Why role specific training matters

Last week in “Reflecting on Leadership“, I said “The more I thought about it, the more disturbing this reflection became. I thought back to any number of employers and client businesses and the training they offered to new team members. Training was never about preparing a new (albeit, sometimes experienced) employee to succeed / survive IN THE ACTUAL SITUATION / ROLE.

It’s important to unwrap this & explain why I find this disturbing.

Why “disturbing”?

I said “disturbing” because the short and long term impact of this lack of role specific training hit me. It impacts the company’s success, the employee’s short term success in the role, and the employee’s career in the long term.

Think about the perspective of the employee who steps up. Employees might be stepping outside of their comfort zone in order to take a shot at this role. While access to opportunity is important, employees like to help their company & manager by filling an important role. Consider the potential chaos created by the departure of someone with “big shoes to fill”. Everyone knows the impact of that departure – yet someone is likely to volunteer to take on that role.  Employees who step up to fill a role created by increased workload feel similarly. 

From the owner’s perspective, each of those situations imply that success in the role is important to your company. An existing staffer who steps up deserves to be well-prepared for the role.

What happens if someone who “steps up” to take on a new role is “thrown to the wolves”? The natural response is that other employees will be less likely to step up when the opportunities present themselves. Eventually, the perceived lack of opportunity will provoke them to leave your company. 

They reflect what we teach.

The lack of role-specific training teaches the employee what “normal” is. As their career continues, they’re likely to manage others – and will likely do so as they have been managed. There will be exceptions, of course, but our own experience tends to be our teacher. Consider the long-time employee who becomes one of your senior leaders. Would you want them based role-specific training decisions based on the training they received? 

Anything you do is everything you do. It all ties together. 

Employees who join other companies in your industry send a message. Not because they left you, but by reflection. Their skill set, experience and how they work reflects upon your company. Your peers and your customers will eventually figure out that your team is “making it up as they go along”, if that’s how things work. Poorly trained people are easy to notice. 

What about seasoned staffers?

You might expect them to step in and “hit the ground running” since you selected them because of their background & experience (among other things). Even so, experience & background aren’t everything. New team members joining from “the outside” should take part in discussions about your company’s culture, resources, role expectations, etc before a hiring decision is made. Culture is a critical piece for experienced people. Behaviors expected / tolerated elsewhere can cause failure of a new team member as if they never had a chance. 

Avoiding the blank sheet

While the specifics of role specific training will vary, some topics likely occur across industries.

Examples to get you started:

  • Specific duties of this role on a daily / weekly / quarterly / annual basis.
  • Process-specific training required to succeed. 
  • Where / how do the duties in this role fit into its department? 
  • How does this role’s work fit into and contribute to the company’s big picture / mission?
  • Information / data received regularly.
  • Which events to be concerned about.
  • What events to expect.
  • Events you should be concerned about – if they don’t happen.
  • Data the company creates and/or collects that’s related to this role.
  • Expected deliverables & their due dates.
  • Sources of industry info that should be monitored.
  • Industry influencers to interact with / follow.
  • Available ongoing training / certifications needed.
  • Company’s policy on getting initial & advanced training. Time out of office, travel, tuition, reimbursement, etc. 
  • Time normally required in this role before going to advanced role specific training.
  • Company experts (in this role’s context) and the person whose job requirements include mentoring the person in this role.
  • Internal company groups related to this role / department. When / where they meet. What to gain from them. Insight they need. 

What ideas / suggestions do you have?

Are you testing your training?

By the time you read this, we’ll have finally arrived home from an almost six week long work / play trip. What that really means is that I worked as we travelled and she played. Ok, I played a little bit too. The beauty of having a business that isn’t tied to a single physical location is that you can do that work from anywhere. BUT… that isn’t today’s topic. I think I’ve harped on the value of remote work enough, at least for now.

This was a long road trip. We saw long “lost” relatives we hadn’t seen in 20 years, had a little bit of beach time, spent time with family and college friends, as well as knocking off a few things on our “gotta do this” list. One of the constants of a road trip – particularly one that takes consists of a lot of time in the high desert plains and mountains – is thirst quenching. There’s a certain drive through place we visit that has a happy hour twice a day – half off or very cheap drinks (no, not THOSE kind). These places are (almost) everywhere along our trip’s path, so we managed to visit quite a few of them.

