“OH. MY. GOD! Thank you SO much!”
The young New Yorker was visibly shaken very early in the morning at LaGuardia airport. He stared at his recently unearthed drivers license retrieved from the trash that the older Latino sanitation worker was holding up. He starred at it for just a moment as if it was ancient holy relic that was thought lost to antiquity before grabbing it and rushing off to catch his flight. She silently shrugged and returned to her mundane job of emptying the trash.
While we have ample media traffic of horrific service experiences such as the highly “regrettable” incident on United Airlines Flight 3411, we hear less often about the daily heroic feats by service workers perform every day that make peoples’ life just a little better. These small miracles happen in seconds everyday by service workers who don’t really have to give a rat’s ass… but they do. They dig through the trash to find your ID, they patiently help you trouble shoot your billing questions, and take your soup back when you learn that it is not gluten free. These are the people that make commerce happen. They are the check-out clerks, the call center representatives, waitresses, and receptionists from around the world.
If you have ever had one of these jobs you know how tough it is. They are the front line that deal with the tired, the sick, the angry, and sometimes the crazy. Most do this with aplomb with little complaint and a minimum of both training and compensation for their effort.
These miracles workers can make or break your business. They are the backbone of most enterprises. And, like any reluctant hero, they can decide whether to perform their craft or not to. Management will never know since this is not, strictly speaking, a job requirement.
They can always just wear the “minimum flair” and go about their jobs.
So how do we get them to continue to perform their miracles?
It is actually pretty simple. Hire great people, give them the tools to do their job, treat them well, and inspire them to do great things. While the recipe is simple, putting it into practice is much more difficult. The companies that figure it out reap the rewards through customers who come back and employees who don’t leave.
Oh, and there is one other thing we can all do to help: treat these front line people with respect. We all become frustrated with the foibles of people and organizations. It serves us well to understand that many times these front line employees are at the mercy of the tool sets they have and the company processes and policies that constrain them. They may not be empowered to solve your problem.
So work with them and be patient. Don’t scream. Empathize and see their side. Escalate if you have to, but most of all treat them as you would want to be treated.