BrainTrust Query: Are frontline employees expendable?
By Mel Kleiman, President,
Humetrics, LP, a division of Kronos Corp.
Unless your Unique Selling Proposition (USP) or point of difference is Exceptional Customer Service (like Nordstrom, BMW, Ritz Carlton, and the Container Store), there’s no reason to sweat it when you lose frontline employees. Most likely, they were not that good anyway because, truth be told, you haven’t invested a lot of money in your hourly hires and even the training you provided, if any, didn’t cost much. In fact, their replacements will probably be just as good and may be even better than those you lose.
New employees are excited about their new jobs and will probably have a better attitude and try harder – at least for the first three-to-six months. On top of this, employee turnover will probably reduce your labor costs because you won’t have to fund any benefit programs for a while.
And there’s no need to worry if the new hire doesn’t know very much because the customers don’t expect them to know much when customer service is not your USP. You may even want to have new people wear a button that says: “I’m new. Please help me help you.”
Customers are expecting less and putting up with more in large part because automation has taken a lot of the service out of customer service. Voice mail and automatic attendants have eliminated the need for most phone operators and receptionists. Voice recognition software has reached the stage that it can direct your customer to the proper self-service option or you can send them to your website to look up the answer for themselves.
Pay at the pump, self-service gas has replaced the need for station attendants. And how about self-service checkout at grocery and retail outlets? Then we have touch screen ordering, self-service check-in when you travel – not only with the airlines, but also for your hotel room. (If they could only get you to make your own bed!) These self-service options are often faster and the machine always says “thank you.” Production jobs are being performed by robots and no one does repair work any longer because we don’t get things fixed any longer, we just replace them. The list could go on and on.
Today, a few great workers can do as much as what a lot of average workers used to do. Just remember that those few workers better be great because by the time your customer gets to talk to or deal with a real human being, he or she is going to be so mad and frustrated that it will take a Herculean effort to defuse the situation and keep them from going to the competition.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics says by 2010 we are going to be more than 10,000,000 workers short in this country. Don’t believe them. In 2000, they said by 2007 we would be 5,000,000 workers short and we still have about 4.6 percent unemployment in this country because they did not factor in the jobs that technology would replace.
Things have come full circle since the start of the Industrial Revolution and, in today’s world, frontline workers are once again replaceable cogs in a giant wheel.
Discussion Questions: Do you think many store managers and even retail corporate leaders feel that retail workers are expendable? To what degree are they right? And if there is this widespread perception, how do you change it?