They’re not employees…they’re your brand.

No Sale Sign on Cash RegisterWhen I need to print something that’s likely to bleed my print cartridges I send it over to my local Staples, which is less than a half mile away.

I’m there on a pretty regular basis…generally several times a month…sometimes a few times a week.

They manage to screw up my order on a regular basis.

It’s either not ready when I expect it to be, or they can’t find it when I get there, or — the latest excuse — they didn’t get the email I sent.

Even though their system sent ME a confirming message.

As a former recruiter in high turnover industries, I certainly understand how hard it is to find good employees for minimum wage jobs.

Especially jobs that require a high level of emotional intelligence. Which seems to be in mighty short supply these days.

But you’re not actually hiring employees.

You’re hiring brand ambassadors.

Think about your own experiences. Employees ARE the brand to us when we’re buyers, so it’s no different when buyers deal with OUR companies.

Other than the decision to actually go into business, I don’t think there’s a decision with greater impact than who to hire.

I know it’s time consuming, frustrating, and a little scary; but’s also critical to the growth of your business.

As you grow the business, you’ve got to take off the hats you wear and give away the tasks that don’t require you.

But hiring them isn’t where it stops.

You’ve go to invest in them by providing them with the training and ongoing development they need. Especially if you’re going to choose a person who doesn’t have all of the skills needed to perform the job successfully.

You need to help them understand they’re the brand in the marketplace and help them understand the impact they have on the business. Help them understand the power they wield.

Teach them the skills they don’t have, help them polish the skills they do have.

And never forget that customer-facing jobs are stressful. Help employees manage their stress. Don’t expect them to know how.

At a minimum, encourage them to recognize when their stress level is getting a bit high and understand how to manage that stress level so they don’t take it out on their fellow workers or on the next customer they deal with.

As their leader, take the time to understand each staffer as an individual and understand what motivates each one of them.

This means understanding what your customers expect and hire people who can deliver on that expectation.

Play “what if” with your staff members. One of the great problems in service industries in general is getting employees to be comfortable thinking on their feet to effectively deal with a problem. The best way to develop that skill is by asking them what they would do “if” a situation like X occurred. Then coach them on their response.

Since the brain doesn’t really understand the difference between practice and reality it will help the employee subconsciously feel more confident in dealing with challenging situations.

The employee I dealt with yesterday at Staples looked as though he was trying not to yawn when I was talking to him about my problem. And his response to my statement that I was unhappy and frustrated was “Well, there’s nothing I can do about it.”

Really? NOTHING you can do about it?

Wrong answer.

At a bare minimum he should have had enough sense to recognize he had an unhappy customer and he didn’t know how to handle it.

I proceeded to post about the situation on Facebook and generated somewhere around 20 responses. Most complaining about Staples and agreeing their copy center staff is terrible.

Here are 4 quick tips to take BEFORE you start hiring or before you hire your next staffer:

1. Identify the soft skills critical for success. These are the skills their parents, teachers, or guardians should have instilled in them. Face it. You do NOT want to teach someone how to be nice. They need to KNOW that. They need to BE nice. Ask them questions to tell you about a time that really tried their patience.

2. Identify what a successful employee acts like and what type of experience that person needs to have in their history. Past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior since most people don’t. (Yes, I know they CAN. Think about it though. Most people really DON’T change.) . People who thrive in customer facing positions tend to have experience in them. If you’re hiring an inexperienced workforce then ask them about activities they’ve been in. Ask about situations that are at least similar to the situations they’ll face working for you.  If they can’t give you examples of relatively similar experiences then find better candidates.

3. Be clear on performance standards. From technical performance to emotional intelligence, you must be clear about what you expect. Don’t assume they’ll know. No, they won’t. And when you’re in the habit of telling everyone the same thing, you can be confident that they’re all clear on the same points.

4. Lead and manage. Don’t just complain about a staffer’s performance. Talk to them about it with no emotion in your voice. You’re not attacking them personally. You’re pointing out a performance issue. Be clear on what happened, what’s unacceptable about it, and what needs to happen instead. At home, it’s easy to engage in dysfunctional behavior thinking a family member should be able to read your mind and know what they did wrong or know what you want. Don’t do it in your business. You’ll be miserable. Your staff will be miserable. And believe me, your customers will be miserable.

Time and effort you invest in selecting, educating, and developing your staff will have a huge payoff to the business. Take that time.

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