At almost every one of these places, we found that we had ordering problems. An unbelievable frequency of them, in fact.

The problem is not the problem

At first, we thought it was my accent. I don’t have one, according to me. Ok, I really don’t have one and I have had enough trouble with this at drive ups that I tend to be that guy who enunciates every word slowly so that even Siri could understand it.

Didn’t help. When you’ve had this issue in Louisiana, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and a few other states whose people talk far differently accent-wise, you start to get the idea that it isn’t you.

The same data and experiences that help you figure out that it isn’t you also help you figure out that it isn’t the person on the other end. That was the good news.

Eventually, we started asking questions. Yes, I know. Who does that?

The real issue?

At first, it really wasn’t clear what was creating this issue at so many locations. While I was still thinking it might somehow be me or engine noise, the problem was consistent in too many places, even with the engine off. Plus we were driving a Subaru, not a diesel pickup.

What was clear was that employees of this franchise system were having massive problems all over the West, Midwest, and as far east as the Florida panhandle.

After talking to a few employees at different locations (after we had trouble ordering at each of them), we found out that they were having terrible struggles with their point of sale ordering system. It wasn’t clear if it was new, poorly designed, unclear, and/or if an awful lot of people hadn’t been getting trained well, or all of those things.

It eventually became clear that the more experienced employees were doing ok with the system (think: Morning visits usually staffed by a manager), while afternoon visits were the source of the struggle. It finally seemed to come down to newer employees who may have recently started for the summer. They would be less familiar with the menu and the point of sale system, as well as the challenges of voice ordering.

In one case, the flustered person trying to take a two drink order finally called over their manager, who cleared up the point of sale issue almost immediately. The manager was very apologetic to us, but I don’t think we deserved an apology. I think the employee who perhaps hadn’t been trained enough or mentored enough was the one who should have received the apology (and some additional training).

The point? Test, train, repeat.

We encountered similar things at other businesses during our trip.

If you implement point of sale, tech support or order management systems in your business – whether you own/run a restaurant or a heavy manufacturing business, find a local fast food joint that has deployed do-it-yourself ordering kiosks.

Every manager (including senior ones) will benefit from watching the general public as they use these systems. Having done that… watch newly trained employees do the same with your systems. Only then will you know if your training is working.

Photo by familymwr

Training: One cure for sales problems

When having a conversation about sales problems, I might remind you about the folly of only taking cash (depending on the type of business). I might also remind you to eliminate the tedious & annoying out of your buying process. There are cases where that’s useful, but mostly – it isn’t. But not today. Today, I’d like to remind you of the value of training your sales team.

You’ve got questions

Heard of Quora.com? Quora is a website where you can ask questions. Many times, you’d never have access to those who answer: world-class subject matter experts. If you asked an airplane question, you might hear from an engineer who helped design it & three commercial pilots who fly it.

Why Quora? Because I found a Quora question pertinent to this discussion: “What can businesses learn from the military?” It reminds me of the not well informed “Why don’t non-profits run like a business?” question, but this is a much better question.

A Marine named Jon Davis who deployed to Iraq & Afghanistan answered: “Training”.  His answer breaks down like this: 1) A detailed process to track progress. 2) Regular job specific training. 3) An annual schedule to ensure standards are met. 4) Find & reward teachers. 5) Ignore the “training them to leave” myth. 6) Discipline.

If those six items are checkboxes – can you check any of them?

I’ve recently met several folks who work in the car business. The one I wrote about last week is the only one I’ve encountered recently who knew the product well. I don’t mean he could wake him in the middle of the night & tell me (blindfolded) how to change a timing belt. I mean he didn’t have to run to the showroom to find out the horsepower for a vehicle whose manufacturer makes cars with only two engine choices across the entire product line. Yes, it happened.

This isn’t a sales team failure. It’s a management failure. Are you preparing your salespeople to succeed? Product knowledge isn’t what sells cars. Rapport is. Guiding me to a “special value” (car that’s been on the lot too long) because it pays more than a mini (minimum commission) doesn’t build rapport.

A question about the value of rapport: What’s worth more to you, getting that “special value” off the lot, or creating a relationship that provokes me to return every x years to buy only from you for the rest of my vehicle buying days, while also encouraging my friends to do so? You decide.

