I've been to two stores in the last couple weeks where I was blown away by the cutomer service- Long and McQuade and Lowe's. In both stores, the employees were engaged, knowledgeable and seemed happy with their work. Of course, if you've ever been to Long and McQuade, you know music is the employees' entire lives- they're music geeks and all they want to do is to connect with people over music. I mean, not that, given a choice between a successful music career and a career in retail, they wouldn't choose the former, just in terms of the retail space, you can't ask for more engaged employees. I had a guy spend a good hour with me the other day while I was looking for a microphone, going so far as to offer to download a software off his own personal computer and share it on a USB stick if I had problems downloading something.
At Lowe's, the enthusiasm is on a different scale; the employees were highly engaged relative to the two other home hardware stores in Regina where it's hard to find an employee who will make eye contact with you. At Lowe's, there's a veritable buzz in the air- people speak English, they know where things are, can point you in the right direction, they seems a bit more proud of their jobs, and there seems to be a team spirit going on.
Both places are quite multicultural. This, to me, shows there's a smart hiring strategy that put those employees in place. If you don't have a smart hiring strategy, you hire people who look like you out of insecurity.
I was talking to my dad yesterday about these two experiences, and he started talking about how hard it is to find good employees, and I said, no, this is the culture that brought it out of the employees. Some executives built the culture, and then hired the employees who were- or were not- initially enthusiastic about what they were selling, and then allowed them to spend an hour with a customer. I've worked in the customer service industry where I wanted to help people more, but couldn't because it was frowned on to spend so much time with one customer, and it was frustrating. There was pretty low morale there.
I keep thinking about this quote from Henri Nouwen, the popular Dutch Catholic priest and theologian who wrote several books in the late 20th century, many of which are Christian social justice classics now. In one of his books, he wrote about how everyone wants their lives to be used up like the bread in Christian communion. We want to be "taken, blessed, broken, and given" to others. In other words, everyone wants to be hired, trained, worked hard, and be made useful to the world- it's just hard to find a job that will allow us to give of ourselves toward something we're passionate about with the right remuneration.
As Peter Drucker says, "Culture eats strategy for breakfast". Those who take the time to build a superb culture in their organization recognize that people want to help; there's a longing in people to make the world a better place. Their pride and enthusiasm then speaks volumes to customers who want to come back again and again.