescribed job in sync with each other. And even that isn’t enough.

Success in football only happens when the entire organization is in sync and performing at peak. Success happens when the front office brings in the right kind of talent and personality to fit the values of the coaching staff. Success happens when the scouts figure out the best schemes to combat the opponent’s tendencies that also fit with the talent available. Success happens when the coaches are able to teach the players the right schemes and the players are able to execute those schemes.

Individual talent is important, but not the only thing. The Lions had Barry Sanders, arguably the best running back in the history of the game, and still managed to miss the playoffs almost every year.

Retail is far closer to football than the other sports. To be successful you have to have a game plan that not only fits the talent on your team, but also takes into account the talent and tendencies of your competitors. To be successful you need more than just a mega-star, you need a team working together. You might have the best salesperson on the planet, but all her hard work can be undone by an unskilled cashier or dirty restroom. She might not even get to use her skills if your website fails to deliver or the person answering your phones hasn’t been trained.

You can limp through retail with a bunch of mediocre 8-8 seasons, and even earn a living doing it. For some, that is enough. For those of you reading this blog, that isn’t enough. You want to taste the champagne.

So let me ask you …

  • Are you putting in the same kind of effort a football team puts into the scouting of new talent?
  • Are you studying your competition to help you create game plans for how you will beat them?
  • Are you hiring coaches (managers) who can teach your game plan to your team?
  • Are you evaluating your game plan on a regular basis?
  • Are you evaluating your talent and their ability to execute your game plan on a regular basis?

All football teams do this. The ones that do it best win divisions, win playoff games, win Super Bowls. Your competitors are doing this. When people talk about working “on” your business instead of “in” your business, those bullet points are the place for you to start.

Huddle up. Your season is upon you.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS In the coming weeks I will give you concrete actions you can do for all five of those bullet points. In the meantime, start figuring out what you need to do to give you more time on than in. You’re going to need it (and it will definitely pay off).

We All Get a Little Rusty

Last Saturday at The Poison Frog Brewery I got to accompany Steve Tucker with my harmonica . It was the first time in a while I got to really blow some blues as we did an entire set together. I have jammed with Steve a few times before. He’s an amazing musical talent and knows how to make those who play with him sound better. All the drunks at the bar agreed I sounded pretty good.

The truth is, I knew better. I wasn’t at my best. It took me the whole first song just to find a groove, and I was totally winded at several points, which is hard to do considering you play harmonica by breathing in and out.

I was a little rusty.

That’s me on the left checking off the bucket list.

I’ve been playing harp for over 34 years. I play in my car driving down the road (one hand always on the wheel). I play when I’m playing guitar at The Poison Frog. I have played with the bands at several trade show parties. I even played on stage at The House of Blues in Chicago (bucket list!!)

But I hadn’t played in over a week when Steve asked if I had any harps on me (which, of course, I did, as most harmonica players always do).

I was a little rusty. If you only heard the opening of the first song, you wouldn’t have been impressed. If you stayed for the entire set, it got much better.

Here’s the lesson in all of this. I was prepared to play harp. I brought three different harps in different keys to the brew pub where a guy I have played with before was performing. Yet, because I hadn’t been practicing, the start was a little rough.

If you want to be at your peak, you have to practice. If you want to be the best sales person to every customer, you have to be practicing. You can’t just toss out the first customer as a “warm-up”. You have to be ready to perform at peak every morning when you turn the key on the front door.

How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice. How do you get to the top of the business game? Practice. How do you make sure every single customer gets your best? Practice. We all get a little rusty. We all need to practice.

Next time Steve Tucker plays, not only will I have the harps in my pocket, I’ll be blowing the blues in the car on my way to the bar (one hand always on the wheel).

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Luck is when preparation meets opportunity. There is the long-term preparation (training programs) and there is the short-term preparation (shaking off the rust before the first customer walks through the door).

If you need caffeine to start your day, have a plan and maybe even a back-up plan. Lack of coffee is a poor excuse for bad customer service.

If you need to free your mind a little before you greet the customer, then start your day a little earlier so that you have time for meditation or spiritual rejuvenation.

