A Christmas Eve shout out to two dedicated, empowered employees putting customers first

At one of my final annual all-company meetings as CEO of The Loyalty Group, I showed three clips of Michael Jordan, one of my all time sports heroes.  The MJ trait I loved most was his tremendous work ethic.  He was truly one of the most gifted athletes of all times, but he was also one of the hardest working.  One of the clips I showed was from a 1997 NBA finals game, where Jordan played despite being incredibly ill for most of game day.  Although he kept making shots, you could see how painful it was for him to play that game and he nearly collapsed at the end.  The example to our employees – when you believe in yourself, your team and your opportunity to win, push yourself – even when it hurts a little.

Monday night I was doing my usual last minute mad dash otherwise known as Christmas shopping and closed the Chestnut Hill Mall near my home, being politely ushered out of Bloomingdales at 9:55 PM as they were closing at 10:00.  A few minutes later, I was driving past a local Barnes & Noble store.  Although a few minutes past 10:00, the lights were on and I could see customers still in the store.  Excited by the chance to continue my late night shopping, I pulled into the lot.  As I entered the front doors of the store, I realized an employee was holding open the inner door and letting customers out.  I asked if they were closed, and she replied, “yes, but you can still come in.”  Appreciating the opportunity but not wanting to abuse it, I quickly grabbed a couple of tennis magazines for my wife and a “Nun Bowling” stocking stuffer game for my daughter Jordan, who was playing one of the Nun’s in the Boston Children’s Theatre’s production of The Sound of Music.

As I checked out, I told the employee who let me in how much I appreciated her staying late for customers.  She told me the store had needed to close early a few days earlier due to the severe snow storms and she knew many people were running out of time.  What I knew was that she, like almost anyone who works in retail the week before Christmas, was likely exhausted and dying to get home to her own family.  Not hurting as bad as Michael Jordan in the 1997 Finals, but she pushed herself a little further than others when it would have been easy to call it quits for the night.  Her name is Kim, she is an Assistant Manager at the Chestnut Hill Barnes & Noble and a great example of an empowered employee putting customers first.

One more quick example before I go back to wrapping presents.  This morning, my nine year old son and I went to our favorite snowboarding shop, Mothership in Lincoln New Hampshire looking for a new snowboard and bindings.  Myles had outgrown his original board and was ready for a new one.  Trevor, who runs Mothership (a store within the lager Rogers ski and snowboarding shop) helped Myles pick out a very cool Nitro board in UP black and white colors.  He then did something I found impressive. He told us that the bindings on my son’s old board were “better than anything we have in his size” and suggested we simply move them to the new board.  As Mothership’s prices are great, and Myles had gotten a ton of use out of his old setup, I would have gladly bought whatever new bindings Trevor recommended.  But he put us first, passed up the sale and increased our loyalty to Mothership in the process.  (By the way, Lincoln is twenty minute drive from our ski house – we go to Mothership despite having alternatives at our local mountain and another ten minutes from home.)

In a recent For Immediate Release Podcast discussing the Forrester research that found a low level of trust for corporate blogs amongst those who read them, host Neville Hobson posed the question, “How do you define trust?”  Although I didn’t feel the panel ever answered this important question, I have been thinking about the definition of “trust” in the context of Web 2.0, customer service and loyalty.  One of the ways I believe businesses and business people build trust with customers is to resist the urge to oversell them.  I always appreciate it when a salesperson says “you don’t need that” as I wrote about in an earlier post about my experience buying the Dell E6400.

So, as you wind down 2008 get ready for the New Year, are you empowering, recognizing and rewarding your employees for extraordinary acts of customer service to maximize long term loyalty or are you pushing them to oversell customers and extract maximum short term profits?