Category Archives: Employees

Caveat Emptor on Job Interviews

bewareI enjoy keeping in touch with former students, so was pleased to hear from one a few weeks ago. She’s a recent graduate, was a top student with plenty of internships and experience, and will have no trouble finding a job. But she’s looking for work in a specific town, which narrows her options a bit.

She related the following story to me.

A supposedly national company with offices across the U.S. and overseas was hiring marketers and promised a “fast track” to management. She arrived for an interview at a small office with what appeared to be rented furniture and no technology – the receptionist was working on a cell phone. The person she met with had worked there less than a year and had no personal effects or other things on his desk.

The conversation went well, and she was called back for a second interview the next day. She was told she’d be job shadowing, but it was still unclear what the job actually was.

She arrived the following day, as did several other second-round interviewees. They all piled into a car for an “exploratory trip” about an hour and a half away.

“Yes, Mr. Fiene, I gradated Summa Cum Laude yet got into a car with these strangers…..but I know self defense and keep a knife in my purse,” she joked with me later.

The group arrived at the destination, and were asked to cold call on businesses to sell discounted baseball tickets. Not only was it intrusive, she said, but partially dishonest because she was told to tell prospective customers she represented a professional baseball team – which of course was not the case. She wasn’t really sure who she was representing.

So all day long these captive recruits went door to door trying to sell tickets. In talking with others who were on the goose chase with her, she discovered some had been doing this for weeks, yet still don’t know who they worked for or how they were paid. She asked if the company reimbursed for gas or paid for mileage, and was told “there are other potential benefits that offset the cost of gas.”

Fortunately at the end of the day she made it safely back to where she started.  Exhausted and feeling duped, she quickly left and didn’t return again.

Here’s what she said she learned:

First, Instincts are important. “Trust yourself when you search for jobs. If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t.” Her advice is to check the history of the company, look for reviews, and search for information on salary, benefits and more.

Second, “Don’t sell yourself short.” Most college graduates receive a wonderful education – make sure you don’t squander it.  Apply for jobs where you actually have a chance of using the skills that you learned.

Finally, she says, ask questions. Although she got duped for a day, apparently some of her fellow job shadowees had been beating the streets with those baseball tickets for weeks and still didn’t understand what they were doing, or why.

I’m proud of this young lady.   She learned lessons that day that will last a lifetime. I’ve had a few similar experiences while job hunting that I’ll write about next time.

One lesson I’ll add though – don’t give your work away for free even in job interview situations. See my post from July 11, 2011 to read more about that.


Leave a comment

Filed under Employees, Ethics

Investing in Employees Pays Off

This just in from a friend’s Facebook Wall:  “While paying for my purchase at [name of store deleted], the clerk answers the phone, turns her back to me and chats for at least 3-4 minutes until I go, ‘hellooooo”. When she finally hangs up she says,”sorry, it was my manager.” Is talking to your manager more important than waiting on customer???”

Unbelievable, but it happens all the time.  I’ve noted before that when retail salespeople are faced with a choice of doting on an in-the-store customer versus talking to one on the phone – put the caller on hold!  This seems such a no-brainer, especially when the customer in the store is at the cash register.  Duh!

Te be sure, both the clerk and the manager on the phone (who should have asked if there were customers waiting) were amazingly unprofessional.  But the bigger picture is likely that the employees haven’t been trained to treat customers well – or else they just don’t care because they themselves are not treated well.  Time after time, studies show that happy employees mean happier customers.

A lot of companies don’t invest in their employees because they don’t see the need, they can’t quantify the payoff, or they are reluctant to pour resources into minimum-wage earners in high-turnover positions.  I once heard a manager say it was foolish to train employees in customer service skills because those employees would soon leave to work elsewhere anyway – so why train the competition?

It’s challenging when the lowest paid, lowest ranking employees – for example, sales clerks – are the ones serving customers.  But that’s no excuse for poor service, either.  As my friend correctly pointed out, there are other stores with low paid workers who provide exemplary customer service.  (She mentioned Von Maur, a Midwest department store renowned for their service.)

And everyone has heard the statistics about how one upset customer tells a dozen or so others, and they tell their friends, and so on.  It’s even more compounded when things go viral, just like happened with this Facebook post.

Even in tough job markets such as this one, where employees may be more captive to an employer than in other times, you just can’t afford NOT to train employees and to keep them happy.  That’s because in tough times, customers are much more selective about where they spend their money too.

Leave a comment

Filed under Customers, Employees, Sweat the Small Stuff

Sweat the Small Stuff with Employees, Too

Last time, I wrote about the importance of sweating the small stuff. But a challenge for many organizations is that the employees who shape the customer experience — those who can go the extra mile, attend to the little things and really make a difference — are at the bottom of the heap when it comes to rank, pay, status and tenure.

Think about it: Your interactions with a restaurant are not with the owner, but with the wait staff. When you stay at a hotel, you deal with doormen, the front desk, the luggage handlers, housekeepers, room service servers and maybe parking attendants — not the general manager. Store clerks, receptionists, telemarketers, customer service representatives, mortgage processors, delivery personnel, administrative assistants and yes, as mentioned in my previous article, even baristas and coffee-pourers, are the ones who can really make the customer experience something special.

But how to engage these employees? How do you persuade someone making near minimum wage at the bottom of the totem pole to think about what they’re doing, and to look for ways to delight customers?

  • For starters, every study I have done or seen on employee motivation finds that those organizations with the best level of customer care are also those with the most satisfied employees. In other words, happiness starts from within. If your workers are jaded, disgruntled, demoralized, fearful…good luck on getting them to care about the customer experience!
  • Research also shows — and my experience has proven — that job satisfaction isn’t mostly about money. More than pay, employees want respect, appreciation, to have a voice, and to feel that their job is purposeful. To be sure, the little things count when it comes to employee satisfaction as well.
  • Empower employees to make some decisions on the spot. Yes, they’ll make bad calls sometimes — and you’ll need to deal with those who consistently do so. But it’s the front-line workers who know best how to wow customers. I’ve found that, left on their own, employees will almost always strike the right balance between making customers happy and keeping organizational goals in mind. They’ll usually do the right thing if you let them.
  • Make sure they know it’s OK to screw up once in a while. If employees fear getting fired for one small mistake, they’ll never step outside the box — they’ll always just follow the rules. But we all know there are times when rules should really be bent.
  • Finally, make sure your employees become customers, too. If the waiters and waitresses don’t visit the restaurant as regular customers…if the housekeepers never stay in the hotel…if the clerks never step to the other side of the counter…if the telemarketers don’t buy the product…if the customer service reps have never placed an order…how can they really appreciate the customer experience? They’re also better able to spot gaps and find opportunities to create more satisfaction if they walk in the customers’ shoes. Give your employees freebies and other incentives if that’s what it takes to make them a customer. It will be money well spent.

Leave a comment

Filed under Employees, Sweat the Small Stuff