If you need to meet with your staff for five minutes before you open shop, then schedule them to start 20 minutes before you open so that they all make it on time and you don’t have to rush.

A Trip That Pays For Itself

Ever have one of those amazing meals you just have to tell everyone about? I’ve been blessed to have had several. One took place in New York City.

I was there for Toy Fair several years ago when a sales rep invited me to dinner. It was a Danny Meyer restaurant, legendary for amazing customer service. Being a customer service junkie, I had read a lot about Mr. Meyer and his restaurants. Needless to say, I was excited.

Image result for gramercy tavernEver have one of those moments where the hype was so high, no one could possibly live up to it?

This was NOT one of those moments. The service was spectacular!! Our waitress anticipated everything we could ever need and was there before we asked. At the end of the meal she came by our table with small goodie bags for each of us. There had been a private party earlier and there were a bunch of leftover truffles that she had, “hand-selected based on what you ordered for dinner and dessert.” Nailed it!

If I owned a restaurant in NYC, I would pay for my wait-staff to regularly eat at a restaurant like that. It would be the best training money could buy. Let them see what awesome service is supposed to look like so that they can offer it when they work, too.

That’s one of the biggest problems with customer service in retail right now. There are so many examples of bad service your staff experience every day that they rarely ever see the level of service you want them to provide. Every day your staff go out into the marketplace and interact with stores that have poor customer service. It is poor to you, the customer service junkie, but to your staff it is the norm. It is all they see.

If you want to make an impact on them in a lasting way, take your marketing budget for this quarter and instead blow it on a weekend retreat for your staff to a Ritz-Carlton with a shopping spree to Nordstrom’s (and if you’re near Seattle, make a side trip to Pike’s Place Fish Market). Show them what true top-notch service looks like. Let them experience it. Then sit down and talk about it.

Ask them what was different. Ask them what made it special. Ask them how it made them feel. Ask them if they would like to be treated this way all the time. Ask them how their life would be different if this was the norm instead of Walmart. Ask them what your store needs to do to be spoken in the same breath as these places.

Your Return on Investment may be the best staff training money you’ve ever spent.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS This post came about from a recent restaurant trip where the waitress was so bad, we wondered if she had ever eaten out herself and had any concept of what a waitress should do. If all your staff has ever experienced is Walmart and Target, they have no understanding when you speak to them about customer service. Help them live a little.

PPS Maybe the Ritz and Nordstrom’s aren’t in your budget. Next best thing to do is give them all a gift certificate to the one place in your town known for legendary customer service, be it restaurant, retail, or other. It will pay off. (Note: if you are that place with the legendary service, keep up the good work!)

PPPS Wonder how Danny Meyer got his team to the pinnacle? Read this article about how he takes care of his team and his customers. It tells you all you need to know.

Visualization Makes the Sale

Today I signed the papers to list my house for sale. I did this a little over a year ago, had the house listed for a year without a single offer. I took it off the market at the end of July, put in a lot of work on little things like painting more rooms, upgrading some appliances, landscaping, etc. I also took some time to stage the rooms better, take new photos, and write a new description. We’re doing things differently this time. Today it goes back on the market. I’ll keep you posted on what happens.

Ask any real estate agent the true key to getting a house sold and they will tell you it is getting the buyer to visualize already being in the home. The agent asks you questions like …

  • “How will you lay out your furniture in the family room?”
  • “Which bedrooms will your kids want?”
  • “What do you see yourself doing in this space?”

While facts and data are important in the buying process, visualization is what seals the deal.

I can tell you that the house has 4 spacious bedroom, 2.5 bathrooms, a downstairs office, first-floor laundry, and a three-car attached garage. You’ll analyze that data and process that information. But as long as you are in analytical mode, you’re not in buying mode. You’re gathering data and will continue to gather data.

I have to get you beyond the facts and get you to see yourself doing the behavior I want.

  • “The beauty of this southern-facing driveway is that on light snow days you will be sleeping in while your neighbors are out shoveling because you know it will melt quickly once the sun comes out out in the afternoon.”
  • “With bedrooms this large, when you say, ‘Go to your room!’ your kids will think it is a positive, not a punishment.”
  • “This no outlet road is exactly a quarter mile long. Two loops and you and your dog will have your mile in without any annoying traffic.”

