Starting Coaching and Mentoring in New Places
To further expand on the most conspicuous problem in many retail and service businesses — that by and large the labor pool doesn't know how to properly service customers — both managers and employees alike need evaluation.
As the old adage goes, “The fish rots from the head down.” Everyone knows there is a genuine and growing customer service problem, because we've all personally been on the receiving ends of poor treatment from both managers and employees at some point while shopping, dining out, hiring contractors, etc. We've all seen managers looking on in stony silence while their employees run amok. Worse yet, sometimes we've received lousy treatment from the men and women who called themselves managers — at least that's what their name badges said. They weren't coaches — that much is obvious.
If commonplace circumstances like these don't cry out for coaching and mentoring — a finely tuned retail and service business version of it — then nothing does. When these types of businesses care enough to commit themselves to bettering both their employees' job satisfaction and customer service at the same time, a coaching approach will be welcomed with open arms into management.
And soon thereafter, just as in the corporate office, the retail and service businesses that go down this managerial pike will get noticed for offering not only a better product or service, but top-notch customer relations as well. But, as noted time and again on these pages, businesses have to commit themselves from top to bottom to coaching and mentoring approaches, or they are not going to happen.
The Best-Foot-Forward Doctrine is something all coaches should bear in mind. It says that employees attempt to make the best first impressions possible by giving their all in interviews and during their first days and weeks on the job. If they unfailingly violate this doctrine, you don't want them around for the days, weeks, and months to come.
In franchise operations or department store chains, for example, coaching and mentoring need to be welcomed aboard, yes, but also systematically placed into management at all levels. Senior management in these businesses has got to take the lead and insist upon instituting this new managerial methodology, funneling it all the way down to in-store managers. They've then got to diligently search for the right people to place in these managerial slots — men and women who could assimilate the tenets of coaching — and give them the absolute authority to manage as coaches.
Coaching in the retail and service sector is poised to make the many jobs available there more appealing to employees and would-be employees alike. And better customer service will be the natural by-product of overall job satisfaction and a more healthy work environment. It's a win-win proposition.
The Way We Were
If you're old enough to remember the good old days, you recall when you walked into a store — from the small mom-and-pop sort to the huge department store — and the help was actually helpful. Not too long ago, it was the rule rather than the exception that employees were to behave in a particular way and do certain things in assisting customers. And if they didn't cut the mustard, they were shown the door. And, all the while, managers meticulously enforced comprehensive and unbending customer service policies. So wait a minute! What happened? Did a coaching-style management exist in the past and somehow vanish into the ether? No, not quite.
The Texaco guys, who would emerge from the interior of the gas station the moment customers pulled up to the pump to check their oil, tire pressure, clean their windshields, and service them with a smile, were not being managed by a 1950s version of a coach. Yes, their actions mirrored the high expectations that Texaco had for all of its service station owners and employees. But the real reason the Texaco guys served customers so well was because the cultural mores of yesteryear were at odds with today's. Simply put, people in those days of yore treated each other better in the public square and had more respect for the work they did and jobs that they held.
This isn't to suggest that all was hunky-dory for the Texaco guys and for employees at five-and-dime stores, malt shops, and the like. It surely wasn't. But if you talk with men and women who worked their first jobs in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, they more often than not express a certain nostalgia about them. They admit to having learned a lot while laboring behind the counter of a drugstore or clerking in the stereo section of a local department store.
The Retail Coaching Moment
Years ago in retail and service jobs, employees learned and valued the importance of responsibility — showing up for work on time, practicing good oral hygiene, wearing clean clothes, and functioning in a role with the best possible attitude. Today, these simple rules of conduct are often missing in action. For many of today's entrepreneurs, their most difficult and depressing duties involve staffing their businesses. They find it near impossible sometimes to find competent and reliable employees to work for them. The pickings are usually very slim, and the prospective employees' attitudes are more likely negative than positive.
There are few coaching and mentoring tools and techniques that can't be applied to retail and service operations. So, whether you manage a restaurant, department store, fast-food chain, or meat market, the fundamental managerial principles of coaching and mentoring remain the same and produce the same results.
It is a long-held and generally accepted view that people desire putting their best feet forward in their job interviews. This makes perfect sense. Likewise, upon getting hired, they want to be on their best behaviors and make the best possible impressions during the first few days and weeks on the job. This again makes perfect sense. As a coach, you're conscious of this in interviews and in the infancy of any new work relationships.
But ask around and you'll hear — if you haven't seen it up close and personal yourself — that many managers are witnessing new employees making very bad impressions immediately. They're making bad first impressions, not because they're trying too hard and are hopelessly inept, but because they aren't even making a good-faith effort to look good.
Strange as this may sound, it's not even on many employees' things-to-do list. These employees do not even entertain the thought that it's important to make good impressions at work, particularly when beginning a new job. Bad first impressions reveal themselves in the offices of corporate America, but they're epidemic in retail and service jobs.
For the small businessperson or manager on the retail and service frontlines, the Best-Foot-Forward Doctrine, once inviolable, is regularly breached by today's employees. New employees arrive late on their first day of work. New employees call in sick a couple of days during their first week on the job. New employees complain about their jobs from the get-go.