"It’s not my fault!”
How many times have you been a customer and heard that line?
It usually happens right after you bring a product or service defect to the attention of someone at an establishment where you’re spending your hard-earned money.
I was on the receiving end of this statement recently. It was tempting to give a customer service lecture to the person in front of me, faultless as he may have been.
This particular situation involved receiving the wrong fast food order. I had ordered the medium Unrecognizable Chicken McParts and instead received – and was charged for – the aptly named Super Sized version. For a moment, I thought perhaps they’d brought me the entire crate of McParts straight from the walk-in freezer but they assured me this was indeed packaged for individual sale and consumption. (Disclosure: While I may find it amusing to poke fun at the fast food industry, that’s where I had my first job. Accordingly, I’m somewhat sympathetic to fast food employees. Even so, until they start putting the right stuff in the bag, they will be the target of my “how-not-to-do-it” business lessons.)
As a small business owner, I pay lots of attention to the way service is delivered when I’m the customer. Most folks reading this are probably equally aware of nuances that might be missed by others: The words that are said and how they’re said, body language, the care with which transactions are handled, and so on.
It’s almost unfair to use fast food joints as examples of how to (or how not to) conduct business. After all, they make it awful easy to identify faults.
So, let’s raise the bar and discuss another industry. In fact, let’s discuss your own company.
Have you had the “it’s not my fault” talk with your people lately? Have you ever had it?
Chances are, if nobody has had a direct discussion with your employees they don’t intuitively know that the customer doesn’t care whose fault it is. Even if the customer does know who’s to blame, “blame” isn’t on the agenda. Getting the problem fixed quickly is.
Here’s a good discussion to have with your troops:
Banish “It’s not my fault!” from your workplace. Replace it with confident, competent service that keeps your customers coming back.
Virtually everyone recognizes the importance of having an office procedure manual, but actually creating one is a big job, so it doesn’t get done. Here’s a SIMPLE way to get it done:
1) Buy an ordinary three ring binder. Mark it “Procedure Manual.”
2) Put some blank lined notebook paper in it. Congratulations! Your company now has a procedure manual!
3) Have everyone in the company contribute to the creation and upkeep of this manual. Whenever a repetitive task arises, the most likely person (whoever does that task) takes a few minutes to hand-write a procedure on one of the blank pages. Give it a title so it’s obvious what it’s for.
4) Assign an administrative person the task of periodically taking these hand-written procedures and typing them into a computer using a word processor program like Word. Put a “Revision Date” on each one so you always know whether you’re looking at the most current version. Replace the hand-written procedures with those printed from your computer.
5) Add to it and tweak it over time. It’s never really “done.”
That’s it. The hard part may be getting your employees to stop “winging it” and to actually follow your new procedures.
Successful companies don’t make it up as they go along. For your business to be successful, you need a set of policies, procedures and systems.
Whether written or not, every company has policies. Policies cover things like whether a product can be returned, under what circumstances an employee will be fired, how long an employee needs to be on the job before being eligible for health insurance, and whether company computers may be used for personal emails. Here are some guidelines:
Procedures and Systems
Can you imagine a fast food restaurant that allowed each employee to decide how to make a burger? Or a bank without formal processes for accepting a deposit? I’m not suggesting creation of unnecessary red tape or nonsense. I am suggesting that …
Let’s take hiring. You might have a procedure for conducting an interview. (I use the word “procedure” pretty loosely. It might just be a simple checklist. In my mind, a procedure is anything in writing – even in pictures – to guide the steps someone takes to accomplish a task.) You also have a job application and a form asking for the applicant’s approval to perform various background checks.
All of these checklists, procedures and forms make up a hiring system.
Please don’t get hung up on these terms. Feel free to give these things different names. The important concept is documenting:
Let’s say you hire a new store sales employee, Kathy, and you want her to take over the purchasing process. Your training choices include:
If you go the route of most small businesses – which is to show rather than write a procedure – eventually Kathy “gets it.” She starts doing the job, becomes good at it, and over time probably adopts new approaches to the job that you don’t even know about. These changes may impact important things like your cost or delivery lead times. But, none of her improvements get written down.
After a year on the job, Kathy quits. All of this knowledge that Kathy gained – which belongs to you – walks out the door.
So you hire her replacement and show him how to do it the old way. You haven’t been involved in purchasing for over a year. Kathy handled it. You don’t know anything about all the changes she made to the process. You’ve lost a year’s worth of important business knowledge … because nobody bothered to write down a few simple bits of information.
So, even if you’re the only employee, take the time to write down what you do and how you do it. Put it in your computer and print it out. By the time you have your first employee, you will probably have a good start on an procedures or operation manual. Think how much easier it will be to train your folks and how much smoother the operation will run.
Remember: Successful companies – like yours – don’t make it up as they go along.
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