The same is true in all retail. You have to get customers beyond the facts of the item you’re trying to sell and get them to visualize using it.

  • “The battery life of this drill is three times longer. Have you ever been working on a project and run out of battery at the worst possible time? Remember that frustration? Won’t happen with this unit.”
  • “You’ll love this feature of your stroller. You know how annoying the wheels squeak after you’ve used it for a while? These wheels pop off so easily it will only take you seconds to clean them and hit the road running smoothly and quietly again.”
  • “Think of the best picture you ever took with your phone. Now imagine that same picture with twice the clarity and detail. You won’t have to recolor it digitally, either, since this camera picks up twice the color, too. You’ll have more ‘favorite photos’ than you have wall space to hang them all.”

Or simply …

  • “How do you plan to use this?”

Facts have a place. But facts don’t close the sale as quickly and efficiently as visualization. Get your customers to see themselves using the product and you’ll close the sale more often.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Here is the new “ad copy” for the listing of the house (1000 character limit). The listing already has the facts so I go lighter on those. The ad-copy adds visualization to why those facts are important.

There is a lot to love about this house. The first thing you’ll fall in love with is the space. Plenty of room for big gatherings and a perfect layout for when you want some time to yourself.

You’ll love your mornings in the sun-filled kitchen, your views from the office, and your sunsets streaming through the trees.

You’ll love the neighborhood—quiet and secure, yet only half a mile from grocery and restaurants.

You’ll love the size of the bedrooms and closet space big enough for everything you own, organized and easy to find.

The huge full basement, first-floor laundry, and easy-entry 3-car attached garage are just icing on the cake. And the sun-drenched southern driveway is like chocolate sprinkles on top!

With a new roof and fairly new appliances, this house has everything you need. The kitchen is dated—but completely functional—and will serve you well until you decide to build the kitchen of your dreams and turn this house into the home you’ve always wanted.

Take a tour today!

PPS Notice how I used the one downside in the copy? The one complaint we received over and over from the first listing was that the kitchen is dated. Sure it is. But it is fully functional with solid cherry cabinets, fairly new appliances, and high quality drawers. I let you know up front that you’ll want to change the kitchen soon so that you’ll walk in knowing that in advance. Now, instead of a negative, it is an expectation and gets you thinking of how you will remake the kitchen of your dreams. Visualization.

The One “After” That Makes the Most Difference

I’m in the process of preparing my house to sell. I spent Sunday cleaning out the basement and garage. One big thing I did was pull thirty two cans of paint out of the basement. Thirty two cans of paint colors no longer in use in this house. Some cans were quite full. Others were so empty it was a surprise anyone kept them.

A couple of cans had been put away so hastily the lids weren’t even on tight. We call that “dried paint.” Fourteen of the thirty two cans are opened in my garage drying out to go to the dump. Eighteen cans have enough paint to be useful and will get recycled this Saturday. (Nine cans are left in the basement for touch-ups and for the future owners to dump when they change colors. Yes, the lids are checked for tightness.)

You know I don’t like cleaning up and putting away everything. But I know it is necessary. If you do it right, you have paint cans marked with the date the paint was purchased and the rooms where it was used. If you do it wrong, you have “dried paint.” 

The same thing happens with the hiring process.

You did all your prep work properly. You attracted a stellar group of candidates. The interviews went well. You found the right person. Now what?

My dad, being the introvert that he is, told me the way to train the new staff was, “Give them their uniform. Show them where the bathroom is and where to hang their coat. Then send them on their way.” His philosophy was that if you hire good people, they’ll figure it out.

We had a big enough staff that his method kinda worked. The veterans on the team took the rookies under their wings and taught them what they could. Those that got it, stayed. Those that didn’t, left. Because we hired so many seasonal employees each year, we were able to pick from a large group of candidates those that we wanted for the slower months.

Knowing that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, however, I wanted more than that. I wanted the worst member of my team to be the best member of anyone else’s team. That meant not just having a kick-ass hiring process, but also having a kick-ass training process.