Sometimes product knowledge is critical: “Can you help me find a good red wine?” The salesperson who knows less about your product than most prospects will struggle – & reflect poorly on your business. You need someone who understands the problems your prospects want to solve & how your solutions address them.

Don’t have a sales team? Still affects you.

One of the best parts of the answer Jon gives relates to on-boarding. He describes how the military trains recruits and leads them. He then compares that to the training that most businesses provide: haphazardly, if at all, and with little ongoing mentoring –  which unfortunately matches my observations over time.

You probably hire experienced people so they’ll step in & become effective quickly. Do they do it the way you want it done? Did they learn a completely different way of doing what you do? What if you don’t want them to do it that way? How will they learn your proprietary way of doing things?

Don’t assume an experienced new hire has mastered the systems, machinery, methods, and processes your business uses to succeed. Learn from their experience, but train / mentor them.

No matter what, the last thing you ought to be doing is turning them loose on your customers, prospects, products, and services and simply assuming that everything’s going to work out. Maybe it will. They might survive, or get by, or be good enough. Did you exert all that effort to find just the right person only to toss them to the lions with the expectation that they’d get by?

How much does it cost each time you have to replace a poorly trained salesperson who failed? How much does it cost to keep someone who isn’t as effective as they could be because they had to learn your ways by the seat of their pants?

Photo by formatc1

Which little things do you let slide?

We often let little things go because we have “bigger fish to fry”. We prioritize tasks, clients, products and services over others of the same sort because we have to. Prioritization of what’s important today over what might be important tomorrow, or even later today is perfectly normal. We have to do it.

The challenge with little things is that they add up, particularly when they’re repeatedly set aside. They have a way of ganging up and creating momentum, as if they were a colony of ants. Together, a colony can move things much larger than any single ant.

We cannot allow any error in judgment to delude us into thinking that ‘letting the little thing slide’ would not make a major difference.” – Jim Rohn

What little things?

What sort of little things come to mind for you as important for your business?

For me, the little things that matter are those things that tell me what the business thinks is important. Every business says the customer is important, but how do they prove it? Do their words match their actions? Little things are a great place to sort this out.

Little things explicitly communicate what’s important to the owners of the business. They tell me about the culture of the business and paint a picture of what’s important to the business’ management team. These things indicate how hard the ownership and management has thought about what their customers need, want and expect.

Their consideration of and emphasis placed on these things is reflected in the staff’s behavior. Their behavior is an indicator of the quality of management. It signals management’s emphasis during staff training, as well as the quality and frequency of that training. All of this points at the importance placed on serving their clients’ needs, wants and expectations.

Think about the curb appeal of a house. Consider your impression when stopping in front of a home with a weedy, un-mowed yard. Now think about the impression you have when viewing a nicely manicured one. What does that tell you about the upkeep, maintenance and care taken for the rest of each home? Your impression might be wrong – but changing that impression is tough. A business with poor “curb appeal” may never get a chance to improve the impression they’ve left.

That’s exactly what little things can do. They have a knack for sending a big message to your clients.

Prioritization by impact

Big things matter. If you think back over your career, I’m sure you can think of a number of big issues that started out as little things that were left to fester. But which ones? It’s critical to separate the little unimportant things from the little things that can fester into big ones. And how exactly do you do that? One of the most important prioritization skills you can develop is the ability to determine which of these little things are unimportant and which need to be dealt with before they create big problems.

I tend to look at the impact, rather than the size.

If something small is likely to impact a number of people, it won’t be small for long. That’s the kind of little thing that requires short term attention. Little things to you, your team and your business might be big things to your clientele, which speaks to your awareness of client needs, wants and expectations.

If something small isn’t communicated, it can become something big simply by not letting your clients know about it – and know that you’re aware of it. Even if you believe it’s a little thing, communicate anyway. This gives the client a chance to say “Thanks, no problem” or “Hey, it’s not a big deal in and of itself, but it’s going to create another problem that causes a big impact.” The incremental cost of that brief advisory to the client is tiny. The return on investment on that communication can be sizable if it helps keep a small issue from morphing into something ugly.

If you only identify one of these situations per year and it results in keeping a client you might have lost, the return on investment is obvious. If you retain one sale a month by categorizing these little things and taking action on the important ones, the return on investment is obvious.

Does packing a suitcase make you more productive?

Think about the process you go through when preparing for an important business trip.

