The Weakest Link

It’s easy to see what kind of messages a clerk in a retail store is sending. For example, I like fountain pens. There are a couple of great stores right here in New York. When I’m in the neighborhood and have a few extra minutes, I’ll stop in and browse.

In one of these stores, one or two clerks stand almost motionless behind the counter. Typically, they’ll cross their arms and when I venture close (and stare at them long enough), one will say, “Can I help you?” But the tone (and the body language) is saying, “Don’t bother me. I get paid by the hour and could care less.”

Often, the people in an organization who come in contact the most with customers are the lowest paid. They’re not motivated. While they are trained as to what to say (as in reading a script), they are not trained to say it with a smile.

Many years ago, I recommended to a client that he call into his company through the main switchboard (rather than calling his assistants on their direct numbers). The very next day, heads rolled… and a very new approach was initiated. People at the switchboard were trained, given more frequent breaks, taught to smile when they spoke, and allowed to let their “bubbly” personality come through and engage callers. Everything about the way they answered said, “I’m glad you called.”

I didn’t attempt to try to correlate improved sales with happy switchboard people, but I knew for sure that my client was no longer turning off prospects and customers because the people at the switchboard sounded like they didn’t care.

In the weeks and months that followed, heads of various departments were hearing positive comments… and that news made it all the way to the boss’ office… and to me.

The weakest links in any organization are the first line responders who answer the phone or sit by the front door and there’s an easy fix for turning it around. Train them to be gracious hosts and hostesses.


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