Where Is Your Business Front Door

Jon Drogheo, MEd.
September 27, 2011 — 2,253 views  
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A couple of weeks ago I conducted a cultural assessment for a Nursery in New Mexico, measuring how well their employees identified and behave according to the company’s mission. In addition, I was looking to see how the performance of employees to the mission, related to the organizational practices externally and internally.

During my observations I watched customers enter the property in their cars, park and walk to the plants, pots, vegetables, and flowers. What I observed was very interesting. Almost every customer was greeted with a wave of “hello”, “good morning/afternoon” and a hand shake. Then customers were asked how they were doing by employees who also listened for a response. This was not just something that happened; employees were interested in their customer’s feelings about their day. After each employee asked if there was something they could help with, employees provided a visual tour of the property explaining where different types of plants and materials were, then customers were allowed opportunity to tour the grounds on their own.

While some of this is a pretty normal customer service experience what I found interesting was how employees connected to part of the company’s mission statement in their performance of customer service. One piece in the company mission statement says,”…a family company…” I asked the owner what was meant by family. He explained it to me as, “everyone we encounter is family, those we work with and those who are our customers. We are nice, friendly, respectful, people, who want to do what is right.” This philosophy and practice of “family” culture transcends to employees and into each customer interaction with the physical behavior of a wave hello and a shake of a hand. This is the welcoming into the “family home”, their business.

This same practice happens throughout the customer’s time on property, an average of 13 minutes per customer with about 2 employee interactions per customer; customers are greeted with a warm hello, “good to see you”, and “let me help you” as they walk with customers, learning what customers are looking for. In some cases you would expect the interactions to end here. Not with this business. While at the register, customers received education on how to care for what they just purchased such as when to plant, how to store, what to feed and how to protect their purchase. As this is being done, someone is loading their car, tuck or cart to send them off. When the customer’s items are loaded, employees are again shaking hands, giving pats on the back of thanks and sometimes hugs good bye. As the customers drive off, employees are seen waving good bye.

To further evaluate the “family” cultural behaviors I explained my observations (which he did not know was happening) to the owner and asked where his front door was. He looked at me a little puzzled, so I asked, “If this was your house and family includes customers and employees, where is your front door? Is it the gate to the property; is it the parking lot, the threshold of the products sold? Where was it?” While he did not have an immediate answer he explained to me the next day that their front door “is the moment a customer opens their car door.” This was also the same front door with employees. As part of the project, I attended an early morning staff meeting on a Sunday. I had arrived earlier than the employees and made the observation as to how employees were welcomed to work. The amazing thing that happened, which I did not make the correlation to until later was that employees were welcomed with a wave, a boisterous “how are you”, “good to see you”, or “good morning!” followed up with a hug or handshake as they got out of their cars. This is how your live your mission!

To contrast, I have in my experience observed other businesses to understand their cultures and have seen a different picture. One experience teaching management skills to a group of upper managers in a financial services company I asked the question, “who are your customers and how do you treat them?” The response was what I expected as I knew company pretty well in general, but I had not observed how they performed. Their answer, “They‘re our best friends; like family.”

To measure this, I had my class make observations of their staff to see how they lived their mission and how they worked with their customers, their “best friends”. I then made observations of them (the managers) and the behaviors of their staff. What I observed was not what I expected. The first customer walked through the front door, the only customer by the way, and the teller’s back was turned the entire time the customer walk to the “can I help you line”. Then the customer, still the only one, waited 14 seconds to be greeted with “I can take the next in line.”

After about 30 minutes of observation time I took the class back to the training room and facilitated a debrief of what they observed and asked how they thought things went. Excitedly the managers explained that things went very well, customers were greeted, staff smiled, staff asked if there was anything else to help with and thanked customers for coming in. I follow up with, “Did anyone know when and how the customer was greeted?” No one had made this observation so I explained what I saw. Once I was done with my explanation, I heard and observed a collective “Ohhh” and watched shoulders and heads drop in despair, because they recognized that their customer, their “best friend” did not receive what was the expected delivery of customer service. I broke it down further for them that the teller (employee) did not understand and/or connect with the “best friend” expectation, therefore impacting the company’s ability to live the mission.

How are you living your mission, company philosophy, customer service practice; what are the behaviors that must be exhibited and where do you expect them to be exhibited? A good starting point is to define where your front door is located and how you expect to interact with those who enter your “house” of business.

Jon Drogheo, MEd.

HRPartner Consulting

Jon Drogheo is the Principal Consultant and Owner of HRPartner Consulting. Jon has served as an expert panelist on CBS News 4 Employment Town Hall (Denver) regarding his research on hiring. Jon has an extensive Human Resources background of 14+ years