You make a todo list so you’re sure you get all the bases covered.

You think of every scenario that might come up at home while you are gone and every scenario that might up come while out of town.

Based on all the conditions and situations you can think of, you pack/prep/research accordingly and give instructions to the pet/house sitter.

Do it every day

Do you also use that same process to prepare for the next week of work? For the next trade show? For the next sales meeting? For your next customer appointment? For your next deployment?

Even though this kind of preparation works well for a big business trip, it’s unusual to find businesses doing it on a day by day basis. If you plan your work weekly, you may not need to do it each day – but that depends on the nature of the work you do, as well as the work you delegate.

Harvey Mackay says “dig your well before you’re thirsty” – which most of us tend to do before going out of town. So why would we do so little of this when we’re in the environment that we’ve (presumably) optimized to produce our best work? Yes, I mean your office, shop or whatever place you work in on a regular basis.

The earlier, the better

Recently my wife (who teaches junior high kids) and I were talking about our area’s proposed use of tablets in school. Personal electronics use in schools is all over the place policy-wise, depending on the school system. Unfortunately, discussions about electronics in school tend to focus on what can go wrong, perhaps due to the political pressures schools face.

Because junior high kids are at a highly impressionable age, it’s the perfect time to teach productive, socially-acceptable use of mobile devices. It’s also an ideal time to teach critically important work habits that help improve productivity, focus, accountability and follow up skills they’ll need to succeed in high school. If mastered before leaving junior high, they’ll help students meet goals they haven’t even discovered in high school and beyond. While it isn’t too late to learn these habits in high school, the earlier they’re learned and used, the faster they’ll benefit the student.

The value of “The earlier the better” works the same way for your company.

Do you also encourage your staff to do the “before packing a suitcase” kind of prep? When improving your own work processes, include your staff early. The habits you pass along will help your business in the short run and grow your staff in the long run. Finally, don’t forget to ask them about their best work habits – you might learn about the best one yet.

If you aren’t doing this, it can put your staff and your customers at some level of risk. Maybe not the risk of failure, but certainly you risk achieving “average industry performance”.

What’s wrong with average industry performance?

How does this sound: “We deliver average products and services in an average time frame at average prices.” That just screams “you gotta buy from us”, doesn’t it?

This is one reason the term “best practices” sets off alarm bells for me. Industry organizations publish their members’ “best practices”, but really – these practices tend to be the common practices of the average industry member. Why? The organization assembled the list of tactics and strategies from its membership, or in best case, from those considered to be leading that industry. Few recognize the practices that the highest performing organizations have adopted as their advantage until they become widespread – ie: average.

Below average organizations who are trying to improve work to adopt today’s best practices of their industry. Industry leaders have already created (or discovered) what will be tomorrow’s best practices, which will soon be the norm. That is, when everyone else figures out what the new norm is. By then, the industry leader has raised their game.

Everyday habits like your “before packing a suitcase” ritual are what set industry leaders apart.

PS: Here’s the story of the concrete suitcases in the photo.

The kind of salesperson they LOVE to hear from

Dynamic Serenity
Creative Commons License photo credit: papalars

When you talk to your customers about their business, do they ever respond “Wow, I didn’t know that” or “Really?”

Does your sales and marketing process provoke your prospects with questions they have to think about?

Or does it simply say “Look at us! Look at us!”

Far fewer spend their energy and money educating their prospects / clients, much less showing that they did their homework about the prospect’s business.

Smart businesses do this to show their expertise in the clients’ market. They stand out because they care enough to do their homework.

Paying Attention

Years ago when business research usually required searching proprietary online systems, I flew off to a job interview. While preparing for the interview, I looked up this public company’s annual report. I found some troubling things that looked like they were bad but recoverable.

During the interview, I asked about their problems and their recovery strategy. The interviewer was the company’s finance VP. He was looking for a technology director to help turn their business around and was shocked that I knew of the problem, much less that I had marginally intelligent questions about it. More importantly, he was wowed because I had invested the time and effort to learn about their company before showing up for the interview.

Given the ease of information access these days, that sort of knowledge should be assumed of an interview candidate.

Do job candidates show this kind of interest and level of knowledge about your business when they join you for an interview? If they don’t, why would you hire them? If they don’t care enough to learn about your business before they get the job, will they care after they get the job?

