Is Your Business A Dysfunctional Family?

Bill Knell

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The other day I brought my mother into an appliance store to purchase a television. By the time we left with her new television, she was completely disgusted. Unlike most of us, she comes from an older generation that actually expects salespeople and store employees to think of customers as valued visitors that represent their primary source of income. I wish that I could say that the store we visited was the exception, however, it was more the rule.

From the time we entered the store, we noticed that the salespeople and employees were not attentive to the needs of customers. They acted as though they were being bothered or disturbed when we asked for help. None were able to provide any information about what was actually included with the televisions that interested us. When we did finally decided on a TV, no one seemed interested in helping us. Finally, a very annoyed employee found the TV we were looking for and all but tossed it in our cart. To make matters worse, another employee was extremely annoyed that we had asked for help in lifting the large item into my vehicle.

After I brought the television to my mother’s residence, we found that it didn’t come with a coaxial cable or antenna. That was one of the questions the appliance store employees couldn’t or didn’t seem interested in answering. If the experience of being in that store hadn’t been so negative, I probably would have been focused enough on the product to remember to buy a coaxial cable just in case it didn’t come with one. I also forgot about several other smaller electronic items I had planned to purchase. My local Radio Shack benefited from the rudeness of those appliance store employees. They got the sale of the coaxial cable and a bunch of other things I needed. In retrospect, I probably should have just went there to begin with.

It’s rare for most any customer or client to enter a retail or other business environment that operates like a well oiled machine. Instead, they are almost immediately confronted with poorly trained, incompetent and ill-mannered employees. This can be true whether the business is a small print shop, care dealership, insurance agency, professional’s office or retail store. The store where we didn’t receive the ’best’ service happened to be part of a national chain of retail appliance stores. I’ve leave it up to you to figure out which one that was.

Despite the inconvenience and frustration associated with receiving less then acceptable treatment as a customer, there’s a lot any current or prospective business owner or manager can learn from such an experience. The most important lesson is that when it comes to business, everything starts at the top. If the owner or manager of a business is not providing strong positive leadership, that company will be a nightmare for clients or customers.

The dream of every business owner or manager is to hire people who are self-starters that can function without constant supervision, while still keeping the company marching orders in mind. The nightmare of every business owner or manager is to find out that most of their employees do not fit into that category. Even if they did, leaving them alone is always a big mistake. Employees left to themselves are like children ignored by their parents. They go wild and do exactly as they please.

Whether we like it or not, every business owner or manager is like a parent. None can have the luxury of walking into their office, closing the door and hoping that everything outside of their little administrative world is going fine. On the other hand, holding sales or business meetings at the expense of customers trying to make a purchase or receive services is also a bad idea.

There is nothing more frustrating for a customer trying to make a purchase or solve a problem then to be told that their only connection to the business entity they are trying to deal with is in a meeting. I have been to car dealerships where salespeople were in a meeting when I tried to purchase a vehicle. I have been to stores where employees were in a meeting when I tried to get more information on a particular item. I have even found that my Veterinarian’s sudden need to hold a meeting with his employees in the middle of a business day was the reason that my dog wasn’t going to been seen.

One of the standard service jobs that I worked while trying to survive college was at a fast food restaurant. Despite the dreary nature of a job like that, I actually enjoyed working there. It was all about the Management. They were friendly, smart, personable and showed legitimate concern for their employees. It wasn’t unusual for the Manager of that restaurant to jump on the grill on busy nights and lend a helping hand. However, the thing I remember and admire most about her was that she would host a Sunday breakfast every week for any employee that cared to attend. Schedules would be rotated so that everyone had a chance to sit down to a nice breakfast and join the give and take discussion.

Those Sunday meetings were fun, informative and motivational. However, the manager did more then just give pep talks or listen to employee suggestions. Because her restaurant was part of a network of other fast food establishments, she outlined how anyone could move up to management and build a career. That was more then just rhetoric. Almost all of the managers working in that particular restaurant had come up from the ranks. More importantly, all of us felt like we were part of a close family that we could count on for support. It’s vitally important for sales people and employees to feel that way.

