I work for a service company. Most of us do. We design, fabricate, install and maintain manufacturing systems. Our customers are manufacturing firms. But being an engineering services supplier for manufacturing firms is no different than being a service supplier in any industry. For many years we have followed an adage, “we hire people for what they know and then fire them for who they are.” A good service supplier needs to provide good service, and that includes employees who are well trained, competent and skilled in whatever industry they serve.
But good technical service is not a substitute for good people skills. Customers want to be treated well too. There seems to be a correlation between happy, secure smiling employees and service success. Early in the life of the company we began using photographs on employee business cards. The pictures were taken in the first month of employment and used for the business cards and employee IDs. After a period of years we had a collection of cards from employees that were no longer with us, generally because we had terminated them for one reason or another. We began to see a pattern. There were far fewer smiles on pictures of the terminated employees than on those who continued with us. Smiling employees seemed to have better performance.
Of course there are exceptions and there are also extremes. In one extreme case that went beyond a frown we got a call from a client. They asked us to get our engineer out of their plant.
“Why,” they asked, “did you send me an axe murderer?”
I’m sure there were no axes being wielded, but there must have been a lot of confrontation and many uncomfortable moments. We replaced the engineer. There were other extreme cases too. One was our receptionist. The receptionist, and those who answer the phone are a key customer service face for any company. Their demeanor and responses are critical. People can hear smiles as well as see them. I remember trying to mentor our receptionist years ago without much success. One day I received three phone calls from clients saying how rude she had been to them. I wondered how many people had not bothered to call and tell me. That was her last day working for us.
Customers who receive good service are more likely to return than those who don’t. It takes seven times more effort to find a new client than to keep an existing one. The math works pretty easily, finding and keeping the right employees can make or break a company. Some companies use personality tests to attempt to identify these traits. Others use interviewing techniques. If either of these fails and the wrong individuals slip through, action needs to be taken quickly to eliminate the problem and the potential loss of clients. Sometimes individuals can be trained and change their ways. Sometimes they can’t. It is always better to avoid the problem than to try and fix it.
I remember calling a local college to do some recruiting. I asked the department chairman about the class valedictorian and if he might be a good candidate for us. He suggested we look lower in the class.
“The valedictorian is sort of like the Unabomber,” he told me. “He is not someone you would want to put in front of your clients.”
Enough said. There are lessons to be learned. The most important one is simple. Good service comes with a smile.