Becoming the Employer of Choice.
By Jeff Mowatt
Thursday, 21st June 2007
If you think you have staffing shortages, you ain't seen nothing!

Come to my town, Calgary, Alberta and we'll talk; the economy of this boom town is so overheated that managers and business owners are scrambling to hang on to even mediocre employees.

Far too many managers figure the only way to gain staff loyalty is to buy it. That's a myth - and it's an excuse that you shouldn't accept of yourself or other managers. Of course money is important - but there is another way to gain employee loyalty that doesn't cost a thing.

I'm referring to employee recognition. Just how important is this to employees? According to the landmark studies in employee motivation spearheaded by Dr. Kenneth Kovach at George Mason University, the second biggest motivator for employees is recognition. Number one is interesting work- which requires an investment in staff training. Since I want to focus on zero cost ways to increase staff retention, let's talk about recognition.

The question you need to ask yourself is, "Do you recognize the performance of your employees as much as you know you should?" For most managers and business owner the answer is a cold, hard no. I think the simple explanation is managers get so busy they tend to forget to express appreciation to the people who deserve it. Although, this is generally an oversight, it is an expensive oversight.

Employee recognition is relatively cheap, yet it has a tremendously high payoff in terms of morale, reduction in staff turnover, and most importantly customer satisfaction. I believe part of the problem is that when you work with employees for a long time, it's hard to find creative ways to recognize them. Plus, mangers tend to view employee recognition as being a scattering of random events rather than an ongoing process.

Fortunately, there is a systematic on-going process for recognizing your employees that goes far beyond an isolated slap on the back.

Recognition in CAST Meetings©I'm referring to recognition that happens in a CAST Meeting. CAST stands for Customer Service Team Meeting. CAST is a monthly, 90 minute in-house forum where managers and front line employees discuss how to enhance the customer experience. Of five elements that are covered in a CAST Meeting, one of the most motivating is the agenda item I call Service Legends.

At this point in the meeting, managers point out specific incidents where certain employees have provided exceptional service. The employee is asked by the manager to share the details of the incident with everyone and why they did what they did. Then the whole group joins in a round of applause for the person.

When you see employees literally cheering each other on for providing exceptional service, you know that the customer-focused culture is growing roots. That was certainly the case with one of our clients, a government-run vehicle-registration department...

During the Service Legends portion of a CAST Meeting, a manager asked 'Richard,' a vehicle-registration clerk, to share with the group what happened when a customer phoned and asked for a refund cheque. Richard explained to the group the dire circumstances that the person was in. He realized that 'standard practice' was to mail the cheque and the customer would receive it in a couple of weeks.

However, it didn't sit well with him, so he drove the check over himself that same day. He introduced himself and said that he figured she could use the refund right away. "You could see that tears were welling in her eyes as she thanked me. I was really glad I did it." At that point in the CAST Meeting the group erupted in heartfelt applause for Richard. Richard's co-workers and supervisors were doing more than expressing their support for what he had done; they were also demonstrating their pride in the way people in their department respond to the individual needs of customers.

That story, and the fact that the manager brought it to everyone's attention, provided a lot of lessons about customer service that no policy will ever be able to convey.

That's recognition based not on seniority, but service. And the approval doesn't just come from the employees' supervisors, but from their peers. Most importantly the stories that emerge become your own in-house parables that serve as wonderful learning examples for everyone. In other words, the CAST Meeting's Service Legends piece transforms recognition into part of your ongoing education process that people learn from.

We all want to do well - and be recognized for doing so. Of course people need to be paid market value for their services. But hard cash is cold. You'll warm the hearts and the loyalty of your team members when you take the time - and have a process - to recognize actions that merit talking about. It doesn't cost a thing and in this marketplace - and with the impending staffing shortages that all the experts are forecasting - it just may make you the employer of choice.

Customer service strategist and professional speaker, Jeff Mowatt is an authority on The Art of Client Service .  .  .  Influence with Ease®. For further tips, self-study resources, and training services on this topic, click Improving the Sales and Service Culture.

This article is based on the critically acclaimed book Becoming a Service Icon in 90 Minutes a Month, by customer service strategist and professional speaker Jeff Mowatt. 

To obtain your own copy of his book or to inquire about engaging Jeff for your team, visit www.jeffmowatt.com or call 1.800.JMowatt (566.9288).

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