When a small business owner, particularly one in a service business, opens shop, branding of the enterprise is usually focused on the individual entrepreneur. After all, it is this individual who is doing it all, at least at this stage of the business’ life cycle. Promoting the entrepreneur’s expertise and the value she/he brings to a customer’s experience only makes sense at this point. However, as the organization grows and the delivery of those same services is now in the hands employees, a customer’s perception of quality, credibility and trust is completely influenced by the actions and attitudes of the employees. “Trust is a really big issue with my customers,” explains Janet Killian, President and Founder of Gemini Janitorial Services. “My employees are my brand, and in an industry where there is naturally high employee turnover because of low wages and people mostly working part-time, ensuring that my brand is well represented requires my continuous attention and effort.”
Since brand reputation is so profoundly rooted in the performance, behavior and attitude of an organization’s employees, the process of on-boarding new employees, and continuously engaging existing ones is a critical leadership function of business owners. “I have 90 employees at this point, and I have learned over the years, that it’s how you treat your employees that really matters,” suggests Killian. Workers want to be proud of the organization for which they work. They want to know that their contribution is valued and appreciated. They want to be assured that they have the tools and ability to be able to do the work effectively that they have been tasked to do. Ensuring these critical employee expectations are met from the beginning of an employee’s tenure, and continuously throughout it, ensures engagement, commitment and a partnership in the delivery of high quality customer service.
Managing by walking around (MBWA) became a hallmark in leadership practices when business and leadership guru, Tom Peters exposed it as a key element of organizational excellence. As Janet Killian attests, “I often go to a job site unannounced, but I am not there to ‘check-up’ on people. I go there because I want to learn. I want to see how I can help and perhaps make things easier for people.” Sometimes it’s a new process for getting work done more efficiently that employees are eager to suggest, or it’s a new tool that if available, or if it were developed, would help with productivity. “One of our employees suggested that she could work better if she could use a ‘Magic Eraser’,” recalled Killian. “Now everyone on the team is using them and it has saved time, improved quality, and increased productivity.” Leading by walking around is not the only way leaders can keep in touch with the needs and concerns of their employees. Actually doing the work from time to time helps leaders to understand first-hand the frustrations and challenges that employees face on the frontline on a daily basis. Janet regularly checks to see if one of her teams is going to be shorthanded for a day, and if so she pitches in and works side-by-side with the crew that day.
Employees also need to know that a leader will stand behind them and support them, especially in a service business where customers are apt to quickly blame workers for situations that the customer actually caused or could have even prevented from happening. Janet recalls one situation where her employee was wrongfully confronted by a customer. “I had every reason to trust my employee in this situation, and therefore, I was willing to confront the customer for treating my employee inappropriately even if it meant losing that customer,” explained Killian. When employees know that a leader “has their back” it fosters loyalty and sustained commitment.
It’s all about attitude. If business owners want customers to trust them, then they need to trust their employees. Employees carry the reputation of the organization’s brand in everything they do for a customer, and everything they say to a customer or prospective customer. When an organization’s leader believes in and empowers the employees, they will in turn respond by being engaged and committed. It is this mutual respect that creates an organizational culture that consistently delivers high performance and high customer satisfaction, all of which produces sustainable long-term business success.
If you want to learn more about Janet Killian, President and Founder Gemini Janitorial Services, go to: http://geminillc.net/about-us/.