When I was in high school, the best part time job a kid could have was working at Starbucks. Forget for a moment how hard they have been hit by the recession, because at the time $4.99 for a coffee didn’t seem so ridiculous. Why? Well the lattes tasted pretty good, and money seemed to grow on trees, but in my mind half of that cost was going right back their employees (my friends). A Starbucks ‘Barista’ made a decent wage and got benefits to boot!
At the time I thought ‘Gosh, Starbucks sure is a swell company!’ (yes that’s how I spoke at 17) and today, I still think they are a swell company. Is their product incredibly overpriced? Most certainly! But every time I walk into a Starbucks, no matter where in the world it is, I know I will be getting a quality product, in a comfortable environment, served by incredibly genial people. Which brings me back to my point; Starbucks has found a way to incentivize pleasantry. By offering a wage and benefits package that few can compete with they are not only able to select the absolute best candidates for the job, but most of the time their employees actually like where they work. Happy employees create an above average consumer experience, and an above average consumer experience allows them to charge a premium price for a rather average product.
By treating their Baristas less like employees and more like brand ambassadors, they have upgraded the status of working for the company. They know that they are providing employment to people in transition (whose goal is a full time job at Starbucks by the time they are 35?), yet rather than treat them like a corporate burden (I’m looking at you Dunkin’ Donuts) they treat them like a valuable part of the company and it shows in every facet of the consumer experience.
This is a lesson that too many companies refuse to learn. Look at the deluge of unhelpful, overseas call centers over the past decade. The technicians, when not unintelligible, follow a predetermined script while sounding miserable, and more often than not are unable to solve whichever problems one might be having. By treating their employees as an afterthought and going with the lowest bidder, many companies have devalued their brands to the point where their product prices were forced lower to compensate for the poor service their customers were receiving.
People provide a face for an organization (no pun intended). Whether it is a retail store, restaurant, phone based service, or online entity; empowered employees make all the difference. Allow them to make decisions for themselves. Every time a clerk has to go to a manager for approval, or a technician has to get their supervisor on the phone they are essentially saying ‘I don’t get paid enough to deal with your problem’. By giving each and every member of your organization the approval to do anything and everything in their power to rectify a situation it sends a message to the customer. Your business will make more in newfound customer loyalty than they will lose fixing problems.
The stories of Nordstrom’s return policy are the stuff of legend. They will take anything back without a receipt. And I mean ANYTHING. Rumor has it someone once returned a set of snow tires. (For those of you who don’t know, Nordstrom doesn’t sell snow tires.) For all I know this tall tale could have been spread by a very savvy marketing consultancy working for the retailer, but the fact remains that for every one person that tries to return something outrageous, thousands purchase clothing and accessories comforted by the knowledge that they can return it at any time with or without a receipt, and without the sales staff having to get approval and send them to another department.
In an age where lawsuits and bureaucracy are the corporate norm, the responsibilities of the average employee have been reduced to such a level that an attentive child could accomplish them. Companies who are willing to let well-trained employees represent them in the public eye almost always benefit in the long run. Even in the internet age, a friendly conversation with the guy behind the counter can still define the perception of a company in a way that a screen never can.
If you’d like to leave a comment and this is your first time, please help us fool the spambots by starting your post with the word: “People!”. Once your first comment on our blog has been approved you will no longer need to do this. Thanks!