When you enter a busy big-box home-improvement store near the centre of Canada's largest city, lowering your customer-service expectations a notch or two is reasonable, if not beneficial to your health. That done, you still wouldn't expect a store employee to call you "dude."
That's the treatment I received at a "customer service" counter during a recent search for a specific grub-control product.
It took 15 seconds or so before a male member of a chatty circle of 20-something staffers acknowledged my presence with the question, "What's up?"
Umm, not your store's quarterly results?
I explained what I was looking for, and a call was made to the garden centre to locate the on-duty product specialist. Then, the bad news came: "Sorry, dude, she's gone home for the day." No further assistance was offered. I had to ask for it.
You'll find many interactions just like that one in the undercover investigation of customer service ("Are You Being Served?") that starts on page 42 of this issue. It's at once an entertaining, enlightening and disturbing read. Mediocrity pervaded the service that front-line employees delivered to PROFIT's investigators, suggesting that you'll find it everywhere—including in your own company.
If you spend a lot of time with your front line people, you might be convinced your workforce is deadbeat-free. But that's not good enough. Do you have employees who act in ways that acquire customers, retain them and turn them into loyal advocates who send more patrons your way? In today's economic climate, the question can be phrased more urgently: do you employ the kind of people who could get you through another recession?
If your answer is no, finding the people who can help you won't be easy. As PROFIT senior editor Jim McElgunn reports in "The Incredible Disappearing Workforce" (page 48), the labour shortage is back, and it's going to get worse. Demographic trends mean that the older Canadians leaving the workforce far outnumber the younger Canadians entering it. And according to the labour specialists interviewed by McElgunn, the arguments that technology, delayed retirements or immigration will make up for that shortfall—even in combination with one another—don't hold much water.
What can we do about it? Hire slow and fire fast, devoting more time and resources to screening the candidates who come through our doors, and shedding the employees (new or old) who aren't working out. (It sounds counter intuitive to let people go during a labour shortage, but under performers demotivate your better people.) Apply the sales maxim of "Always be closing" to your recruiting practices, building positive relationships with potential employees and, if possible, hiring great people even when you don't have openings for them.
And if you can't find good workers, make good workers. For whatever reason, the customer-service principles that should be common sense are lost on much of the working population. As a matter of enlightened self-interest, it's incumbent upon businesses to provide that oh-so-basic training and incentivize its application.
It's a sad situation, but that's what's up these days. Sorry, dude.