Tuesday February 11 2014

BUSINESS CLINIC: Does being burned once call for playing it safe?

By Dorothy M. Tuma

A story is told of a grasshopper that was put in a glass jar which was then covered with a lid. After jumping and hitting the lid several times, the bruised grasshopper realised that if it started jumping lower, it would stop getting hurt. So the grasshopper lowered its jumping height and even when the lid was eventually removed, the grasshopper would not jump any higher. It had learned to play it safe. Did something happen to cause you or your employees to play it safe too?

Abused trust
Suppose you are that hairdresser or mechanic who finds out that one of your trusted assistants is working with a few of your customers behind your back; for a much lower fee. Should you now handle every customer that your business attracts because assistants cannot be trusted?

If yes, have you considered the cost of not having any assistants? In the event that the entire business depends on your capacity to handle each customer individually, how many customers will you be able to handle and how much will that prevent your company from expanding? Finding trustworthy employees is difficult, but not impossible. You will get better at it with time.

In the meantime, cultivate a relationship with your existing employees. Show that you value their contribution and treat them with respect. If they have any conscience at all, they should find it uncomfortable to offer secret, low-priced deals to your customers behind your back. Similarly, by demonstrating how much you value your customers, you will cultivate their loyalty.

If such customers are still willing to entertain private arrangements with your staff, you are probably better off without them. Think of them as price-shoppers on the hunt for low prices and not necessarily the quality you offer.

Unreasonable punishment
When a customer in your restaurant complains about the food they are served, does the restaurant absorb the cost of the replacement meal or is it deducted from an employee’s salary? If employees are expected to absorb the cost, rest assured that you will never hear of any customer complaints.

Employees will do everything possible to keep their salaries intact, including silently losing unhappy customers. You, on the other hand, will be left wondering why customer numbers and sales are declining yet no complaints are reaching your ears.

Rather than threatening unreasonable punishment, view situations when things do not go as planned as learning opportunities. How can you ensure that meals are served hot, not cold? How can you prevent flies from swimming in customer drinks? How can you lower the number of customers in each check-out line? How can you ensure employees smile at customers?

Reward employees for providing solutions, then stand back and watch them stop playing it so safe. In the weeks ahead, what will you do to free yourself and your staff to creatively jump out of the jar?

E-mail: dorothy_tuma@dmtconsultants.net