Lighting the Pilot Light of Service

It happens in my house every year around the first frost. The pilot lights for the gas logs in the fireplaces get lit in preparation for winter. It signals that leaves will be falling, layers of clothing will be increasing, and the den and living room will soon be turned into a wonderland of nurturing warmth, dancing light, and rustic scents. It is the season of holidays.


The parallel in the retail world is the season of sales. Holiday shopping is punctuated by days bantered as black and decorations that seem to be put on display earlier every year. Layaway plans are in full force. We get constantly reminded of the number of shopping days remaining. Buyers are getting in shape for competitive shopping, wish lists, credit card receipts, long lines in stores, and countless “click to purchase” messages! It is the season of spending.


Will you be ready for the onslaught of customers who sometimes put wrangling over etiquette and show unfiltered greed despite the message of the holiday carols playing in the background? Will your frontline be ambassadors of a joyful experience or just indifferent automatons counting the minutes until closing time? What should leaders do to prepare for the season of burnout, sellout, and freak out? It starts with solid preparation by lighting the pilot light. Here are three ways to get your employees ready.


Talk About The Mission, Not the Chore


The task is typically clear to frontline employees struggling with grace under pressure. But, sometimes the mission can seem only like an arithmetic target…increase sales by 32%, gain 21% more revenue, or answer 27% more calls. Bricklaying is still just bricklaying if only the task is known. However, if the focus is on cathedral building it alters the calculus of commitment. Employees need clear assignments and expectations with realistic goals. But, talking about the mission of the enterprise and tying daily tasks to that grand cause enables employees to better weather the pressures of being on stage in front of a sometimes angry audience.


Focus on Holiday-Specific Training


Any retailer will admit that customers are less likely to mind their “P’s” and “Q’s” when other customers around them are elbowing their way to grab that last size small red sweater. During holiday shopping days, tempers are higher; patience is shorter and the tiny unpleasant details seem to get dramatic attention by customers. Smart organizations prepare for skirmishes by teaching employees how to calm others, how to manage personal stress, and how to deliver world-class service recovery when the inevitable service hiccup occurs. Training not only ensures competence and confidence, it communicates to employees they are valued!


Lead As a Partner, Not As a Controller


People will care when they share. Seeking employee feedback, input and ideas signals to employees they have a stake in the welfare of the organization. When employees are treated like “owners,” they are more apt to act like owners. Look for ways to say, “What do you think?” or “How would you decide this?” before grabbing control of any and situations requiring a decision. Trust your employees to make smart calls. The more they are respected the more they will deliver great service to the customer as well as great stewardship to the organization. Remember: your customers detest hearing “I’ll have to ask my manager” just as much as your employees.


A great customer experience comes from service people who demonstrate strong self-confidence, even in the midst of shopping chaos and holiday mayhem. “One important key to success is self-confidence,” wrote tennis great Arthur Ashe, “And, an important key to self-confidence is preparation.” Get your frontline employees ready for the fire of the buying season by lighting their pilot light.

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