Bakers Journal

Features Business and Operations
Making Attitude Adjustments


November 14, 2007
By Jeff Mowatt

Topics


Not
long ago, if a customer service employee fouled-up, he or she was
warned, then if improvements didn't happen, was shown the door. In
today's workplace however, where it's so difficult just maintaining
staffing levels, dismissal doesn't really fix the problem – it just
changes the problem.

Improving customer service behaviours – other than replacing people.

Not
long ago, if a customer service employee fouled-up, he or she was
warned, then if improvements didn't happen, was shown the door. In
today's workplace however, where it's so difficult just maintaining
staffing levels, dismissal doesn't really fix the problem – it just
changes the problem. That means it's more important than ever for
managers to be able to confront unacceptable employee behaviors without
causing the person to simply walk out and get a job elsewhere. Next
time one of your frontline employees needs an attitude adjustment,
consider how this teacher handles a surly student…

Imagine you
are a twelve year old who hates school. You despise it so much that you
can hardly wait till you're old enough to drop out. It's late one
Friday afternoon and you're stuck in math class gazing out the window
at the beautiful day, counting the minutes until the bell rings and the
weekend starts. Your reverie is suddenly interrupted by the sound of
your teacher's voice. He's in the middle of issuing a three-page
homework assignment due on Monday. You and several other students start
groaning. He looks directly at you and says in a low, serious voice,
"I'd like to speak to you in the hallway-right now."

Now, you're embarrassed and you're probably angry. Mostly you're scared about what's next. Then it happens.

Looking
you square in the eye in the deserted hallway the teacher says, "I've
been watching you lately and I've noticed that you have real leadership
potential. When you act a certain way, other students watch you and
start doing the same thing. The problem is that when I give a homework
assignment, you start rolling your eyes and saying, 'Oh, no! Do we have
to do this?' Other students watch you and start doing the same thing.
That makes my job harder. I wonder if you could do me a favour? Next
time I give a homework assignment, could you just do nothing? It will
help me, and I also think it will help you because with your leadership
abilities you could go a long way in life. Thanks. Let's go back inside
the class."

Not a bad way of handling a problem student, in
theory at least. But as Paul Harvey would say, "That's not the rest of
the story." The rest of the story is that the twelve-year-old was me.

I
hated school so much that I counted the days until I was old enough to
drop out. I remember the afternoon in Varsity Acres Elementary math
class when my teacher, Mr. McCullough, gave us that homework
assignment. I was trying to look cool as I was being marched into the
hallway. But I was scared. When Mr. McCullough gave me that two-minute
talk, however, it changed my life.

Here was a teacher telling me
I could be a leader and showing me a simple way I could make it happen.
My parents had always encouraged me and told me I had potential-but
they were only my parents. At twelve years old, what do your parents
know? I took Mr. McCullough's advice, and it changed everything. From
that day forward, I got along better with teachers and, not
surprisingly, received better grades. I ended up staying in school
because Mr. McCullough knew how to change a cynical kid's attitude.
I've thought about that conversation many times since then and realized
as I began studying frontline employee motivation, that he did two
things particularly well…

Two keys to corrective feedback

First,
he focused on behaviour, not attitude. In other words, it doesn't do
much good for a manager to tell employees that they are not friendly
enough with customers. Friendliness is an attitude. The employee
thinks, "I am friendly! You're being unfair." Instead, a supervisor
would get better results by focusing on observable behaviour. The
supervisor might say, "The customer walked in. You avoided making eye
contact until she asked you a question. Then you frowned as you
responded." That's observable behaviour. No one can argue the facts.
That leads us to a second reason Mr. McCullough's approach worked.

He
gave a positive direction. He told me exactly the behaviour change that
needed to be made ("Next time I give a homework assignment, could you
just do nothing?") In the case of an unfriendly employee, we might say,
"The expectation here is that within ten seconds of a customer walking
in the door you are expected to smile enough to show teeth and greet
them." In other words, rather than saying you need to be more friendly,
explain exactly what that looks like. Add to that your underlying
belief in the potential of the employee and you could end up making a
significant impact not only on your company but also upon the lives of
your employees. Maybe, like me, they'll not only improve their
behavior, they'll also remember fondly what you said decades later.

This
article is based on the critically acclaimed book, Becoming a Service
Icon in 90 Minutes a Month by customer service strategist and
international speaker Jeff Mowatt. To obtain your own copy of his book
or to inquire about engaging Jeff for your team, visit www.jeffmowatt.com or call 1-800-JMowatt (566-9288).