Companies frequently live or die based on the quality of their workforces, but because service businesses are typically people intensive, a comparative advantage in employee management has an even greater impact. Top management must pay close attention to the processes of recruiting and selection, training, job design, performance management, and other components of the employee management system. More specifically, decisions made in these areas should reflect the service attributes for which the company aspires to be known.
Begin by asking two simple diagnostic questions to create a well-integrated employee management system. To begin, what makes our employees reasonably capable of achieving excellence? Then there’s the question of what motivates our employees to strive for excellence. Answers will be translated into company-specific policies and programs after careful consideration. Companies
A senior manager at one large international retail bank I studied had come to a depressing realization. “Our service stinks,” she admitted to me. Under her direction, the bank implemented a number of measures, the majority of which focused on incentives and training, but the problem persisted. The branch’s customer service did not improve.
The executive, perplexed but determined, decided to work as a frontline employee for a month. She anticipated that it would take that long to go through a typical range of service interactions and identify the source of the problem. It only took one day. “Customers were yelling at me from the moment the doors opened,” she said. “I was yelling back by the end of the day.”
Employees were set up to fail, it became clear. Recent cross-selling initiatives had resulted in a group of customers with more complex needs and higher expectations for their relationship with the bank, but employees were unprepared to meet those expectations. The typical employee had no reasonable chance of success as a result of decisions made by the management team (all of which were individually sound). The bank’s employee management system was malfunctioning.
If your company relies on employee heroism to keep customers happy, you have bad service by design. Employee sacrifice is rarely a long-term resource. Create a system that allows the average employee to thrive instead. This is a component of Commerce Bank’s competitive strategy. Remember that the bank prefers to compete on extended hours and friendly interactions
Consider how that strategy could be used to inform employee management; the implications are obvious. Commerce, for example, determined that it didn’t need straight-A students to master its limited product set; instead, it could hire for attitude and train for service. Its managers could use simple weed-out criteria in job interviews,rather than attempting to maximize across a wide range of positive traits. Current bank employees could be used as talent scouts, based on the adage that it takes one to know one. (When Commerce employees see someone providing excellent service in another setting, such as a restaurant or a gas station, they hand out a card
Employees who are above average in both attitude and aptitude are simply more expensive to hire. They are appealing not only to you, but also to your competitors, which drives up wages. A company that wants to maintain a competitive cost structure will almost certainly have to sacrifice one quality or the other (or, if it insists on having both, find a way to fund that luxury). If you choose to hire for attitude, as Commerce Bank does, you must design your system so that even low-aptitude employees can Many people are hesitant to acknowledge a trade-off between aptitude and attitude, just as managers are hesitant to admit that their service is designed to be inferior on some attributes. However, failure to account for this economic reality in the design of the employee management system is a common cause of poor service.