If a business owner or manager is merely some administrative hack, the entire company will be infected with the same sort of apathy. There is just no substitute for getting involved. This doesn’t mean micromanaging, it simply means taking the time to be sure things are going well when they are supposed to be. It’s been my experience that most business owners or managers are absent or preoccupied with something else when things are at their busiest. When some do show up, their presence is met with disgust or anxiety by employees. Instead of being team leaders, those kinds of bosses are considered armchair generals who are disrespected by their employees.

Unfortunately, even people who are strong team leaders have to sometimes lay down the law. No one can be a successful business owner or manager by being everybody’s friend. There are times when conflicts with employees or customers will arise. The way you handle those conflicts will help define your effectiveness. Your job is to not to rubber stamp everything a customer says or an employee does. Instead, you should do everything possible to keep them from getting frustrated, angry or feeling ignored. That’s when major conflicts erupt and tempers flare.

Most of the problems that develop between management and employees involve pay, time or job performance issues. Many of these problems can be avoided by proper attention to those areas of concern. An employee who has to worry about receiving the proper pay or being credited with the correct amount of time they worked is one that will not have their mind on their work. At the time of hire, a new employee should receive a full and comprehensive explanation regarding the procedure for making sure they are properly paid and their part in it. Likewise, they should be made to understand what is expected of them during a typical workday.

When it comes to business questions, I get more emails from people about how they are being paid then anything else. I always tell them that if you are not paid right the first time, you will not be paid right every time. It’s a truth that I have found to be sadly written in stone. Employees who work for two weeks and suddenly discover that their first meaningful paycheck is still another two weeks away are not amused. Conversely, I get questions from business owners and managers who want to know what to do with lazy employees. The easy answer would be to fire them. The right answer is, “Why were they hired in the first place?” Hiring the right people helps to define good management.

Part of dealing with employee difficulties and customer concerns is anticipating these problems beforehand and preventing them. A well trained staff will know the kinds of things that anger, frustrate or annoy their customers. For example, staring blankly at an irritated customer, smiling and telling them to calm down is a sure way to heat things up. Any business owner or manager worth their salt will train their people to provide quick, simple and real-world effective ways to help a customer when a problem develops.

You can learn a lot watching people. If you really want to see someone get hot under the collar, just go to most any large chain store and watch how long it takes for a customer who has been left standing at a counter by themselves to get really angry or extremely annoyed. It’s the dreaded, “Wait while I go find a manager, ” customer shuffle. If that employee had been trained properly and empowered to handle situations within reason of their position, the customer would not be left to sizzle.

Before the use of digital cameras became so widespread, I used to watch people stand on line to pick up and pay for developed photos at large chain stores. It was a lesson in everything that’s wrong with retail situations. The store employees hated looking through those stacks, shelves and draws of disorganized photo packets. That’s because they were always out of order. Once the purchase had been completed, the employees would simply hand the packet over to the customer instead of placing it in a bag.

Instinctively, the customer would open up their photo packet in the store instead of waiting until they got home. Once they started looking at the photos, many discovered the third party developer had made a mistake. The employee was then left to deal with a five dollar photo purchase problem they had not been trained to solve. Meanwhile, people trying to buy four hundred dollar televisions and two thousand dollar computers were left to fend for themselves.

Today, most stores that still offer photo processing or finishing have been smart enough to create a separate department for that. These in-store photo centers are usually staffed by people familiar with the product. Many do the actual processing and are able to offer customers a wide variety of pre-development or finishing options. This helps to avoid customer dissatisfaction when the job is done. It’s all about anticipating problems and solving them quickly when a customer or client is dissatisfied.

No business can run on excuses. It’s not unreasonable to expect any business owner or manager to be a team leader, create a positive work environment, hire the right people for the job and make sure that customers and clients are treated with respect. Like a dysfunctional family, a poorly run or managed business will eventually implode.

Author: Bill Knell

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A native New Yorker now living in Arizona, Bill Knell is a forty-something guy with a wealth of knowledge and experience. He's written hundreds of articles offer advice on a wide variety of subjects. A popular Speaker, Bill Knell presents seminars on a number of topics that entertain, train and teach. A popular radio and television show Guest, you've heard Bill on thousands of top-rated shows in all formats and seen him on local, national and international television programs.


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