A few years back I was on vacation on a train heading from Germany to Poland with my wife, two sons and mother-in-law. My oldest son, who was about 5 at the time, was being difficult. I tried everything I could (or so I thought) to get him to calm down. He continued his rambunctious behavior, and finally I lost it and I yelled at him. A little while later, my mother-in-law, who witnessed the whole thing, calmly told me that I needed to model for my son how I wanted him to behave. In the moment, I felt like reminding her that I'm a psychologist. "Of, course I know that!” I wanted to say. Thankfully, I refrained. But she was right, and it's easier said than done.
Training your people to take care of customers is like parenting. The most important thing you can do is treat your employees with the care and respect you want them to have for your customers.
This comes down to genuine respect, care, and love. You do need to make the standards explicit and train people in any technical knowledge necessary. But more important than that is to train your people in emotional and relational competence, or the ability to manage emotions and relationships like a rock star. And the starting point for that is leaders who live it out. The quality and health of relationships are passed down from parents to children, largely through emotional communication. Likewise, the quality and health of relationships are passed down from leaders to employees and from employees to customers. This is what sets the relational culture of an organization.
Here's 3 tips to help you develop a culture of connection and model care for your employees.
1. Look at contact as an opportunity to express care. Contact with customers is an opportunity to show love and care, even if in the smallest way. This is a mindset shift. And it starts with the leaders. Contact with your co-workers and employees is an opportunity to express love and care. Simon Sinek captures this beautifully in his recent book, Leaders Eat Last. He quotes CEO Bob Chapman in recalling his experience taking over a manufacturing company: “Every single employee is someone’s son or someone’s daughter. Like a parent, a leader of a company is responsible for their precious lives” (p. 16). Sinek goes on to say, “ We need more organizations that prioritize the care of human beings.” This is intrinsically important, and it’s how you create a culture of connection and care in which employees feel valued and pass down this care to customers.
2. Go above and beyond in the little ways. Big things are sometimes expected. Little things, in contrast, are sometimes what reveal character and care the most. Find ways to encourage your people in their work and on a personal level. Check in with someone who’s been struggling. Write a hand written note expressing what you appreciate about someone and what they bring to the team. This will trickle down to customers in some way. I read recently about a pilot who would handwrite personal greetings to many passengers on his flights. Obviously, this pilot doesn’t have to do this. His airline doesn’t require it. It’s a little thing in a way, but it speaks volumes about genuine care for his customers.
3. Develop implementation intentions. These are if-then statements in which you pre-decide that if X happens, you will do Y. These implementation intentions are typically aimed at stressful situations and the key is to decide ahead of time, when you have more emotional capacity, how you will respond. However, you can certainly develop implementation intentions aimed at positive situations (e.g., IF I notice an employee going above and beyond, THEN I will write a personal note expressing my gratitude). First, you need to do this yourself and model this, and then train your employees to do this. Starbucks uses this idea extensively in training their barista’s to handle difficult customer situations. As an example, here’s one implementation intention I’ve put in place in my own life: IF I feel angry in response to an email, THEN I will not respond the same day. I will give myself at least one day, sometimes more to cool off and gain perspective before I respond. Develop a set of implementation intentions that will help you regulate your emotions in difficult situations. Your co-workers may not know the specific implementation intention but they’ll see the result. Then you train your employees to do the same. The motivation here is key. You’re not doing this just to be efficient. You’re doing this because it helps you express care for your employees, and they’re doing it because it helps them express care for your customers.
I hope these reflections help you create healthy, connected relationships that are passed down from leaders to employees to customers.
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