Continuing with my driving metaphor from last week; it’s always a stressful time when your child begins to drive. Even if they are responsible, mature young people, the risk and responsibility that hitting the road means, can be worrisome. There are some nuts on the road. But it’s a part of modern life, so we adjust and move on. The future is truly in the hands of our young people.
The driver’s seat of our local economy is the checkout line and the cash register. It’s the connection between a business and the customer. Customer service is the single most important factor in any business. Treat your customers right, give them an enjoyable purchasing experience, and they are likely to return. They may even pay a little more for that. Don’t treat them right, and most likely they will not return if they have choice. They may even share their less than pleasant moment. Bad news travels fast.
The vast majority of those serving in these vital roles are our young people. They are the front line in Albany’s economic battle. The quality of customer service they offer, the tone they set, the attitudes they express, can make or break a business and our collective future.
The more that understand their position of power and opportunity in the system, the better things will get. They need all the help us old warriors can bring to table. The most common reaction of a young employee to positive motivation is an immediate display of energy and enthusiasm. It changes the entire mood of the work area or establishment.
Obviously, everyone is different, with strengths and weaknesses, so the first step in customer service is the hiring process. Matching the right person to the right job is a critical decision. The manager must weigh all the variables, and then go with the best option. That alone, pushes serious job candidates to put themselves forward in the best possible way; the core attribute of customer service.
One good thing about bad times is that it makes those offered a new job, more grateful and aware of their opportunity. That’s a motivation that no bonus program can top. Appreciation for the job easily transfers to an appreciation of the customer, which makes it a genuine, natural thing to welcome customers with a smile, and be as helpful as possible. There’s no faking sincerity.
Now it’s just a matter of training and channeling this energy. A good manager makes every effort possible to fine tune any training programs to those skill sets that are most critical, and will instill confidence when mastered. There’s no such thing as a perfect way to train, so flexibility is important. Those being trained very often have good ideas on how to make it better for others, and what else should be taught. A good manager listens to those ideas. This also builds a sense of ownership with the employee. Young people are no different than the rest of us. We all want to be a relevant part of something worthwhile and successful.
Older folks need to remind our younger citizens that they actually have the power to change not only their own lives, but the future of Albany and the surrounding area. They probably have more influence on our economy than any other single group. But it’s not easy. Nothing worthwhile ever is. Those of us with a few years under our belt know that to be true. Those younger can only come to know this the same way we did, through their choices and experiences. But they do so in rapidly changing times. Sometimes I don’t know how they manage to cope with it all, but most do. That should give us hope. I try to remember to offer a few words of thanks or encouragement when the customer service has been good.
It’s common talk to hear how bad customer service is in Albany. I can understand it. It’s a real problem, and it has to be dealt with if we are to get our local economy off the dime. We vote with our purchasing power, but what if we reversed the emphasis? Instead of telling our friends where not to go, share with them where they should go. “You have to accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative”; yes, I’m using a Perry Como reference. Those young folks behind the register may never have heard of him, but with the right motivation, they can come to seem the wisdom in Mr. C’s lyric, and take the wheel of Albany with confidence.