Part 1: How to give great service without paying for it
2007-04-26 16:02:45 -

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

Let’s start with two simple propositions. Firstly, people are not parrots. Therefore, great customer service does not come from teaching people to be parrots. Rather, it comes from people being essentially happy in their work. Therefore, in order to give great customer service, you should look after the people who work with you.

Secondly, people are not bad. In almost any business you can think of, poor customer service is not given by bad people; poor customer service is given by badly managed people. The fault doesn’t lie with the front-line staff but rather with the managers who are charged with looking after them.

Great customer service comes from great owner/managers giving great leadership and creating a great environment for their workers. A visit to Kelly’s Resort in Rosslare, run by Bill Kelly, or Adrian Bartels’s Sheen Falls Lodge in Kenmare, shows this great leadership in action.
I have a firm belief that only about half the reason our staff get out of bed in the morning is the money they will make. Sure, we all need to eat and clothe ourselves and live somewhere, but once our basic needs are satisfied, we become concerned about other things: that’s where the other half of the reason people go to work comes in.

One important factor here is a person’s sense of self-esteem, which is bolstered by the fact that they feel part of a team, share in the vision of where the business is supposed to be going, and have a common goal with their workmates. It is also important that they know they have a shoulder to lean on when things aren’t going well, and will get a pat on the back when they do well – a sincere ‘thank you’ for a job well done.

I have seen many businesses over the years. In the poorly run ones, the owner or manager has said to me: ‘You can’t get good staff anymore. The ones I have are useless. They will leave this job for 50 cent an hour more to go and work for the competition. Why should I bother training them, when they’re just going to leave anyway?’ In the well-run ones, the owner/manager says something more like: ‘I have a great team. They’re really trying hard. I couldn’t do it without them. They’re hungry to learn, so I train them as efficiently as I can, accepting that, for most of them, they’re not here for a career and will eventually leave.’ 

The same business, the staff paid the same rate. Guess which delivers better service? Staff don’t leave jobs for an extra 50 cent an hour. They leave because they’re not treated with respect, because the environment they are asked to work in is chaotic and they are not trained properly.
The people equation I’m fortunate to be surrounded in my life by positive people. Fortunate, but not really surprised, because I believe like-minded people are attracted to each other. Whether it’s a life partner, a close friend, or the workmates you spend your day with – we’ll go for our own type. Of course you need some balance in work. While it might be nice to surround myself with outgoing, gregarious people like myself who aren’t that diligent about the detail of how something gets done, a business also needs methodical administrators in order to allow it to function correctly. That’s why, in a work situation, you need to be careful about not letting some of the people around you employ people who are too like them.

Many business people I meet have a very one-track mind when it comes to employees. (Actually, I have always been uncomfortable about describing someone as ‘my employee’, or ‘working for me’. It’s a bit like describing Lulu as ‘my wife’. I think it’s old-fashioned language, which implies that you own the person – or your partner. I describe an employee of O’Briens as someone who works with me, not for me.) These one-track-mind individuals argue that employees are there to get what they can for themselves and are only interested in the job for the money. It never surprises me to see businesses run by these people experiencing serious problems with their staff. It should come as no surprise either that these are the businesses with the worst customer service.
I believe that 95 per cent of people are basically honest and that we should run the business for them, not for the 5 per cent of people who might try to rip us off. It is an inescapable fact of building any sort of business that you have to trust people, in particular people who are working with you. You may be the best in the world in your particular field, but without a team you have only a limited amount of time in the day in which to achieve things. In fact, very few successful business people do it on their own

As we have seen, for people who work with you, less than half the reason they get out of bed in the morning is their wages. They do it because they are motivated, respected and trusted, and because they have responsibility, are cared for, and share a sense of vision about their work. So if you’re serious about offering great customer service, there are a number of things you need to take on board.

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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