It takes vig­i­lance to fight com­pla­cency

The Washington Post Sunday - - JOBS -

Over the past month, I have heard from sev­eral peo­ple about their ex­pe­ri­ences with cus­tomer ser­vice. One lamented the lack­lus­ter re­sponse he re­ceived from his car deal­er­ship; an­other com­plained about the slow ser­vice she got at a hair sa­lon; an­other men­tioned the ex­cep­tion­ally long wait for his phys­i­cal ther­apy ap­point­ment.

What was strik­ing about th­ese ex­am­ples was that the cus­tomers all had es­tab­lished re­la­tion­ships with their ser­vice providers. In ev­ery case, they noted how they had re­ceived great ser­vice at the start, but once they be­came reg­u­lars, the ser­vice be­came slower and less ef­fi­cient. It was as if the ser­vice provider knew they had the cus­tomer and didn’t have to prove any­thing any more, so they be­came com­pla­cent.

Com­pla­cency with reg­u­lar cus­tomers is more com­mon­place that we think. It oc­curs when em­ploy­ees feel really com­fort­able with the way things are or have al­ways been, and no longer bring a sense of en­ergy to their work. They for­get that ev­ery time a cus­tomer comes in, it is a new chance to wow him or her.

A firm’s in­cen­tive sys­tem might ac­tu­ally re­in­force com­pla­cency if it re­wards em­ploy­ees for bring­ing in new clients in­stead of also re­ward­ing them for cus­tomer re­ten­tion. Com­pa­nies can avoid this by col­lect­ing feed­back from reg­u­lar cus­tomers and really try­ing to un­der­stand the ser­vice they are re­ceiv­ing. Some com­pa­nies con­tin­u­ally so­lic­its feed­back via phone and sur­veys from its cus­tomers in an ef­fort to un­der­stand the qual­ity of the cus­tomer’s ex­pe­ri­ence. But not ev­ery firm does this.

Some of the con­se­quences of com­pla­cency in­clude safety ac­ci­dents, few

new ideas or in­no­va­tions be­ing pro­posed, or loss of cur­rent cus­tomers and fu­ture cus­tomers (as they spread the word to oth­ers about the bad ser­vice they re­ceived). This can have a tremen­dous detri­men­tal ef­fect on the fu­ture of the busi­ness.

How can lead­ers curb com­pla­cency in the work­place?

» Stay on guard. Some firms work hard to make sure that they have en­er­gized and en­gaged em­ploy­ees who really treat all cus­tomers well. Lead­ers in­spire the peo­ple around them to work harder, to be pos­i­tive to all cus­tomers, to treat ev­ery­one with re­spect (as they would want to be treated). The lead­ers are passionate about the busi­ness and are pos­i­tive role models for deal­ing with cus­tomers.

» Share the mis­sion. Re­mind em­ploy­ees of the com­pany’s pur­pose and goals so they feel con­nected to the larger mis­sion and see how their be­hav­iors can have an im­pact on cus­tomers.

» Rec­og­nize ex­cep­tional ser­vice.

This doesn’t have to be large mon­e­tary awards — a sim­ple “thank you” or notes of ap­pre­ci­a­tion or gift cer­tifi­cates can be mean­ing­ful to em­ploy­ees.

» Cor­rect poor per­for­mance. Of­ten, lead­ers make the mis­take of ig­nor­ing prob­lems in hopes they go away. This just sends a mes­sage that the boss con­dones the poor be­hav­ior. Pro­vid­ing men­tor­ing or coach­ing may, in­stead, be needed to help the per­son cor­rect the prob­lem.

» Avoid rou­tines. Rep­e­ti­tion can be re­lated to com­pla­cency. If pos­si­ble, change up some of the tasks re­quired to add some va­ri­ety to a per­son’s job.

» Ask for feed­back. En­cour­age cus­tomers to tell you how they were treated.

» Re­ward em­ploy­ees. Set up awards for tak­ing risks or pro­vid­ing cre­ative sug­ges­tions at work.

» Strike a bal­ance. Lead­ers should strive to find a mid­dle ground be­tween be­ing lais­sez-faire man­agers (let­ting em­ploy­ees do ev­ery­thing on their own) and

be­ing mi­cro­man­agers. This is of­ten tough, but very im­por­tant if they are to un­der­stand how em­ploy­ees are reach­ing their goals and work­ing on projects.

» Man­age work loads. If em­ploy­ees have too much on their plate, they can be­come fa­tigued and stressed, tak­ing this out on cus­tomers. Make sure to en­cour­age em­ploy­ees’ ideas and sug­ges­tions for how to im­prove their work. They are of­ten in the best po­si­tion to know how to im­prove their jobs.

» Match staff to jobs. Check to make sure staff mem­bers are suited to their po­si­tions. If not, they won’t be able to per­form to their fullest po­ten­tial.

» Pro­vide train­ing. En­cour­age a learn­ing cul­ture at work, start­ing with the top lead­ers. Of­fer devel­op­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties for em­ploy­ees to keep them con­tin­u­ally learn­ing and grow­ing.

Com­pla­cency is a dan­ger to many or­ga­ni­za­tions. It can de­stroy a firm’s success. Lead­ers need to keep em­ploy­ees en­er­gized so that they can pro­vide the best pos­si­ble ser­vice to their cus­tomers, whether they are coming to you for the first time or the 10th.

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