Your prospects, much less your clients, might be asking that same question about your staff’s knowledge of their business, market and industry.

Why we “hate” salespeople

Even if you don’t have salespeople, whoever does “the sales job” has to have this homework done to have any credibility with customers and prospects.

Think about why you don’t want to deal with salespeople: “Can I help you?”

Of course, you have no idea if they’re capable of helping you. You usually don’t know if they’re the expert and you probably don’t recall being introduced to their expert the last time you had tough questions. Most salespeople are trained on their employer’s business processes, but not often about the customers who frequent that business, much less their needs. It’s usually not their fault. It’s a management/training choice.

That’s why your natural response to “Can I help you?” has become a reflex: “Just looking.”

It’s natural because we assume they won’t be of use to our evaluation/selection process and as a result, we figure they’re only asking because they’re on commission or are trained to engage every customer with the same robotic greeting (because someone thought it’d increase sales).

Commission or not, know your stuff

I really don’t care if they’re on commission or not if they’re knowledgeable. After all, I entered the business because I needed something. If they have someone who can actually help me by sharing their knowledge and asking smart questions, they’ll earn that commission.

The ones we don’t want to talk to act as order takers, work a self-service cash register can often perform. If the management of “order takers” hasn’t taught them the importance of this info, few of them will become effective salespeople.

If you’ve done your homework, you know things about your clients’ world that they simply don’t know. It isn’t because they’re dumber than you, it’s just that most of them are too embroiled in the day to day of their business to spend time on that stuff. The best ones spend time on it or have someone do it for them, but they’re rare – and they really appreciate expertise.

While they almost certainly know more about the day to day and technical aspects of their business than you do, prospects may not have done detailed research before a purchase, particularly if it isn’t specific to their expertise. They may not know new industry info that might generate interest in other things you offer.

The world needs better salespeople. If you employ them, educate them. If you’re in sales, do your homework.

Working in Disneyland. Not.

PING PONG
Creative Commons License photo credit: Max Braun

A few weeks ago, we talked about the importance of strategic delegation and how it might just enable you to enjoy a phone call free vacation, much less free up some hugely important strategic thinking time.

When I was in the photography software business, I quickly learned that photographers absolutely detest being pulled out of the camera room to answer the phone.

Likewise, if I emailed them about something urgent (usually because they said it was urgent), theyâ??d often respond hours later saying that they had been in the camera room and hadnâ??t seen my email.

It’s not as if they were hiding from us. Usually we were trying to contact them to help them resolve a problem, train them or answer a question.

But you don’t pull them out of the camera room.

It’s not Disneyland

The camera room isnâ??t a magical place, but it is where they make their money. Itâ??s where the backgrounds, props, lights and cameras are. Itâ??s where their clients are when they are creating their masterpiece, which results in revenue. They DO NOT like being interrupted while they are in there, just in case I wasn’t clear.

Technical jobs (programming, engineering, etc) work the same way. While performing detailed, highly-technical work; these workers despise being interrupted. We get into the zone, into a flow, we get clear, whatever you call it.

Interrupting us from this work after immersing ourselves in it is expensive and annoying. It takes a while (15-20 minutes or more) to get back to the zone where we can be productive with all the right stuff in our head.

And then the door to your office opens because someone wants to know where the toilet paper is or what place we have planned for lunch.

In an instant, youâ??re out of the zone. Even if you aren’t “technical”.

Produce a Procedures Manual

One thing that helps reduce these interruptions is having a procedures manual. Just because itâ??s called a manual doesnâ??t mean it has to be printed. It might be a wiki or a really long MS Word document. It doesnâ??t matter as long as it is documented and accessible by anyone who needs to perform a task at your business.

This manual might prevent you from getting a call on a Sunday afternoon at dinner time because someone went into the office to plan their week (or pick up something they forgot), and realized that they donâ??t know how to turn on the alarm.

Or the alarm is going off and the police are there and they want to know how to turn it off, so they call you while you’re in the doctor’s office, on the beach, etc. Worse yet is when they can’t reach you, so they leave without turning the alarm on, or similarly less-than-ideal situations.

Important Safety Tip

There is no process that must be done regularly in your business that is too trivial to leave out of this documentation.

Yes, I said no process too trivial.

One reason I suggest that is that someday you will have a new employee. They will start at the bottom. They won’t know anything.

