Select and train the right employee for continued business success

Most entrepreneurs hire employees based on how well they like the applicant, not necessarily the skill set required.

Employees can be tough to manage. In most cases, they are not as committed to the enterprise as the owner. Employees can call in sick, have time restrictions on work hours, demand wage increases and worst of all, be surly to your customers.

Businesses will lose customers when they have a surly employee. That employee could even drive floor traffic right into the hands of business competitors. In addition, the employer probably won’t even know why customers are leaving. Michigan State University Extension suggests that selecting the right employee to begin with could prevent some of these common employment problems.

When selecting an employee you must screen for potential service failure issues. I have found that the majority of entry-level workers do not fully understand customer service. In an age of self-service retailing and Internet shopping most entry-level job applicants do not have the wisdom to provide exceptional customer service. However, you can select the right candidate who possesses the valuable qualities necessary to develop their customer service skills.

Job candidates who have a friendly, outgoing demeanor, a sense of humor, a quick wit and a genuine empathy toward other people will make good service-oriented employees. You will have to screen your applicants for these skills. Prepare for a lengthy interview process with individual candidates and rely less on instinct and more on facts when selecting the new employee. One of my favorite interview questions is this: “Tell me a time when you personally experienced exceptional customer service.” The applicant must be able to demonstrate what good service is to be able to provide it.

Many mistakes are also made once the employee is on board. Most small businesses will simply “throw the new employee into the deep end” and let them figure things out. Although the learning curve is steep, this management tactic could backfire. Highly successful small businesses have a robust new employee training regimen to avoid service failures.

One of my favorite restaurants (that provides exceptional customer service) has a robust training regimen. The average tenure for the wait staff is over 5 years. After selecting the best possible candidate, the new wait person (and all other new employees) goes through a series of three-week segments working different prep positions. These positions include prep chef, souse chef, assistant chef and assistant bar back. The employee then trains as a dishwasher and busser for a week. The new waitperson also shadows a fully tenured waitperson for a full month. Only after all of this training has been completed does the waitperson make contact with a customer and take orders. The new wait staff is also shadowed for an additional two weeks. This is a nineteen-week training period where neither the waitperson nor the owner see an immediate benefit.

The training regimen noted above works well for this restaurant. The employees provide exceptional service, the food is good (not necessarily great), the wait staff knows what beer is on tap, they know the ingredients of the dishes and they are well rewarded with robust tips. In turn, the restaurant is rewarded with customer loyalty and great reviews in the food section of the local media. It pays to select and train the right person.

Small business can win with good customer service. Businesses that implement an exceptional customer service policy develop customer loyalty and reap the rewards of sales growth. You can obtain free business counseling by registering with the MSU Product Center