Part 3: How to give great service without paying for it
2007-05-10 15:52:41 -

Founder of O’Briens Sandwich Bars, BRODY SWEENEY, continues his series on how to cope with the stresses and strains of starting a new enterprise

Regular ‘thank-you’s
You can never say ‘thank you’ often enough. It should be very obvious to any ‘people person’ that we respond very well to a pat on the back, and work harder and become more loyal as a result of frequent and sincere praise. 

Keeping a note of your associates (and that doesn’t mean only your staff – watch how the customer service from your suppliers improves following regular and sincere praise, as appropriate) and remembering, every now and again, to single them out individually to thank them for a job well done will do more for the customer service in your organisation than almost anything else. In short, make your staff’s time with you valuable.

Have a sense of fun
There’s no rule that says business has to be boring. While there are certainly many boring aspects to some jobs, you – as the owner/operator  – have the power to use humour to create a great atmosphere in your workplace. Fun tends to be infectious, so not only your staff but also your customers will end up with a smile on their faces.

To give a few examples –  Southwest Airlines, on the West Coast of the United States, built a reputation for their wacky staff who wasted no opportunity to ham it up in front of their customers. The restaurant chain TGI Fridays allows staff to choose their own head coverings, which gives them a sense of individuality while also providing a fun talking point with customers. Julian Richer, the founder of the Richer Sounds music equipment chain, had a Rolls Royce available for staff who excelled in their work. These staff members were then able to bring the Rolls home and take their friends or parents for a spin. 

And any of us can create a great atmosphere at work by having a laugh with our customers.
Set the standard and continuously strive to reach it with your people
Any business will be defined firstly by your staff and secondly by your standards. It goes without saying that we should all be striving to improve our standards all the time. Having high standards is as much a personal approach to life as a business objective.

People often ask me how I maintain standards in to O’Briens. It’s a fair question. My answer is that, if you get the right people in as your franchise partners, the standards look after themselves. In other words, you can tie anyone up in knots with a legal agreement, but if the person has poor personal standards, whether in hygiene or business discipline, there is very little that can done to change that person. The right people will have high personal standards, which they will then encourage and coach their staff to achieve.

I suppose I am a perfectionist. I am never happy about the standards we achieve, and this can make things very difficult for the people who work with me. I think entrepreneurs are generally perfectionists, and the successful ones pass their perfectionism on to their staff. But being restless and unhappy about the standards that are reached means that you do not become complacent and are always trying to do things better.

Induct properly, train technically
During the height of Ireland’s economic boom in the late 1990s, when there was essentially full employment, we had a kind of running joke in O’Briens about the difficulty of finding employees. A new recruit would be interviewed at 9am and asked to start work at 10. At noon, the new recruit was made a supervisor, and by 2pm she had been appointed store manager. At 5pm, the new recruit was gone, never to be seen again.

While the joke is obviously exaggerated to make the point, it may be a bit close to the bone for some of us. Imagine what a new recruit – who is not given the time to figure out how the business works before he is asked to deal with customers – thinks of his new employer. Imagine what your customer feels like being served by someone who, through no fault of their own, hasn’t a clue how to look after them.

Taking time to induct somebody new into the business properly more than pays for itself in terms of the money you save by not having to continually advertise, interview and train a string of workers who start but don’t last the pace.

In an ideal world (and, as we all know, it’s not always ideal) a new recruit would start by having a tour of the business conducted by the boss or senior manager, where the way in which the business works is explained, and the new recruit is introduced to their colleagues and made feel welcome. After that, a structured training programme would bring the new employee up to speed in an efficient and accountable way, so that they can start to contribute to the business as soon as possible. Doing the induction in this way demonstrates the professionalism of your organisation while hugely increasing your chances of retaining that person, especially if they’re good.

Even in what appears to be a simple business like O’Briens, where we have a relatively high staff turnover at the retail level, you can easily see, from spending five minutes in the store, the standards that are set in terms of training the staff.

Next week: Great customer service continued

_ Taken from Making Bread – The Real Way To Start Up and Stay Up in Business by Brody Sweeney, published by Liberties Press – buy at and get a 10 per cent discount
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