And they’ll pull you out of the camera room (or your equivalent) every five minutes to ask you about this or that if you don’t have anything else (like a procedures manual) to provide this instruction.

Certainly there will be enough face to face contact as it is. In the old consultant’s home, you’ll hear us muttering something along the lines of “What’s worse than spending the time and effort to train an employee who stays for years? NOT training them and having them stay for years.”

I know you’ll train them. Really I do. Still, there are things that simply shouldn’t require hands-on training. They might be performed by a temporary employee.

These tasks will often be mundane, ranging from opening the store, to packaging to closing the store at the end of the day to turning off the alarm when set off by mistake.

Each is one less “really good reason” to pull you (or someone else) out of the zone.

Literacy of a different sort

One of the things I’m always pushing clients to do is expand their education.

Naturally, that includes the education of their staff, if they have one.

This education expands well beyond your line of business, because there are valuable lessons from every industry.

Likewise, there are processes in almost every industry that you can learn from, modify to fit your needs and thus use in a completely unrelated business.

What I seldom mention is that you can’t let yourself think you’re so smart that you let your guard down.

While it was more than a decade ago, we’ve seen the same sort of situation lately.

While the Fool has a point, neither they nor I would suggest that literacy on any topic is a bad idea. Financial literacy is their reason to exist.

The bad stuff occurs when you stop doing what got you to the point of being literacy, or even highly literate.

Dancing with “who brung ya”

Another thing to watch out for as you educate yourself is that deciding (or just “forgetting”) to stop doing the stuff to communicate, support and enthrall customers.

No matter how smart you think you are, or really become, you still have to take care of customers. No matter how far ahead of the second place player you are, you still have to follow up and do the other things that got you to number one.

If you aren’t yet number one, you’ve gotta keep doing the things that keep you climbing, much less the things that the current number one is too lazy or sleepy to do.

Lazy? Sleepy? “Too smart?”

We’ve talked about lazy and sleepy plenty of times. I won’t belabor them.

When you get too smart… correction, when you THINK you’ve become too smart, bad things are almost certain to start happening. Even worse, if you really think you’re that smart, you might ignore a failure as an aberration rather than you losing your business mojo.

You make assumptions rather than testing the market, your software, your marketing, or that formula for Flubber.

You think that you’re “Too big to fail”.

Getting better

Focus on getting smarter, but also on getting better.

It’s not worth the time to get smarter if you don’t use what you learn. Think back over your year.

How many things have you done to make your business better? To make yourself better?

Not just reading what will make you better, but DOING it…

Look, even Tom Peters and Dan Kennedy have their bad days. Just the other day, Dan commented in his newsletter (hint…) that he had a bad day because he “only completed 11 of the 12 tasks he’d scheduled for the day.”

He called his day “Unsatisfactory.”

I hold myself to a pretty high standard, and like you, Tom and Dan, I fail myself as well.

The difference between most people and Dan is that 11 of 12 is a great day for most people. For that matter, 6 of 12 is probably a great day for most.

Looking at 11 of 12 as unsatisfactory from a “this was my plan, but this is what happened” point of view is what keeps someone as amazingly smart as Dan from getting sleepy about his business.

Overconfidence

The gist of the Motley Fool article is this, and I quote:

“In 1998, the hedge fund Long Term Capital Management, staffed thick with Ph.D.s and two Nobel laureates, exploded amid an almost incomprehensible amount of leverage. Behind the failure was raging overconfidence. “The young geniuses from academe felt they could do no wrong,” wrote Roger Lowenstein in the book When Genius Failed.”

Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett said this about the firm profiled in the Motley Fool article:

“They probably have as high an average IQ as any sixteen people working together in one business in the country … just an incredible amount of intellect in that group. Now you combine that with the fact that those sixteen had extensive experience in the field they were operating in … in aggregate, the sixteen probably had 350 or 400 years of experience doing exactly what they were doing. And then you throw in the third factor: that most of them had virtually all of their very substantial net worths in the business … And essentially they went broke. That to me is absolutely fascinating.”

The EASY thing to do would be to dismiss anyone who is smart, or trying to get smarter, simply because this group of people royally screwed up. Of course, if you’re the type to think that way, you probably aren’t reading this.

I suggest you re-read that Buffett commet.

