Build Sales … or Kill Sales. Your Choice

By on July 15, 2015
Build Sales … or Kill Sales. Your Choice

A couple of years ago, my wife, Dolores, and I were going through the checkout lane at a grocery store in our neighborhood. When the clerk checking us out picked up a package of blueberries to scan, he stopped, looked at it, and said, “This one looks like it doesn’t have quite enough blueberries in it. I don’t want you to get short-changed.” With that, he rang a bell, an associate came up almost immediately, he handed the box of blueberries to the associate and said, “this one looks like it’s short on berries. Get another that’s fuller.” A minute or so later the box with more berries in it appeared and our checkout continued.

We were both, frankly, stunned. Wow, was this unusual behavior! You know, the kind of behavior you just can’t forget. It was the kind of behavior that colors all of your future impressions of the place at which it occurred. For Dolores and myself, this store – this organization – remains imbedded in our minds as the epitome of great customer service … the epitome of an organization that thinks of customers (like Dolores and myself) first and of itself second. Today, we shop in this store, even while they don’t carry all the items found in a typical full service supermarket, just because we really like the way they treat customers.

And what single word best describes their treatment of customers? It’s the word “focus.” Yes, “focus” is the single, best descriptor of the behavior we have seen over and over again in this store’s employees. In addition to the word “focus” what other words come to mind when reflecting on the way their employees act? Immediately words like “energetic,” “happy,” and “enthusiastic” come to mind. It’s just a fun place to be in.

You get the picture. This is just a great place in which to do business. Who wouldn’t want to be around folks who are energetic, enthusiastic, happy and very focused on making your shopping experience an extremely positive one.

What happens when employees aren’t focused on serving the customer?

You and I as customers know when “focus” is missing. Think of the last time you asked a clerk in a store for help and felt that you were an intruder, that they found your request annoying, that they clearly didn’t care if your experience in the store that paid their salary was good or not. If your experiences match mine, this happens far too often. Often there’s not even the slightest attempt to disguise annoyance. Recently, I asked an employee of a large building supply store for help in finding a certain kind of light fixture. After giving me a barely disguised scowl, he told his buddy to whom he was talking on a cell phone, “Wait a second; I have to answer some guy’s question.”

Just what is it that distinguishes behaviors that are conspicuously unfriendly to customers from those that create customer loyalty and, as a result, build sales?

I’d suggest that two words describe the forces that drive “this one looks like it’s short on berries”.

These words are: Engagement and focus.

To state the obvious, if employees aren’t deeply engaged in their work, their work will be at best mediocre. More likely it will be of the “I have to handle some guy’s question” variety.

Engagement and focus are absolutely intertwined.

So how does an organization build high degrees of engagement and focus in its workforce? I’d suggest two things have to happen.

First, employees need to know with absolute clarity that their company highly values their creativity, knowledge, and intelligence. How do you make this happen? Ask your employees for their thoughts about ways to improve their work spaces and work processes by getting rid of waste. Listen to what they say. When appropriate, act upon what they say.

Second, employees need to understand who pays their salaries. As Henry Ford said, “It’s not the employer who pays the wages; the employer only handles the money. It’s the customer who pays the wages.” Make a focus on the customer – be that customer internal or external – the prime directive that drives all behavior. And when you observe employees displaying an intense focus on the customer, reward them, recognize them, and celebrate what they’ve done.

When engagement and focus really take hold, does it make a difference? It makes a huge difference. We all, of course, know this because on an almost daily basis we encounter employees who are engaged and focused on serving us, or not, and we know what a difference this makes on what we think about the experience we’ve just had.

Do engagement and focus impact financial performance? You bet they do. For example, the grocery chain in whose stores customers routinely experience employee engagement and focus par excellence has sales of $1,700 per square foot compared to an industry average of $550. Saying to customers, “This box looks like it doesn’t have quite enough blueberries in it” obviously drives sales. The impact engagement and focus have on corporate performance is huge.

Our Corporate Services Group has a wide variety of well-tested training and consulting resources that you can put to work as you drive higher levels of employee engagement and focus. I’d appreciate having the opportunity to discuss these resources with you. You can reach me anytime at 314-303-0612. I think you’ll find a meeting with us to be of very real, very immediate, value.

We can help you build sales. Let’s talk.

About George Friesen

George Friesen serves as Business Practice Leader - Lean Manufacturing for the Workforce Solutions Group of St. Louis Community College. He has led the College's Lean business practice area since 2000. Prior to joining the College, George worked for Maritz Performance Improvement Company. Over the past 35 years, he has served a wide variety of Fortune 500 companies, specializing during the past eleven years in Lean Manufacturing, focusing especially on the 5S System, Lean leadership and thinking processes, Value Stream Mapping, and Lean team building. George is a graduate of Washington University (AB), Webster University (MA), and United States Air Force Flight Training.

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