Taking a page from my dad, I allowed, even encouraged, my veterans to do the teaching. The only difference is that I made them accountable. First, I took my veterans aside and did some extra training with them on the stuff they would be teaching to make sure we were all on the same page. Then I created a checklist of all the things the new hires needed to be taught. 

On day one of your employment you would receive this checklist. Each time a veteran taught you a new skill, that veteran had to initial that line on your checklist.

The checklist served two purposes.

  • It made sure new employees were taught all the skills necessary to do the job properly.
  • It held all the staff accountable to make sure everyone was doing/teaching the job properly.

If a new employee was taught a skill but couldn’t do it to my satisfaction, I went to the veteran who initialed it on their checklist to see how they were teaching that skill.

The level of consistency and the level of competence went up across the board. It even got my veterans discussing best practices and best ways to do everything.

When your staff is having debates over the best ways to serve customers, you know you’ve put the paint away properly.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS To create your checklist, first make a list of all the traits and skills the “perfect” employee would have. Then separate the list into “teachable” and “non-teachable” traits. Hire the “non-teachable”, train the “teachable”. The better your list, the better your hiring and training.

PPS If you want some fun paint colors for free, stop by and see me before Saturday.

Handling the Unruly and Rude

I was talking with some fellow retailers at a trade show recently and the discussion came around to the perceived higher level of rudeness and unruliness among customers. I say “perceived” because everyone felt it, but no one had actually measured to know if it truly was more than before. Our guts said “more” but it could also be that we were more sensitive to it. It could also be that those who were rude were no larger a crowd, just louder.

While there are many theories why there might be more rudeness and unruliness in the world, we felt it best to focus instead on how to diffuse the angry, rude customers when they showed their ugliness. One thing became clear in our conversation …

When you answer rudeness with rudeness you get more of the same. 

It is entirely justifiable to treat rude people the way they treated you. But it doesn’t make things better. It doesn’t even feel good to you except for a fleeting moment. More often it just escalates the situation. An eye for an eye and everyone goes blind.

At the same time, simply ignoring it doesn’t help either. When a customer treats you or your staff with extreme rudeness, you have to stand up for yourself and your team, otherwise you are condoning that behavior. How you stand up for yourself, however, can make or break the relationship you have with that customer.

Understand that rudeness often comes from ignorance, entitlement, or someone simply having a bad day and taking it out on you. Rarely is it intentional and done specifically to harm you. More often the person being rude doesn’t even recognize it.

Here is the phrase I found most helpful when confronting a rude customer …

“I’m sorry. Is there something wrong?”

This puts the burden on the customer to explain her behavior. Often this question is all it takes to turn that behavior around, especially if their rudeness comes from having a bad day.

Sometimes they do have a problem and this question gives them the space to air their complaint. Having someone listen to their complaint is another quick way to end rudeness and unruliness. Most people just want to feel that they are being heard.

Sometimes their problem is legitimate. They have a real reason to be unhappy. If that is the case, follow up with this question …

“I’m sorry. What can I do to make it right?”

Over my twenty-four years of retail I have asked that question dozens of times. Never once has a customer asked for more than what I was already willing to do to make it right. Not once. More often than not their answer was far less than I planned to do.

Notice how both of those questions address the behavior without stooping to similar behavior? Both of those questions get to the root of the rudeness, whether it comes from ignorance, entitlement, or just having a bad day. Both of those questions put the burden on the customer to justify his or her actions in a non-confrontational way.

I have asked those questions of some of my favorite and best customers. I could have just “fired” them and told them to take their rudeness elsewhere. Instead I treated them with dignity and kindness without letting them get away with their behavior. Their behavior changed and it paid off huge in the long run.

You can debate all you want on whether there is more rudeness, whether we are more sensitive to rudeness, or whether the rudeness just seems to stand out more.

Me? I’m more interested in finding tools that work to diffuse difficult situations when they arise and turn unhappy customers into evangelists for your brand. I hope you are, too.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Those two questions work in many situations beyond retail. Try them and see what happens. I believe you will be pleasantly surprised at the results.

PPS I have only asked one person to never set foot in my store again because of rudeness, and he was a sales rep.