A final quote from the Fool article:

“LTCM is an example of financial education being overridden by a swamp of overconfidence, hubris, and a lack of common sense. Wall Street in general is another. The folks who ran Citigroup (NYSE: C) and AIG (NYSE: AIG) had plenty of financial education. But in general, they lacked the humility to realize the danger of what they were doing. One has to assume their top-notch pedigrees and financial educations contributed to that lack of humility.”

Like I said when we got started here…continue to educate yourself.

That *always* includes learning from someone else’s mistakes.

Customers: Not the enemy

If your customers are treated like the enemy when they give feedback about your products, services, customer service and so on; that’s exactly what they’ll become.

How are you treating your customers when something you did (or something they *perceive* of you) manages to set them off?

It’s easy to take it personally…but do your best not to.

The high-value feedback you might normally miss out on is hiding right behind the bluster.

It’s often the most valuable you’ll get. It’s coming from a customer who cares in a vulnerable moment.

Soak it in. Thank them. And take action.

PS: That doesn’t mean you let people become abusive. Defuse, then discover.

Every job is a sales job

One of the unsung business assets of the area where I live is a customer service training program called “Montana Superhost”.

In the old country, er I mean a few years ago, the program cost $15-25 per trainee. The last time I saw a course offered , it was *free*.

Why every session of this course isn’t overflowing with people is a mystery to me. People should be lined up out the door as if someone is giving away iPads or fresh crispy bacon or something.

Even if they do start charging a fee, you’d be nuts not to send your entire staff – and *especially* the newbies and temporary summer employees.

It only takes one

Yes, even your temporary summer employees. In fact, ESPECIALLY those folks.

It might seem like a waste to pay them for their time at Superhost training (yes, you should) and the course fee (if any)- but I suggest that it isn’t waste at all.

No matter what every tourist season customer spends at your business, all it takes is one untrained, unfriendly (and/or surly, uncaring etc) employee to prevent that customer and their family from returning.

But that isn’t the worst part.

The worst part is that they’ll tell 10 of their friends about the experience (market research has shown that bad experiences are related to 10 people, good experiences are related to 3).

It doesn’t take much study to see the value of this investment, especially for those businesses with a lot of first-time public-facing employees.

Old man take a look at me now

About six years ago, I sorta dragged my then-15 year old son to Superhost training one summer morning. My interest was in seeing what was being taught so I’d know whether to advise customers to send their people to take the course.

He came away with a few lessons that have repeatedly paid off in every job he’s held.

I think Superhost should be taught a few evenings a year at every high school.

While the course varies a little from year to year, I’ve found that the training is definitely worth the investment of time and money for every staffer you have.

With money tight this summer and your employees perhaps being a little older than normal due to employment levels, you might be tempted not to provide customer service training for your staff.

Don’t make that mistake. Your employees might be under a little more pressure than normal due to their employment situation. A spouse might be out of work. It’s easy to get distracted when things at home are tense.

Training of this nature goes a long way to assuring the kind of consistent customer experience that brings people back again and again, plus it makes your employees (permanent or not) more valuable to your business.

That’s a critical concept, because the impact of their job reaches far beyond what they might think.

A few years earlier…

Many years ago, I was sitting in a course when the group was asked about the impact of attitude on a customer’s experience.

Specifically, the question was about why it mattered what attitude someone uses when working with customers.

In an almost mockingly depressing Droopy Dog kind of tone, I said “Because every job is a sales job”.

The instructor detected the point of my tone and asked me to repeat myself.

This time, I said “Because every job is a sales job” in a freakishly effervescent, pleasant tone of voice – again with the intention of making the opposite end of same point.

Big

From the occasionally snarky customer service person having a bad day to the kindest delivery person, from the nicest hotel concierge to the annoying little computer tech support person with no patience for anyone who calls to report a bug, the interactions of any and all of these people has a substantial impact on your sales.

Bigger than you might realize. Big enough to run off every customer they work with, if left unchecked.

It’s not at all uncommon for staffers who don’t typically interact with the public, or don’t *want* to because they have work duties that require no customer interaction mixed with duties that do require regular customer interaction (bad combination for what should be obvious reasons).

Some of them don’t recognize that fact, because they haven’t been trained to recognize the value of their behavior to every customer whose paths they cross.

It’s your job to make sure they HAVE been trained…because their job IS a sales job, no matter what they do.